Heaven’s Wind: Angus Turvill (ed.)

heavenswind_img2.jpgFrom desert to snow to the gentle warmth of late fall in Tokyo, I have experienced a lot of weather in the last couple of weeks. And a lot of jet lag. My body clock may never recover, to be honest. I am not meant for this jet-set life; there’s a reason I’m a freelance translator and not, like, the head of an international house of couture. (I imagine they fly a lot? I don’t know. I work at home; I’m very out of touch with the world.) So I’m more than happy to settle into Tokyo life for the next few months. Especially happy to pick up on my Tokyo bookstore life and get all the brand-new manga that I’ve been watching appear from my Toronto apartment.

But there is still a backlog of books to deal with before we get to all that juicy new stuff. Like this lovely bilingual collection of stories released earlier this year by the Japan Society! I ordered it straight away, but since its arrival, it has languished in the shelf of unread books because of the many other books in the queue before it, the general overwhelming busy-ness of the last couple months of my life, and a vague sense that this was not the book I wanted to read at that time. Sometimes, a book will seem like the perfect book for the moment on paper, but when you actually pick it up, it feels wrong in your hands somehow. And when that happens, I always respect what the book and the moment are saying and turn my attention to a different book. If you’re not in the mood for that particular book, you end up not appreciating it and really wasting everybody’s time. (more…)

Around: Niboshiko Arai

Around_AraiFall is for reading! Or eating! Or art! Honestly, I can’t tell which. It seems like Japan loves to proclaim that any variety of things are the perfect activity for fall. There are far fewer activities dedicated to any of the other seasons, for some reason. I guess it makes sense not to push anyone to do anything in summer; it’s so hot you will die if you exert yourself. But winter seems like a reasonable time to try and do a thing or two. And spring? Isn’t that season all about starting anew? But fall gets stuck with the lion’s share of activities for the year, so we better hustle to get it all done before winter comes and renders us all useless and unmotivated until next fall.

My fall has been all about overextending myself. Foolishly. But everything’s sort of happening all at once, plus people coming at me with jobs I can’t really say no to. Like, I just got back from the United Arab Emirates, interpreting for a bunch of Japanese authors at a book fair. Authors I like and one of whom I have translated. It is pretty hard to say no when someone comes knocking at your door with something like that. I got paid to go ride sand dunes like a roller coaster with a certain best-selling mystery author, and then we went to a camel farm! I also held a falcon very reluctantly, while the falcon’s owner/trainer/random man with a falcon ran off suddenly and left me there with a bird of prey on my arm whose eyes I was afraid to meet because I didn’t want to seem aggressive and have it rip my face off right there in the desert. (more…)

Ikiru tame ni Hitsuyo dakara, Ikemen ni Ai ni Itta (Burachin 3): Sachiko Takeuchi

BurachinV3_TakeuchiFriends, Sachiko Takeuchi is a blessing to us in these dark times. Every time I open Twitter or even go out in public (the latter of which I try to do as little as possible. Hermit lyfe!!), I hear talk of all the ways the world is basically doomed and half its population are now Nazis. No wonder I try to keep to my little corner of the internet (here!) and Toronto (my apartment!). Nothing but darkness beyond the small territories I have claimed as my own. Every excursion to the outside leaves me hopeless and depressed. And yet go outside I must because at least part of this job of mine is actually talking to people in the form of interpreting. At such times, I must bolster myself, build a shield of sorts to stand between me and the world. And, dear reader, that shield is Sachiko Takeuchi and her pursuit of hot guys.

I have raved before about her spot-on take of nerd life in 2DK and her absurdist and yet sympathetic look at salarymen in Akachan Honbucho. She has such perfect comedic timing and a gift for reaction shots that really resonate, so it is no wonder I eagerly await each of her new releases and find myself wishing that more publishers would give her work. (If you are a Japanese publisher, please hire Takeuchi so I can have more of her books to read!) Thus, when her latest ode to hot guys was released this summer, I was at the bookstore that very day, snagging my own signed copy and feeling very lucky that I happened to be in Japan when it came out. Unlike these cold Toronto days now when I must wait for a shipment of beloveds from across the ocean. (Sennetsu, come to me on swift wings!) (more…)

Oukoku Monogatari: Asumiko Nakamura

Oukoku_NakamuraIt’s a good time to be a Nakamura fan. We’re getting not one, but two new translations of her work in English (both by me and I couldn’t be happier about it), there’s art shows and new editions and more to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her classic BL Dokyusei, the gorgeous set put out by Ohta and Libre to celebrate her fifteenth year as a manga artist, and now we have what the extra insert tells me is her first long-form fantasy story. Even if we only had that last one, though, it would be a great year for Nakamura.

