Category: josei

Boy Meets “Crazy” Girl: Natsuko Kawa

Boy_KawaI’m not going to lie here. When I saw the title of this volume on Feel Young’s Twitter feed, I rolled my eyes so hard, I’m pretty sure I sprained something. Oh, the girls, they are so crazy! They have all these feelings! They are lunatics who need to be reined in lest they—gasp—enjoy their lives however they wish without sternly judging eyes following them wherever they go! And I know it’s a Japanese person using an English word in a Japanese context, but the word “crazy” itself has just got to go. It trivializes and stigmatizes mental illness, and there’s just no reason for using it. There’s always a more appropriate word for what you’re trying to say. In the case of this title, that word would probably be “wacky”. Or maybe “over-the-top”. Both of these are a lot more descriptive of the girl(s) in question and don’t inadvertently point a finger at mental illness. Seriously, friends, let’s all think about the words we use (says the woman whose job is to literally think about the words she uses).

Despite my exasperation with the title, though, the cover was strangely compelling (those eyes! the freckles!! the thread glued to the painting like space hair!) when I saw it at the bookstore, and I tend to enjoy the stuff in Feel Young, so I figured I’d give it a try. Friends, I’m pleased to report I have no regrets. The scare quotes around “crazy” make the title more of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink nod to all the stereotypes about women hiding in that well-worn trope than the scare-quote free version I saw on Twitter, and this selection of twelve rather short stories is far from the heartbreak and manic pixie dream girl style that I was expecting. (more…)

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Cafe de Coffee o: Emi Yokoi

Cafe_YokoiI don’t really care that much for food manga, as popular as they seem to be these days, mostly because I’m a vegetarian, so the majority of the food that appears in their pages is utterly unappealing to me. I’m not one of those vegetarians who eats fake meat because she misses eating meat. When I see people eat meat, it’s like watching someone eat cardboard. I mean, sure? You can if you want? But it’s not actually food? So there’s pretty much nothing enticing for me about someone waxing poetic about the delights of pig fat in a bowl of ramen or something. If someone ever did a vegetarian food manga, maybe I’d feel differently about the genre. But until a book like that lands in my hands, I will remain heartily indifferent. (Ironically, I translate a food manga, and I have learned so much more than I ever wanted to know about cooking meat and seafood. Before I started translating this series, I actually was a reader of it but only for the relationship between Kenji and Shiro. I would just flip past the cooking pages. But now, I read them in the greatest of detail and watch videos on how to prepare squid…)

In contrast, I love coffee manga! There aren’t that many of them, which is a damned shame because I would read the hell out of more. For me, the best of the coffee manga is maybe the first one I ever read, Kohi Mo Ippai by Naoto Yamakawa. Just story after story of people taking the time and effort to make coffee and then sit down and enjoy it. There’s just something so relaxing about watching someone take a break like that. And there are so many little stories that weave themselves around the act of making and drinking coffee, of sitting in a café. It’s slice-of-life with a fixed centre: the cup of coffee. (more…)

Strange, Funny Love: Hikaru Cho

Strange_ChoAs always, my brain and I have not stopped the great battle against the constant onslaught of books. Our dedication to the fight has kept the terrible mountain of unread books from growing too tall to fall over and murder me in my sleep, but we still have a long way to go before we can reach the dream of a tiny hillock of books waiting for us to devour them. But as happens all too often these days, the life outside of reading steals away any extra time I might have for writing about the struggle of the ongoing war. Still, I am ever hopeful and thus leave the books that have been read in their own separate pile: the mountain of unreported books. And now that mountain has grown to teetering proportions, leading to the terrible situation of two unsteady stacks that could topple over onto me and cause fatal injury at any moment. Something clearly needs to be done. And that something is, of course, writing about the damned books already.

So let’s start with something new and fresh and weird that I read when it first came out months ago. (Yes, the mountain of unreported books goes back that far…) My favourite bookstore did this lovely display where they arranged the books by main cover colour. So there was a shelf of shades of yellow, then green, black, etc. All with the covers facing outward rather than the spines, so you could really take in this strange rainbow. Although it seems like a weird way to showcase books, it was pretty effective. Or at least, it worked on me. I bought three or four books from that display, volumes I would never have found otherwise. Books like Hikaru Cho’s Strange, Funny Love, which was, yes, on the silver shelf. (A surprising number of silver book covers out there!) (more…)

Reportage: Kiko Urino

Reportage_UrinoMaybe I’ve mentioned this before, but the thing I really love about bookstores is the sheer possibility of them. You just walk in with nothing particular in mind, and then you find something. A thing you never heard of, a thing you never expected to run across, a thing you had no idea existed. You’re just noodling around in this physical space, glancing at the displays carefully crafted by the clerks while you are still listening to a podcast with half of your mind. Maybe you just came inside to kill time while you’re waiting for the light to change. Or maybe it’s cold outside and you needed to stop in somewhere and warm up before you continued on your journey. And the bookstore is right there. Well, maybe not so much in North America, sadly, but in Japan, there is pretty much always a bookstore within a stone’s throw.

