Sokuseki Bijin no Tsukurikata: Akiko Higashimura

SokusekiBijin_HIgashimura

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

Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo: Ryo Ikuemi

Anata_IkuemiIt feels like every time I turn on the TV these days, there is another drama based on some manga I’ve never heard of. But I can always tell that it was originally a manga. Something about the pacing? The plotting? The characterisation? I’m not entirely sure, but even without obvious manga-derived elements like the talking bar snacks from Tokyo Tarareba Musume (English version here), these dramas always seem somehow different from original TV shows. Inevitably, I find myself wondering if the show was originally a manga halfway through the program, look it up online, and discover that yes, yes, it was. And almost equally inevitably, that it was a josei manga. Apparently, josei manga get live action drama, while other genres get anime adaptations when it comes time to move them from the printed page to the small screen. Except for seinen, which frequently gets movies. And I leave for another day speculation on why stuff specifically for an audience of young men is adapted to the big screen.

Normally, I have a strict policy of not watching what I read and not reading what I watch. I don’t like the way the characters get muddled up in my head, although I do enjoy seeing different interpretations of the same work. But I arrived in Japan too late to see Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo from the start; in fact, I only managed to catch the last two episodes. So the characters weren’t really fixed in my imagination, and those last two episodes left me curious about the starting point that led to that ending. And I can’t let random rules dictate what I read in this life, so I picked up the first volume of Ryo Ikuemi’s manga to see if I could actually read the series without having the show overwhelm the characters on the page. And good news! I can! Continue reading

Strange: Yuruco Tsuyuki

Strange_TsuyukiThe copy on the obi for Strange, Yuruco Tsuyuki’s debut story collection, says “the best encounter of your life”, but I’m assuming that’s code for “your new favourite gateway BL,” code that only seasoned fujoshi can understand. The cover is an obvious fujoshi shoutout. I mean, sure, that could be a woman on the cover next to that tiny man, but years of reading man-on-man action have taught me that those large hands and muscular thighs are those of a man who works at a joso club of some sort. Plus, the rest of the obi copy informs us that the book contains stories about six pairs of men, another siren song for the rotten girls.

But this sneaky little book is not BL. It is a little dip of the toes in the water of men with feelings for each other, a skip away from the toxic masculinity on display in the everyday, a vision of how great the world can be when men aren’t afraid to be vulnerable with other men. It is still, however, a hop, skip, and a jump from BL town. Give it to your friends who don’t know how much they will love BL yet. Convert them to the cause in a stealth mission. It’s time for the fujoshi revolution, friends. Continue reading

Atami no Uchujin: Yuriko Hara

Atami_HaraI’ve mentioned before that I used to live in Atami, right? Years and years ago, but I still go back frequently to visit friends and go on the natsukashii tour that one friend in particular loves to take me on. (This always involves drinking too much and an enka “lesson” at karaoke. I kill at “Midaregami” and “Juuku no Haru”.) And I think of Atami as my Japanese hometown, so I have a special place in my heart for the sleepy seaside resort. Although I would never live there again. All those tourists having fun while you are trudging to work hungover is seriously the worst. But visiting is great! I understand now what those tourists see in the town. Hotels with rotenburo and ocean views, what’s not to love! You should totally go!

So naturally, when I went to the bookstore within hours of stepping off the plane on this side of the ocean again, Atami no Uchujin caught my eye. The title was enough to get me to pick up this debut collection of stories by Hara, the strange half-erased character on the cover had me considering buying it, and the Beam Comix stamp on the spine sealed the deal. (Creators take note! It often takes random elements you will never understand coalescing in a singular moment for people to buy your work. All you can do is in the end make the work!) I don’t like everything Beam puts out, but they are always interesting, at least, and generally more daring than your average manga magazine. Their debut authors are worth taking a chance on. (For me. The more shojo-oriented among you, for instance, may not feel the same.) Continue reading

Inori to Shomei: Takehito Moriizumi

Prayer_MoriizumiI know some of you are rolling your eyeballs all the way to the back of your head, so far you are taking a good look at your brain. Ugh, I hear you say to yourself. Another Moriizumi book. We get it already. Your brain likes Moriizumi. And to that, I would say, yes. Yes, my brain does like Moriizumi. But I would also object to the idea that my brain and I spend too much time with his work. Because he keeps making gorgeous and fascinating manga that pushes up against the boundaries of commercial manga in a lot of ways, and that is always worth looking at and discussing. And it is important to discuss artists you like so that they keep getting opportunities to do the work that you like. Seriously, take a minute now to tweet at or email or smoke signal an artist you’re head over heels with and tell them how great their work is. They might be having a bad day and could use the boost. Or they might be having a great day and just really appreciate knowing that their work is reaching its audience and having an impact on them.

But the biggest reason why I feel compelled to continue discussing Moriizumi until I am blue in the metaphorical face is the same reason I am constantly talking about Fumiko Fumi and Yumiko Shirai and all those other artists I love: because he is still not published in English, and that is a figurative crime. I want to share his lovely books with all my monolingual friends, and all I can do is bore them to death with how I wax poetic about these beautiful pages. So allow me to bore you here, dear monolingual friends, with yet another peek at an enticing work you can’t read. But you bilingual friends! Lucky you! Another treat for your comics-loving eyeballs! Continue reading