Kageki Shojo: Kumiko Saiki

Kageki_Saiki.jpgAdventures in the world of shojo continue! I’ve been noodling a little longer (lingering, loitering, getting side-eyes from suspicious shop clerks) in the shojo sections of bookstores these days, trying to see past the dazzling displays of tiresome and heteronormative romances (I’m sorry, romance-loving friends. Girl/Boy falls for boy/girl who doesn’t even notice her/him is just so dull to me. I want stories about people doing things other than falling in love and trying to get the attention of their crush) and dig deep into the possibilities shojo has to offer me. On one such trip to the bookstore, I ducked into an aisle to one side to avoid the curious gazes of actual shojos perusing the shelves. And lo! Awaiting me there was Kageki Shojo, an honest-to-goodness delight and a gem of a series. Why did none of you tell me what a great artist Kumiko Saiki is?! I could have been reading her work for years already instead of only stumbling upon it now.

Fortunately, it’s never too late for great books. And now that I’ve finished all five available volumes of Kageki, I can go back through Saiki’s catalogue. She’s been making manga since 1999! She’s got a lot of books for me to devour. My future right now is very bright, my good chums. I mean, when even the legendary shojo artist Riyoko Ikeda is blurbing her books, you know you are in for some very delicious treats. (Seriously! Can you imagine being a shojo artist and having praise from Ikeda printed on the obi for your book?? I would have the vapours and be calling for smelling salts.) (more…)

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Arigatotte Ietanara: Yukari Takenami

img_641705e243d4198ba7fb625ed00a19ad90261I found a new bookstore! That in and of itself is perhaps not the biggest deal. As I mentioned only last week, this is Tokyo and there is a bookstore on nearly every corner. But not every bookstore is equal. Some are too small to carry much beyond the latest issue of One Piece and the most recent Akutagawa Prize winners. Some are overly niche-y in a niche I have no interest in, like the Shosen Grandé in Akihabara and its “train lovers’ holy land.” Naturally, I will still happily wander through the aisles of such bookstores—just being surrounded by all those pages with their many messages is so comforting—but my favourite bookstores are, of course, the ones that cater to my own weird nerdiness. Sometimes, all a bookstore needs to be is really big. But every so often, I will stumble across a cosy little place that offers maximum discovery potential in the minimum of space, which is the case of the bookstore I found last week in Koenji.

Half the small shop was taken up by manga, most of it pretty standard, but the random stuff was so deeply random! I was greeted by so many titles I’d never even heard of. And they had sample readers for more than half of those manga, so you can check out all these random treats and see if any of them suit your refined palette. The other half of the place was mostly bunkobon, with a smattering of art, philosophy, and other bits and bobs (I got a book about Japanese women’s prison! Yes, we’ll be talking about it at some point in the future!). And the shop itself was warm and inviting with wood shelves everywhere in islands instead of aisles and a raised section that allowed you to look out over the rest of the shop like a queen surveying her queendom of books. I was very happy there, and it is now where I want my ashes scattered when I die. (more…)

Momo no Kikikajiri: Machiko Kyo

Momo_Kyo.jpgAs always, my favourite thing about being back in Tokyo is being able to pop into a bookstore whenever and wherever I want, unlike in Toronto, where I have to make a specific trip to find books. But Tokyo is just littered with the things. Books everywhere! My second favourite thing, though, might be getting to go to tiny art shows in tiny event spaces. I always like to stop in at the Sanyodo on the corner when I’m in Omotesando; they usually have an exhibit by an artist I’ve never heard of on the second floor. Plus books on the first floor! Vanilla Gallery in Ginza is always good for strange erotic art and half the time (it seems) they’re having an Usamaru Furuya show. But mostly, I end up popping in on random shows that get tweeted into my timeline from some part of the Japanese twittersphere. Sometimes, I have no idea what part that might be, but other times, it’s an artist I follow. Which is obviously the most exciting kind of random show.

The recent Machiko Kyo show at Title was one such exhibit. It closed a couple days after I arrived, but I managed to fight back my jetlag for long enough to make the trek to Ogikubo and look at some of her original pages for her Sennen Gaho + 10 Years. It was perhaps the tiniest of tiny art shows I’ve ever been to; there were maybe twelve pieces on display. The larger part of the small space was taken up with merchandise, which is the way of all Japanese shows. And like a good consumer, I did my part, picking up yet another clear file (what am I going to do with all these clear files??) among other things, but they also had a solid selection of Kyo’s back catalogue set out. We all know that my brain is a fan, so there wasn’t much there we hadn’t already battled. But then my eyes caught sight of Momo, a full-colour treat that was serialized at Hanatsubaki and wrapped up earlier this year. A treat my brain had not battled yet. So naturally, I grabbed the two slim volumes and headed to a café to dig in. (more…)

Mukui wa Mukui, Batsu wa Batsu: Takehito Moriizumi

Mukui_MoriizumiIn preparation for my imminent return to the land of sweaty summer (by the time you read this, I will already be sweating through all my clothes and trying to get my Japan summer legs back), I’ve been trying to read through the stack of books that comprise the unscalable Mount Bookstoberead. It’s hard to enjoy wandering through my favourite bookstores and buying new books when the spectre of the books I’ve already bought looms so large. Mostly, this has meant digging into the latest volumes of ongoing series that I’m already reading (Never stop being incredible, Tongari Boshi no Atelier!), but as my good luck would have it, the second and final volume of Moriizumi’s Mukui wa Mukui, Batsu wa Batsu arrived in the most recent package of books, which meant that I could finally read the first volume and devour the story all in one go.