It seems, however, that this new series did not spring from her brow fully formed like Athena. Although the first volume was published just this summer, in a delicious edition with a dizzying number of full-colour pages and black-and-white pages that are a beautiful bleached white, its earliest chapters date back to 2011. I actually have the issue of Erotics f that was home to the third chapter, the first of three about the king and his aide, complete with a pictorial of Nakamura’s work process on the story and a long interview with her. This chapter manages to tell such a complete story in only nine pages that upon first read way back all those years ago, I never expected to read anything else about this strange relationship. And yet seeing it newly published in this beautiful volume, it seems like it was always meant to be part of a larger story. (more…)

Mitsubachi no Kiss: Toru Izu

Mitsubachi_IzuNow that I’m back in chilly Canada, wrapped in my customary layers of scarves and sweaters in this strange transitional period from summer to fall when it can be twelve degrees one day and twenty-five the next which makes getting dressed every day a terrible guessing game that I always lose so I’m glad I work from home and can generally avoid the weather, it’s time to cut Mount Bookstoberead down to some kind of manageable size before I head back to Tokyo in a couple months and fill my shelves right back up. Because this cycle of reading and buying books is apparently my true calling in life, and getting paid to translate some of them is the closest I can get to simply being paid to stay home and read books, with business trips to bookstores to replenish my supplies.

But so many great books are being released in my absence from the overcrowded city, including the latest Juza no Ulna, making me bite my nails in anticipation. After seeing Izu in conversation with Yumiko Shirai earlier this summer as part of the Media Arts festivities, I am more invested than ever in that bizarrely human sci-fi manga with lovingly rendered footwear and the rounded curves of Ulna’s hint of a second chin. Fortunately, past me knew that future me would be in this terrible position at some point, and she went ahead and bought some of Izu’s past work to slip into the pile of unread books for just such a moment, a new edition of Izu’s debut work Mitsubachi no Kiss. (more…)

Satsujin Shussan: Sayaka Murata

ShussanSatsujinOver a delicious vegan lunch one recent sweltering day, my Japanese counterpart (freelance translator of comics into Japanese, random arts interpreter, staunch feminist, fujoshi—we are basically the same person) brought up the idea of vulnerability in contrast to all the powerful posturing and random attacking that seems to happen both on- and off-line these days, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s been nagging at me in a way I find hard to put into words exactly. We’re all pulling up our big kid pants and trying to front like we’ve got it together, or we’re on top of things, or we’re better than someone somehow, or just trying to act like we don’t cry during motivational sports commercials (it can’t be just me, right?) when maybe what we need is to step right off of that high horse and admit that we’re barely functional or lonely or in need of some actual help. (Note: This is not a cry for said help, so please don’t put your Cardigan of Worry on. At least not for me. Look around you, though. Someone might need a kind word or two on a postcard from you.)

Perhaps these thoughts are unconsciously steering my reading choices. I’ve been picking up books on people in vulnerable places, work that gives other people gentle and kind consideration, stories that not only dip into but linger in the sphere of the domestic. And this is perhaps where Sayaka Murata shines brightest. Although I loved her Akutagawa prize winner Conbini Ningen (now available in English translation! Run out and get it and support good books in translation!) and its convenience store setting, I’m perhaps even more besotted with her 2014 work Satsujin Shussan and its deep dive into the doubly vulnerable world of pregnancy and murder. Doesn’t get more precarious than life or death! (more…)

Kaban Toshokan: Seimu Yoshizaki

Kaban_Yoshizaki

I found a section in a bookstore a while ago that was books about reading, and it seemed to me to be the most meta thing ever. Reading a book about reading. But of course, it only makes sense. Reading is a fascinating thing we’ve taught our brains to do, so naturally, there would be people out there in this world ruminating on this little mental trick. And there are so many angles to approach reading from; the topic’s inexhaustible, really. By the time I walked away from that books about reading section, I was wondering why I’d never seen such a section before, not to mention why I’d never read anything about reading. With a brain that battles books on the regular, you’d think I’d be devouring books about reading, if only to up my game.

But the sad fact is a lot of those books about reading are academic in nature, and my eyeballs tend to roll right out of my head when I’m confronted with that kind of empty verbosity. (Until people stop using bloated synonyms like “utilize”, I refuse to acknowledge the readability of the denser academic texts.) (And yes, I know #NotAllAcademicTexts.) Where are the user-friendly books on books? Where are the manga?? It turns out they are hiding on a shelf in the bookstore. Because the Japanese comics industry is nothing if not thorough. There’s a manga about everything! And perusing the shelves one day, I noticed a sample dangling from the shelf with the intriguing title Kaban Toshokan, or as the English subtitle would have it, “Stories of the Library in a Bag.” (more…)