Himotoku Hana: Renaissance Yoshida

himotoku_Renaissance YoshidaI first encountered Renaissance Yoshida in the late, great Erotics f. While I admired the way she stepped out of the typical manga mould with her shaky lines and awkward sex scenes, I never quite managed to get into that serialization. Her line work was almost too shaky, to the point of being uncontrolled, verging on scribbles at times, and she never quite sucked me in. In retrospect, I wonder if this wasn’t because I was reading a chapter every other month in the magazine, which didn’t really allow me to sink into the story. And now that I’ve read Himotoku Hana, I’m pretty sure Yoshida is the kind of artist you have to submerge yourself in, drown along with her.

Unsurprisingly, drowning with her hurts. The subtitle of Himotoku hidden under the jacket is “Songs of Self-Abuse”, and yes, that’s basically what the entire book is. So consider yourself warned. What happens in these pages is painful to watch and often R-rated, although not in a rape-y way, so rest assured on that front. But you might not want to click through if watching someone destroy themselves through sex is a little too real-world painful. Continue reading

Zassou-tachi yo Taishi wo Idake: Aoi Ikebe

Zassou_IkebeYes, as promised, the second in my hat trick of new books by favourite artists! I have thoughts on Fumi Fumiko’s latest that will have to wait for another day. But have no fear! Like John Wick, they will come whether you like it or not. But in these tumultuous times when it seems like the world is getting more horrible every time you check Twitter, what I need is a reminder that everything is not awful. And while Fumi’s Joso Danshi to Menhera Ojisan is good and interesting and worth reading and all that, it’s also full of people being awful, not necessarily for awful reasons, but just because they are human, and sometimes, human beings don’t get things right even when their intentions are in a good place. Zassou-tachi is untouched by awful things. It is the book you need to soothe your soul when the onslaught of awful becomes too much for you.

The title is a twist on the Japanese saying “Boys, be ambitious (shounen yo taishi wo idake), which it turns out was originally said in English by this old American guy and then translated into Japanese, so that strict teachers and fretful mothers could exhort generations of Japanese schoolboys to get their shit together. I’ve heard and seen this expression any number of times in my many years in Japan, but I always assumed it was some holdover from the militaristic World War II culture that somehow managed to make it into the modern era. I pictured drill sergeants shouting it as they sent young men and boys off on kamikaze missions or something. It sounds ominously euphemistic for “go die for the emperor”, and I never understood why it was still in use these days. Until reading this book! I started googling the saying for a little insight into why Ikebe would use it as a springboard for her own title, and I stumbled upon the weird world of a white man founding a university in Hokkaido. Continue reading

Sennetsu: Ayako Noda

sennetsu_Noda

So I guess Ayako Noda is the new star of my heart? I’m not sure exactly at what point old loves like Haruko Kumota and Keiko Takemiya stepped aside to let her shine through, but judging from how eagerly I was counting down to the release of the first volume of Sennetsu, it is clear that Noda has inspired an almost frightening cultish devotion in me. All of which is to say you should never look to me for an unbiased look at her work. I love her. And that love is in a way similar to the love I bear for Itoshi no Nekokke in its white hot intensity. But whereas my love for Itoshi is gentle and rock steady, my love for Noda’s work is overly excited and a bit roller-coast-y. I see the cracks in her storytelling, the sometimes awkward and impossible human figures, and yet my heart pounds with every page.

This passion, it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about for the last couple years, this idea that when you’re an old, your love of art changes in unexpected (to you) ways. The fiery, uncritical passion of my loves when I was a teenager has shifted into something more measured, something more self-aware. I feel like I’m able to look deeper into works and examine them on more levels than I was way back when I was wrinkle-free, but I also feel the loss of that blazing fire, the ability to simply be consumed by a work and burned up by it. I will never be able to see Weetzie Bat or Geek Love or any other book I read and loved in my teens and twenties as anything other than magical and perfect. Even if in my head, I can step back and examine them with a more critical eye, my heart is filled with that pure love. Continue reading

Tanizaki Mangekyo: Various

tanizakiFun fact: I learned the word “mangekyo” long before I started learning Japanese, along with “tsuki ni kawatte oshioki yo” and “henshin”. So when I spotted the lovely cover of Tanizaki Mangekyo in the bookstore, my first thought was an unconscious, thrilled “Sailor Moon!” This collection of short stories has nothing to do with that pretty sailor soldier, however. And yet every time I see the title, I start singing that song to myself. (I still sing it at karaoke with J-peeps. Nothing like singing anime songs in Japanese to knock J-socks off!)

