Autumnal BL: Decorative Gourd Edition

Kusama_Mizushiro.jpgOkay, I’ll be straight with you: there aren’t actually any decorative gourds here. I just wanted to contribute to the general online narrative of autumn being all about decorative gourds and pumpkin spice lattés. I wanted to be part of the group, you guys. But I promise you the BL part of that title is one hundred percent truth! There is for real BL in here. Classic BL! Also newer BL because I couldn’t actually pick just one title to write about. Because I am indecisive. Despite the fact that I have extremely strong opinions. The two apparently do not go together. I am indecisively possessed of strong opinions.

Like my declaration of fall being for SFF. Such a strong opinion! I ran with it for several weeks! But now, as autumn slips away and the days become shorter in their inevitable march toward winter, my strong opinion also fades and drifts into the hazier territory of “maybe fall is for BL?” Because I have been reading BL lately. It’s a good thing my translation/interpretation lets me become passionately devoted to and interested in a topic or person for a brief period of time because that is apparently how my wishy-washy, fervently devoted brain works, and I don’t know how I’d ever make a living in any other line of work. Continue reading

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Iwa to Niki no Shinkon Ryoko: Yumiko Shirai

Iwa_ShiraiFall is still for science fiction, friends, so I hope you’ve been devouring some of the many great books being released these days. Or maybe you’re digging deep into the backlist of SF pubs like Tor or Angry Robot or Haikasoru and finding new treasures you missed the first time around. Or perhaps you are building a little fortress of all the great SF comics in the bookstore. (You should ask the clerk if it’s okay before you do this, though.) (It will be, of course, and the clerk will join you in this mission gladly, but it’s always polite to ask first.) I am over here lamenting the lack of SF manga not only in translation, but in Japanese. I think the fantasy part of SFF is pretty well represented in both Japanese and translation, but where is all the SF?! And I don’t mean mecha stuff. I mean, giant robots are great and all, but I want the science fiction of dystopian/utopian futures, distant planets, and cultural criticism couched in alien manners.

Basically, I want Yumiko Shirai. And fortunately for all of us, hot on the heels of her being the third manga artist to win Japan’s version of the Nebula, the Nihon SF Taisho, for the masterwork that is Wombs, she is trying her hand at shojo manga. SF isn’t unheard of in the shojo world—Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya both gave us some fine shojo SF back in the day—but I feel like I don’t see too much of it these days. (Please feel free to loudly correct me in the comments if I am just blind to a rich variety of shojo SF being published right now.) We all know how much I love Shirai and also how I am on a sort of mission to expand my reading in women/girl-oriented genres, so you can only imagine my great delight upon hearing about the release of Iwa to Niki no Shinkon Ryoko. “A true force in the world of SF takes on shojo manga!!” the obi declares, and I am excited. Continue reading

Yume Miru Ashibue: Sayuri Ueda

Yume_UedaAs part of my mission to expand my reading horizons, I’ve been dipping my toes into the shallow end of the Japanese science fiction/fantasy pool. Ever so tentatively. I’ve been reading SFF in English since I was a kid, thanks to the reading proclivities of my nerd dad, but I read almost no SFF in other languages. The barrier for entry just seems too high. After all, SFF is basically the one genre where everything is totally made up. Sure, there’s some more grounded stuff, closer to magic realism than science fiction, but for the most part, this is a genre where authors delight in creating new worlds, new cultures, and new words even. And when you’re reading that in a second language, a language in which you are lacking the full vocabulary you have in your native tongue, all that newness can send you spinning off into a literary blackhole of doom. Is this unfamiliar word just one you don’t know or is it one the author made up? Should you look it up or just wait and see? Not to mention when the story is set in some entirely imagined world, you lose all the context you normally get from the world around you to help you decipher difficult passages and concepts.

So SFF is a daunting read for the non-native speaker. But from the peeks I’ve gotten here and there, through work in translation or the Japanese magazines I pick up from time to time, I know the world of Japanese science fiction is full of exciting and interesting stories that I want to read. So I have been mustering up my courage and prowling around the SFF sections of the bookstores I frequent, trying to find something really great and challenge my language skills at the same time. Some of the books I’ve stumbled upon have been hugely disappointing (I’m looking at you, Mirai e by Motoko Arai!), but I’ve happened upon a few treasures, including, of course, Sayuri Ueda’s recently published short story collection Yume Miru Ashibue. Continue reading

Girls! Girls! Girls!

