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”

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”

Veil: Kotteri

Veil_KotteriFriends! As I write, Magician A is almost fully funded. It’s so exciting to see people getting excited about this book I love! And gratifying! I was sure there was an audience for a book like this in English, but it is one thing to know that in your head and another to see the love your precious baby is getting out there in the world. If you haven’t already pledged to get a slightly smutty treat early next year, maybe you could do so now?? I really want everyone to read the interview I did with Ishitsuyo earlier this year, but that’s a stretch goal, so we need to get those numbers up. Pep talk! Then you can hear all about how I went to a shrine and paid a priest to pray for the success of the English translation! (Yes, it was a weird experience.)

And now that I have sufficiently promoted myself, how about we talk about some books? The internet is doing some interesting things to the world of manga. I’ve commented before on the trend of including the number of Twitter followers an artist has on the obi of manga, and we’re seeing more and more of the series artists are publishing independently on pixiv or their own platforms being picked up by publishers and released in book form, the most notable of which is probably My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. That book (and its sequels) exploded in a way that I think no one really expected, no matter how many views Kabi’s work had gotten on pixiv. The (well deserved) success of Lesbian opened the door to a wave of autobiographical essay manga spilling in from various corners of the internet. And fictional manga was soon to follow. But while the memoir comics tend to stick to a monotone colour palette, the fiction was branching out and experimenting with colour and form in a way that was not exactly done traditionally in manga. Continue reading “Veil: Kotteri”

Girls in Love: Shimura/Nakamura

GirlsLoveBefore we talk about books, I have an important announcement! You may remember how I read a book called Majutsushi A a couple years ago and fell utterly in love with it and the stunning talent of the artist, Natsuko Ishitsuyo? And how I said no one would ever publish it in English? I was wrong about that last bit! Because I am publishing it in English! Well, it’s actually Peter of The Beguiling who’s doing the publishing part of things, but I did do the translation and worked together with a great team of people, including editor Penny Clark, letterer Karis Page, and many Beguiling staff members, to make the publication a real thing that is happening in this world. And now you can buy this translation baby we have worked so very hard on for the last year. Support our campaign on Kickstarter and be the first in line to hold this pretty princess in your hot little hands! 

Thank you for indulging me in this bit of self-promotion. With that out of the way, we can get to the important thing here: the books. As always, one of my first stops upon escaping from painfully wintry Toronto to pleasantly temperate Tokyo was the bookstore, where I stocked up on the latest volumes of all my favourite series, plus a couple of new series by favourite authors. Weirdly enough, both of those new books are girls’ love and published within a week of each other, so I figured why not compare and contrast these different takes on the world of women who love women. Continue reading “Girls in Love: Shimura/Nakamura”

Saturn Return: Akane Torikai

saturnBoth surprised and not surprised at all to see the new Akane Torikai blurbed on the obi by another Brain favourite, Sayaka Murata. I knew she was a fan of Torikai’s work because well, we’ve gushed at each other about how we’re both fans of Torikai’s work. And blurbs really bring together all the different kinds of art in Japan—singers blurb novels, novelists blurb movies, movie stars blurb manga; the arts are weirdly supportive and interactive on this side of the ocean. But I always wonder how well known each of these artists are outside of their respective art form. Does the average manga reader know enough about Sayaka Murata to care what kind of manga she likes? Is this thoughtful paragraph on her impressions of the book and its themes enough to get the casual bookshop browser to walk over to the register and slap down some yen? I’m so curious about the overlap here. And wondering why we (mostly) don’t do this kind of cross-medium blurbing in the English publishing industry.

I obviously would have bought Saturn Return regardless of blurbers because Akane Torikai is fast becoming one of my favourite artists working in manga these days. And here is where I make my customary plea for an English publisher to please license something of hers so I can push it eagerly into the hands of all my friends, comics readers and non-readers alike. (Also, hire me to translate it, please and thank you!) Reading this volume, it struck me that her work really belongs with a “graphic novel” publisher rather than a manga publisher.

Both her art style and subject matter are so much more in the camp of the things that D&Q or L’Association publish rather than the books VIZ Media or Seven Seas do. And this realization made me wonder all over again if the label “manga” can actually be a hindrance to some books finding traction with overseas publishers and readers, especially when it comes to josei manga. Josei is usually tackling themes that aren’t part of the stereotypical North American definition of “manga”, which is often nearly synonymous with Shonen Jump style or Morning-style seinen comics. Maybe if josei was set free from the manga label, we’d get to see more of it in English?? (Yes, I am always dreaming.)

At any rate, even if it never sees the light of day in English, Saturn Return in Japanese is still…a lot. This should come as no surprised to anyone who has ever read any of Torikai’s work before. But let me warn you before we go any deeper into this particular work: lots of upsetting things in these pages, the biggest of which is probably the depictions of suicide, depression, and suicide ideation, but there’s also some sexual stuff which is uncomfortably close to non-consensual. If you’d rather skip out on any discussion of these issues, then you might prefer to read about longtime Brain favourite Aoi Ikebe this week and come back again next week when we will turn to less fraught themes. Continue reading “Saturn Return: Akane Torikai”

Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa

Veranda_ErisawaI should be sweating profusely right now or at least needing to use the air conditioner because it is mid-July in Tokyo and that is the time of year when we all melt. But it is cold (I mean, Tokyo summer cold, though, so mid twenties) and rainy, and I am wanting to find just who is responsible for ruining my summer and yell at them like they are the manager of a shitty family restaurant that I can lord myself over for no reason at all except I ordered the unlimited refill drink bar. But no one (that I can find, anyway) is in charge of the weather, and so I am left chilled and vaguely unsatisfied with the whole situation.

The good part of this endless string of cloudy and rainy days (insofar as there can be a good part; I would really like to see the sun already. I think I’m developing a vitamin D deficiency) is that I am more inclined to stay home and get cosy with a book. I’m getting a lot of reading done. Most of it is for work, sadly, so I can’t write about it because: publishing industry secrets, and some of it I don’t want to write about (like the book that purported to be about drinking alone but was really just another food manga in disguise). But I’ve come across some real treasures lately—the print re-release of Kageki Shojo season zero is amazing, with previously unpublished bonus comics and an interview with former Takarazuka top star Kaname Ouki. It’s a deliciously fat book that includes the two original volumes of Kageki Shojo before the series moved to a new publisher, and it is such a satisfying treat to hold in your hands. Continue reading “Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa”