Uto Sousou: Takehito Moriizumi

img_7095Back on the other side of the ocean and at the start of a new year, you know the only thing I am doing is going to bookstores, buying books, and then reading the books I buy. (And eating vegan ramen. It is my only love outside of books.) So within perhaps hours of my plane touching down at Haneda, I was fondly running my eyes over shelves of books that I have not yet read. Most of the things I’ve picked up so far have been the latest volume in ongoing series that I’m reading, like the new Deathco or Lady & Old Man, but I’ve grabbed a couple stand-alone books, like this weird BL about dentists, which is a first for me. (But I have translated BL about accountants, so I guess no dull profession is off limits in BL?) But the book that pushed a gasp of delight out of my mouth when I spotted it among the new releases was Uto Sousou by Takehito Moriizumi.

I have raved about Moriizumi a couple times before, but I am compelled to do it again. And again and again until someone listens to me and publishes his work in English already. (And hires me to do it; that is always the extra condition there.) He is doing work that is so utterly original and bafflingly beautiful, not just compared with other comics in the Japanese market, but any comics that I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been stumped by how he creates the images that filled the pages of his previous work, strange semi-watercolors that look like wood cuts. It turns out a lot of that work was done with water to which ink was added on the page, a process I cannot even begin to understand, but Uto is surprisingly easy to figure out. He drew the whole book in pencil. It’s amply clear from the pages themselves that these are pencils line drawings (or perhaps pastel), but just in case you don’t get it, the afterword by film director Nobuhiko Obayashi (who, in an unexpected twist, is Moriizumi’s father-in-law) spells it out for the reader: the book is done in 8B pencil. Moriizumi made a small dot on the blank page and then moved out with his line. Until he had fifteen short stories to put into a book. Continue reading

Joshikosei ni Korosaretai: Usamaru Furuya

korosaretai_furuyaThe proliferation of manga-related art shows I mentioned before didn’t just start this year. It’s been gradually gaining momentum, and I have made a point of going to see any that happen to be on while I am in Tokyo. Which is an increasing amount of time lately. In fact, I am somewhere above the ocean at the time this post reaches the interworlds. Or maybe I’ve landed by now? I can’t keep the time differences straight. At any rate, I’ll be enjoying Tokyo at my favourite time of year for the city: Oshogatsu! The New Year’s holidays when everyone goes back to their hometowns and the city is a ghost town for a few brief, glorious days (except the tourist areas like Asakusa. Don’t go there, friends. It will be even more crowded than usual). There’s something almost magical about Kannana-dori being empty of traffic in the middle of the day.

But pretty much everything is closed, so I doubt I will be seeing any manga exhibits in the first few days I am on the ground. So let’s talk about exhibits I saw last year in the cold of winter! My frequent partner in Tokyo adventures joined me on a quick jaunt to say hello to former TCAF guest Usamaru Furuya at his show at the Vanilla Gallery, where he was just working on his latest manga in the middle of the room. A nice way to combine being at the gallery for his fans with drawing some pages to meet his deadline, I guess. We chatted and caught up for a while, and then he was kind enough to sign the first volume of the aforementioned manga, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai Continue reading

Monstress: Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda

monstress_vol1-1

Dang! It has been a very long time since an English book has graced this space. I’ve spent so much time in Japan this year (and am about to fly back across that ocean yet again!) that I haven’t actually had the chance to read much stuff in English. Most bookstores in Tokyo don’t have books in English, and when they do, they’re way more expensive than books in Japanese or those same books in English in a bookstore in Canada. But then there is not the same abundance of bookstores in Toronto that there is in Tokyo, so when I’m on this side of the ocean, it’s a bit more difficult for me to randomly encounter interesting books.

So I suppose it’s not surprising that I ran across this particular English book in Tokyo. The encounter was random, but my interest in it was not. The corner of the internet I inhabit has been aflutter with Monstress since the first issue, and I was very intrigued with what I was hearing about it. But much like I find reading a chapter a month in a manga magazine annoying, I also hate reading single issues of North American comics; I am one of those people that pretty much always waits for the trade paperback. So I made a mental note about Monstress and then studiously ignored all talk of it online for fear of ruining it for myself. But when the first volume of the trade came out this summer, I was, of course, in Tokyo.

However, being a city of weird magic, Tokyo brought the book to me! In the hands of one half of the creative team, Sana Takeda herself! Yes, I live a blessed comics life, friends. Through a series of convoluted associations and events, Sana ended up being a part of a Canadian comics event that I was working at in my capacity as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER for TCAF. As soon as I saw the short stack of the first trade on the table in front of her, I knew I was going to have to get a copy even though I was only a week away from flying back to Canada, and therefore very aware of how much stuff I had to cram into my luggage. But how often does the universe bring a book to you? You can’t just walk away from a gift like that. Especially since she was selling them for what amounted to the US retail price, a steal for a Canadian book buyer! And she kindly threw in issue seven on top of that! Sana Takeda is a pretty nice person, is basically what I’m saying here. Continue reading

Arabesque Part 1: Ryoko Yamagishi

arabesque_yamagishiIn the last few years, it feels like there’s been an explosion in manga-related art shows in Tokyo (and in the rest of Japan too, but I’m based in Tokyo, so that is what I notice the most). The cynical part of me notices the vast array of merchandise at these shows and scowls at the blatant cash grab on the part of museums and galleries and publishers. But the comics-loving side of me is delighted to see this medium getting some recognition as “serious” art. And all parts of me are thrilled that I get to see the original art from some of my favourite manga, like the pages from Sakuran at the Moyoco Anno exhibit this fall or from Shinjuku Lucky Hole and Kuslar at the onBLUE show a couple weeks later. (I may have given into the naked cash grab at the latter show and perhaps bought a Shinjuku Lucky Hole mug and probably have no regrets about that choice.)

