I had never even heard of the anthology/magazine Manga Erotics f until Natsume Ono and Usamaru Furuya came to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival last year, and I did the interpreting thing for them and their editor, Akira Uemura. Which is a shame, because I missed about seventy issues of a manga magazine that I can finally get into.
Here is my manga magazine secret: I don’t really like them. I think it’s for the same reason that I’ve never enjoyed listening to the radio. It’s so hit and miss. One story will be totally great and I’ll be so into it, and then! The next story will bore me to tears. Like in the issue of Morning Two that I picked up the last time I was in Japan because I keep trying to like manga magazines: sixteen pages of delight from Daisuke Nishijima, whose fantastical, fairy tale like stories never fail to make me smile, followed by far too many pages of Oishii Manabiya, a plodding and artistically dull tale of hentais going to cooking school or something. I’d rather just save my money and buy the standalone book of the stuff that I do like, much like I just listen to CDs and music I buy rather than endure the stuff I hate on the radio just to hear the good song wedged in there.
So after a great TCAF with great guests, I figured I should check out this magazine they worked for. After all, if nothing else, I could at least read some chapters by Ono and Furuya. But it was kind of hard to find. Or at least it wasn’t just sitting on the rack with all the other manga magazines. (I found out later that it’s technically classified as an anthology, rather than a magazine, which means it gets to sit on the shelf a whole lot longer than your average manga magazine. Which is good since it’s only published bi-monthly.) Eventually, I found it in the strangely replete alternative manga section at the unexpectedly great bookstore in Nakano.
The stories are ostensibly all erotic somehow, but the definition of erotic is pretty loose. As editor Uemura herself told me, everyone has their own idea of what’s erotic and that’s the criteria they use at the magazine. If the artist feels it’s erotic, then in it goes! Well, as long as it’s well written, of course.
Some of the stories fit just about everyone’s definition of erotic, almost bordering on porn, like Naoki Yamamoto’s Bunko no Hitotachi. (This is also the story you will pray the customs agents don’t notice if they happen to rife through your bag, depicting as it does some pretty naked tweens experimenting with pretty naked tween stuff.) But other stories seem to have little connection to anything sexy. Order Meido by ancou, for instance, is about a man who dies and ends up joining a cadre of afterlife tailors. That almost sounds like the set-up for some boys’ love story, but no. These tailors actually just get people dressed for their trip to where your spirit goes when you die. Maybe it will become more obviously erotic as the story goes on, but as of Chapter 2, it was pretty much cutting fabric and whipstitching hems.
Erotic or not, the stories running in f are good. The hits are far more numerous than the misses. Out of fourteen stories in Vol. 71, there was only one that I was deeply uninterested in, which isn’t to say that I was in love with all the rest, just that there was enough going on to keep me reading until the very end. There’s also a good variety of art and storytelling styles to keep things interesting.
What really sets f apart from the manga magazine pack is the extensive special feature that takes up the first thirty or so pages of each issue. Volume 71 has a great spread on Asumiko Nakamura (how much do I love her sleek style! Find a good overview of her in English here), including a full colour standalone story, an illustrated peek at how she colours her comics, an interview with the artist herself, and some loving tributes from other artists. To commemorate the end of Furuya’s latest series, Innosan Shonen Jujjigun, Volume 72 features Furuya in a fascinating conversation with one of his manga heros, Suehiro Maruo, a pull-out of each of them doing the other’s work in their own style, and an adorable photo essay of the Lychee Light Club’s school trip. (Incidentally, I hadn’t read any of Innosan, but now I have read the last two chapters, which should make reading the series from the start weird.)
Reading Erotics f, I understood for the first time the appeal of the manga magazine: a bunch of stuff crammed into the same book by artists you may or may not know for an amount of money that you won’t be grumpy about if you hate half of the book. I’m not going to run out and buy the standalone books for most of these stories, but I’m glad I sampled them. And I’m excited by the discovery of new (to me) artists in these pages, like Machiko Kyo, whose loose, watercolour style and intriguing “SF horror” story had me turning back to her pages over and over again.
And this may be the only magazine in Japan to have done a feature on TCAF. So I have no choice but to love it, if only for Ono immortalizing me with the word “Falafel!” in its pages.