August is Women in Translation month, so really I should be posting something by a women in translation, preferably translated by a woman, too. But I am over here in Tokyo, where all the books are still in their native Japanese, waiting for some kind publisher to license and translate them into English. Which makes it kind of hard to write about a translation this month. You might argue, however, that since I myself am a woman and a translator, every month is WIT month here at Brain vs Book, so there’s no need to really go out of my way in August. And while that is technically correct, it seems like a bit of a copout, especially since I am not actually writing about my own translations here, but rather random books I happen to be reading.
So to make this a bit more WIT and less noodle-y thoughts, I will take the opportunity now to give a shout out to a couple of my recent publications: King of Strong Style, the autobiography of pro wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura, which you really need on your shelf if you are into pro wrestling even a little bit. And even if you are not, the book contains many hilarious photos that provided endless delight for me while I was working on it. And That Blue Sky Feeling by Okura and Coma Hashii is a gay coming-of-age story in which new kid at school meets gay kid at school and starts thinking about sexuality in a real way for the first time in his life. It’s thoughtful and honest and sweet as hell, if only for the main character who is naïve in the best way. And let me also remind you that Brain favourite Conbini Ningen by woman author Sayaka Murata was just released in English as Convenience Store Woman, and was translated by my pal and fellow woman Ginny Tapley Takemori. These should be a good start to your WIT month reading.
Instead of a deep dive into a translation of a woman by a woman, how about we get a little meta over in this corner of the internet and talk about a woman writing about women who love BL? We talk about BL regularly around here, being card-carrying fujoshi and all, but we never really dig into what it means to love BL and be a woman who is into that whole scene. And what if you’re not a fujoshi yet? How do you get comfortable in that corner of the bookstore with all those men staring at you so come-hither from the many book covers? According to Metamorphose no Engawa, the answer to that last one is accidentally buy one of those books with no real knowledge of what it contains or why the cover features two men, and then get really engrossed in the story. Also, be a 75-year-old woman. And then make friends with the teenaged book clerk who is a super fujoshi at heart and who can guide you through the murky waters of the many kinds of BL that populate the shelves now.
There’s a moment early on in this first volume that perfectly captures how I have often felt reading BL. Our elderly protagonist Ichinoi is snuggled into her futon reading the BL she unknowingly purchased that afternoon, and she comes to the moment when the two high-school boys have their first kiss. As she approaches the fateful panel, she murmurs, “Oh? Oh my… Oh my!” It’s that delighted surprise, the way she’s taken off guard that honestly charms me so much and hooked me for the rest of the book. There are those moments in BL when you’re unexpectedly thrilled or touched by a twist or turn in the story, moments that are different from little twists in other non-BL works. Maybe it’s the slight sense of transgressing some norm, or maybe it’s the emotional backdrop that underpins all BL stories—if nothing else, a BL story depicts the romantic/sexual relationship between men, so you’re always standing on that foundation.
So she goes back for book two and over the rest of this first volume, develops a friendship of sorts with the clerk at the shop, Urara. At seventeen, Urara is pretty awkward and full-on fujoshi. So the relationship with Ichinoi seems real and understandable, while also being adorably heartwarming. I mean, who doesn’t love an odd couple type story? Urara even invites Ichinoi to a doujinshi event in Ikebukuro, that is clearly modelled after J Garden. The thought of an elderly woman browsing the aisles of J Garden with her young pal is almost too much for me; I thought my heart would burst right open.
It’s also refreshing to see someone outside the usual cast of characters in manga. I read a lot of things featuring teenagers and young adults, but it’s rare to see a main character over the age of around thirty-five or forty. (The only other series running now with an older protagonist that I can think of is Yuki Ozawa’s Sanju Mariko, which also won a big prize this year, so maybe there’s a real hunger for greater age diversity in manga.) And Ichinoi feels pretty realistic, although I still have a ways to go before I hit seventy-five, so I can’t say for sure. But I have friends across generational divides, including a good friend a little older than Ichinoi, and the way Urara and Ichinoi’s friendship progresses organically through this shared interest rang true to me.
Even if you’re not a BL fan (although that does beg the question of why not and the recommendation that you should become one), Metamorphose no Engawa has a lot of simple pleasures to offer and a gentle warmth that is perfect for those days when you are feeling bluesy and like the world is a neverending dumpster fire. Find hope in unexpected friendship.