Tedaremonra: Shizuka Nakano

Tedaremonra_NakanoI 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”

Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai: Chisato Abe/Natsumi Matsuzaki

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Ever since finishing the Yatagarasu series at the tail end of last year, I’ve been feeling a bit at sea. I fell too hard and fast for Abe’s impossibly brilliant tale of imperial crow people, murderous monkeys, and fallen gods, and a life without it seemed empty somehow. Yes, I can always go back and reread it (and I will!), but there’s something magical about discovering a great book for the first time, and you can only ever do that once. So moping slightly, I returned to Tokyo and its bookstores, with the hope of finding a new book to love to ease the pain a little at least. But when I scanned the titles on the shelves of the fantasy schedule, my heart leaped up into my throat. What I saw there was impossible—a new Yatagarasu book?! How can this be?, I said to myself. The series is complete in six books. And yet a seventh book stubbornly continued to exist on the shelf before my eyes, Karasu Hyakka: Hotaru no Sho. I took it in my hands and saw that the impossible was indeed real, new pieces of the world I have come to love, a collection of side stories.

Normally, I am not one for side stories. It’s sort of like a band from my youth getting back together. The thing was finished. Forcing it back to life never ends well. But I missed my crow friends, and the side stories were written concurrent with the series, so it felt more like Abe taking little day trips away from the series rather than trying to beat a dead horse. And they were great! I got some closure with Masuho no Susuki that I didn’t even know I needed, learned the truth about some parentages, and generally felt reinvigorated by these injections of Yamauchi straight into my bloodstream.

But alas! That book also ended, and I was right back where I started. (Well, until the next book of side stories comes out?? My hopes are high!!) And just when I started to slump back into reality, some beautiful books fell into my hot little hands. Three, to be precise, the current number of volumes in the manga version of the first book of the Yatagarasu series! It’s not quite the same as new pieces of that world, but they definitely present a new vision of it, and I’ll take what I can get. Plus, the books are truly gorgeous. I was lucky enough to get the deluxe edition of the first two, the deluxe part being an extra book. Two books in one! The bonus books are mostly taken up with side stories by Abe, which means, yes, new pieces of the Yatagarasu world. There are also character sketches and explanations of the process by which the manga came about, and all of it is fascinating and worthwhile. If you’re a fan of the novels, you should definitely get the deluxe editions of the manga if you can find them. Continue reading “Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai: Chisato Abe/Natsumi Matsuzaki”

Lala no Kekkon: Tamekou

Lala_TamekouYou 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”

Amedama: Seia Tanabe

Amedama_TanabeIt can be weird at times, being a translator of a variety of books with a brain that is a battler of even more books. By day, I read books I might never have otherwise read and turn them into English for all the monolinguals, and by night, I read all the books I dream of bringing to all the monolinguals in English. Naturally, there is overlap between these two selves. Sometimes, the dream of translating a beloved book comes true (like my precious baby Magician A, coming to Kickstarter backers very soon and to select bookstores later this year!), and sometimes, I discover that a book I’m translating is a true beloved (I will never stop pushing After the Rain and Requiem of the Rose King on everyone who asks me what they should be reading; they are perfect and true books in their own beautiful ways). And sometimes, translating something leads me to picking up other work by the same author.

After translating a short story by Seia Tanabe years ago for the Haikasoru collection Phantasm Japan, I kept my eyes open for more from this author of quietly frightening stories based on Japanese ghost and folk tales, eventually stumbling across her novel Ningyo no Ishi, a book I still reflect on surprisingly often two years after finishing it. Her prose is so sparsely moody and yet strangely down to earth for the tales of the supernatural that she tells.

And I know I should be used to this by now because authors stumble across my posts here about their work surprisingly often (and let this be a lesson to those of you who would use a foreign language as a secret code to gossip about people on a crowded train or some other such public place—there is inevitably a speaker of that foreign language somewhere near you who understands every word you’re saying and will no doubt take the first opportunity that presents itself to publicly shame/embarrass you if you are talking any kind of smack about anyone), but a few months after I posted about that novel, Tanabe reached out to me to thank me for reviewing the book and offered to send me some of her other books. Which was a delightful surprise and kind as hell, and you know that I gratefully accepted. (Thank you, Tanabe-san!) Continue reading “Amedama: Seia Tanabe”

Kaguyaden: Chiho Saito

KaguyadenDang. This year’s already got me on the run and it’s barely just begun. I’ve been chained to my desk the last three weeks, translating one book after another and just barely keeping up with my deadlines. I have this terrible habit of taking way too much time with novels in particular because there are so many more words and I want them to be the most perfect translation babies of all but perfection is impossible so I just keep picking at them and polishing since there will always be some new flaw to fix. And then I look up at my calendar with a gasp and realize I really need to get to work on all the other books in my schedule. After all, they are all my precious translation babies, equally deserving of my tender translation affections. However, devoting my attentions to my future children means no extra attentions for my bastard child aka this blog. But maybe I’ve dug myself out of that hole and can actually come and ramble here about books again?? Fingers crossed!

But before the rambling begins, I have to say thank you to all of you who made the Kickstarter Magician A a success! Not only did we reach our target, we also made it to all of our stretch goals! So everyone wins with fancy French flaps and super nice paper when the book eventually makes it to bookstores sometime later this year. And all the Kickstarter backers double win since they get the beautiful book plus an exclusive interview zine in which I talk with creator Natsuko Ishitsuyo about her career and her work, and we take a little side trip into spirituality and mythology. I’m hoping to post some of the interview here at some point, as a little teaser taste of what you can expect to find in the pages of Magician A, so once again, fingers crossed! Continue reading “Kaguyaden: Chiho Saito”

Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe

YatagarasuWell, it’s been a wild ride, but we all knew that it had to come to an end. I mean, going into the Yatagarasu series, I was aware that there were only six books in it. This isn’t some light novel series that drags out its tale volume after volume until its translator prays for mercy. And I have at last finished all six of those books. I’d intended to keep writing about each volume as I finished it, but of course, work and life and travel and other books all got in the way of me actually sitting down to write, even as I kept reading. And now I’ve finished the last of the six books, Iyasaka no Karasu, and all my brain wants to do is the big overview, so here we are.

Let’s just get this out of the way now: publishers, please, please license this series and hire me to translate it into English. People will want to read these books! They are unlike anything I’ve ever read in the world of science fiction and fantasy, and we could all use some beautifully written fantasy based on Japanese mythology and culture. I’m so tired of orcs and elves! Let’s get some crows and monkeys on the SFF shelves! Continue reading “Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe”

Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe

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I often get annoyed at works of fiction in any medium that feature an almost exclusively male cast. Where are the women? Girls? Who is producing all the men in this strange world? They baffle me, these worlds without women. As I’ve said before, there are only two situations in which I will accept a startling lack of women: boys’ boarding schools and men’s prisons. These are places where the population necessarily lists male-heavy. Any other setting in a world of human beings better have some women who say something and are part of the action in a significant way or I am walking away.

But I have at last discovered a third world in which a mostly male cast is entirely acceptable: Heian-style segregated imperial court. After the first volume of the Yatagarasu series Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai, which was pretty much all ladies all the time, Karasu wa Aruji wo Erabanai presents the men’s side of the story. And not in a #NotAllMen kind of way. Abe simply rewinds time in a way, bringing her readers back to the beginning of Hitoe and retelling the story of that entire time period from the perspective of the men involved in the story. And since the court in this world (and in the flowery bygone days of a long-ago Japan) is mostly segregated by gender, the story of the men mostly involves men, much like the story of the women mostly involved women. Continue reading “Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe”