Neverending Winter BL: Time Travel Edition

WinterBLThe cold has seeped deep into my bones, and I fear I will never be warm again. It is April, and yet it snowed yesterday (as I write this). I have had far more winter this year than I care to have in an entire lifetime, but still, it does not end. Temperatures remain stubbornly low, almost as if the city is mocking my desire for warmth and to bring my shoulders back down from around my ears where they have been since the start of this endless wintry nightmare. Much like in the midst of a bout of flu when you can’t imagine a time when you ever felt good or ever will feel human again, I have come to believe that shivering is my natural state of being and I will never sweat under the heat of the sun again. I’ll be back in Tokyo this summer, and I’m already fantasizing about the suffocating heat of the city. August in Tokyo is like living inside someone’s mouth, damp with hot breath, and I seriously cannot wait. Anything but this interminable winter.

So you can see that I am in need of escape, and the hotter, the better. So what better time to settle in wrapped in scarves and sweaters and blankets and read about hot guys making out and travelling through time? Time travel BL, my friends! What more of an escape could one want?? (more…)

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Louvre no Neko: Taiyo Matsumoto (+ Saho Tono)

Louvre_Matsumoto.jpgWe haven’t talked about Taiyo Matsumoto in a while, have we? Which is a damned shame because he is a startlingly brilliant artist, and I wish he’d give us more chances to talk about him. But he is not the fastest artist, and while I have seen things (lovely things!) and know things (exciting things!), I’m not allowed to say anything about any of it, so I have kept my mouth firmly shut about all things Matsumoto since the heartbreaking end of Sunny.

But now! Finally! A new work out in print! Louvre (or Les chats du Louvre as the French subtitle would have it) is the latest in a line of comics commissioned by the great Parisian museum itself together with the publisher Futuropolis. Previous Japanese entries in this notably dude-heavy (one woman in the course of fifteen books? Seriously??) series are Jiro Taniguchi’s The Guardians of the Louvre (a very touching homage to which pops up toward the end of Louvre) and Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre, and it’s clear that Matsumoto with his European influences and interest in pushing the boundaries of manga was maybe the perfect mangaka to join their ranks. How he decided that the perfect story for the Louvre was the surreal, wandering tale of a herd of anthropomorphized stray cats and a little girl, however, will likely remain a mystery for the ages. (more…)

Cafe de Coffee o: Emi Yokoi

Cafe_YokoiI don’t really care that much for food manga, as popular as they seem to be these days, mostly because I’m a vegetarian, so the majority of the food that appears in their pages is utterly unappealing to me. I’m not one of those vegetarians who eats fake meat because she misses eating meat. When I see people eat meat, it’s like watching someone eat cardboard. I mean, sure? You can if you want? But it’s not actually food? So there’s pretty much nothing enticing for me about someone waxing poetic about the delights of pig fat in a bowl of ramen or something. If someone ever did a vegetarian food manga, maybe I’d feel differently about the genre. But until a book like that lands in my hands, I will remain heartily indifferent. (Ironically, I translate a food manga, and I have learned so much more than I ever wanted to know about cooking meat and seafood. Before I started translating this series, I actually was a reader of it but only for the relationship between Kenji and Shiro. I would just flip past the cooking pages. But now, I read them in the greatest of detail and watch videos on how to prepare squid…)

In contrast, I love coffee manga! There aren’t that many of them, which is a damned shame because I would read the hell out of more. For me, the best of the coffee manga is maybe the first one I ever read, Kohi Mo Ippai by Naoto Yamakawa. Just story after story of people taking the time and effort to make coffee and then sit down and enjoy it. There’s just something so relaxing about watching someone take a break like that. And there are so many little stories that weave themselves around the act of making and drinking coffee, of sitting in a café. It’s slice-of-life with a fixed centre: the cup of coffee. (more…)

Ningyo no Ishi: Seia Tanabe

Scan 13I’ve been sitting on this book for a couple months now because I couldn’t quite figure out what I thought about it. This happens to me more often than you’d think, given the generally strong opinions of which I am possessed. Forming those strong opinions takes time, and until I have really let something simmer in my brain, I can be pretty wishy-washy on a topic. And so it was with Seia Tanabe’s latest novel, Ningyo no Ishi. I liked it? Maybe? I didn’t hate it? I kept reading all the way to the end? But why? What was the point? Which isn’t to say the book isn’t good or isn’t worth reading. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was worth reading.