And as you’re poking around mostly indifferently, waiting for your toes to defrost, you see something that you feel like you have to get, even if you’re not entirely sure why. This is the power of bookstores and the reason that I’ll never be okay with our slow erosion of the physical bookselling space in favour of the convenience and slightly discounted prices of certain online shops. (In fact, the only online shop I buy from doesn’t discount its titles and actually partners with brick-and-mortar booksellers. And they have a point card that connects my offline purchases! The best of both worlds!) I never would have come across a series like Reportage outside of that physical, meandering space. Especially since my online recommendations are totally skewed from all the weird books I look up for work purposes. (My work on Accel World has most sites constantly pushing SAO on me…) (more…)

Oishii Kaori: Ami Uozumi

Oishii_Uozumi.jpgA thing I like to do when I’m travelling is visit bookstores (duh) and ask about local authors. Places that are really pushy about/protective/proud of their local culture will generally have local author sections in many of their bookstores, which streamlines the whole process immensely. In Singapore, I found local author shelves in pretty much every shop I went to. Likewise, Okinawa. But in most cities I visit, there is no such area, and so I must ask the clerks. Sometimes, they are totally clueless and panic at the sudden question from a Japanese-speaking foreigner (I’m looking at you, Hakata), but most of the time, they are super knowledgeable and direct me to any number of potentially interesting books.

And when I was in Kumamoto over the winter holiday, although I was deeply distracted by the figure of Kumamon everywhere I went (including a stage show! For free!!), I did not neglect this little habit of mine and forced my travelling companion to stop in at a bookstore with me. I didn’t have to twist his arm too much; it was cold and he had to pee. So while he was off emptying his tiny bladder, I found a clerk to ask about local authors. And he was one of the super knowledgeable ones. He quickly swept me away to the manga section where Oishii Kaori was prominently displayed. The cover was cute, and the back cover copy promised gay times, so I plunked down my six hundred yen to take it home. (more…)

1122: Peko Watanabe

1122_WatanabeRelationships in manga, notably in shojo and josei, tend to be pretty same-y, in that they are usually between a girl/woman and a boy/man. (Which is fine. All you hetero people can sit back down. I’m not about to start denigrating your lifestyle here or anything.) And they tend to follow the same set patterns: boy wants girl who does not want boy, girl wants boy who does not want girl, mutual want but: obstacles, mutual non-want but: forced together, and then the rarest of beasts: mutual want, happy relationship. Of course, there are variants and various degrees of rapey-ness, but on the whole, we get a whole lot of one lady-one man in mainstream manga. And sure, I can turn to my beloved BL, but even there, the preponderance of work is one dude (or dude-creature) for one dude (dude-creature).

None of these relationship patterns are good or bad in and of themselves. It’s just, I am so interested in all the ways we human beings relate to each other and how those relationships change depending on the perspective we come at them from. So I get excited about work that presents new perspectives on relationship styles. Which is why when I saw 1122 prominently displayed in my favourite bookstore, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. It was part of a display of josei manga that had been featured on TV recently, and whoever did the featuring had some pretty good taste; Aoi Ikebe’s Zassou and Princess Maison, along with Ryo Ikuemi’s Anata were also prominently displayed. The little blurb for 1122 noted that this couple had their own way of doing things when it came to sex and love. They were *gasp* in an open relationship. (Or: official cheating, in the Japanese, which I love. Sounds like they went to city hall and got certified to cheat or something.)    (more…)

Hatarake! Suima-san: Maiko Dake

Suima_DakeNew year, new fires to put out. My 2018 has been off to a surprisingly and unpleasantly eventful start, leaving me and my brain with little time for our favourite indulgence: reading books and writing about them. Which is all the more disappointing given the staggering amount of books we have amassed in the last couple months in the land of bookstores, aka Japan. So many books! And more than a few that I would like to be writing here about. My brain has things to say about the printed page! But for me to write something on every single book I read that I found interesting enough to say a few words about, I would have to give up my day job of reading books and rewriting them in another language. And then I would have no money to buy the books to write about. So!

Perfect is the enemy of good—isn’t that what they say? So let’s give up on the idea of writing about all the books, and just focus on writing about some of the books. This seems infinitely more doable and a good brain resolution for the new year. Some of the books is still plenty of books. And Suima-san seems like a good book to kick off this brain resolution, given that the book is basically a New Year’s resolution in and of itself. (more…)