Princess Maison: Aoi Ikebe

Princess MaisonAoi Ikebe seems to be challenging herself to ever more difficult topics for the manga she writes. “I wonder if I could write a manga about sewing,” she mused to herself one day, and then turned the idea into six books of Tsukuroitatsu Hito. “That was too easy,” she said later, tapping her pen against her chin. “Now a manga about buying condos, that’s going to be a tough sell.” And then fast forward a year to me, picking up Princess Maison with a raised eyebrow. “A manga about house hunting? I don’t know.” Naturally, I devoured it and can’t wait for the next volume. Ikebe has a gift. I look forward to the day she writes a manga about the person who has to clean all the hair out of the drains at a salon.

Ikebe’s gift is really in seeing what’s going on at home, pulling back the curtains on the mundane to show us that there is a story in everything. That man behind the counter at the convenience store? He rescued a cat from the shelter, but she stalks him between the hours of nine and eleven at night, sometimes attacking him and leaving scars when he does not notice the malevolent light in her eyes soon enough. That woman you always see working at the izakaya by your house? She’s always there because she’s taking any hours she can get to save enough money to buy a place of her own. In this case, her name is Numagoe, and she insists that hers is not a big dream. She doesn’t need anyone but herself to make buying a house happen, after all. Continue reading

Lady and Old Man: Natsume Ono

Lady_OnoWe all know that my brain is a fan of Ono and her angled jaws and droopy cartoon eyes. She is one of the few artists to be tackled again and again and again in these pages, alongside such favourites as est em, Machiko Kyo, and Fumiko Fumi. So when I was browsing the world of manga from up on my mountain on cat island last year, my brain and I let out a little squeal of delight when we happened to notice that the new issue of Ultra Jump contained in its pages the latest from Ono. The squeals grew louder when I saw that the story was set in Los Angeles in the 1960s. I love the hints of retro style she’s been toying with in ACCA 13 Ku, and the idea of a whole series set in that period filled my brain and my heart with glee.

So naturally, I ordered that issue of Ultra Jump and waited with bated breath for it to be delivered to me and the cats. (The cats did not care about it, though. Not until I ripped out pages to ball up and toss around the house for them to play with. But I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think it was the content of those pages that got them running around with murder in their eyes like that.) (Don’t worry. I only ripped out the pages once I was finished reading the magazine and was ready to throw the whole thing in the old oil drum that substituted for a recycling bin on cat island. Because there is no recycling on cat island. We just burn everything. In an old oil drum out back.) Continue reading

Color Recipe: Harada

Color Recipe_HaradaCelebrate, my fellow fujos! Today is that magical day of days! The day when we are free to openly ogle and revel in the beauty that is the love of boys! If you are not a fujo, then maybe just come back during my brain’s regular(-ish. Sorry for the light posting as of late!) Friday battles. Or stick around and see everything you’ve been missing with boy lover Harada! Be warned, however, that in the spirit of the holiday, things get a little unsafe for the work environment below. 

I’ve long been attracted to Harada’s style, in which half the characters look vaguely like pixies, thanks to upturned eyes, pointed noses, and sharp chins. And her (their? Do we know?) work has been everywhere I look for the last little while; she’s clearly the next rising star of the BL world, soon to crossover into the mainstream where her talent for drawing dudes sexing each other up will be grossly underused. But for one reason or another, I never bothered to actually pick up any of her books. (Both reason and another are probably I already have a mountain of books waiting to be read.) Which is an important note to would-be authors: sometimes, people will love your stuff, but they just don’t get the chance to read it. That is a sad thing, but it’s not a reflection on you or your talent. Continue reading

Shonen no Na wa Gilbert: Keiko Takemiya

GilbertI freely confess I had no idea what this book was until I peeled the plastic off and started reading. I simply saw Gilbert coolly gazing at me from the cover, the title, and the author’s name, and I could not pick it up off the shelf at the bookstore fast enough. I slapped some money down on the counter and raced out of the shop with my precious treasure, wondering if it was perhaps a new comic by Takemiya, a spin-off of the beloved Kaze to Ki no Uta. Whatever it was, I was going to read it. And I was pretty sure I was going to love it, because of all the Forty-Niners, Keiko Takemiya is the star in my sky.

And I did read it. And love it. So no surprises here. But rather than a spin-off or some other manga tangentially related to the beautiful and troubled Gilbert, Takemiya surprised me with a biography of Kaze. I’ve never read the biography of a work of art before. I’ve actually never heard of a biography of a work of art before. But this is a thing that should be done more often because it was absolutely fascinating. Takemiya guides us from her arrival in Tokyo at the age of twenty in 1970 through to the start of the serialization of Kaze in 1976, offering many a glimpse into not just herself and her own life and upbringing, but also into the manga industry at the time and the state of Japanese society in the 1970s.

