I am so rarely surprised by books these days. Delighted, often. But a true surprise once I crack open a new read is something out of the ordinary. Like with so many things once you have become an OldTM, you find the familiar beats in the stories you read. You look at the cover or the blurb and you form an idea of what you’ll find inside based on your past experiences. And even if what is inside is well written and wonderful in all ways, the surprises are generally plot twists and nothing about the basic elements of the book itself. It’s like listening to the debut album of some indie band and realizing that they are just following in the footsteps of My Bloody Valentine at the end of the day. Sure, it’s enjoyable, but it’s not shaking up your musical world view.
So you can imagine my sheer joy when I realized that the first series from Shizuka Nakano is not only stealth BL but also stars a magical gardener! The cover of the book had me thinking it would be some kind of traditional Japanese arts sort of deal, a chef meets a gardener and opens an old-school restaurant to try and revive interest in a dying way of Japanese life or something. I should have known better from Nakano’s previous work, which has always had an element of the fantastic to it. And the obi even says he’s no ordinary gardener, but honestly, I figured he would be a celebrity gardener or something. I certainly never imagined a BL love triangle with nature spirits! As I read the first pages and slowly came to understand that Toru had a very serious crush on his pal Akira, I got very excited. This series runs in Comic Beam, which is known for its weird and experimental content, not for its dedication to love between men, so I truly did not see this blossoming romance coming. There’s also a foodie manga element to the whole thing, as Toru is a chef at a traditional Japanese restaurant and prepares dinner for Akira pretty much every weekend. Often using ingredients given to Akira by garden spirits after he helps them out in some real way. Seriously. How is this even a book?? It is too much, too powerful, too great. Continue reading “Tedaremonra: Shizuka Nakano”
You may or may not know this, but I am a translator of all things manga. Perhaps I have mentioned it before? I also translate novels and other bits of textual creation, but the market for those is sadly not as robust as manga, so I mostly translate manga. And I am very happy to do it! And after more than a decade of being paid to stay at home and read books for a living, I have become extremely unsuited to any other sort of job, so please. Keep buying books in translation and keep me employed.
Fortunately, I do not lack for work these days, and one of the series I’m currently translating is Tamekou’s My Androgynous Boyfriend. Reader, it is the purest of pure joys. If you have not picked up volume one (which came out very recently), I highly recommend that you do. It is a gentle unravelling of toxic masculinity and socially mandated gender performance, yes. But it is also a sweetly slow-moving tale of two adults who love and respect themselves in a relationship where both are equal partners and both love and affirm the other without any judgment or condemnation of any kind. Translating it is a balm to the soul, a reminder that we don’t have to be who we are supposed to be, we can just be who we are and there will be people to love and accept us. I love Wako and Meguru so much, in the way that I love Mii-kun and Kei-chan. They are a beam of healing light in my life and I want nothing more than to read about them being happy together forever. Continue reading “Lala no Kekkon: Tamekou”
I’m not much of a list follower. When it comes to things like “100 albums you have to listen to before you die” or “the top ten science fiction books of all time”, I mean. Lists that are me writing down the many and varied tasks I need to accomplish in a day, week, month are extremely popular chez moi, and I likely could not function at all without them. I have a terrible memory, so the list is my way of externalizing the things I need to remember and keeping them in a place I can see them so I actually get the things done. But it’s also a sort of way of making an appointment with myself. If it’s on the list, it has to get done, so I also include items like “read” or “make jam” or “work on animation” and somehow create the time I need to do things to keep myself from becoming a translation robot. And yes, the list also frequently includes “write up book”, but I don’t get to check that item off as much as I’d like to, especially during travelling times, which is where I am now as I prepare to head back to freezing cold Canada next week, an impossibility as I type this and look out my window at the plum trees blooming in the parking lot below. Spring is almost here! And yet like a fool, I am leaving it to go back to winter.
Anyway! Lists where other people tell me what to do are not something I have ever been interested in. I will be the one to decide what albums I listen to, thank you very much. But still, I can’t help but follow with one eye at least the Kono BL ga Yabai! rankings every year. Maybe because the combination of the words “BL” and “yabai” never fail to pique my curiosity. But it’s definitely partly because if nothing else, the ranking introduces me to some books I might never have paid attention to otherwise, like the sweetly sexy Amish love story Rumspringa no Jokei. And this year, it taught me that there is a “gentle” Harada story. In fact, if the cover copy is to be believed, it is the gentlest Harada story in the history of Harada. As someone who has been damaged by such painful Harada classics as Niichan and Color Recipe, I desperately wanted a book that combined Harada’s crisp lines and cute guys with a plot that wouldn’t send me straight to a therapist when I was done reading it. Continue reading “One Room Angel: Harada”
October knocked me flat on my butt, as it does every year. And yet I am completely taken off guard by the frantic speed at which the days whip past when I still have so very much work to do before the calendar page montage reaches November. I have a couple series that always have a volume due for translation by the end of October. The Toronto International Festival of Authors is at the end of October, and I interpret for whichever Japanese author they invite across the ocean to be a part of the CanLit scene for a week. (This year, it was Kyoko Nakajima, whose first work in English translation The Little House has a tender queer aspect to it and name-drops Nobuko Yoshiya to ensure that the subtext is text and you don’t miss or willfully misinterpret it.) And of course, I usually embark on my winter life in Tokyo sometime in November, meaning there are all kinds of things that need doing in October before I can fly across the ocean to warmer climes. I know that this is how October is going to be, and still I wander through September blithely, certain that I have all the time in the world, that this October will be different. Reader, it was not.