My second thought, based solely on the erotic reveal of Asumiko Nakamura’s lady on the cover, was that this was a collection of erotic/definitely R-rated stories and therefore I should refrain from reading this volume on the train. Some salarymen might be cool with reading rape-y naked lady stories during their commute, but I like to keep my public manga reading PG. So this sat around for a couple weeks, waiting for a slot in my house reading schedule. And when that slot finally opened up and I actually read the obi, I realized that this is a collection of manga adaptations of stories by famed Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. And while he is known for his “destructive erotic obsessions” (thank you for that turn of phrase, Wikipedia editor), none of these stories is particularly dangerous to read on the train. Continue reading

Versailles of the Dead: Kumiko Suekane

img_7194Hibana is maybe knocking it out of the park? I mean, we all mourn the early demise of IKKI, a great magazine with a great editor that featured some pretty amazing talent, like Taiyo Matsumoto, Yumiko Shirai, and est em. But the magazine that rose up in IKKI’s ashes has already made an impressive footprint of its own in the manga scene, despite being relatively new to that scene. This is the magazine that gave us this brain’s beloved Ikazuchi Tooku by Ayako Noda aka Niboshiko Arai, and Akiko Higashimura’s latest, Yukiba no Toru. So seeing Hibana on the spine of a tankobon is enough to make me raise my eyebrows and pick the book up at the very least. Because you never know what surprises this magazine is going to serve up next.

And apparently, the latest surprise is revisiting the story of Marie Antoinette with zombies. The Pride and Prejudice and Zombies strain of fiction has arrived at last in Japan! Normally, I would roll my eyes at the mash-up, being not much of a fiction mash-up person, but the Hibana name along with the utterly ridiculous Versailles of the Dead title had me sighing with resignation. I’ll just read the first volume, I told myself. Just to see what it is. But what it is is surprisingly entertaining?

Continue reading

Majutsushi A: Natsuko Ishitsuyo

img_7144You know you are in for something when a manga artist chooses Ishitsuyo—“strong-willed”—as her pen name. You might not like whatever that something is, but you’ll probably remember it. Fortunately for me, Natsuko Ishitsuyo is exactly what I want to read, and I am frankly astounded that Majutsushi A, a collection of six short stories, is her debut work. It’s so assured and unlike anything I’ve come across in the world of manga before. My only critique of the book is that it’s not longer. Big words, I know, but I don’t say them lightly.

I’d heard nothing about Ishituyo before I stumbled across Majutsu in my neighbourhood bookstore when I went in to wait for the light to change, as I often do. When a bookstore is so conveniently located on the corner of a street you have to cross on your way home from the train station, you should stop in whenever you have to wait for a long light change. Because you will occasionally discover magic treats like this one. But the bookstore on the corner tends to be more mainstream, and their new release shelf rarely features anything that interests me, mostly run-of-the-mill shojo and shonen, with some mainstream BL tossed in for variety. So it was almost shocking to see the stark black and red and the strange portrait gracing the cover of Majutsu. The sly smile playing on the woman’s lips practically compels you to pick the book up. Kudos to the cover designer on this one! Continue reading

Joshikosei ni Korosaretai: Usamaru Furuya

korosaretai_furuyaThe proliferation of manga-related art shows I mentioned before didn’t just start this year. It’s been gradually gaining momentum, and I have made a point of going to see any that happen to be on while I am in Tokyo. Which is an increasing amount of time lately. In fact, I am somewhere above the ocean at the time this post reaches the interworlds. Or maybe I’ve landed by now? I can’t keep the time differences straight. At any rate, I’ll be enjoying Tokyo at my favourite time of year for the city: Oshogatsu! The New Year’s holidays when everyone goes back to their hometowns and the city is a ghost town for a few brief, glorious days (except the tourist areas like Asakusa. Don’t go there, friends. It will be even more crowded than usual). There’s something almost magical about Kannana-dori being empty of traffic in the middle of the day.

But pretty much everything is closed, so I doubt I will be seeing any manga exhibits in the first few days I am on the ground. So let’s talk about exhibits I saw last year in the cold of winter! My frequent partner in Tokyo adventures joined me on a quick jaunt to say hello to former TCAF guest Usamaru Furuya at his show at the Vanilla Gallery, where he was just working on his latest manga in the middle of the room. A nice way to combine being at the gallery for his fans with drawing some pages to meet his deadline, I guess. We chatted and caught up for a while, and then he was kind enough to sign the first volume of the aforementioned manga, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai Continue reading