Shinzo: Akiko Okuda

shinzoI have this stack of books that I want to share with you that’s slowly growing off to one side of my desk. There’s some really good stuff in there, and I know you’d love it, but the world/life/work have all been conspiring to keep me from ever battling another book on these pages, it would seem. All good conspiracies, though! Don’t worry. I’m not over here fighting off sadness behind the scenes. It’s all new translation projects that I can’t talk about yet although I’m very excited about them, visits from favourite family people, and even an encounter with an entirely unfamiliar comics scene in an entirely unfamiliar country! Where the definition of vegetarian is somewhat looser than expected! (Yes, I got surprise shrimp. No, I did not notice before taking a big bite. Yes, it was disgusting and very upsetting.)

TCAF was invited to come and talk about ourselves at the Golden Comic Awards in Taipei last month, a lavish event sponsored by the ministry of culture that had me wishing we got anywhere near that kind of financial support from our own government. At the awards ceremony, a vtuber (who reminded me very much of the vocaloids) sang a special song about all the nominees and then a for-real pop star took the stage to sing more about how great comics are. (I assume. I still don’t speak any form of Chinese, although not for lack of intense listening to every single person who spoke it at me. Somewhere inside me was this desperate hope that if I just focussed, I would pick up this language in the week that I was in the country. It turns out that this is not a viable strategy for language acquisition.) There was also a guy in a cat suit hosting and a camera crew filming the whole thing for broadcast on Taiwan’s version of NHK. They made a special point of panning over the “foreign delegates” as we waved to the cameras, so if you are in Taiwan, please send a clip of me on Taiwanese TV. Thank you. Continue reading “Shinzo: Akiko Okuda”

Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)

stormPeople have been telling me for ages that I should read Yukiko Motoya, that I would enjoy her quirky, magically realistic style. So she has been on my reading list for some time now, and yet I never manage to get around to reading her work. I always have so many other things to read! Things that were on the list first, things I need to read for work, things written by authors who are already my favourites which means they are naturally higher up on my list of reading priorities. So Motoya never seemed to get a foothold in my reading world.

And then I went to London earlier this year to talk to people about manga and translation, a thing I do for free on Twitter, so I was more than a little surprised than anyone would actually pay me to do it, much less fly me across an ocean. But they did, so I jumped on a plane to tell some British people why manga is important and interesting as a genre in itself and what the challenges in translating it are. (Spoiler: It has a lot to do with the pictures part of the equation.) The festival was mostly a celebration of fiction without pictures, though, so I was surrounded by great authors and amazing translators for a week, which was such a treat. I got to hear about so many interesting books and translation projects and challenges from people doing fascinating work in the world of Japanese art and literature. It was like I was living all books all the time. I very much recommend the experience Continue reading “Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)”

Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi

Hitori_UozumiEvery time I move between Canada and Japan, I overestimate my abilities, stamina, and time to a degree that is honestly quite shocking. I have been doing this round-trip life for a decade now, so you’d think I would have at least a vague grasp of what I am capable of doing in what period of time. But no. Every single time, I grow increasingly frantic as I push further into the crumple zone—the plane is going to leave whether I am on it or not, and that unyielding wall jams my days back up into each other like the front end of a car in a crash. Miraculously, however, I did once again manage to throw my apartment into my suitcases and get them to the airport on time. Even more miraculous perhaps is the fact that for the first time in I can’t even remember how long, said cases were not overweight because of all the books I bought. Friends, I showed admirable restraint on my bookstore visits during my summer in Tokyo.

That is not to say that I did not buy any books. That would be absurd. My suitcases were still filled with fun treats for my brain to battle. I simply tried this idea of only buying books when I was ready to read a new book. Plus a couple extra. I am not a monk over here. But during the last frantic week of the crumple zone, I make a concerted effort not to buy any new books because I am panicking about how much space I don’t have in my luggage. This effort is constantly thwarted, though, because people keep putting out great books that I want to read. Or author friends spring their latest release on me over dinner the night before I leave and said release just happens to be a 500-page tome. (Please stop writing doorstoppers, author friends. Think of my poor, struggling suitcases.) Or I happen to spot the latest from an author I’ve enjoyed battling before, like Ami Uozomi, whose live-in lesbian cooking/romance manga charmed the pants off of me. And this one promised cats, too! How could I resist the possibility of queer cat manga?? I am not made of stone. Continue reading “Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi”

Tonari Ni: basso

Tonari_bassoRejoice! The annual celebration of smut is upon us! It is our time to shine, fujoshi. And by shine, I mean of course, curl up in our houses and lose ourselves in the world of BL where men can love men in impossible ways, bending the laws of physics with their phantom peens and facing zero of the homophobia that still plagues the real world. Let us give ourselves over to this beautiful, schmexy fantasy, friends. Let us enjoy and celebrate the bountiful harvest of man love this year has brought us.

