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

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Wombs (the rest of it): Yumiko Shirai

wombs_ShiraiThe demise of IKKI was sad for a whole bunch of reasons. Over its run, the magazine created its own little niche in the manga market, publishing things of all genres, despite ostensibly being a seinen magazine. It seemed like the only real commonality between the wide variety of manga serialized in those pages was that they were different from everything else, not just in the magazine, but in the world of manga itself. And yet it was still somehow mainstream, or at least mainstream-adjacent, carried in most bookstores and attracting readers from all demographics. Over its 11-year run under editor-in-chief Hideki Egami, works as diverse as Chin Nakamura’s Gunjo, Natsume Ono’s Sairaya Goyo, and Daisuke Igarashi’s Kaiju no Kodomo made their homes in its pages. When IKKI ceased publication in the fall of 2014, many of its series migrated to Gekkan Spirits (Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, for example) while others were the anchors in the launch of IKKI’s successor, Hibana (Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida). But it was decided that Brain favourites Golondrina by est em and Wombs by Yumiko Shirai would finish out their runs in tankobon form.

That was two years ago. Two years of waiting and wondering when I would finally get to see how these very different stories turn out. I’m still waiting for the final volume(s?) of Golondrina, but Shirai managed to bring her epic, space war, alien pregnancy sci-fi series to an end earlier this year. Of course, given the level of intricate detail in this series and how long it had been since I read the first four books, I had to go back and re-read them all so that I could finally get to the last book and learn just what happened to Mana Oga. And of course, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Japan this year, while the Wombs books were in my apartment in Canada, so I haven’t quite been able to manage to be proximate to the books when I was ready to take on the challenge of re-reading them. Until now. Yes, it’s time to take a look at Wombs as a completed work. Finally.

So there will be spoilers. I can’t discuss the entire series without getting a little into some plot stuff, although I’ll avoid the big reveals so I won’t ruin any of the real surprises. But if you want to read spoiler-free thoughts, go back and read my first take on this series. Seriously. If you don’t want to know how all this turns out, click on that link now. Okay? I warned you. Continue reading

Doujinshi Round-up: 2016 Edition

AlenzyasAlthough I bought and read all these doujinshi in 2015, I’m still calling it the 2016 edition because, like last year, I am writing about them in 2016 and it feels plain weird to call it the 2015 edition. Plus, there is already a 2015 edition from last year when I wrote about doujinshi I bought in 2014. And so, like the centuries and the years they contain, I will always be one number off in the rounding up of doujinshi. I apologize for the confusion.

What’s done is done, however, so let’s just get to the books.

Despite the fact that I was in Japan for a really long time last year (almost five months!), I spent a large part of that time on Cat Island. And Cat Island does not have doujinshi fairs. Unless the elderly farmers that populate the island were keeping something from me. (And now that I’ve thought of it, I hope they were! I love the idea of secret elderly farmer doujinshi!) And once I got to Tokyo, I was busy as usual with the horde of Canadians that descended upon the city to show their wares at the Tokyo International Comic Festival and Design Festa. Not to mention meetings with people to convince them to keep hiring me to read books and all those books they’ve already hired me for! So I didn’t really get to dig around in the world of doujinshis as much as I would have liked to. (I missed J Garden, for instance.) But the goods I did get are full of awesome, so I’m chalking this one up in the win column.

Continue reading

Shitashigena Akuma: Various

Comics Hoshi ShinichiIt is no secret that I love Shinichi Hoshi, even while I accept that his work may pose some fodder for difficult thought. (O ladies, where are you?) But I realize we cannot hold people of the past to the standards of the now, so I try not to let the blatant sexism of latter-day Hoshi ruin the delight of his tiny stories full of big ideas. (This is similar to the way I have read pretty much everything Robert Heinlein, by the way.) Hoshi’s short shorts are so magical and surprising. I love that there was a publishing industry in this world that was willing to just publish whatever he dreamed up, even if I don’t love the balance of ladies in them: space dog circus diplomacy, sneezes of bees (and those words don’t come close to rhyming in Japanese, eliminating one obvious source for that idea), whatever.

And these tiny stories of his really lend themselves to adaptation in pretty much any form. His prose is always slightly dispassionate, peeking in from a distance, and pared down to the truly necessary basics, leaving plenty of room for the interpretive eye of another artist. So I’m not surprised that someone decided to adapt them into manga; I’m just surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it. And it’s not just this one manga collection—it’s a whole series of manga adaptations of Hoshi’s work. And I only discovered that any of them at all exist because my honto.jp account was all, hey, you might be interested in this. And I was! Continue reading

Rafnas: Yumiko Shirai

Rafnas_ShiraiWe all know I have hearts in my eyes for Yumiko Shirai’s eerily beautiful landscapes and ink washes and general lack of screen tone, as demonstrated amply by the way I gushed over her previous work. We also know that I do love an incredibly bizarre premise for a story and offer gold stars to any author who simply throws me into that story without holding my hand. So Rafnas, Shirai’s latest, should have been an easy high five. And yet it doesn’t all come together for me.

The story is on a similarly nutbar level as Wombs, maybe toned down a notch depending on how you measure these things. The title does not refer to tough eggplant, the image my brain immediately conjured up when I saw the title the first time (the title in Japanese is “rafunasu”, and rafu can be “rough” while nasu means “eggplant”. [And let me just tell you that a lot of silly entertainment can be gained from imagining a gang of eggplant toughs roaming the neighbourhood in leather jackets, cigarettes dangling from lipless mouths, looking for a fight to pick]), but rather to the name of the planet on which the whole thing is set, Rafnas. Continue reading

Comitia 30th Chronicle Volume 1: Kimihiko Nakamura (ed.)

ComitaCoverV1

For their thirtieth anniversary, in addition to delightful treats like a sake set designed by Natsume Ono (the sake in which was delicious, by the way), beloved doujinshi event Comitia released three books cramjammed full of comics by a few of the many artists who have exhibited at the quarterly event over the last thirty years. And all three books are massive, which meant that I had to limit myself to just one for fear of breaking my back on the train home. Volume one clocks in at just under seven hundred pages on some pretty nice paper bound quite beautifully in a sturdy cover stock featuring the covers of the different Comitia guides over the years, covered up by a lovely cream jacket with a translucent peek at the color cover below it. A pretty (and heavy) package for a whole lot of comics action. (Apologies in advance for terrible images. I can’t open the book far enough to get it to lay anywhere near flat on my scanner.) Continue reading

Wombs: Yumiko Shirai

Wombs I have a tendency not to read the backs of books or any summary blurbs on anything. They’re often written in a way that is totally off-putting to me (a perfect example of this is the first sentence from the back of my favourite movie Trust: “The film concerns the unusual romance/friendship between two young misfits wandering the same Long Island town.” Triple yawn!) and they usually give too much of the story away for my liking. I get that these blurbs are there to convince people to buy the book/movie, so you have to give the people something, but I much prefer walking into something totally blind. (This is also why I only read reviews once I’ve read/seen the work or for works I have no intention of ever reading/seeing.) So all I knew about Wombs before I started reading it was that it has a seemingly ridiculous title (which is actually a perfect title now that I’ve read it) and that it’s by Yumiko Shirai.

Yumiko Shirai! Remember her? I loved her debut work so, so much that I was pretty much willing to try anything else she wrote, even if it starred accountants doing tax returns for other accountants. Fortunately, she is not forcing us to read about accounting with Wombs. Instead, it is another war-related story, although this one takes place while the war is still ongoing. And I have to say, I’m pretty sure this is the weirdest premise for a story I’ve ever come across. Basically, women are impregnated with aliens so that they can teleport. For real. Continue reading