Golondrina: est em

golondrinaYou are probably rolling your eyes at this point and muttering to yourself, “More est em? Come on!” And then the person in the next cubicle (I assume you are reading this at work, trying to just get to five o’clock without killing anyone in your office, but that guy who keeps breathing through his mouth while he scarfs down stinky shrimp chips is making that a very hard task indeed) adds “constantly talks to herself” to the list of things she is going to bring up when she talks to the boss about being moved far away from you. I certainly don’t mean to contribute to intra-office tensions, but you can’t blame me for continuing to devour her work when it is so consistently interesting and challenging.

When so many manga artists are focussed on the typical manga stories set in high schools, companies, and other institutions in Japan, est em is one of the artists always reaching outside the familiar and painting new worlds for her readers. Right from her first book Seduce Me After the Show, she’s been setting her stories all over the world in all kinds of worlds. And now she’s taking a serious look at bullfighting in Spain and it may be the most amazing thing she’s ever done. Yes, I know I am prone to hyperbole, but no, I think I am not exaggerating here.

To be honest, I was reluctant to read this one. I can’t really pin down why, but even though I bought Volume One days after I arrived in Japan the first week of October, I didn’t actually read it until I got on a plane back to Canada at the beginning of December. Part of my reluctance was that I knew this was a book about bullfighting and being a vegetarian and a firm believer in animal rights, I wasn’t sure I could actually enjoy a series about animals being killed for sport, even if it was written by one of my favourite artists. And maybe I was also hesitant because unlike her previous work which has fallen in the BL and ladies’ categories, Golondrina, serialized in a seinen magazine, is aimed at a male audience and I had my doubt about how her approach to manga would translate to that arena.

But of course, I should have known. I have had doubts before and yet est em always manages to dispel them. Because whatever the audience, the woman knows how to tell a story. And how to create real, compelling characters. With Golondrina, she’s finally being given the space to tell a long-form story and it’s a story she’s been itching to tell. At least, that’s what she told me when I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago (you’ll get to read it, don’t worry), but really, it shows in the book itself.

Chika, a girl whose name means “girl” in Spanish, is deeply and desperately in love with Maria. And then Maria goes and gets knocked up by a guy. Chika feels she’s can’t live without Maria, so she stands on the highway in the pouring rain, hoping some poor driver will run her down and end her misery. But (un?)luckily for her, one such car stops short of hitting her, and its driver, Antonio, packs her into the back seat and takes her home, with a promise to think about killing her like she is pleading for him to do, thinking she is a he. (And you oyaji BL fans, older hot guy Antonio is your gift from est em. Be thankful.)

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Turns out Antonio is a something like a matador manager. Or at least he used to be. He hasn’t had a matador for a while now, due of course to tragedy striking the last and greatest of his matadors. He brought Chika home thinking to make a bullfighter out of her, but changes his mind once he realizes she’s a girl. But Chika’s decided something big. She will become a matador and die in the corrida in front of Maria.

For a seinen manga, there is some seriously empowering and bold lady stuff in this series. Like when Antonio takes Chika (who has never seen a bullfight before) to the corrida, she runs out when the bull is killed. He follows her and tells her she’ll never kill a bull, thinking she couldn’t stomach the moment of slaughter. But she is gloriously defiant: “Did you think that because I’m a woman, I’d get all scared or something if you showed me some blood?” She then shoves her hand down her pants and pulls it out, fingertips dipped in blood. “Don’t insult me. I’m more than used to seeing blood.”

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It’s also a series filled with guys. I’m pretty sure this is because est em likes drawing guys and because bullfighting is kind of a guys’ world for the most part (although there are female matadors). In addition to Antonio, there is Sechu (I have no idea if this is the right English spelling), Chika’s nightlife-loving DJ roommate, and Vincente, a third-generation bullfighter working to become a full-fledged torero. But it’s funny how a seinen series can so closely resemble a BL series. I mean, if Chika were a guy, you’d have all the makings of a seriously great BL love triangle/square.

The drawings making this story happen are some of the strongest I’ve seen from est em. I actually felt a little overwhelmed while reading this on the plane (admittedly, that could’ve been because I was on the plane) . There’s a firmness, a decisiveness to her linework that I haven’t really seen before, and a real power in many scenes. And of course, her depictions of matadors are gorgeous and surprisingly detailed. But her portrayals of the bulls are actually fairly sympathetic, and even in the bloody scenes of the bullfighting finales, there is an unexpected and gentle sadness.

So basically, I am sitting here waiting for Volume Three. Please don’t take any holidays for a while, est em.

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11 thoughts on “Golondrina: est em

  1. Est em deserves lots of love. She is worth it.
    Is this her first series? I seem to recall that she only had either collection of short stories bound together in one book or one long story wrapped up in one volume.

    Ha, your first paragraph made me laugh. I have that habit of muttering to myself when I am thinking or grumbling about something. I am seated in front of a colleague who fortunately is very understanding about it. Unfortunately, he is also cute with really pretty eyes and that can be distracting. *back to updating the list of est em’s works I need to buy. It’s getting pretty long now since her last book that I read was Yagate, Ai Ni Naru*

    1. She is worth it! Thanks for the validation. As far as I know, this is her first series. Everything up to now has been one-offs or short story collections. It’s really exciting to see what she is doing with this chance to tell a longer story.

      Ha ha! I knew that someone reading this would be a mutterer. I am too, but fortunately, I work at home so I don’t have anyone with pretty eyes to be embarrassed in front of. Let yourself be distracted! It’s Friday!

      1. I think I’ve had about eight copies over the course of my life, although right now I just have the one. Which is a normal, healthy number of a single book to have in your house. It is one of those books I re-read a lot, but it also tends to be one of the books that gets weeded out whenever I move and need to whittle down the number of possessions I have to move. But then I want to read it again, so I end up buying it again (or borrowing it from the library, but when I was living in Japan, that generally wasn’t an option). Some books are like that for me. (Women in Love by DH Lawrence is another one.)

  2. I’ve done it!!! I ordered Golondrina #1-2 from Taïwan last month. I’ve been going totally crazy about this, talking about Golondrina being published in Taïwan to one of my friend who was getting fed up about me (my guess…). Well, I’ve read 2 volumes and I’m really excited about this story. I also think this maybe is the best work of est em. I wasn’t disappointed to read a non-BL work from her, espescially with a female lead character. In fact, I like Chica a lot, because she’s always reminded she’s a girl in this corrida field, and she has to struggle again this. At the begining, I didn’t really understand her wanting to be dead because of Maria, but then, we have this glimpse of her past in volume 2. The drawing is amazing, espescially the bulls when Chica thinks about her past…

    I still don’t know the release date for volume 3 but can’t wait!!! OMG…

    1. Hooray! Glad you took the plunge! I completely agree with you that this is maybe est em’s best work. She is really taking all she has learned in her years of making manga to create something incredible with Golondrina. I’m going to write about the series again when it ends (this summer, I think) because I really want to take a second look at it as a complete story and see if the promise of the first volume is fulfilled by the end. I hope volume 3 comes out in Taiwan soon!

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