I knew bits and pieces of this story: how Takemiya tried for years to get it published, how it was rejected over and over (as the cover notes in large font), how it was too racy for its time, how editors believed girls did not want to read about boys in love. But this is honestly not even half of the story. Takemiya’s journey to finally serializing what she calls her lifework is more than just a battle against the legions of male shojo manga editors who could never understand what girls actually wanted to read, it’s a battle against herself, her own insecurities and shortcomings as an artist. It’s a young woman finding herself and her voice that should really be read by all aspiring artists if only to reassure themselves that even the greats are plagued with the inner voice of “no”. It’s also a beautiful tale of friendship and women coming together against a male-dominated industry to assert their voices and lift each other up. So yes, Shonen basically has it all. Continue reading

Mori Mite: Shizuka Nakano

Morimite_NakanoWhen I first came across Nakano’s work, I vowed to read more of it, so taken was my brain with her retro stylings. And then…I just forgot? There are so many books for my brain to battle in this world, it’s easy to lose track of a particular artist, especially when that artist seems to only write for the alt-manga magazine Ax, which is not available in your average bookstore. The bookstore by my house is basically your average bookstore, and while I do make trips to better-stocked/weirder bookstores, the sad fact is that I am going to miss some of the more indie stuff unless I’m actively hunting it down. And while I really liked Shisei, I didn’t like it enough to have a Nakano radar implanted in my brain like I did with est em or Miki Yamamoto or Fumiko Fumi. Maybe because Shisei interested me more in terms of style than story. Or maybe because it is a collection of shorts, and I tend to fall harder for longer stories.

After stumbling upon Mori Mite at one of those weirder bookstores I frequent, I feel like it may be mostly the latter. Because although this story clearly started with the first chapter of this book as a one-shot, it must have been well received enough to flesh out into a book-length project. The one-shot “Mori no Machibari” is a little trip into the woods in France where a hiker stumbles into a fairy ring and finds a group of pixies. He helps them untangle the ribbons of their maypole, but accidentally insults them, and they send him back to the woods of the real world. This little story provides a jumping off point for the rest of the book; Nakano takes us back into those woods to show us just what is going on through protagonists Luc and Kazushi. Continue reading

Makuko: Kanako Nishi

Makuko NishiHot off her win for the Naoki Prize, Nishi brings us a tale of a child unwilling to grow up in a small nowhere town surrounded by a bunch of weirdos. When I got to the bit about how everyone is in everyone else’s business, complete with widely known secret love affairs, I thought that maybe I was reading Gyokou no Nikuko-chan from the perspective of the child of the man the titular Nikuko has an affair with. I was honestly baffled by the very strong resemblance to the last novel I read by Nishi.

To be fair, she’s written five other books between that one and this one, including the previously mentioned Naoki Prize winner Saraba!, but it just happened that I read none of those in-between books, so the similarities between Makuko and Nikuko were perhaps more startling to me than many of her other readers. Although who knows, maybe her last five books also feature children growing up in small-town Japan as their protagonists, and Nishi is in a rut she might want to jump out of already.

Fortunately, those big picture details that make Makuko so similar to Nikuko are surface things for the most part, and a dozen or so pages in, I was engrossed in this story without constantly wondering if it was a new part of that story. There are still a lot of the same themes that came up in Nikuko: grown-ups are bullshit, but it’s okay because everyone is bullshit in a different way; childhood is a weird and difficult place where it’s hard to be who you are and still exist in the world in any capacity; Nishi is again using childhood as a stand-in for life in general. But she’s also reaching further in a different direction, pushing us to survive, to see the beauty in this world and ourselves, the beauty in the fleeting pain of our existence. This book is basically two hundred and fifty pages of sakura blossoms. Continue reading

Bokura no Hentai—The End: Fumiko Fumi

IMG_5794So it had to end. Everything that begins ends, except Crest of the Royal Family. That series will outlive us all. But Fumiko Fumi is not writing an epic, time-travelling drama featuring pharaohs and American heiresses, and so her tale is not one that can continue through the ages. And of course, I knew that when I started reading Bokura no Hentai, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw the final volume sitting on the shelf. I stared at it for a minute, in slight disbelief, even though I saw Fumi tweet about the last chapter. But perhaps it came too soon; I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Volume 10 languished in the pile of books I brought back with me from this last trip to Japan. What if it’s terrible? I asked myself. What if it’s too beautiful and I cry all the tears? Clearly, I could not be trusted to read this volume on public transit.

And for a series I have enjoyed/thought about this much, I decided that the best thing to do was to go back and read the whole thing from the beginning. After all, I read the first volume in 2012; my brain could do with a refresher on the details. And maybe reading it all in one go, I’d find some new insights into the whole saga of Marika, Yui, and Palow. I’m not sure how much insight I gained, but it was a pleasure to read an entire series from start to finish without interruption. Reading it all in one go really made me realize how seamless it is, how Fumi was thinking ten volumes ahead right from the start. Well, maybe nine. The last volume isn’t quite everything it could have been. Continue reading