Moratte Kudasai: Niboshiko Arai

Moratte_AraiSo often these days, the world seems like a blazing dumpster fire in the middle of a heatwave in summer. The stench! The nightmarish heat! The constant and baffling dehumanization of other human beings for no apparent reason at all! And sure, we all want to (and should) work to make things better for ourselves and our fellow members of a society that is crumbling into the dark void of a bottomless ocean. But all the gloom and doom that greets us every time we open Twitter can really eat away at the soul and make us contemplate never interacting with the world again.

So a holiday like 801 is especially critical in these trying times, a reminder that there is still something pure and good in this world. And that is hot guys making out with other hot guys for our voyeuristic pleasure. Thus I invite you, my fellow fujoshi, to step away from the Nazis on Twitter and the mansplainer who is a Facebook friend of your mom’s friend’s friend who inexplicably replies to your innocuous comment about the recent heatwave to tell you climate change is a liberal conspiracy, and walk into the warm and welcoming world of hot man sex. Let these horny dudes wrap you up in a gentle and possibly sticky hug. (more…)

Amagi Yuiko no Tsuno to Ai: Yoko Kuno

Amagi_KunoBeing in town for the latest round of the Japan Media Arts Festival meant that the whole song-and-dance was more on my radar than in other years. I always notice who the winners are and give a little high five to myself when artists I love win, but that’s generally the extent of my involvement. But it’s actually a whole thing, with events and talks around town and even a big exhibition at the National Art Centre, which is a lovely place to visit on its own, so any excuse to head out that way is a welcome one. This year, two artists I am particularly fond of won prizes—Aoi Ikebe for her Nee, Mama and Toru Izu for his Juza no Ulna—and there was even a conversation between Izu and Brain super fave Yumiko Shirai, and you know I was so there for that. They got into some of the nitty gritty of Ulna, including the secret behind the care Izu shows all the shoes in the book. (Spoiler: he is really into shoes.)

And all of this good fun is free! If you find yourself in Tokyo in the month of June, take advantage of government-sponsored art action. The coolest part is that you will probably discover some new stuff that you can fall in love with through these awards and the various related events. Like, I’d seen Amagi Yuiko kicking around the bookstore before, but it didn’t really register with me until I saw pages from the work as part of the Media Arts Manga Division exhibit. And those pages definitely intrigued me enough to pick up the book the next time I came across it. To be fair, I should have grabbed it the first time I saw it. It’s published by Beam and has an intriguing title and cover, a combination which has never let me down in the past. (more…)

Joshi Keimusho Life!: Rumi Nakano

Joshi_NakanoEver since I read Human Scramble, I’ve been curious about the reality of Japanese prison. The prisons in that anthology series actually seem pretty nice, all tatami rooms and yukata, and given that pretty much everything I know about prison comes from American TV, it seemed impossible that J-prison could be so far from that pseudo-reality. But the other manga on prison that I’ve come across like Keimusho no Naka seem to lend credence to the idea that J-prison is much nicer than North American prison, a place where you can hone your penmanship and sip tea while making envelopes by hand. (An aside: Why is this a prison job in Japan? Is it a prison job in other countries? Who is selling these handmade envelopes? Envelope-making seems like exactly the sort of thing a machine would be perfect for, what with the precise measurements and folding and tedious repetition.) Rokudenashiko’s take on prison was a little more sober, although the most sobering part of her memoir manga is the treatment she received at the hands of the police and the legal system rather than her time in holding centres. But none of these manga really scratched that itch for me and told me what really went down in prison.

Enter the cosy bookstore I came across a few weeks ago and their subculture section! Displayed front and centre there was a lady-colour explosion of pink and purple emblazoned with the tantalizing title, Joshi Keimusho Life! (Ladies’ Prison Life). The double-wide obi is kind enough to sum up the basics of what you will find under the cover: Author Nakano was arrested for drug possession/sales four times and spent a total of twelve years in prison. And now she is talking truth about life on the inside. This obi is no liar! Joshi is surprisingly comprehensive on the subject of lady prisons, even offering up comparisons with men’s prisons, although these are naturally not based on personal experience but rather discussions with men who have been to prison and research into the state of the prison system in Japan. (more…)

Kageki Shojo: Kumiko Saiki

Kageki_Saiki.jpgAdventures in the world of shojo continue! I’ve been noodling a little longer (lingering, loitering, getting side-eyes from suspicious shop clerks) in the shojo sections of bookstores these days, trying to see past the dazzling displays of tiresome and heteronormative romances (I’m sorry, romance-loving friends. Girl/Boy falls for boy/girl who doesn’t even notice her/him is just so dull to me. I want stories about people doing things other than falling in love and trying to get the attention of their crush) and dig deep into the possibilities shojo has to offer me. On one such trip to the bookstore, I ducked into an aisle to one side to avoid the curious gazes of actual shojos perusing the shelves. And lo! Awaiting me there was Kageki Shojo, an honest-to-goodness delight and a gem of a series. Why did none of you tell me what a great artist Kumiko Saiki is?! I could have been reading her work for years already instead of only stumbling upon it now.

