Sokuseki Bijin no Tsukurikata: Akiko Higashimura

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It’s still Women in Translation month! So many women, so much translation! Where to find the time to read all the great books people are suggesting?? I probably never will, given that the shelf of unread books at my house has spread like some terrible fungus out onto an end table, which is now stacked dangerously high with books that I have acquired for my brain to battle one of these days. I love the fact that I get to read books for a living, but sometimes, I look at the spreading encroachment of paper crawling out of the bookshelf and across my apartment, and I despair. There will never be enough time to read them all. This is how I face the fact of my own mortality: by slowly coming to truly understand that I will never read all the books, that there will always be unread books on that shelf/end table/floor/everywhere.

But for the time being at least, my brain and I are very much alive! And that means we continue to beat back the tide of unread books, undaunted! And in keeping with the “women who have been translated into English, but I am reading a nontranslated book” theme we started last week with Sakuraba’s Jigokuyuki, my brain thought it might be nice to take a look at shojo/josei manga star Akiko Higashimura, author of the hilarious and beautiful Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Those series are both being translated into English, and you should definitely pick them up. You will laugh, you will cry, you will feel some major feels. You could also watch the drama they made of Tokyo Tarareba Girls earlier this year. It’s pretty great! Continue reading

Jigokuyuki: Kazuki Sakuraba

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It’s Women in Translation month! I am a woman in translation! I translate women authors! So basically, this month is my time to shine! Also: buy my books! There are a lot to choose from! But if you’re looking for some other translations to while away the lazy days of August with, you have so many options! While the majority of authors translated into English are men, the situation is getting better for us of the lady persuasion. Mostly because we keep yelling about it with things like WIT month. So come! Yell with me today, readers! Raise your voice for books by women from other lands translated into English! (Bonus points if the translator is also a woman!)

My brain tends to battle mostly books in Japanese here, but we have tackled more than a few translated works, and so many of them by women! Take a peek and find a new book to love. Or you can check out this great list from the always amazing Words Without Borders. How about a nonstop feed of lady greatness on Twitter? Maybe Tumblr is more your jam? Or do you like your info old school in the form of a blog post? Everyone everywhere is talking about women in translation this month! And my brain wants to be part of the fun! Continue reading

Joso Danshi to Menhera Ojisan: Fumiko Fumi

Menheru_FumiThe years keep rolling by, and yet my love of men enjoying the pleasures of other men never fades. Here we are at another 801, this gloriously smutty day when we all reaffirm our love of hot guys smooching, and I am still reading, writing about, and translating their books. So welcome to all of my fellow fujoshi, young and old, who also enjoy a little phantom peen in their lives! Celebrate this world we live in with something pornographic! Or deliciously sweet! There are no rules in this world of man-loving, save for the defining rule that men must love men in some fashion.

How are you celebrating this year? There’s so much to be thankful for! SuBLime continues to bless us with new licenses and licence rescues in English, and the BL industry has maybe never looked better in Japan. BL corners in even the smallest bookstores, and even BL sommeliers to help us find the perfect smut for our own personal fujo requirements! And the scope of what’s possible with BL only seems to get bigger. Like a story about a high-school cross-dresser hooking up with a man with depression twice his age! Sounds like it could only end well, doesn’t it? (Spoiler alert: This is BL. It does.) Continue reading

qtµt: Fumiko Fumi/Sayawaka

Scan 8I read the first two volumes of qtµt just after volume two came out at the end of May, and I have been sitting on them ever since because I honestly don’t know what to make of this bizarre collaboration between author Sayawaka and artist (and Brain favourite) Fumiko Fumi. Every time I think about it, a tiny bomb goes off in another part of my poor, beleaguered head. Wait, so did she—Boom! But then how do they—Kablam! Does that mean—Pakow! While I have heard bands that I had no idea how to react to the first time I encountered them (Moe and Ghosts being the most recent notable example), I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt this way about a book. Given the unfamiliar territory my brain and I suddenly find ourselves in, I figured the best course of action would be to wait for the next volume and see how this strange mess plays out. But every time I see the books on my shelf, the explosions start again, and I realized I was going to have to hammer it all out here or risk having too little brain still intact to tackle volume three.