So I spent the last month translating and reading and stalking Kyoko Nakajima online which left me little time to read anything that wasn’t written by or about Nakajima. But no worries! I am making up for that time away from my personal reading in spades this month. And first up is a book surprisingly long neglected by me, the debut manga of Brain darling Ayako Noda. How could I have left it unread for so long? Noda is an artist who has done nothing but dazzle me over the last few years. I cherish each of her new releases and struggle with my desire for her to hurry up and make more books, and my wish for her to live a healthy, happy life and not die young of overwork because the manga industry is a truly punishing one. But for some reason, it has taken me until now to read Watashi no Uchu. I think I was a little afraid it would be bad, thus tarnishing her perfection in my mind, however slightly. The cover of the first volume is all off-beat high school drama, and honestly, that’s just not my jam. I could’ve just read the back to discover that actually, it is much more than off-beat high school drama, but we all know that I avoid reading the backs of books. I like to go in fresh, without any cover copy to lead me in one direction or another. Continue reading “Watashi no Uchu: Ayako Noda”
Rejoice! The annual celebration of smut is upon us! It is our time to shine, fujoshi. And by shine, I mean of course, curl up in our houses and lose ourselves in the world of BL where men can love men in impossible ways, bending the laws of physics with their phantom peens and facing zero of the homophobia that still plagues the real world. Let us give ourselves over to this beautiful, schmexy fantasy, friends. Let us enjoy and celebrate the bountiful harvest of man love this year has brought us.
The prize-winning pig at this year’s festival is perhaps the long-awaited return to BL of Natsume Ono aka basso. Seven years after her last book, Naka-san no Nagare, she brings us this beautiful slice of salaryman love, Tonari Ni. My heart sings just typing those words. I love Ono’s basso work so much. While her artwork remains strong regardless of the genre she writes in, her powers of storytelling are honestly all over the place, and I too often find myself frustrated with her mainstream work, wondering what exactly she is trying to communicate to readers. And when I finally got the chance to translate her work with ACCA 13, that frustration was doubled and tripled as I read and re-read the unnecessarily convoluted tale of political intrigue during the translation process. So many meaningless and weird details that have zero plot impact and only serve to divert the reader in directions that are completely non-story-related. Why the district with the giant food? How can you cross a border and suddenly have strawberries the size of a person’s head? And why does being two metres tall mean you need a strawberry the size of your head? Continue reading “Tonari Ni: basso”
That was last year, right? 2018? It feels like a lifetime since then. Humanity’s slow slide into extinction is picking up steam, and it’s honestly hard to keep track of which disaster is happening when and where anymore. The US is basically about to execute women for having abortions, Ontario has decided autistic people don’t matter, Australia just voted to destroy the Great Barrier Reef (essentially), and while the earth burns, scientists are bringing decapitated pigs back to life. And this is all just in the last couple weeks! How could I possibly be expected to remember that there was a whole year of life before all of this??
And it’s so easy in the face of all this madness to throw up our hands in despair and wonder why art even matters when we’re all going to burn in the planetary dumpster fire that is climate change. But this is when art matters the most! The stories we tell and the way we connect through art gives us a reason to keep on fighting when things seem most dire. Plus, the onslaught is just too much, and sometimes, you need to escape into fantastical man-man action. So welcome to the doujinshi round-up for the lost year of 2018! Continue reading “Doujinshi Round-Up: What Happened to 2018??”
Fall is for reading! Or eating! Or art! Honestly, I can’t tell which. It seems like Japan loves to proclaim that any variety of things are the perfect activity for fall. There are far fewer activities dedicated to any of the other seasons, for some reason. I guess it makes sense not to push anyone to do anything in summer; it’s so hot you will die if you exert yourself. But winter seems like a reasonable time to try and do a thing or two. And spring? Isn’t that season all about starting anew? But fall gets stuck with the lion’s share of activities for the year, so we better hustle to get it all done before winter comes and renders us all useless and unmotivated until next fall.
My fall has been all about overextending myself. Foolishly. But everything’s sort of happening all at once, plus people coming at me with jobs I can’t really say no to. Like, I just got back from the United Arab Emirates, interpreting for a bunch of Japanese authors at a book fair. Authors I like and one of whom I have translated. It is pretty hard to say no when someone comes knocking at your door with something like that. I got paid to go ride sand dunes like a roller coaster with a certain best-selling mystery author, and then we went to a camel farm! I also held a falcon very reluctantly, while the falcon’s owner/trainer/random man with a falcon ran off suddenly and left me there with a bird of prey on my arm whose eyes I was afraid to meet because I didn’t want to seem aggressive and have it rip my face off right there in the desert. Continue reading “Around: Niboshiko Arai”