Fortunately, it’s never too late for great books. And now that I’ve finished all five available volumes of Kageki, I can go back through Saiki’s catalogue. She’s been making manga since 1999! She’s got a lot of books for me to devour. My future right now is very bright, my good chums. I mean, when even the legendary shojo artist Riyoko Ikeda is blurbing her books, you know you are in for some very delicious treats. (Seriously! Can you imagine being a shojo artist and having praise from Ikeda printed on the obi for your book?? I would have the vapours and be calling for smelling salts.) (more…)

Arigatotte Ietanara: Yukari Takenami

img_641705e243d4198ba7fb625ed00a19ad90261I found a new bookstore! That in and of itself is perhaps not the biggest deal. As I mentioned only last week, this is Tokyo and there is a bookstore on nearly every corner. But not every bookstore is equal. Some are too small to carry much beyond the latest issue of One Piece and the most recent Akutagawa Prize winners. Some are overly niche-y in a niche I have no interest in, like the Shosen Grandé in Akihabara and its “train lovers’ holy land.” Naturally, I will still happily wander through the aisles of such bookstores—just being surrounded by all those pages with their many messages is so comforting—but my favourite bookstores are, of course, the ones that cater to my own weird nerdiness. Sometimes, all a bookstore needs to be is really big. But every so often, I will stumble across a cosy little place that offers maximum discovery potential in the minimum of space, which is the case of the bookstore I found last week in Koenji.

Half the small shop was taken up by manga, most of it pretty standard, but the random stuff was so deeply random! I was greeted by so many titles I’d never even heard of. And they had sample readers for more than half of those manga, so you can check out all these random treats and see if any of them suit your refined palette. The other half of the place was mostly bunkobon, with a smattering of art, philosophy, and other bits and bobs (I got a book about Japanese women’s prison! Yes, we’ll be talking about it at some point in the future!). And the shop itself was warm and inviting with wood shelves everywhere in islands instead of aisles and a raised section that allowed you to look out over the rest of the shop like a queen surveying her queendom of books. I was very happy there, and it is now where I want my ashes scattered when I die. (more…)

Momo no Kikikajiri: Machiko Kyo

Momo_Kyo.jpgAs always, my favourite thing about being back in Tokyo is being able to pop into a bookstore whenever and wherever I want, unlike in Toronto, where I have to make a specific trip to find books. But Tokyo is just littered with the things. Books everywhere! My second favourite thing, though, might be getting to go to tiny art shows in tiny event spaces. I always like to stop in at the Sanyodo on the corner when I’m in Omotesando; they usually have an exhibit by an artist I’ve never heard of on the second floor. Plus books on the first floor! Vanilla Gallery in Ginza is always good for strange erotic art and half the time (it seems) they’re having an Usamaru Furuya show. But mostly, I end up popping in on random shows that get tweeted into my timeline from some part of the Japanese twittersphere. Sometimes, I have no idea what part that might be, but other times, it’s an artist I follow. Which is obviously the most exciting kind of random show.

The recent Machiko Kyo show at Title was one such exhibit. It closed a couple days after I arrived, but I managed to fight back my jetlag for long enough to make the trek to Ogikubo and look at some of her original pages for her Sennen Gaho + 10 Years. It was perhaps the tiniest of tiny art shows I’ve ever been to; there were maybe twelve pieces on display. The larger part of the small space was taken up with merchandise, which is the way of all Japanese shows. And like a good consumer, I did my part, picking up yet another clear file (what am I going to do with all these clear files??) among other things, but they also had a solid selection of Kyo’s back catalogue set out. We all know that my brain is a fan, so there wasn’t much there we hadn’t already battled. But then my eyes caught sight of Momo, a full-colour treat that was serialized at Hanatsubaki and wrapped up earlier this year. A treat my brain had not battled yet. So naturally, I grabbed the two slim volumes and headed to a café to dig in. (more…)

Mukui wa Mukui, Batsu wa Batsu: Takehito Moriizumi

Mukui_MoriizumiIn preparation for my imminent return to the land of sweaty summer (by the time you read this, I will already be sweating through all my clothes and trying to get my Japan summer legs back), I’ve been trying to read through the stack of books that comprise the unscalable Mount Bookstoberead. It’s hard to enjoy wandering through my favourite bookstores and buying new books when the spectre of the books I’ve already bought looms so large. Mostly, this has meant digging into the latest volumes of ongoing series that I’m already reading (Never stop being incredible, Tongari Boshi no Atelier!), but as my good luck would have it, the second and final volume of Moriizumi’s Mukui wa Mukui, Batsu wa Batsu arrived in the most recent package of books, which meant that I could finally read the first volume and devour the story all in one go.

This story was planned as complete in two volumes right from the start, and knowing that, I figured I’d rather read it as one because I am incredibly prone to forgetting the smaller details of plots over time. I also wait to read slower moving longer series, too (I’m looking at you, Dead Dead Demons) because after six months, I can’t remember why anyone is really doing any of the little things they’re doing to further the larger broad strokes of the plot that I actually remember. This is why I keep spreadsheets of the longer running series that I translate. With something like the glacial release schedule of Blue Morning, I can barely remember the characters’ names by the time I get a new volume to translate. (more…)