I picked this one up because Tanabe’s been on my mind a lot recently. She’s married to science-fiction author/former physicist Toh EnJoe, and that pairing has always made me wonder what dinner is like at their house. I mean, she writes ghost stories; quiet, atmospheric things about yokai and bakemono that go bump in the night. And he writes ouroboric stories about space and the future and who knows what else because sometimes I feel like I am not smart enough to read EnJoe’s work. I can understand how the two met; the literary world in Japan is surprisingly small (much like the manga world), and it feels like everyone knows everyone else somehow. But how did they make it to marriage?? And what must that marriage be like?? Who knows, maybe they’re both super into rom-coms, and their respective writing interests just never come up. But I doubt that, given that they jointly published a collection of essays last year called Shodoku de Rikon o Kangaeta, which roughly translates to “We considered divorce through our reading.” Uh. Is all not well in the land of Tanabe/EnJoe? (Yes, I have that book, and yes, I will almost certainly write about it when I have finished it.) (more…)

Strange, Funny Love: Hikaru Cho

Strange_ChoAs always, my brain and I have not stopped the great battle against the constant onslaught of books. Our dedication to the fight has kept the terrible mountain of unread books from growing too tall to fall over and murder me in my sleep, but we still have a long way to go before we can reach the dream of a tiny hillock of books waiting for us to devour them. But as happens all too often these days, the life outside of reading steals away any extra time I might have for writing about the struggle of the ongoing war. Still, I am ever hopeful and thus leave the books that have been read in their own separate pile: the mountain of unreported books. And now that mountain has grown to teetering proportions, leading to the terrible situation of two unsteady stacks that could topple over onto me and cause fatal injury at any moment. Something clearly needs to be done. And that something is, of course, writing about the damned books already.

So let’s start with something new and fresh and weird that I read when it first came out months ago. (Yes, the mountain of unreported books goes back that far…) My favourite bookstore did this lovely display where they arranged the books by main cover colour. So there was a shelf of shades of yellow, then green, black, etc. All with the covers facing outward rather than the spines, so you could really take in this strange rainbow. Although it seems like a weird way to showcase books, it was pretty effective. Or at least, it worked on me. I bought three or four books from that display, volumes I would never have found otherwise. Books like Hikaru Cho’s Strange, Funny Love, which was, yes, on the silver shelf. (A surprising number of silver book covers out there!) (more…)

Reportage: Kiko Urino

Reportage_UrinoMaybe I’ve mentioned this before, but the thing I really love about bookstores is the sheer possibility of them. You just walk in with nothing particular in mind, and then you find something. A thing you never heard of, a thing you never expected to run across, a thing you had no idea existed. You’re just noodling around in this physical space, glancing at the displays carefully crafted by the clerks while you are still listening to a podcast with half of your mind. Maybe you just came inside to kill time while you’re waiting for the light to change. Or maybe it’s cold outside and you needed to stop in somewhere and warm up before you continued on your journey. And the bookstore is right there. Well, maybe not so much in North America, sadly, but in Japan, there is pretty much always a bookstore within a stone’s throw.

And as you’re poking around mostly indifferently, waiting for your toes to defrost, you see something that you feel like you have to get, even if you’re not entirely sure why. This is the power of bookstores and the reason that I’ll never be okay with our slow erosion of the physical bookselling space in favour of the convenience and slightly discounted prices of certain online shops. (In fact, the only online shop I buy from doesn’t discount its titles and actually partners with brick-and-mortar booksellers. And they have a point card that connects my offline purchases! The best of both worlds!) I never would have come across a series like Reportage outside of that physical, meandering space. Especially since my online recommendations are totally skewed from all the weird books I look up for work purposes. (My work on Accel World has most sites constantly pushing SAO on me…) (more…)

Oishii Kaori: Ami Uozumi

Oishii_Uozumi.jpgA thing I like to do when I’m travelling is visit bookstores (duh) and ask about local authors. Places that are really pushy about/protective/proud of their local culture will generally have local author sections in many of their bookstores, which streamlines the whole process immensely. In Singapore, I found local author shelves in pretty much every shop I went to. Likewise, Okinawa. But in most cities I visit, there is no such area, and so I must ask the clerks. Sometimes, they are totally clueless and panic at the sudden question from a Japanese-speaking foreigner (I’m looking at you, Hakata), but most of the time, they are super knowledgeable and direct me to any number of potentially interesting books.

And when I was in Kumamoto over the winter holiday, although I was deeply distracted by the figure of Kumamon everywhere I went (including a stage show! For free!!), I did not neglect this little habit of mine and forced my travelling companion to stop in at a bookstore with me. I didn’t have to twist his arm too much; it was cold and he had to pee. So while he was off emptying his tiny bladder, I found a clerk to ask about local authors. And he was one of the super knowledgeable ones. He quickly swept me away to the manga section where Oishii Kaori was prominently displayed. The cover was cute, and the back cover copy promised gay times, so I plunked down my six hundred yen to take it home. (more…)