What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130389
Released: March 2014
Original release: 2007

I have been a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga and her work for quite some time now. English-language readers have been fortunate in that so many of her manga have been translated. I and many others were very excited when Vertical announced the license of her series What Did You Eat Yesterday?, a series that I have been hoping would be picked up for years. The first volume was one of the manga releases that I was most looking forward to seeing in 2014. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1 was originally published in Japan in 2007; I am thrilled that it is now available in English. There were several reasons why I was particularly interested in reading What Did You Eat Yesterday?. It’s by Yoshinaga, from whom I’ve come to expect great stories and complex characters. The series is also a food manga, a niche that I am known to enjoy. (Actually, food often plays an important role in Yoshinaga’s manga.) And I was especially interested in the incorporation of contemporary Japanese gay life in What Did You Eat Yesterday?–the two main characters are boyfriends in their forties who live together.

Shiro Kakei is a successful lawyer at a small firm, but his real passion is food. He’s a great cook, and an extremely frugal one, too. Kakei simply enjoys a good meal. The palate of his boyfriend Kenji Yabuki, a flamboyant hairstylist, isn’t nearly as refined as Shiro’s but he certainly appreciates his partner’s creativity in the kitchen. The two of them have been dating for three years, so their relationship is well established, but they still face some challenges. Although both of their families know that they are gay, Shiro prefers to be much more discreet about his homosexuality when dealing with his coworkers and strangers. Kenji, on the other hand, is happy to have a chance to brag about his boyfriend. And just because they’ve been together for so long doesn’t mean that they don’t have to deal with old flames and jealousy. But at least they can always depend on delicious cuisine to help smooth over the bumps in their relationship.

The food in What Did You Eat Yesterday?, both the description of the meals and the care that Yoshinaga has put into drawing them, can be mouth-watering. Even the most simple dishes are beautifully portrayed, in part because food is so important to Shiro and he puts time and effort into its preparation, but also because Yoshinaga shares that same passion. There is enough instruction in What Did You Eat Yesterday? that adventurous readers could easily duplicate the featured recipes. However, the food in What Did You Eat Yesterday? works best when it is directly tied into the manga’s plot and story. Occasionally that ideal balance is missing in the first volume. The meals, while lovely, can from time to time feel tangential, almost as if there are two different manga sharing the same series–one focusing on food and one focusing on people.

I do enjoy the food and the important role that it plays in What Did You Eat Yesterday?, but in the end I’m even more interested in the characters, their relationships, and their lives. Shiro and Kenji make an intriguing couple. Out of the two of them, Shiro is the least secure with who he is and is very concerned with keeping up appearances. He comes across as very brusque and some find him unlikeable as a result, but it’s a defense mechanism. Kenji seems to be much more comfortable with himself. The two of them aren’t frequently affectionate, at least not overtly so, but they do care about each other. It can be seen in the little things that they do–such as simply offering to carry a heavy bag–and in their more subtle interactions. Shiro often tries to smooth over arguments and hurt feelings the best way he can: through cooking. And that’s one of the things What Did You Eat Yesterday? does best–showing how people connect and communicate through food.

My Week in Manga: April 14-April 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were two in-depth reviews posted at Experiments in Manga Last week. The first review was of Torajiro Kishi’s manga Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1 as a part of my Year of Yuri review project. Maka-Maka is definitely a mature title and there’s quite a bit of sex and physical intimacy, but I think it’s one of the best adult-oriented yuri manga to have been released in English. Sadly, it’s very out-of-print. The second review was of The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows, a collection of two of Edogawa Ranpo’s better known short novels of suspense. I though they were pretty great, but then again I tend to be rather fond of Ranpo’s works.

As for a few other interesting things: Jason Thompson takes a look at the mahjong manga The Legend of Koizumi in the most recent House of 1000 Manga column. (Ed Chavez apparently wanted to license the series. It’s unlikely to ever actually happen, but we can dream!) Yen Press had quite a few license announcements of its own to make, including the establishment Yen On, an imprint specifically devoted to light novels. Dark Horse also announced some exciting licenses–more manga by CLAMP and Satoshi Kon. Toh EnJoe won the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation for his work Self-Reference Engine, one of my favorite books released last year. And speaking of awards, the 2014 Eisner Award Nominees have been announced. Manga up for an Eisner Award include The Heart of Thomas, The Mysterious Underground Men, Showa: A History of Japan, 1926–1939, The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4, and Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia category and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island in the category for Best Adaptation from Another Medium.

