You know you are in for something when a manga artist chooses Ishitsuyo—“strong-willed”—as her pen name. You might not like whatever that something is, but you’ll probably remember it. Fortunately for me, Natsuko Ishitsuyo is exactly what I want to read, and I am frankly astounded that Majutsushi A, a collection of six short stories, is her debut work. It’s so assured and unlike anything I’ve come across in the world of manga before. My only critique of the book is that it’s not longer. Big words, I know, but I don’t say them lightly.
I’d heard nothing about Ishituyo before I stumbled across Majutsu in my neighbourhood bookstore when I went in to wait for the light to change, as I often do. When a bookstore is so conveniently located on the corner of a street you have to cross on your way home from the train station, you should stop in whenever you have to wait for a long light change. Because you will occasionally discover magic treats like this one. But the bookstore on the corner tends to be more mainstream, and their new release shelf rarely features anything that interests me, mostly run-of-the-mill shojo and shonen, with some mainstream BL tossed in for variety. So it was almost shocking to see the stark black and red and the strange portrait gracing the cover of Majutsu. The sly smile playing on the woman’s lips practically compels you to pick the book up. Kudos to the cover designer on this one! Continue reading
Every so often, a book mirrors my own existence to the extent where it freaks me out slightly. Maybe it’s the surface details, maybe it’s the protagonist’s inner life, maybe it’s the world she lives in, but there are books that send a bit of a shiver up my spine when I think about how much I relate to them. The first book I remember being wholeheartedly and unstintingly devoted to in this way was the Trixie Belden series. Her poverty, her tomboyishness, her love of animals, her admiration of Honey’s beautiful blond hair, I saw myself in all of it. (Not so much in the farm part of her existence, being a lifelong city girl, but we pick and choose what to identify with in our art.) Then there was She Came to Stay, the book that swallowed my identity when I was nineteen or so. Ever since, there have occasionally popped up these sorts of books which make me gasp and look around my apartment for the secret cameras reaping the minute details of my life.
I never expected to have that feeling with a Japanese novel, given the many differences in my life and upbringing, and the way things happen on this side of the ocean. And yet. Here we are. A book whose protagonist is a foreigner living in Japan who speaks the language fluently and studies theoretical mathematics in university. A book whose title in fact, derives from those very mathematics. Seriously. The first line of the book is “There is no i in this world,” and our heroine gasps. This reader also gasped. The “i” the speaker is referring to is the imaginary number i, the square root of -1, a number and a world view I have spent a large part of my life with. But it’s also the name of our stunned protagonist. Ai. Her parents gave her this name in katakana, rather than assigning the kanji normally associated with it, to leave room for all the possible interpretations. The most obvious of which would be the word “love”, which is often a name for girls. So we have a hero whose name is caught in a Schrodinger-style uncollapsed wave of “love”, “imaginary number”, “English first person”, and more. And she herself is caught in a similar uncollapsed wave. Continue reading
Back on the other side of the ocean and at the start of a new year, you know the only thing I am doing is going to bookstores, buying books, and then reading the books I buy. (And eating vegan ramen. It is my only love outside of books.) So within perhaps hours of my plane touching down at Haneda, I was fondly running my eyes over shelves of books that I have not yet read. Most of the things I’ve picked up so far have been the latest volume in ongoing series that I’m reading, like the new Deathco or Lady & Old Man, but I’ve grabbed a couple stand-alone books, like this weird BL about dentists, which is a first for me. (But I have translated BL about accountants, so I guess no dull profession is off limits in BL?) But the book that pushed a gasp of delight out of my mouth when I spotted it among the new releases was Uto Sousou by Takehito Moriizumi.