The prize-winning pig at this year’s festival is perhaps the long-awaited return to BL of Natsume Ono aka basso. Seven years after her last book, Naka-san no Nagare, she brings us this beautiful slice of salaryman love, Tonari Ni. My heart sings just typing those words. I love Ono’s basso work so much. While her artwork remains strong regardless of the genre she writes in, her powers of storytelling are honestly all over the place, and I too often find myself frustrated with her mainstream work, wondering what exactly she is trying to communicate to readers. And when I finally got the chance to translate her work with ACCA 13, that frustration was doubled and tripled as I read and re-read the unnecessarily convoluted tale of political intrigue during the translation process. So many meaningless and weird details that have zero plot impact and only serve to divert the reader in directions that are completely non-story-related. Why the district with the giant food? How can you cross a border and suddenly have strawberries the size of a person’s head? And why does being two metres tall mean you need a strawberry the size of your head? Continue reading “Tonari Ni: basso”

Saturn Return: Akane Torikai

saturnBoth surprised and not surprised at all to see the new Akane Torikai blurbed on the obi by another Brain favourite, Sayaka Murata. I knew she was a fan of Torikai’s work because well, we’ve gushed at each other about how we’re both fans of Torikai’s work. And blurbs really bring together all the different kinds of art in Japan—singers blurb novels, novelists blurb movies, movie stars blurb manga; the arts are weirdly supportive and interactive on this side of the ocean. But I always wonder how well known each of these artists are outside of their respective art form. Does the average manga reader know enough about Sayaka Murata to care what kind of manga she likes? Is this thoughtful paragraph on her impressions of the book and its themes enough to get the casual bookshop browser to walk over to the register and slap down some yen? I’m so curious about the overlap here. And wondering why we (mostly) don’t do this kind of cross-medium blurbing in the English publishing industry.

I obviously would have bought Saturn Return regardless of blurbers because Akane Torikai is fast becoming one of my favourite artists working in manga these days. And here is where I make my customary plea for an English publisher to please license something of hers so I can push it eagerly into the hands of all my friends, comics readers and non-readers alike. (Also, hire me to translate it, please and thank you!) Reading this volume, it struck me that her work really belongs with a “graphic novel” publisher rather than a manga publisher.

Both her art style and subject matter are so much more in the camp of the things that D&Q or L’Association publish rather than the books VIZ Media or Seven Seas do. And this realization made me wonder all over again if the label “manga” can actually be a hindrance to some books finding traction with overseas publishers and readers, especially when it comes to josei manga. Josei is usually tackling themes that aren’t part of the stereotypical North American definition of “manga”, which is often nearly synonymous with Shonen Jump style or Morning-style seinen comics. Maybe if josei was set free from the manga label, we’d get to see more of it in English?? (Yes, I am always dreaming.)

At any rate, even if it never sees the light of day in English, Saturn Return in Japanese is still…a lot. This should come as no surprised to anyone who has ever read any of Torikai’s work before. But let me warn you before we go any deeper into this particular work: lots of upsetting things in these pages, the biggest of which is probably the depictions of suicide, depression, and suicide ideation, but there’s also some sexual stuff which is uncomfortably close to non-consensual. If you’d rather skip out on any discussion of these issues, then you might prefer to read about longtime Brain favourite Aoi Ikebe this week and come back again next week when we will turn to less fraught themes. Continue reading “Saturn Return: Akane Torikai”

Yobidashi Hajime: Asumiko Nakamura

Yobidashi_NakamuraIt’s no secret that I buy a whole lot of books. This whole blog is basically a record of my inability to resist a tantalizing book cover. I do borrow from the library, too—libraries are the best and we should all support them however we can—but the way I live on both sides of the ocean is not really all that conducive to frequent library use. If I don’t finish one of my own books before I head back to Tokyo or Toronto, I can just leave it and come back to it upon my eventual return. Not so with the library book! Plus, I am a book nerd through and through. It is a such a great pleasure for me to own a book, to find the perfect place for it on my many shelves, and simply bask in its paperial beauty.

The other reason I prefer to buy my books is because you never know when you will want to read any particular book. I firmly believe that every book has a time, and it’s not always the time when you first come across it. I often buy books because a friend has recommended it or I saw something about it on Twitter, but I rarely have the time to read it the second I buy it. I’m usually reading one (or four) other books already, so the new book goes on the shelf of unread books to await its turn. Sometimes, that turn comes right away, as is generally the case for my favourite of favourite authors who I am always in the mood to read (yes, I’m looking at you, Ayako Noda) or the latest volume of a series I’m actively following (Sanju Mariko is still so good!). But for some books, it can take actual years for them to make their way to the head of the queue. Continue reading “Yobidashi Hajime: Asumiko Nakamura”

Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa

Veranda_ErisawaI should be sweating profusely right now or at least needing to use the air conditioner because it is mid-July in Tokyo and that is the time of year when we all melt. But it is cold (I mean, Tokyo summer cold, though, so mid twenties) and rainy, and I am wanting to find just who is responsible for ruining my summer and yell at them like they are the manager of a shitty family restaurant that I can lord myself over for no reason at all except I ordered the unlimited refill drink bar. But no one (that I can find, anyway) is in charge of the weather, and so I am left chilled and vaguely unsatisfied with the whole situation.

The good part of this endless string of cloudy and rainy days (insofar as there can be a good part; I would really like to see the sun already. I think I’m developing a vitamin D deficiency) is that I am more inclined to stay home and get cosy with a book. I’m getting a lot of reading done. Most of it is for work, sadly, so I can’t write about it because: publishing industry secrets, and some of it I don’t want to write about (like the book that purported to be about drinking alone but was really just another food manga in disguise). But I’ve come across some real treasures lately—the print re-release of Kageki Shojo season zero is amazing, with previously unpublished bonus comics and an interview with former Takarazuka top star Kaname Ouki. It’s a deliciously fat book that includes the two original volumes of Kageki Shojo before the series moved to a new publisher, and it is such a satisfying treat to hold in your hands. Continue reading “Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa”