Category: Uncategorized

Louvre no Neko: Taiyo Matsumoto (+ Saho Tono)

Louvre_Matsumoto.jpgWe haven’t talked about Taiyo Matsumoto in a while, have we? Which is a damned shame because he is a startlingly brilliant artist, and I wish he’d give us more chances to talk about him. But he is not the fastest artist, and while I have seen things (lovely things!) and know things (exciting things!), I’m not allowed to say anything about any of it, so I have kept my mouth firmly shut about all things Matsumoto since the heartbreaking end of Sunny.

But now! Finally! A new work out in print! Louvre (or Les chats du Louvre as the French subtitle would have it) is the latest in a line of comics commissioned by the great Parisian museum itself together with the publisher Futuropolis. Previous Japanese entries in this notably dude-heavy (one woman in the course of fifteen books? Seriously??) series are Jiro Taniguchi’s The Guardians of the Louvre (a very touching homage to which pops up toward the end of Louvre) and Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre, and it’s clear that Matsumoto with his European influences and interest in pushing the boundaries of manga was maybe the perfect mangaka to join their ranks. How he decided that the perfect story for the Louvre was the surreal, wandering tale of a herd of anthropomorphized stray cats and a little girl, however, will likely remain a mystery for the ages. (more…)

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Cafe de Coffee o: Emi Yokoi

Cafe_YokoiI don’t really care that much for food manga, as popular as they seem to be these days, mostly because I’m a vegetarian, so the majority of the food that appears in their pages is utterly unappealing to me. I’m not one of those vegetarians who eats fake meat because she misses eating meat. When I see people eat meat, it’s like watching someone eat cardboard. I mean, sure? You can if you want? But it’s not actually food? So there’s pretty much nothing enticing for me about someone waxing poetic about the delights of pig fat in a bowl of ramen or something. If someone ever did a vegetarian food manga, maybe I’d feel differently about the genre. But until a book like that lands in my hands, I will remain heartily indifferent. (Ironically, I translate a food manga, and I have learned so much more than I ever wanted to know about cooking meat and seafood. Before I started translating this series, I actually was a reader of it but only for the relationship between Kenji and Shiro. I would just flip past the cooking pages. But now, I read them in the greatest of detail and watch videos on how to prepare squid…)

In contrast, I love coffee manga! There aren’t that many of them, which is a damned shame because I would read the hell out of more. For me, the best of the coffee manga is maybe the first one I ever read, Kohi Mo Ippai by Naoto Yamakawa. Just story after story of people taking the time and effort to make coffee and then sit down and enjoy it. There’s just something so relaxing about watching someone take a break like that. And there are so many little stories that weave themselves around the act of making and drinking coffee, of sitting in a café. It’s slice-of-life with a fixed centre: the cup of coffee. (more…)

Tongari Boshi no Atelier: Kamome Shirahama

Atelier_ShirahamaFar too many of my posts here are basically me moaning about how some great Japanese book will never be licensed in English, so it’s a treat to come across something like Tongari Boshi, which is both a great Japanese book and something that is sure to be licensed in English. I am so sure this will happen that I had to google it right now to make sure it hasn’t already been announced. (It hasn’t, so this is where I make my customary plea to publishers: Whoever licensed this, please hire me to translate it.)

Tongari Boshi is the whole package: great art and a great story that bridges the gap between cultures effortlessly for a charming package that is just so very good. I only picked it up because Shirahama, who does work for Marvel and DC Comics as well as being a manga artist, had a booth at Tokyo Comic Con in Artists’ Alley a hop, skip, and a jump away from the TCAF crew. Even still, I wouldn’t have paid her much attention were it not for a member of said crew who raved about her exquisite line work and dragged me over to interpret for him when he went to talk to her.

Being more of a word person than a drawing person (hence my calling as a translator), I couldn’t really appreciate this incredible linework in the moment. I mean, sure, her illustrations were lovely, and she seemed to be able to control her pen, but that is basically what I expect from an artist, so I wasn’t getting all gobsmacked about it. But she was a very lovely person, and I always try to support the art of lovely people I meet, so I picked up her book when I got the chance. And then I ran right out to pick up the second volume and am now eagerly awaiting the third volume (February 2018!). (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Bara no Mori ni Ita Koro: Haruko Kumota

Bara_Kumota

With the rainy season hanging firmly over the skies of Tokyo and the sweltering heat of July fast approaching, it is literally sultry over in these parts. The slightest bit of exertion is enough to send rivers of sweat streaming down my face. And my morning runs lead to all the moisture in my body being expelled from every sweat gland I have. It’s disgusting, but weirdly satisfying to be drenched in sweat (as long as you can go home right away and shower it all off). So it seems like the perfect time of year to hide in your house with the air conditioner on and let any sultriness in your life come from the pages of BL books. And what better book to get sweaty with than the latest from Haruko Kumota?

It’s been a long time since she released a BL book than was something other than my beloved Itoshi no Nekokke. That is not a complaint. If she has time to draw BL, I want her to spend it on showing me how happy Mii-kun and Kei-chan are. But I guess Kumota sometimes wants to stretch her wings and tackle something other than our blissed-out lovers. But that seems to be only very occasionally since there are only five stories collected here, spanning from 2011 to 2017. The one from 2011 is “Be Here to Love Me”, which first graced the pages of the Dame BL anthology, and it was just as much of a delight to read again several years later as it was when I first picked up that anthology. The tale of a man with a serious foot fetish discovering that his junior colleague is in fact the owner of the lovely, feminine legs he has been lusting for online, the fact that it is in this collection makes me wonder if foot fetishes and women’s underpants are no longer off-limits when it comes to BL. (more…)

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! (more…)