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

Girls! Girls! Girls!

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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

Roundup: Cleaning My Desk Edition

Desktop.jpgIt is no secret that my brain and I read a ton of books. For one thing, my job is literally getting paid to read (and, of course, translate) books, so I process a pile of books like that every month. Then there’s the research I do for translations, plus all the manga I need to read to keep up with the industry to some degree, and occasionally, re-reading books I’ve already translated to remind myself of who said what when there is a serious chunk of time between the release of one volume and the next (like with Blue Morning, the series that releases one volume a year if we’re lucky and is also super complicated with political machinations set in a peerage system that no longer exists in Japan. I think I’ve read volume one about fifteen times now.)

And then I read for the sheer pleasure of reading because what a pleasure it is! I came across an article recently about how to make more time for reading, and to be honest, I was baffled by the suggestions. Who isn’t already reading over breakfast? Or carrying a book everywhere they go? What do these people do on the train?? I would like to read more for pleasure, for sure, but I am cramming about as much reading into a single day as a human being can. Unless they come up with a way to read while you’re asleep. Yes, I take the occasional break from reading to watch a movie or play video games, but generally, if I have five free minutes, I am picking up one of the books scattered around my house and reading it. Continue reading

Sokuseki Bijin no Tsukurikata: Akiko Higashimura

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It’s still Women in Translation month! So many women, so much translation! Where to find the time to read all the great books people are suggesting?? I probably never will, given that the shelf of unread books at my house has spread like some terrible fungus out onto an end table, which is now stacked dangerously high with books that I have acquired for my brain to battle one of these days. I love the fact that I get to read books for a living, but sometimes, I look at the spreading encroachment of paper crawling out of the bookshelf and across my apartment, and I despair. There will never be enough time to read them all. This is how I face the fact of my own mortality: by slowly coming to truly understand that I will never read all the books, that there will always be unread books on that shelf/end table/floor/everywhere.

But for the time being at least, my brain and I are very much alive! And that means we continue to beat back the tide of unread books, undaunted! And in keeping with the “women who have been translated into English, but I am reading a nontranslated book” theme we started last week with Sakuraba’s Jigokuyuki, my brain thought it might be nice to take a look at shojo/josei manga star Akiko Higashimura, author of the hilarious and beautiful Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Those series are both being translated into English, and you should definitely pick them up. You will laugh, you will cry, you will feel some major feels. You could also watch the drama they made of Tokyo Tarareba Girls earlier this year. It’s pretty great! 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

Nee, Mama: Aoi Ikebe

Mama_IkebeMotherhood is one of those topics you don’t really see addressed too much in manga or fiction in general, really. I mean, sure, you see mothers and children all the time in books, but that’s mostly because we all have had a mother at some point in our lives. The stories these mothers and children show up in are not generally about motherhood, but rather the lives of the mothers and children in the larger world. There’s too rarely an inward focus, the lens turned on what it means to be a mother and how that meaning shifts and changes. I actually was struck by the way Reese Witherspoon’s character wrestles with this very thing on the first episode of Big Little Lies (which I saw on the plane because that is the only time I ever watch TV shows that are not on Netflix) because I see it so rarely. Mothers have children, they interact with them, they are on the peripheries of their lives or at the centres of them, they are off-screen, they are long dead and longed-for, they are negligent or doting, but their motherhood itself is not usually the story.

Given how we as a culture are always harping on how motherhood is the greatest role a woman could ever hope to play, I’m almost surprised at the lack of reflection in our media on what it means to be a mother. Almost. In much the same way “pro-life” anti-choice groups are rarely interested in the actual lives of anyone involved in the pregnancy process, the concept of motherhood being the biggest thing a woman could do is more about making women second-class citizens than anything else. See also: Every article about a woman that lists her leading accomplishment as motherhood, even when she is a rocket scientist making incredible contributions to humanity.    

And full disclosure: I am not a mother and I hope I never will be. (My womb is full of sand!) I have no interest in performing that particular gender role. But maybe that is exactly why I am intrigued by and drawn to Aoi Ikebe’s latest, Nee, Mama. (Or maybe it is just because it’s Aoi Ikebe, and I swoon anytime anything of hers shows up on the shelves of my bookstore.) Possibly my favourite thing about books is that they let me walk into lives completely different from mine and experience the world through a whole new lens. On a fundamental level, they teach me to empathize with and consider perspectives other than my own. And much like I will never be a bullfighter in Spain or an alcoholic copyeditor or a lovestruck goddess, I will never be a mother. But I can read about the experience of being a mother, thanks to Ikebe. Continue reading