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”

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”

Mandarin Gypsy Cat no Roujou: Akane Torikai

Mandarin_TorikaiHoly smokes! Last Friday of the year! I hope you’ve all sent out your New Year cards already and are ready to settle in for some solid holiday laziness. I will be doing plenty of loafing about, reading manga and eating mochi since I have been told that this is the optimal way to spend the New Year. Don’t worry, though! I will be careful with the mochi. You won’t see me on the NHK news on New Year’s Day as one of the tragic revellers who choked to death on a holiday treat. (Honestly, it’s a bit surprising that mochi is still a thing people want to eat given how often people choke on it. Maybe we should just all eat mochi-shaped cookies instead.)

And if you, like me, are intending to expend the bare minimum of energy this holiday season, then perhaps you are looking to stock up on books to read, so that you can stack them up next to the sofa or your bed or the kotatsu to eliminate even trips to the bookshelf and maximize laziness. Perhaps that quest for books has led you here to me now. So I’m happy to inform you that I have got your back on this one. In December alone, I read these great books that you also might enjoy! But if you’ve already read those and all of the other books I wrote about this year or none of them really appeals to you (although I must question why you are even here in that case), here is one final offering for 2018. Continue reading “Mandarin Gypsy Cat no Roujou: Akane Torikai”