I have raved about Moriizumi a couple times before, but I am compelled to do it again. And again and again until someone listens to me and publishes his work in English already. (And hires me to do it; that is always the extra condition there.) He is doing work that is so utterly original and bafflingly beautiful, not just compared with other comics in the Japanese market, but any comics that I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been stumped by how he creates the images that filled the pages of his previous work, strange semi-watercolors that look like wood cuts. It turns out a lot of that work was done with water to which ink was added on the page, a process I cannot even begin to understand, but Uto is surprisingly easy to figure out. He drew the whole book in pencil. It’s amply clear from the pages themselves that these are pencils line drawings (or perhaps pastel), but just in case you don’t get it, the afterword by film director Nobuhiko Obayashi (who, in an unexpected twist, is Moriizumi’s father-in-law) spells it out for the reader: the book is done in 8B pencil. Moriizumi made a small dot on the blank page and then moved out with his line. Until he had fifteen short stories to put into a book. Continue reading
The proliferation of manga-related art shows I mentioned before didn’t just start this year. It’s been gradually gaining momentum, and I have made a point of going to see any that happen to be on while I am in Tokyo. Which is an increasing amount of time lately. In fact, I am somewhere above the ocean at the time this post reaches the interworlds. Or maybe I’ve landed by now? I can’t keep the time differences straight. At any rate, I’ll be enjoying Tokyo at my favourite time of year for the city: Oshogatsu! The New Year’s holidays when everyone goes back to their hometowns and the city is a ghost town for a few brief, glorious days (except the tourist areas like Asakusa. Don’t go there, friends. It will be even more crowded than usual). There’s something almost magical about Kannana-dori being empty of traffic in the middle of the day.
But pretty much everything is closed, so I doubt I will be seeing any manga exhibits in the first few days I am on the ground. So let’s talk about exhibits I saw last year in the cold of winter! My frequent partner in Tokyo adventures joined me on a quick jaunt to say hello to former TCAF guest Usamaru Furuya at his show at the Vanilla Gallery, where he was just working on his latest manga in the middle of the room. A nice way to combine being at the gallery for his fans with drawing some pages to meet his deadline, I guess. We chatted and caught up for a while, and then he was kind enough to sign the first volume of the aforementioned manga, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai. Continue reading
Dang! It has been a very long time since an English book has graced this space. I’ve spent so much time in Japan this year (and am about to fly back across that ocean yet again!) that I haven’t actually had the chance to read much stuff in English. Most bookstores in Tokyo don’t have books in English, and when they do, they’re way more expensive than books in Japanese or those same books in English in a bookstore in Canada. But then there is not the same abundance of bookstores in Toronto that there is in Tokyo, so when I’m on this side of the ocean, it’s a bit more difficult for me to randomly encounter interesting books.
So I suppose it’s not surprising that I ran across this particular English book in Tokyo. The encounter was random, but my interest in it was not. The corner of the internet I inhabit has been aflutter with Monstress since the first issue, and I was very intrigued with what I was hearing about it. But much like I find reading a chapter a month in a manga magazine annoying, I also hate reading single issues of North American comics; I am one of those people that pretty much always waits for the trade paperback. So I made a mental note about Monstress and then studiously ignored all talk of it online for fear of ruining it for myself. But when the first volume of the trade came out this summer, I was, of course, in Tokyo.
However, being a city of weird magic, Tokyo brought the book to me! In the hands of one half of the creative team, Sana Takeda herself! Yes, I live a blessed comics life, friends. Through a series of convoluted associations and events, Sana ended up being a part of a Canadian comics event that I was working at in my capacity as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER for TCAF. As soon as I saw the short stack of the first trade on the table in front of her, I knew I was going to have to get a copy even though I was only a week away from flying back to Canada, and therefore very aware of how much stuff I had to cram into my luggage. But how often does the universe bring a book to you? You can’t just walk away from a gift like that. Especially since she was selling them for what amounted to the US retail price, a steal for a Canadian book buyer! And she kindly threw in issue seven on top of that! Sana Takeda is a pretty nice person, is basically what I’m saying here. Continue reading
In 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. Continue reading
I 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