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”

Nagi no Oitoma: Misato Konari

IMG_2656.jpgI go through these periods of feeling like a robot. Maybe everyone does? I feel like it’s hard not to, since so much of life if just doing the same things over and over again. It’s honestly inescapable, unless you go total anarchic fatalist and stop eating, bathing, and doing anything that goes along with the larger world around you. I mean, you have to sleep, you have to eat, and eventually you’re going to need to clean your body and your environment, or you’re going to end up paying some serious consequences health-wise. And most of us do these essential life things in a pretty ritualistic way. Like, I have eaten some form of toast, cheese, and fruit for breakfast almost every day for the better part of twenty years, maybe longer. At some point in my young adulthood, I realized that this is the easiest and tastiest breakfast I can prepare for myself in a minimal amount of time, and I just stuck with it. I enjoy a waffle or a bowl of rice with a delightful assortment of side dishes from time to time, but there’s no way I’m getting up early just to put fancier food in my face.

And then you generally have to go to work and do the job you have so you can pay for the food in your face and the place where you sleep and clean your body. Not everyone has to do this, but it’s the reality for a large percentage of us. If you have a job with prescribed hours, then you’re leaving home at a set time, eating meals on your set breaks, heading out at a set time, arriving home again at a set time. And then you do the things you need to do at home to be ready to do the whole thing again the next day. And even if you don’t have prescribed hours (like, say, a freelance translator), you still generally end up falling into some kind of rhythm, if only so you’re not totally at odds with the hours that everyone else keeps. You might love this job that sets your daily rhythms (I do!), but it can still start to feel empty and mechanical from time to time. Continue reading “Nagi no Oitoma: Misato Konari”

Tasogare Takako: Kiwa Irie

Tasogare_Irie

Given how close we are to TCAF, you may be surprised that I’m not on here talking up Junji Ito or Hiromi Takashima, our very special manga guests this year. But in a weird turn of events, I have translated the work of both of these artists, so it would be even more self-indulgent for me to write about those works here. That said, you should definitely pick up Takashima’s Kase-san series because it is a delightful bit of yuri that is free from so many of the tired tropes and simply explores the relationship between these two girls as they figure out what it means to be together and how they want to move forward. And you should also be reading Ito’s everything because he is a great master of horror and excess—you should obviously especially be reading all of my translations of his work, if nothing else, though. I personally am devouring everything he ever wrote at the moment, including the utterly dreadful Yukoku no Rasputin which I regret ever crossing paths with, because, well, TCAF. I am his interpreter. I have to be prepared. (Please no one ask about Rasputin.)

But I also need distractions! Reading too much of the same artist all in a row can make all the stories blur together into a mess of tangled and mutilated bodies, in the case of Ito’s work. Fortunately, my special delivery of horror manga from the other side of the ocean also included some decidedly non-horror manga from an artist I’ve only recently fallen for, Kiwa Irie. Her current series Yuria-sensei no Akai Ito is giving me life, so I decided to go back and check out her earlier work, as is my wont when I fall hard and fast for an artist.

But checking out her earlier work was not so easy as all that! I was told that Tasogare was also a very solid series, so I went to the bookstore to get the first couple volumes. However, volume one comes with a CD specially made of the music that features in the book and so costs about twice as much as a regular manga. I did not want a special CD of music I was almost certain to dislike (I am a person of strong musical opinion), so I went from bookstore to bookstore looking for a volume one sans CD. But it was not to be! Which is why I ended up getting it delivered to be from my favourite online retailer with a pile of Junji Ito books once I was back in Canada. Continue reading “Tasogare Takako: Kiwa Irie”

Sensei no Shiroi Uso: Akane Torikai

Shiroi_TorikaiAre we ready to talk about josei again? I promise not to rant (too much) about how work by and about women is consistently undervalued in our culture. But it’s honestly impossible to talk about josei manga without coming up against this wall. I’d love to see some hard numbers on this, but even without that kind of rigorous data, it’s pretty clear that compared with the flood of shonen and seinen manga—genres targeted at and (mostly) written by men (boys)—the amount of josei and shojo—genres for and by (mostly) women (girls)—published in English is a mere trickle. And you can step right off with the argument that josei and shojo stories just aren’t as good or as well produced. Josei and shojo manga consistently win big awards—Yuki Ozawa won the Kodansha award for her incredible Sanju Mariko just last year, while Misato Konari is shortlisted for the Tezuka Cultural Prize and also snagged an Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival this year, and we’ll probably never see either of these excellent titles in an English translation.

