Arabesque Part 1: Ryoko Yamagishi

arabesque_yamagishiIn the last few years, it feels like there’s been an explosion in manga-related art shows in Tokyo (and in the rest of Japan too, but I’m based in Tokyo, so that is what I notice the most). The cynical part of me notices the vast array of merchandise at these shows and scowls at the blatant cash grab on the part of museums and galleries and publishers. But the comics-loving side of me is delighted to see this medium getting some recognition as “serious” art. And all parts of me are thrilled that I get to see the original art from some of my favourite manga, like the pages from Sakuran at the Moyoco Anno exhibit this fall or from Shinjuku Lucky Hole and Kuslar at the onBLUE show a couple weeks later. (I may have given into the naked cash grab at the latter show and perhaps bought a Shinjuku Lucky Hole mug and probably have no regrets about that choice.)

I also got to see unpublished pages from Taiyo Matsumoto’s upcoming contribution to the Louvre series (about cats!!) and a retrospective of the career of Ryoko Yamagishi, one of the Year 24 Group, who I know mostly from her pioneering yuri tale Shiroi Heya no Futari. Because I spend a lot of time thinking about gender and manga and sexuality, not because it is her most famous work. That title would probably be given to Arabesque, the story of a young would-be ballerina in the former Soviet Union. Nonna Petrova is the second daughter of a moderately successful ballerina in Kiev, who began teaching at a ballet school when her own stage career was finished. She raised both of her daughters as ballerinas, but it is clear to everyone that it is the older girl Irina is the more talented of the two. Nonna is just too tall, too “dynamic” of a dancer to really make it in the strict world of Soviet classical ballet.swan_yamagishi Continue reading

2DK: Sachiko Takeuchi

2dkI was mostly familiar with Sachiko Takeuchi’s work in the Trance Cider circle, alongside Brain favourite est em and veteran artist Naito Yamada, and while I liked her work there, for some reason, I wasn’t particularly inspired to go seek out more of it. Which seems weird in hindsight, because I actually really like the pieces she’s done for Trance Cider. But then I got to meet fellow fujo and all-around superstar Khursten in the real in Tokyo this summer, and she told me all about the very interesting work Takeuchi’s been doing as a queer artist documenting her partner’s transition. This was particularly relevant to me as I was in the middle of working on the Queer Japan film project, and I only wish I had known all this in time to suggest to the director that we go have a chat with her too.

And then I was in the bookstore (my home away from home) and I came across a huge display of Takeuchi’s work. I’m not really sure why the bookstore had such a large (and long-lasting—it was up for at least two weeks) display of Takeuchi’s work, but I am glad it did because it reminded me of my conversation with Khursten and my interest in checking Takeuchi’s work out. I settled on 2DK out of the assorted works on display simply because they were the slimmest volumes. The peak of Mount Bookstoberead is higher than ever, and a couple slim books I can power through makes me feel accomplished in my reading life. Yes, my criteria for picking up a book are random and, at times, super shallow. Continue reading

Aru Oshiire Atama Otoko no Hanashi: Fuhito Fujimiya

aru-oshiire_fuhito-fujimiyaIn the 2015 Doujinshi Round-Up, I talked about my love of the Onna to series put out by Popocomi. And it’s a series that’s continued beyond just those two issues. Not only that, Popocomi is not a circle or a publisher, but rather the project of Popotame, a super-indie bookstore and gallery space in a residential neighbourhood of Ikebukuro, hidden in many twists and turns of streets that I would never have found it on my own, even with the aid of the map in my phone. I am just not that good at directions and getting places.

But fortunately, I went with my friend who is not only super-good at directions and getting places, but also makes his place of residence in Ikebukuro, and so instantly understood where this weirdo place was and led me straight to it. Only to discover that it is closed sometimes on random days. And it happened to be one of those days when we set forth on this bookstore adventure. So we high-fived ourselves for finding it, peered through the windows at the tantalizing hints of books we could see in the gloom—surely arousing suspicion in the neighbouring houses as two foreigners peeping will do—and then went to the nearby park where we sat and drank beer and watched a strange meeting of a dog club take place under the intense, watchful stare of what appeared to be the park cat. It was a weird scene, befitting the neighbourhood of a weird bookstore. Continue reading

Wombs (the rest of it): Yumiko Shirai

wombs_ShiraiThe demise of IKKI was sad for a whole bunch of reasons. Over its run, the magazine created its own little niche in the manga market, publishing things of all genres, despite ostensibly being a seinen magazine. It seemed like the only real commonality between the wide variety of manga serialized in those pages was that they were different from everything else, not just in the magazine, but in the world of manga itself. And yet it was still somehow mainstream, or at least mainstream-adjacent, carried in most bookstores and attracting readers from all demographics. Over its 11-year run under editor-in-chief Hideki Egami, works as diverse as Chin Nakamura’s Gunjo, Natsume Ono’s Sairaya Goyo, and Daisuke Igarashi’s Kaiju no Kodomo made their homes in its pages. When IKKI ceased publication in the fall of 2014, many of its series migrated to Gekkan Spirits (Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, for example) while others were the anchors in the launch of IKKI’s successor, Hibana (Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida). But it was decided that Brain favourites Golondrina by est em and Wombs by Yumiko Shirai would finish out their runs in tankobon form.

