My brain has not abandoned you! Nor the books it so valiantly battles! It’s just been too busy battling a whole bunch of other things for the last little while. It turns out that adding teaching to an already full translation schedule will give a busy translator a very intimate understanding of the phrase “run ragged”. And if you add coordination of Japanese guests for the triumphant in-person return of a certain beloved comics festival, well, you can see how there would be no time left to get into the ring with any books at all.
But the (most pressing) translation deadlines have been met, the (most recent) assignments have been marked, and the (most intriguing) TCAF guest has been interpreted for, so it’s time to get back to doing what my brain does best: books! And why not a book by the guest that I was interpreting for this past weekend, Torikai Akane? Because I haven’t read a book by anyone else in nearly a month. That is how the interpreting game goes. I’ve said it before, but when I interpret for someone, I basically become their best stalker. I watch and listen to every interview I can get my hands on (this conversation in French and Japanese was my favourite this go-round), I read all the interpretee’s books, watch all their movies, listen to their podcasts dig up their old LiveJournal posts, find their alt accounts—whatever it takes to make the interpreting experience seamless.
So it’s very handy when the interpretee just happens to have written a book detailing their inner thoughts and feelings, along with their motivations for creating the work they make and their work environment, as Torikai did with her 2018 diary memoir, Manga Mitaina Koi Kudasai. The book came out as part of a curious Torikai blitz that year which saw the release of this diary in September and then three different manga in the three subsequent months, all from different publishers. Each book notes this blitz and the other books involved on the obi, which is something I haven’t seen before or since. I feel like some enterprising PR person at one of the publishers realized the timing of the publications and went round to convince the other publishers to join in this mutually beneficial cross-company promotion.
Manga Mitaina is an interesting book for a lot of reasons, even if you’re not a fan of Torikai’s manga. (Yet. She’ll win you over sooner or later.) It’s a daily journal, covering her life from April to July 2018 with an afterword in August of that same year, so as a reader, you get that feeling of sneaking a peek at something you’re not supposed to be seeing—another person’s diary. I’m sure she’s giving us a curated version of events, but she still does tell us quite a lot about things like her relationship with her then 8-year-old son, her struggles as a manga artist, and her feelings about her current romantic relationship.
A personal point of interest is that this book neatly covers the period when she came to Toronto and met me. Which is not detailed in the entries for that time because our meeting was, quite frankly, unremarkable and also piggybacking on an entirely different event that was the reason she and I met in the first place, Asano Inio’s appearance at TCAF. Because yes, Asano is the love interest known only as “boyfriend” and “he” in the diary pages, the man who became her husband not long after the close of this diary. It was a bit surreal to see events that I remember depicted in a book from another person’s perspective, but also very gratifying because she has nothing but good things to say about the festival and the artists exhibiting there. If you were at TCAF in 2018, please know that Torikai Akane thinks that all of you are way better artists than she is, and that the entire venue was filled with such passion for comics that she had to flee because she was entirely overwhelmed by it.
Given how literary her manga work can be and the fact that she’s essentially writing a novel in the course of drawing her current series Saturn Return, it’s no surprise that she is an excellent and thoughtful prose writer as well. And funny, too, like when she writes about going to a new supermarket built on the ashes of an old supermarket and pretending like she was an old hand at this place and had been shopping there for a hundred years.
There’s a nuts-and-bolts-ness to the book, too, as she details meetings with the editors of her various series as they all wind down at the same time (the books that are part of the autumn blitz). It’s really fascinating to see her hammer out in real time the ending of each of the series with one (Romance Bofuiki, soon to be a TV drama) getting an extra chapter to give the final scenes the room they need to breathe, and her triumph and exaltation at figuring out the final chapters of a series that had been giving her nothing but trouble (Mandarin Gypsy Cat no Rojo). She talks about her drawing process and her procrastination, and paints a vivid and detailed portrait of the life of a manga artist, including a surprise guest appearance from former assistant and creator of BL Metamorphosis, Tsurutani Kaori.
By giving us this peek behind the curtain, she invites us to consider the same big-picture issues she’s looking at in this workaday way, like how to better ourselves, how to improve the relationships in our lives, what those relationships even mean anyway and what do we want from them. And what do we want from our lives in general. How can we make the work we do meaningful? It’s a lot. But that’s what a diary is for, to spill out all the little moments that lead us to the answers to these larger questions, and while I would never want anyone to read my journal, reading Torikai’s has given me so many interesting things to think about and maybe incorporate into the way I live my own life.