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

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