That was two years ago. Two years of waiting and wondering when I would finally get to see how these very different stories turn out. I’m still waiting for the final volume(s?) of Golondrina, but Shirai managed to bring her epic, space war, alien pregnancy sci-fi series to an end earlier this year. Of course, given the level of intricate detail in this series and how long it had been since I read the first four books, I had to go back and re-read them all so that I could finally get to the last book and learn just what happened to Mana Oga. And of course, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Japan this year, while the Wombs books were in my apartment in Canada, so I haven’t quite been able to manage to be proximate to the books when I was ready to take on the challenge of re-reading them. Until now. Yes, it’s time to take a look at Wombs as a completed work. Finally.

So there will be spoilers. I can’t discuss the entire series without getting a little into some plot stuff, although I’ll avoid the big reveals so I won’t ruin any of the real surprises. But if you want to read spoiler-free thoughts, go back and read my first take on this series. Seriously. If you don’t want to know how all this turns out, click on that link now. Okay? I warned you. Continue reading

Ano Ne: Machiko Kyo

Ano Ne Machiko KyoAs always, when my life grows too frantic with translation and interpretation and long plane trips across the ocean, it is my noodle-ly rambling about books that suffers. I’ve been reading books this last month (many of them very good!) (one of them deeply and frustratingly bad!) because I basically never stop reading books, but I haven’t gotten the chance to write about them. Because I’ve been herding Canadians for TCAF at Kaigai Manga Festa (I hope you stopped by and said hello!), and I’ve been powering through 16-hour days to meet a bunch of deadlines (to keep you lovers of Accel World and Naruto busy with things to read). And then I flew back across the ocean just in time to get chilly in Canada because I am a secret masochist. But the Canadians have been herded, deadlines have been met, and I am chilled to the bone, so it is time to talk about some of the books I have been reading!

Ano Ne is a sweet treat for a couple reasons. One is obviously that it is by Brain favourite Machiko Kyo. But really, the sweetest treat is that my thoughtful friend and well-known comics impresario picked these up for me in Kyoto when he was at the Manga Museum, and Kyo just happened to be signing there that day. So not only was he kind enough to buy me the two books that make up this story, he even got her to sign them for me. So everyone go follow him on Twitter or something in appreciation for his contributions to my reading life.

I didn’t really notice/understand this until I started reading the book and putting those pieces together, but the title is deliberately written in roman letters on the cover in such a way as to make the “o” small so it looks like a period. So when you look at the title in English, it looks more like “anne.” This is, of course, a direct reference to Anne Frank, and I say “of course” because this was written not long after Cocoon when Kyo is still pretty into thinking and writing about war. So it was only inevitable that she would turn her dreamy watercolors on the Holocaust. Continue reading

Juza no Ulna: Toru Izu


We all know that I am not a huge reader of manga magazines. I will pick them up once in a while, mostly if an artist I like has done the cover (my recent acquisition of the latest issue of Princess, for example) or if there is some special prize that comes with it (I have so many clear files that were manga magazine prizes. I have more clear files than I could possibly use at one time, and yet I continue to buy magazines with clear files attached. I may have a problem). And a current favourite, Deathco, is running in Comic Beam these days, so I pick it up from time to time (to get the Deathco clear files, of course).

So I’ve come across Juza no Ulna more than once in those pages, but it never made more than a passing impression on me. The art style interested me, the very obvious Western influences, along with the rounded femininity of the characters on each page. But nothing much seemed to happen in the chapters I read, so I was never piqued enough to follow up with the series when the first volume came out. It happens. There is a lot of manga in this country, and even I cannot read it all. But then volume two came out last month, and I was seeing it everywhere. The cover is so striking—the silver lettering on the matte black background framing Ulna in red in the snow, struggling for breath—that I couldn’t help picking it up and actually reading the back of the book for once. I was intrigued by the tagline “Are you brave enough to learn the truth?”, but I still wasn’t completely sold.

But then in that way that some books have, it wormed its ways into my consciousness, so that I would find myself musing about it randomly. What is this truth? Who is this sniper Ulna? And what exactly is the science fiction military history promised by the front cover? So I decided I would just buy the first volume and see what was going on. You know by now where this story is going? Yes, I read it and went out immediately to get the second volume and now am eagerly awaiting the third. Continue reading

Ii ne! Hikaru Genji-kun: est em


It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? For a while there, it felt like I was reading some new est em every other week, but then came the long dry spell after IKKI ended. Golondrina was supposed to have wrapped up in the next, unserialized volume already (last year, I think?), but we are still waiting for that, sadly. IPPO is coming out at its slow and steady pace. Other than that, though, the manga world has been sadly missing est em’s unique voice lately. No BL one-shots, no hilarious centaur books, nothing to tide us over in the between books in her ongoing series. Until now!

Ii ne! Hikaru Genji-kun started in Feel Young last year, and I read the first couple of chapters in the magazine. But then I had to go back to the land of icy tundras, and my easy access to Feel Young ended. So I’ve been waiting ever since for the release of the tankobon. Because the first chapters felt silly and fresh, like em was coming up for air after the serious action in Golondrina. She so often focusses on the drama and reality of relationships between people and all the heartbreak and difficulty that accompany that, that I forget sometimes just how truly funny she can be. The aforementioned centaur book is the last time I can remember where she just let herself run free with a silly idea, but even in the more serious centaur book (as serious as a book about centaur love can be), there were some truly hilarious moments. (I’m thinking of you, peeper horse in “Black and White”.) Continue reading