I also got to see unpublished pages from Taiyo Matsumoto’s upcoming contribution to the Louvre series (about cats!!) and a retrospective of the career of Ryoko Yamagishi, one of the Year 24 Group, who I know mostly from her pioneering yuri tale Shiroi Heya no Futari. Because I spend a lot of time thinking about gender and manga and sexuality, not because it is her most famous work. That title would probably be given to Arabesque, the story of a young would-be ballerina in the former Soviet Union. Nonna Petrova is the second daughter of a moderately successful ballerina in Kiev, who began teaching at a ballet school when her own stage career was finished. She raised both of her daughters as ballerinas, but it is clear to everyone that it is the older girl Irina is the more talented of the two. Nonna is just too tall, too “dynamic” of a dancer to really make it in the strict world of Soviet classical ballet.swan_yamagishi Continue reading

2DK: Sachiko Takeuchi

2dkI was mostly familiar with Sachiko Takeuchi’s work in the Trance Cider circle, alongside Brain favourite est em and veteran artist Naito Yamada, and while I liked her work there, for some reason, I wasn’t particularly inspired to go seek out more of it. Which seems weird in hindsight, because I actually really like the pieces she’s done for Trance Cider. But then I got to meet fellow fujo and all-around superstar Khursten in the real in Tokyo this summer, and she told me all about the very interesting work Takeuchi’s been doing as a queer artist documenting her partner’s transition. This was particularly relevant to me as I was in the middle of working on the Queer Japan film project, and I only wish I had known all this in time to suggest to the director that we go have a chat with her too.

And then I was in the bookstore (my home away from home) and I came across a huge display of Takeuchi’s work. I’m not really sure why the bookstore had such a large (and long-lasting—it was up for at least two weeks) display of Takeuchi’s work, but I am glad it did because it reminded me of my conversation with Khursten and my interest in checking Takeuchi’s work out. I settled on 2DK out of the assorted works on display simply because they were the slimmest volumes. The peak of Mount Bookstoberead is higher than ever, and a couple slim books I can power through makes me feel accomplished in my reading life. Yes, my criteria for picking up a book are random and, at times, super shallow. Continue reading

Aru Oshiire Atama Otoko no Hanashi: Fuhito Fujimiya

aru-oshiire_fuhito-fujimiyaIn the 2015 Doujinshi Round-Up, I talked about my love of the Onna to series put out by Popocomi. And it’s a series that’s continued beyond just those two issues. Not only that, Popocomi is not a circle or a publisher, but rather the project of Popotame, a super-indie bookstore and gallery space in a residential neighbourhood of Ikebukuro, hidden in many twists and turns of streets that I would never have found it on my own, even with the aid of the map in my phone. I am just not that good at directions and getting places.

But fortunately, I went with my friend who is not only super-good at directions and getting places, but also makes his place of residence in Ikebukuro, and so instantly understood where this weirdo place was and led me straight to it. Only to discover that it is closed sometimes on random days. And it happened to be one of those days when we set forth on this bookstore adventure. So we high-fived ourselves for finding it, peered through the windows at the tantalizing hints of books we could see in the gloom—surely arousing suspicion in the neighbouring houses as two foreigners peeping will do—and then went to the nearby park where we sat and drank beer and watched a strange meeting of a dog club take place under the intense, watchful stare of what appeared to be the park cat. It was a weird scene, befitting the neighbourhood of a weird bookstore. Continue reading

Wombs (the rest of it): Yumiko Shirai

wombs_ShiraiThe demise of IKKI was sad for a whole bunch of reasons. Over its run, the magazine created its own little niche in the manga market, publishing things of all genres, despite ostensibly being a seinen magazine. It seemed like the only real commonality between the wide variety of manga serialized in those pages was that they were different from everything else, not just in the magazine, but in the world of manga itself. And yet it was still somehow mainstream, or at least mainstream-adjacent, carried in most bookstores and attracting readers from all demographics. Over its 11-year run under editor-in-chief Hideki Egami, works as diverse as Chin Nakamura’s Gunjo, Natsume Ono’s Sairaya Goyo, and Daisuke Igarashi’s Kaiju no Kodomo made their homes in its pages. When IKKI ceased publication in the fall of 2014, many of its series migrated to Gekkan Spirits (Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, for example) while others were the anchors in the launch of IKKI’s successor, Hibana (Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida). But it was decided that Brain favourites Golondrina by est em and Wombs by Yumiko Shirai would finish out their runs in tankobon form.

That was two years ago. Two years of waiting and wondering when I would finally get to see how these very different stories turn out. I’m still waiting for the final volume(s?) of Golondrina, but Shirai managed to bring her epic, space war, alien pregnancy sci-fi series to an end earlier this year. Of course, given the level of intricate detail in this series and how long it had been since I read the first four books, I had to go back and re-read them all so that I could finally get to the last book and learn just what happened to Mana Oga. And of course, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Japan this year, while the Wombs books were in my apartment in Canada, so I haven’t quite been able to manage to be proximate to the books when I was ready to take on the challenge of re-reading them. Until now. Yes, it’s time to take a look at Wombs as a completed work. Finally.

So there will be spoilers. I can’t discuss the entire series without getting a little into some plot stuff, although I’ll avoid the big reveals so I won’t ruin any of the real surprises. But if you want to read spoiler-free thoughts, go back and read my first take on this series. Seriously. If you don’t want to know how all this turns out, click on that link now. Okay? I warned you. Continue reading