The English tagline on the cover informs us that “The girl(s) don’t even know love, truth, and lies, either.” Which…sure? I guess so? What does that mean? The questions start so early on with this series. The obi is littered with blurbs. “Whoa, I’ve never seen this before,” declares anime screenwriter Mari Okada. And yes, I have to agree with her. “Terrible things happen to cute girls, so I’m happy,” announces the writer of Madoka Magica, Gen Urobuchi. And again, I can’t say that he’s wrong. But why are terrible things happening to cute girls? What is the point here? That is where my brain goes off the rails. Actually, that is one of several places my brain goes off the rails. Let’s get down to it. Continue reading

Nee, Mama: Aoi Ikebe

Mama_IkebeMotherhood is one of those topics you don’t really see addressed too much in manga or fiction in general, really. I mean, sure, you see mothers and children all the time in books, but that’s mostly because we all have had a mother at some point in our lives. The stories these mothers and children show up in are not generally about motherhood, but rather the lives of the mothers and children in the larger world. There’s too rarely an inward focus, the lens turned on what it means to be a mother and how that meaning shifts and changes. I actually was struck by the way Reese Witherspoon’s character wrestles with this very thing on the first episode of Big Little Lies (which I saw on the plane because that is the only time I ever watch TV shows that are not on Netflix) because I see it so rarely. Mothers have children, they interact with them, they are on the peripheries of their lives or at the centres of them, they are off-screen, they are long dead and longed-for, they are negligent or doting, but their motherhood itself is not usually the story.

Given how we as a culture are always harping on how motherhood is the greatest role a woman could ever hope to play, I’m almost surprised at the lack of reflection in our media on what it means to be a mother. Almost. In much the same way “pro-life” anti-choice groups are rarely interested in the actual lives of anyone involved in the pregnancy process, the concept of motherhood being the biggest thing a woman could do is more about making women second-class citizens than anything else. See also: Every article about a woman that lists her leading accomplishment as motherhood, even when she is a rocket scientist making incredible contributions to humanity.    

And full disclosure: I am not a mother and I hope I never will be. (My womb is full of sand!) I have no interest in performing that particular gender role. But maybe that is exactly why I am intrigued by and drawn to Aoi Ikebe’s latest, Nee, Mama. (Or maybe it is just because it’s Aoi Ikebe, and I swoon anytime anything of hers shows up on the shelves of my bookstore.) Possibly my favourite thing about books is that they let me walk into lives completely different from mine and experience the world through a whole new lens. On a fundamental level, they teach me to empathize with and consider perspectives other than my own. And much like I will never be a bullfighter in Spain or an alcoholic copyeditor or a lovestruck goddess, I will never be a mother. But I can read about the experience of being a mother, thanks to Ikebe. Continue reading

Bara no Mori ni Ita Koro: Haruko Kumota

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With the rainy season hanging firmly over the skies of Tokyo and the sweltering heat of July fast approaching, it is literally sultry over in these parts. The slightest bit of exertion is enough to send rivers of sweat streaming down my face. And my morning runs lead to all the moisture in my body being expelled from every sweat gland I have. It’s disgusting, but weirdly satisfying to be drenched in sweat (as long as you can go home right away and shower it all off). So it seems like the perfect time of year to hide in your house with the air conditioner on and let any sultriness in your life come from the pages of BL books. And what better book to get sweaty with than the latest from Haruko Kumota?

It’s been a long time since she released a BL book than was something other than my beloved Itoshi no Nekokke. That is not a complaint. If she has time to draw BL, I want her to spend it on showing me how happy Mii-kun and Kei-chan are. But I guess Kumota sometimes wants to stretch her wings and tackle something other than our blissed-out lovers. But that seems to be only very occasionally since there are only five stories collected here, spanning from 2011 to 2017. The one from 2011 is “Be Here to Love Me”, which first graced the pages of the Dame BL anthology, and it was just as much of a delight to read again several years later as it was when I first picked up that anthology. The tale of a man with a serious foot fetish discovering that his junior colleague is in fact the owner of the lovely, feminine legs he has been lusting for online, the fact that it is in this collection makes me wonder if foot fetishes and women’s underpants are no longer off-limits when it comes to BL. Continue reading

Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo: Ryo Ikuemi

Anata_IkuemiIt feels like every time I turn on the TV these days, there is another drama based on some manga I’ve never heard of. But I can always tell that it was originally a manga. Something about the pacing? The plotting? The characterisation? I’m not entirely sure, but even without obvious manga-derived elements like the talking bar snacks from Tokyo Tarareba Musume (English version here), these dramas always seem somehow different from original TV shows. Inevitably, I find myself wondering if the show was originally a manga halfway through the program, look it up online, and discover that yes, yes, it was. And almost equally inevitably, that it was a josei manga. Apparently, josei manga get live action drama, while other genres get anime adaptations when it comes time to move them from the printed page to the small screen. Except for seinen, which frequently gets movies. And I leave for another day speculation on why stuff specifically for an audience of young men is adapted to the big screen.

Normally, I have a strict policy of not watching what I read and not reading what I watch. I don’t like the way the characters get muddled up in my head, although I do enjoy seeing different interpretations of the same work. But I arrived in Japan too late to see Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo from the start; in fact, I only managed to catch the last two episodes. So the characters weren’t really fixed in my imagination, and those last two episodes left me curious about the starting point that led to that ending. And I can’t let random rules dictate what I read in this life, so I picked up the first volume of Ryo Ikuemi’s manga to see if I could actually read the series without having the show overwhelm the characters on the page. And good news! I can! Continue reading