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

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. 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

Canis the Speaker: Zakk

Speaker_ZakkIt’s been a while since I wrote about BL, not since Niboshiko Arai graciously offered up the twin delights of Kagakubu no Megane and Adana o Kure. I’ve been reading it pretty steadily, of course—got to maintain my fujoshi membership, after all—but most BL I read doesn’t really require further discussion. Stuff like Moichido Nandodemo and Dental Darling are fun and interesting in their own ways, but there isn’t too much to pick apart. Yes, I laughed out loud when I came across Dental Darling, but I can’t write a thousand words about the ridiculousness of a dentist BL. (Although in hindsight, it was probably inevitable, and I’m actually surprised there haven’t been other dentist BL. I mean, the possibilities of that chair alone!) And Moichido was beautiful and heartrending with its lovely tale of a romance ripped apart by a sudden accident and retrograde amnesia. They learn to love each other again, of course, because this is a happy-ending type BL. And that is literally all I have to say about this kind of story.

But then there is the BL like Ever After or Itoshi no Nekokke that I have Thoughts about. And the BL I have Thoughts about will not leave me alone unless I spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating over them here. Canis the Speaker is definitely one of these. For so many reasons. First of all, although it’s a spin-off of Zakk’s earlier Canis: Dear Mr. Rain and Canis: The Hatter, it has basically nothing to do with that series, and actually goes to a much darker place than those earlier books, so the question of why slap the Canis on it at all continues to perplex me. I feel like it’s not doing the “brand” (as it were) any kind of favours. There’s not usually a big overlap between readers who like this kind of story that requires all kinds of trigger warnings and those who want a story where sexy times are more of the clothes-on, romantic-nuzzling type thing you see in the earlier Canis. Continue reading

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