Is it that time of year already? Time flies when you are poring over stacks of doujinshi. And where did all these stacks come from?? This is supposed to be the 2017 edition of this annual tradition, in which, as we all now know, I discuss various doujins I picked up in 2016 because I like to make things difficult. And I did indeed pick up some of these last year at Comitia or J. Garden or Mandarake or just directly from the author in weird happenstance. But I came across doujin from 2003 in this pile! So, uh, clearly, the round-up devolves yet again into basically just some stuff I read lately that may or may not be recent or even attainable anymore by the casual doujinshi reader. Sorry. I feel like I’m supposed to be getting better at this book-reading thing after writing here for the last six years now, but clearly that is never going to happen. So let’s all dial our hopes to anything but up and just look at some books already! Continue reading
So I guess Ayako Noda is the new star of my heart? I’m not sure exactly at what point old loves like Haruko Kumota and Keiko Takemiya stepped aside to let her shine through, but judging from how eagerly I was counting down to the release of the fist volume of Sennetsu, it is clear that Noda has inspired an almost frightening cultish devotion in me. All of which is to say you should never look to me for an unbiased look at her work. I love her. And that love is in a way similar to the love I bear for Itoshi no Nekokke in its white hot intensity. But whereas my love for Itoshi is gentle and rock steady, my love for Noda’s work is overly excited and a bit roller-coast-y. I see the cracks in her storytelling, the sometimes awkward and impossible human figures, and yet my heart pounds with every page.
This passion, it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about for the last couple years, this idea that when you’re an old, your love of art changes in unexpected (to you) ways. The fiery, uncritical passion of my loves when I was a teenager has shifted into something more measured, something more self-aware. I feel like I’m able to look deeper into works and examine them on more levels than I was way back when I was wrinkle-free, but I also feel the loss of that blazing fire, the ability to simply be consumed by a work and burned up by it. I will never be able to see Weetzie Bat or Geek Love or any other book I read and loved in my teens and twenties as anything other than magical and perfect. Even if in my head, I can step back and examine them with a more critical eye, my heart is filled with that pure love. Continue reading
Fun fact: I learned the word “mangekyo” long before I started learning Japanese, along with “tsuki ni kawatte oshioki yo” and “henshin”. So when I spotted the lovely cover of Tanizaki Mangekyo in the bookstore, my first thought was an unconscious, thrilled “Sailor Moon!” This collection of short stories has nothing to do with that pretty sailor soldier, however. And yet every time I see the title, I start singing that song to myself. (I still sing it at karaoke with J-peeps. Nothing like singing anime songs in Japanese to knock J-socks off!)
My second thought, based solely on the erotic reveal of Asumiko Nakamura’s lady on the cover, was that this was a collection of erotic/definitely R-rated stories and therefore I should refrain from reading this volume on the train. Some salarymen might be cool with reading rape-y naked lady stories during their commute, but I like to keep my public manga reading PG. So this sat around for a couple weeks, waiting for a slot in my house reading schedule. And when that slot finally opened up and I actually read the obi, I realized that this is a collection of manga adaptations of stories by famed Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. And while he is known for his “destructive erotic obsessions” (thank you for that turn of phrase, Wikipedia editor), none of these stories is particularly dangerous to read on the train. Continue reading
Hibana is maybe knocking it out of the park? I mean, we all mourn the early demise of IKKI, a great magazine with a great editor that featured some pretty amazing talent, like Taiyo Matsumoto, Yumiko Shirai, and est em. But the magazine that rose up in IKKI’s ashes has already made an impressive footprint of its own in the manga scene, despite being relatively new to that scene. This is the magazine that gave us this brain’s beloved Ikazuchi Tooku by Ayako Noda aka Niboshiko Arai, and Akiko Higashimura’s latest, Yukiba no Toru. So seeing Hibana on the spine of a tankobon is enough to make me raise my eyebrows and pick the book up at the very least. Because you never know what surprises this magazine is going to serve up next.
And apparently, the latest surprise is revisiting the story of Marie Antoinette with zombies. The Pride and Prejudice and Zombies strain of fiction has arrived at last in Japan! Normally, I would roll my eyes at the mash-up, being not much of a fiction mash-up person, but the Hibana name along with the utterly ridiculous Versailles of the Dead title had me sighing with resignation. I’ll just read the first volume, I told myself. Just to see what it is. But what it is is surprisingly entertaining?
