Lullaby For Girl: Natsumi Matsuzaki

Lullaby_MatsuzakiIf I had encountered this book in the wilds of some bookstore, I probably would have bought it just because of the dreamy watercolours on the cover, which seem to vaguely promise girls’ love of some kind. Not to mention the large print on the obi: “My life started when I met you.” Sounds like some yuri action is about to unfold for sure. Plus, it’s published by Feel Young, which is my favourite of the josei magazines and where Brain favourite Aoi Ikebe’s current series and est em’s Ii ne! Hikari Genji-kun are running. So Lullaby For Girl already had a lot going for it, and I no doubt would have picked it up had I come across it when it came out a couple years ago. But I never did and so it went sadly unnoticed until I read the manga adaptation of Chisato Abe’s amazing Yatagarasu series and grew curious about the artist doing the adapting.

I know that Abe personally selected Matsuzaki to work with her on the manga, but I’d never heard of her before. Naturally, just because I work in manga doesn’t mean I have heard of every single manga artist, but it does mean that I feel compelled to try and get all of their names in my head. A hopeless task from the outset made even more hopeless by my complete inability to remember names. But I try, nevertheless. So I decided to check out Matsuzaki’s previous work to see what exactly had attracted Abe to her for the Yatagarasu manga. Poking around, though, I discovered that she only has two previous works: a BL and this collection of josei stories. Given the josei/shojo nature of Hitoe, I would assume that it was the josei collection that cinched it, but Hitoe started serialization before this book came out. Slipping down this little rabbit hole has me honestly very curious about how the partnering of author and artist came together for the manga version of the first novel in the series, but I fear I will never know. Continue reading “Lullaby For Girl: Natsumi Matsuzaki”

LP Life Partner: Yuki Ozawa

LP_OzawaA whole bunch of us are spending a lot more time tucked away in our homes right now, washing our hands compulsively and realizing that the only thing we ever truly loved was touching our faces, and as someone who has been a freelance translator for over a decade now, it is wild to see the chitchat on the chitchat machine. People don’t know what to do with themselves! People dread the thought of spending their days in their houses, unable to go to the places! People love to go to the places! What could possibly occupy them in their homes?? Meanwhile, I can’t imagine going to the places. What would I do there?? Why would I leave my home, where I have all the things I want and need? So not a lot has changed here at Brain Central. I still have deadlines, and I am still standing at my desk translating the manga and novels that will be sent out into the world for you to read in the future. A future that hopefully is free of quarantining. Although my brain and I are doing the responsible thing and social distancing, that mostly applies to those times when we would leave the house to go work at a café for a change of pace. We are no longer getting any external changes of pace.

What to do for a change of pace then? The answer is obviously going to be books. I mean, this is Brain vs Book not Brain vs Apartment Yoga or something. To take a break from translating books, I naturally shift to reading books. It might not seem like much of a change of pace, but sitting and reading for an hour is so satisfying deep in my soul and is maybe the only thing that keeps me sane some days. I feel refreshed after a solid chunk of reading! And the best part about reading is that, for a while at least, you can forget that we are apparently in the dystopian future timeline. And if you read the right books, you can even dream about a different future timeline! Like one with a robot of your dad! Continue reading “LP Life Partner: Yuki Ozawa”

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

Hitoe_Matsuzaki

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”

One Room Angel: Harada

OneRoom_haradaI’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”

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”