This story was planned as complete in two volumes right from the start, and knowing that, I figured I’d rather read it as one because I am incredibly prone to forgetting the smaller details of plots over time. I also wait to read slower moving longer series, too (I’m looking at you, Dead Dead Demons) because after six months, I can’t remember why anyone is really doing any of the little things they’re doing to further the larger broad strokes of the plot that I actually remember. This is why I keep spreadsheets of the longer running series that I translate. With something like the glacial release schedule of Blue Morning, I can barely remember the characters’ names by the time I get a new volume to translate. (more…)

Otokonoko Doshi Renaichu: Kaoru Oshima/Fumiko Fumi

Otoko_FumiFor the past few years, there’s been this bubbling undercurrent of fascination with the “otokonoko” in Japan. I think it’s always been hanging around the edges of BL, lurking in the background, but has been getting a little more mainstream currency thanks to artists like Hideyoshico and Fumiko Fumi. It also helps that the art magazine Eureka did a special otokonoko issue a couple years back, bringing the boys who dress as girls more into the public eye. These days, you can go to specialized otokonoko bars and cafés or even transform into one yourself with the help of specialized shops. Naturally, most of this action is where the action usually is, in Tokyo, but you can still see otokonoko on TV across the country, and even outside the capital, you can find places that welcome joso along with the larger LGBTQ community.

The TV appearances and things are easy to dismiss in a way because it’s sort of a specialty of Japan (and so many other places) to take the “novel” and hold it up to the spotlight while ignoring the actual reality of that lived experience in Japanese society (think Matsuko Deluxe vs the general trans experience or Naomi Watanabe vs an average fat girl or Hard Gay vs actual gay life). So of course, with the increasing awareness of otokonoko, a spot opened up at the talent table for wide show appearances, and stepping up to fill that seat was Kaoru Oshima. Originally an actor in gay porn, Oshima started living the otokonoko life, dressing and presenting as a woman full-time, and became the first otokonoko actress in the world of Japanese porn. Eventually, he left the world of porn to become a full-time writer and TV personality. (more…)

Reiraku: Inio Asano

Reiraku_AsanoIt’s that time of year, friends. Maybe you’ve grown tired of my nattering on about TCAF, but like it or not, that nattering is here to stay as long as the festival keeps happening and I keep torturing myself with interpreting for it. Last year was actually the first time I didn’t have a Japanese artist to take care of full time, and it was such a strange feeling to be able to attend and be a part of the panels. I even went around and talked to exhibitors, bought books, hung out like I had nowhere else to be. So naturally, after a very laidback year, I was in for the exact opposite this year with guest Inio Asano. Which is not to say he was a demanding petulant diva! He was not! He’s actually a lovely person, and I had a great time hanging out with him for the five days he was in town for the festival. But Japanese guests have varying levels of English ability, which means I am more or less needed for interpreting. And Asano’s English is essentially non-existent, so it was the more needed part of that equation this year.

As is my custom when preparing to welcome Japanese artists to the festival, I’ve spent the last couple months reading everything Asano ever wrote and hunting down every last interview he’s done, essentially becoming his best and most dedicated stalker. (Don’t tell him that, though.) I even turned up a conversation between him and (another former TCAF guest) Usamaru Furuya in an old issue of Erotics f I have tucked away in the back of my bookcase. All this preparation proved very useful, especially the video of the live drawing event in Italy (which I watched enough to start to learn Italian from the interpreter), and Asano’s sessions at the festival all went really well. Or so I assume from the feedback I got from the audiences and fans who came to the signing sessions. And now Asano is back in Japan, I am not dead, and we have a book to talk about. (more…)

Akachan Honbucho: Sachiko Takeuchi

Akachan_TakeuchiIt’s spring! And I think it’s for real, my good chums! I stepped out yesterday with bare legs. No tights! Although I did wear shorts under my dress because spring might have finally sprung, but it’s still not that warm out and all you people sitting out on patios in tank tops have some kind of internal thermal regulation issues that you should have checked out by your doctor. But the sun feels so good after what felt like an endless winter of grey skies even when I spent at least half the winter enjoying the blue skies and mild temperatures of Tokyo. I might have been born in Canada, but I am not a winter person, something that never fails to shock the Japanese people I encounter. It appears the common mythology there is that Canadians are all padded with an insulating layer of fat to protect us from our harsh winters.

Coinciding with the arrival of the spring breeze was, of course, a big old box of books from Japan. For work, I swear! I needed a couple Inio Asano books to complete my preparations for his upcoming visit to TCAF (you’re coming, too, right?), so I figured I might as well piggyback some new releases from favourite authors in that shipment and save myself the trouble/expense of bringing them back on my next trip to Tokyo. And one of my most anticipated of those new releases was Akachan Honbucho, or “General Manager of Baby”, as the English subtitle would have it. I wouldn’t actually mind reading a story about a general manager of babies—the concept seems wacky as hell and very open-ended (like, would the general manager have a staff of babies? Would all babies in the world report to this general manager? Or would it be more like wrangling babies? Organizing the babies for some purpose? Someone write this story for me.)—but Akachan is actually about a general manager who is a baby. (more…)