You know you are in for something when a manga artist chooses Ishitsuyo—“strong-willed”—as her pen name. You might not like whatever that something is, but you’ll probably remember it. Fortunately for me, Natsuko Ishitsuyo is exactly what I want to read, and I am frankly astounded that Majutsushi A, a collection of six short stories, is her debut work. It’s so assured and unlike anything I’ve come across in the world of manga before. My only critique of the book is that it’s not longer. Big words, I know, but I don’t say them lightly.
I’d heard nothing about Ishituyo before I stumbled across Majutsu in my neighbourhood bookstore when I went in to wait for the light to change, as I often do. When a bookstore is so conveniently located on the corner of a street you have to cross on your way home from the train station, you should stop in whenever you have to wait for a long light change. Because you will occasionally discover magic treats like this one. But the bookstore on the corner tends to be more mainstream, and their new release shelf rarely features anything that interests me, mostly run-of-the-mill shojo and shonen, with some mainstream BL tossed in for variety. So it was almost shocking to see the stark black and red and the strange portrait gracing the cover of Majutsu. The sly smile playing on the woman’s lips practically compels you to pick the book up. Kudos to the cover designer on this one! Continue reading
Every so often, a book mirrors my own existence to the extent where it freaks me out slightly. Maybe it’s the surface details, maybe it’s the protagonist’s inner life, maybe it’s the world she lives in, but there are books that send a bit of a shiver up my spine when I think about how much I relate to them. The first book I remember being wholeheartedly and unstintingly devoted to in this way was the Trixie Belden series. Her poverty, her tomboyishness, her love of animals, her admiration of Honey’s beautiful blond hair, I saw myself in all of it. (Not so much in the farm part of her existence, being a lifelong city girl, but we pick and choose what to identify with in our art.) Then there was She Came to Stay, the book that swallowed my identity when I was nineteen or so. Ever since, there have occasionally popped up these sorts of books which make me gasp and look around my apartment for the secret cameras reaping the minute details of my life.
I never expected to have that feeling with a Japanese novel, given the many differences in my life and upbringing, and the way things happen on this side of the ocean. And yet. Here we are. A book whose protagonist is a foreigner living in Japan who speaks the language fluently and studies theoretical mathematics in university. A book whose title in fact, derives from those very mathematics. Seriously. The first line of the book is “There is no i in this world,” and our heroine gasps. This reader also gasped. The “i” the speaker is referring to is the imaginary number i, the square root of -1, a number and a world view I have spent a large part of my life with. But it’s also the name of our stunned protagonist. Ai. Her parents gave her this name in katakana, rather than assigning the kanji normally associated with it, to leave room for all the possible interpretations. The most obvious of which would be the word “love”, which is often a name for girls. So we have a hero whose name is caught in a Schrodinger-style uncollapsed wave of “love”, “imaginary number”, “English first person”, and more. And she herself is caught in a similar uncollapsed wave. Continue reading
Back on the other side of the ocean and at the start of a new year, you know the only thing I am doing is going to bookstores, buying books, and then reading the books I buy. (And eating vegan ramen. It is my only love outside of books.) So within perhaps hours of my plane touching down at Haneda, I was fondly running my eyes over shelves of books that I have not yet read. Most of the things I’ve picked up so far have been the latest volume in ongoing series that I’m reading, like the new Deathco or Lady & Old Man, but I’ve grabbed a couple stand-alone books, like this weird BL about dentists, which is a first for me. (But I have translated BL about accountants, so I guess no dull profession is off limits in BL?) But the book that pushed a gasp of delight out of my mouth when I spotted it among the new releases was Uto Sousou by Takehito Moriizumi.
I have raved about Moriizumi a couple times before, but I am compelled to do it again. And again and again until someone listens to me and publishes his work in English already. (And hires me to do it; that is always the extra condition there.) He is doing work that is so utterly original and bafflingly beautiful, not just compared with other comics in the Japanese market, but any comics that I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been stumped by how he creates the images that filled the pages of his previous work, strange semi-watercolors that look like wood cuts. It turns out a lot of that work was done with water to which ink was added on the page, a process I cannot even begin to understand, but Uto is surprisingly easy to figure out. He drew the whole book in pencil. It’s amply clear from the pages themselves that these are pencils line drawings (or perhaps pastel), but just in case you don’t get it, the afterword by film director Nobuhiko Obayashi (who, in an unexpected twist, is Moriizumi’s father-in-law) spells it out for the reader: the book is done in 8B pencil. Moriizumi made a small dot on the blank page and then moved out with his line. Until he had fifteen short stories to put into a book. Continue reading