Quick Takes

Bad Teacher's Equation, Volume 4Bad Teacher’s Equation, Volumes 4-5 by Kazuma Kodaka. Bad Teacher’s Equation has come a long way since its first volume. The series was nearly a decade in the making, so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that it underwent some significant evolution in both artwork and storytelling, including some unexpected plot developments. In the series’ afterword, Kodaka notes that Bad Teacher’s Equation “mirrored the history of boy’s love comics throughout the ’90s” and that it was her first foray into the genre. It started out as a comedy, but by the end of the series, while there is still a fair amount of humor, it has become much more serious and even addresses some of the challenges that face same-sex couples in a more realistic fashion. I particularly enjoyed the fourth volume because of this and because of its focus on Masami and Toru’s relationship. They are the most consistently believable couple in Bad Teacher’s Equation. Although I wasn’t always convinced by Masayoshi and Atsushi’s relationship in the series, for the most part I did really like how things played out for them in the final volume.

Click, Volume 1Click, Volumes 1-4 by Youngran Lee. The basic premise of Click is fairly absurd–Joonha’s family has a strange genetic mutation which causes their bodies to change sex shortly after they reach puberty. Of course, this was never actually mentioned to Joonha and so he’s understandable concerned when at the age of sixteen all of a sudden he seems to have turned into a girl. At first, I thought that Click was going to be a comedy, but that’s not entirely the case. There are humorous elements, Joonha’s parents, for example, are a rather unusual pair and their scenes are generally played for laughs, but the manhwa is much more about the drama (and melodrama). It might not be the most realistic series, but there’s actually some interesting exploration of gender, gender roles, and gender identity in Click. Joonha isn’t a particularly pleasant person and on top of that he’s a misogynistic jerk, too. His sex change is a rather traumatic event for him and he’s now stuck in between genders. His body is female, and he tries to live as a girl, but his personality and way of thinking hasn’t really changed that much.

Drifters, Volume 3Drifters, Volume 3 by Kohta Hirano. I’m still not sure that I entirely understand what the underlying plot of Drifters is supposed to be, but I’m not entirely certain that it matters much at this point, either. At least not to me. I enjoy Drifters for the series’ outrageous characters and battles more than any sort of coherent story. I also appreciate Hirano’s use of historic figures in the series, although it does help to have at least some vague idea of who they are outside of the manga. Admittedly, Hirano’s interpretations are extraordinarily liberal and irreverent. Most of the characters exhibit varying degrees of insanity and there’s not much subtlety or nuance to their characterizations, either. So far, Drifters has been a very violent series. The third volume is no exception to this and battle after battle is fought. I have noticed some continuity errors in the artwork which can be distracting or confusing, especially when they occur in the middle of a fight scene. (Past volumes had this same problem, too.) In the end, Drifters still doesn’t make much sense yet, but I continue to find it to be highly entertaining.

Fairy Tail, Volume 37Fairy Tail, Volume 37 by Hiro Mashima. It’s the final day of the Grand Magic Games, the results of which will literally determine the fate of the world. The danger of course is that Mashima may have over-hyped the Games’ finale; the victory of the guild that ultimately wins is described as being impossible and highly unusual. But if there’s going to be a tournament arc, that’s certainly one way of making it crucial to the development of the story. I consider it to be a good thing. While the Grand Magic Games were diverting, for a while there they didn’t seem to have much of a point except to serve as an excuse to have high-powered wizards doing battle. And there’s plenty of fighting in the thirty-seventh volume, including several confrontations that occur simultaneously. Sadly, compared to previous battles, I didn’t find them to be especially engaging. The most interesting fight is the one between Erza and two other extremely skilled and strong women, Kagura and Minerva, which has several scenes which are particularly dramatic. Mashima does have to cheat and mislead readers with the artwork a bit to achieve some of those moments, though.

SamuraiFlamencoSamurai Flamenco directed by Takahiro Omori. Samurai Flamenco is an anime series that celebrates superheros and superhero shows. It uses a strange mix of silliness bordering on parody and seriousness, but it somehow works. Samurai Flamenco begins very realistically, with Hazama acting as a vigilante. He’s not particularly competent at first, but he makes up for that with his enthusiasm, passion, and belief in justice. It also helps that other people are drawn to him and his cause. On the surface, the middle portion of the series seems like a very typical superhero show with monsters and evil organizations. The villains’ character designs are frankly ridiculous. But then the anime returns to a more serious approach and the final episode pulls everything together perfectly. I did enjoy the humor of the series but I probably appreciated the more realistic examination of what it means to be a superhero even more. I quite enjoyed Samurai Flamenco and found the characters, all of whom are just a little bit strange, to be both likeable and interesting.