There are a gazillion reasons why we see so little josei and shojo in translation, and I promised I wasn’t going to rant, so I won’t go into every one of them. But a big reason, and something you see all over the place not just manga in translation, is that works created by and about women are seen as for women only, while works created by and about men are for “everyone.” Work about/by women is denigrated at pretty much every turn. Little boys are taught that this or that book is “for girls” and thus they should never pick them up (remembering that YA author who talked about how some schools excused boys from her school visits since she wrote books “for girls” so of course the boys wouldn’t be interested, but I can’t remember her name, so if you know who I’m talking about, please tell me so I can credit her) (Update: Thanks to Mecque for telling me that I was talking about Shannon Hale!), and even when a woman author is recognized with a prestigious award, her win is cast in the light of a man author who lost. (Yes, I am thinking of Jennifer Egan’s pulitzer win and how every other article about it had a headline with Franzen’s name in it, too.) So when you have publishers and society cutting out half of the population as a possible readership for women’s work, you are going to have a hard time selling that stuff.

And this isn’t just limited to the North American market. Although a ton more shojo and josei makes it onto the shelves in Japan, this is mostly because the publishing industry in Japan is more robust and simply has more readers buying books. Stories by and about women are still not taken as seriously as those by and about men, as evinced by the fact that while women are winning those manga awards, they’re winning them about a quarter as often as men do. For an artist who wants her work to be widely read by both women and men then, a series in a seinen or shonen magazine is really the way to go, even if she’s writing about women and the series could easily run in a magazine aimed at women.

Resto_TorikaiI feel like Torikai’s Sensei no Shiroi Uso is just such a title. Although it ran in the seinen magazine Morning, it takes as its protagonist a young woman grappling with her own womanhood and what it means to be a woman in a society that sees women as second class. And this is where I have to give you a chance to get out before things get too heavy. Torikai does not shy away from depictions of sexual assault and violence against women. If this is something you would rather not subject your eyes or your mind to, then this is not going to be the series for you. Go read the warm delight that is Witch Hat Atelier instead. It just came out in English and you will not be sorry you picked it up! Continue reading “Sensei no Shiroi Uso: Akane Torikai”

Bikacho Shinshi Kaikoroku: Moyoco Anno

Bikacho_Anno.jpgIt comes up every so often on the interwebs—or maybe only on Twitter which is where I spend most of my interwebs time—this idea of not starting a series until it’s finished because you want to read the whole thing at once. Or you worry that the publisher will drop it before it ends. And pretty much everyone involved in the making of series of books comes forward to say that this is the surest way to get a series cancelled. The terrible law of attrition means that sales of volume one are pretty much always the highest and it only goes downhill from there as some readers find they actually aren’t all that into the series or they move onto other books and forget about this one or they move to a shoebox apartment and can no longer buy books and keep them in their house the way they’d like to or they ran out of money and buying books is the last thing on their list. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for not continuing with a series, but anyone in the publishing industry will tell you that fear of the series ending prematurely is not one of them. When a reader doesn’t buy the first volumes in a series for this reason, they are basically signing the death certificate for the whole endeavour.

And as a person in the publishing industry, I am well aware of this fact! (I’m also well aware of the fact that pre-ordering a book is the best way to get it on shelves and boost sales in the crucial weeks after release, but I cannot be that together of a grown-up human being. To know what I will want to read in the future?! That is some kind of black magic and will probably end up with me roasting in the flames of hell.) But! I am also a deeply forgetful person. And the time between publication of between one volume and the next is basically enough for me to have forgotten the entire premise of the series. So reading books as they come out is basically an exercise in frustration and repetition. What is an absent-minded reader to do?? It’s simple, really. Just buy them all as they come out and then read them when the whole series is done. Continue reading “Bikacho Shinshi Kaikoroku: Moyoco Anno”

Sanju Mariko: Yuki Ozawa

sanjumariko_ozawaStill on the josei train, apparently. Maybe I will never get off it? Is this where I live now? All josei all the time? I wonder if the train will stop in Shojo Town or Seinen Village. Because I do like that stuff, too, but it seems my brain is particularly concerned with women and whatever the heck they’re writing about these days. Life circumstances? The man-hating feminist deep in my heart feeling free to finally stand in the sun? Who can say!

Whether it’s man-hating feminism or plain curiosity about books I haven’t read, I’ve had my eye on Sanju Mariko for some time now. Not just because it’s been on all the lists of amazing manga since it started running in Be Love a few years ago—although when a manga is on everyone’s list, it does make you curious—but because the protagonist of this series is an 80-year-old woman and when was the last time you saw that happen? Not the protagonist’s mom or the lady at the grocery store yelling at the cashier for messing up her order or the elderly woman the doctor just couldn’t save dammit who becomes the jumping off point for the doctor’s new life as a unicyclist, but the hero of the story, the one we care about and follow eagerly through the many events and obstacles. Seriously. If you know of a manga or movie or TV show from recent years that stars an elderly lady, please tell me about it, because I am entirely here for this. Continue reading “Sanju Mariko: Yuki Ozawa”