OtomeKanojo

Like any good battler of books, my brain is always trying to find something new to tackle. It’s easy to get stuck in one genre or in one area of the bookstore. After all, you have found so many things there you like! There are sure to be more! But doing the same thing over and over again, while comfortable and delightfully easy, is not the best way to bring your brain to new ideas. Hence my recent push deeper into the world of shojo and josei manga, genres I am shamefully unread in. And on my last trip across the ocean, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of yuri as well. I have turned so many pages of boys doing filthy things to other boys, but so few of girls doing the same to other girls.

I have, of course, dabbled in the love of girls; I’m even translating two yuri series, the charming and unabashedly queer Kase-san and the “pure love” innocence that is Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl. But as a fujoshi, I haven’t delved into the world of yuri anywhere nearly as deeply as I have into BL. So as part of my efforts to dig up and shine more of a light on women’s stories, I was primed to take some yuri home with me the last time I was in Japan. And fortunately, it turns out a friend is pretty into the genre himself, so he was kind enough to recommend a couple titles when we were poking around a bookstore together one day. Continue reading

Jigokuyuki: Kazuki Sakuraba

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It’s Women in Translation month! I am a woman in translation! I translate women authors! So basically, this month is my time to shine! Also: buy my books! There are a lot to choose from! But if you’re looking for some other translations to while away the lazy days of August with, you have so many options! While the majority of authors translated into English are men, the situation is getting better for us of the lady persuasion. Mostly because we keep yelling about it with things like WIT month. So come! Yell with me today, readers! Raise your voice for books by women from other lands translated into English! (Bonus points if the translator is also a woman!)

My brain tends to battle mostly books in Japanese here, but we have tackled more than a few translated works, and so many of them by women! Take a peek and find a new book to love. Or you can check out this great list from the always amazing Words Without Borders. How about a nonstop feed of lady greatness on Twitter? Maybe Tumblr is more your jam? Or do you like your info old school in the form of a blog post? Everyone everywhere is talking about women in translation this month! And my brain wants to be part of the fun! Continue reading

Joso Danshi to Menhera Ojisan: Fumiko Fumi

Menheru_FumiThe years keep rolling by, and yet my love of men enjoying the pleasures of other men never fades. Here we are at another 801, this gloriously smutty day when we all reaffirm our love of hot guys smooching, and I am still reading, writing about, and translating their books. So welcome to all of my fellow fujoshi, young and old, who also enjoy a little phantom peen in their lives! Celebrate this world we live in with something pornographic! Or deliciously sweet! There are no rules in this world of man-loving, save for the defining rule that men must love men in some fashion.

How are you celebrating this year? There’s so much to be thankful for! SuBLime continues to bless us with new licenses and licence rescues in English, and the BL industry has maybe never looked better in Japan. BL corners in even the smallest bookstores, and even BL sommeliers to help us find the perfect smut for our own personal fujo requirements! And the scope of what’s possible with BL only seems to get bigger. Like a story about a high-school cross-dresser hooking up with a man with depression twice his age! Sounds like it could only end well, doesn’t it? (Spoiler alert: This is BL. It does.) Continue reading

qtµt: Fumiko Fumi/Sayawaka

Scan 8I read the first two volumes of qtµt just after volume two came out at the end of May, and I have been sitting on them ever since because I honestly don’t know what to make of this bizarre collaboration between author Sayawaka and artist (and Brain favourite) Fumiko Fumi. Every time I think about it, a tiny bomb goes off in another part of my poor, beleaguered head. Wait, so did she—Boom! But then how do they—Kablam! Does that mean—Pakow! While I have heard bands that I had no idea how to react to the first time I encountered them (Moe and Ghosts being the most recent notable example), I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt this way about a book. Given the unfamiliar territory my brain and I suddenly find ourselves in, I figured the best course of action would be to wait for the next volume and see how this strange mess plays out. But every time I see the books on my shelf, the explosions start again, and I realized I was going to have to hammer it all out here or risk having too little brain still intact to tackle volume three.

The English tagline on the cover informs us that “The girl(s) don’t even know love, truth, and lies, either.” Which…sure? I guess so? What does that mean? The questions start so early on with this series. The obi is littered with blurbs. “Whoa, I’ve never seen this before,” declares anime screenwriter Mari Okada. And yes, I have to agree with her. “Terrible things happen to cute girls, so I’m happy,” announces the writer of Madoka Magica, Gen Urobuchi. And again, I can’t say that he’s wrong. But why are terrible things happening to cute girls? What is the point here? That is where my brain goes off the rails. Actually, that is one of several places my brain goes off the rails. Let’s get down to it. Continue reading