The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows

The Black Lizard and Beast in the ShadowsAuthor: Edogawa Ranpo
Illustrator: Kawajiri Hiroaki

Translator: Ian Hughes
U.S. publisher: Kurodahan Press
ISBN: 9784902075212
Released: January 2006
Original release: 1934 and 1928

After being introduced to the works of Edogawa Ranpo through Strange Tale of Panorama Island and Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, I have slowly been making my way through the rest of his work available in English. Compared to his total output in Japan where he was and continues to be an extremely influential author, relatively little has actually been translated. Happily, in recent years Kurodahan Press has been releasing more and more of Ranpo’s stories and essays. The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows became the first volume of Ranpo’s work to be published by Kurodahan Press in English in 2006. Translated by Ian Hughes and with an introduction by Mark Schreiber and illustrations by Kawajiri Hiroaki, the book collects two of Ranpo’s short novels. The Black Lizard, originally published in Japan in 1934, features Ranpo’s famous detective Akechi Kogorō. The second, shorter story, Beast in the Shadows, was first released in 1928 was one of Ranpo’s earlier major works.

In the Japanese underworld the Black Lizard reigns supreme. A woman of exceptional beauty and intelligence, she has become one of Japan’s greatest criminals with an entourage of underlings ready and willing to carry out her schemes and to do her bidding. Most recently the Black Lizard has had her eye on the “Star of Egypt,” the most precious diamond in Japan. Her intent isn’t to steal it. Instead, she has put into motion an audacious plan to kidnap the owner’s daughter Sanae and demand the diamond as ransom. The brilliant private detective Akechi Kogorō is called in to prevent the kidnapping, but he may have met his match with the Black Lizard. The battle of wits between these two opponents in The Black Lizard is marvelous. Both are masters of disguise and both are extremely clever. A large portion of the novel consists of their daring and unexpected tactics as they try to out-think and stay several step ahead of each other. The plot of The Black Lizard take the readers through numerous twists and turns, some of which are difficult to believe but all of which are exciting.

Beast in the Shadows is told from the perspective of a detective novelist who accidentally becomes involved in a case surrounding his fellow mystery author Ōe Shundei. The novelist has fallen in love with Oyamada Shizuko, the wife of a wealthy entrepreneur, and it is for her sake that he begins investigating Shundei. Shundei is a misanthrope and stays out of the public eye so not much is known about the author. However, Shizuko has come to the determination that Ōe Shundei is the pen name of Hirata Ichirō, an ex-lover who has been harassing her and threatening her through letters. Hirata seems to have been spying on Shizuko and her husband and knows things about their private, intimate lives that no one else should. Instead of going to the police, Shizuko turns to the novels as her confidant in order to keep the matter discreet. Though shorter than The Black Lizard, Beast in the Shadows incorporates just as many surprising plot developments if not more, include a fantastic twist ending.

When I first started reading The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows I wondered why those two particular novels, other than being some of Ranpo’s better known works of suspense, had been collected into a single volume. But by the end it became clear that there is one particular similarity between the two stories that tie them together thematically. I’m afraid that revealing it would spoil the mystery, though. However, I will say that the Black Lizard isn’t the only incredibly cunning character in the book. Another important element in both The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows is the role that fiction plays in the stories and specifically how crime inspires and influences fantasy and vice versa. This is particularly prominent in Beast in the Shadows where two primary characters are novelists, giving them a unique perspective on the investigation. But fiction is influential to The Black Lizard as well, Ranpo’s very own short story “The Human Chair” being a pivotal reference. I already knew that I enjoy Ranpo’s work, but I found The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows particularly fascinating because of the power granted to stories in the volume.

Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1

Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, Communication, Volume 1Creator: Torajiro Kishi
U.S. publisher: Media Blasters
ISBN: 9781598832938
Released: November 2008
Original release: 2003

There have been relatively few mature, adult-oriented yuri manga licensed in English. One of the best, or at least one of my favorites, is Torajiro Kishi’s Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication. It’s a short series consisting of only two slim volumes, both of which are unfortunately very out of print. The first volume of Maka-Maka was released in English in 2008 by Kitty Media, the adult and mature content imprint of Media Blasters. Maka-Maka was also released in French as well as in German. The first volume of Maka-Maka was originally published in Japan in 2003. The English edition of Maka-Maka closely emulates the Japanese release. The cover of Kitty Media’s English-language release declares Maka-Maka to be a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed work. I can’t really comment on that, but I do know that the series was generally well-received when first released in English. One of the things that makes Maka-Maka particularly stand out is that Kishi’s artwork is completely in color. In fact, if I recall correctly, Maka-Maka was the first full-color manga that I ever came across.

Jun and Nene are exceptionally close. The two young women attend the same art college–Jun studies graphic arts while Nene pursues fashion design–and they share similar interests as well. When the two of them aren’t working on assignments for class they enjoy spending time together. They both have boyfriends (Jun actually has three), but their most satisfying relationship sexually and romantically is the one that they share with each other. Nene and Jun are friends with benefits, but they are also best friends. They care immensely about each other, support each other, and simply enjoy being together. They relax and have fun, complain about schoolwork and their boyfriends, and are generally just there for each other. Which isn’t to say that they don’t have their disagreements and arguments. Occasionally teasing goes a little too far and feelings get hurt, but in the end both Nene and Jun love each other. Their relationship is one of the most important things in their lives and it is something that neither of them wants to give up.

As previously mentioned, one of the things that sets Maka-Maka apart from many other manga is Kishi’s color artwork, which is excellent. The highlighting does sometimes make it appear as though Jun and Nene have a shiny, plastic-like sheen to their bodies, but otherwise the artwork is quite nice. The shading, textures, and skin tones are particularly lovely and realistic. They also change depending on a chapter’s setting or the lighting of the environment. Whether it’s harsh fluorescent indoor lights, the brilliant noonday sun, cool moonlight, or a warm sunset, Kishi adapts the color palette in Maka-Maka to fit the various moods and scenes. Kishi’s figure work is also very strong. Though somewhat idealized and flawless, Jun and Nene’s appearances aren’t especially exaggerated or unnatural. They are obviously adult women and they have curves. The two of them are almost constantly smiling, too. Their likeable personalities shine through their facial expressions and body language as they enjoy each other’s company.

Maka-Maka is unquestionably an erotic manga and Sex, Life, and Communication is an extremely apt subtitle. Sex, kissing, cuddling, groping, and fondling make up a large portion of the manga. Physical intimacy is one of the ways that Jun and Nene communicate with each other and show their love and affection. The sex between Nene and Jun in Maka-Maka is joyful and includes plenty of laughter. Their close, intimate relationship, of which sex is only one part, simply makes me happy. In comparison, their sexual encounters with men in the manga, at least those that are shown, are much more awkward and can even be unpleasant. Jun and Nene are happiest when they are together. Maka-Maka doesn’t have much of an ongoing story. Instead, the short chapters, each only seven pages long, allow readers brief glimpses into the everyday lives of the two young women and their close, personal relationship. Some of the content in Maka-Maka may be explicit and mature, but the manga is just as much about these wonderful, believable characters as it is about the sex.

My Week in Manga: April 7-April 13, 2014

My News and Reviews

With all of the various review project that I recently have had going on, it’s been a while since there’s only been two posts at Experiments in Manga for any given week. (Not counting the My Week in Manga feature.) Last week I posted a review of Chōhei Kambayashi’s science fiction novel Yukikaze. Although interesting from the start, it did take me a few chapters to really get into the book, but ultimately I was very impressed with the depth of Kambayashi’s ideas. The sequel Good Luck, Yukikaze has also been translated and released in English. I’ll be making a point of reading it, as well. My other post last week was a part of the Discovering Manga feature which explores some of the ways that I learn about and learn more about manga and the manga industry. This time around I talked about the site Organization Anti-Social Geniuses which has some great manga-related content–not just reviews, but articles and interviews, too. If you’re not already familiar with OASG, it’s definitely worth checking out.

As for other things worth checking out online: Justin Stroman’s most recent guest post at Manga Bookshelf focuses on manga adapters and the history of manga adaptation. Vertical is hinting at a new license. (A huge volume of 1980s manga, possibly in hardcover? Yes, please.) Manjiorin of Manga Connection has started her Swan review project. I recently finished reading all of Swan that was published in English. I absolutely loved the series, so am looking forward to reading her reviews. A Bento Books newsletter is now available for those interested in staying on top of Bento Books and its releases. The Kodansha Comics tumblr weighs in on piracy from a publisher’s perspective. And finally, Ryan Holmberg takes a look at 1930s shoujo manga with his article Matsumoto Katsuji and the American Roots of Kawaii.

Quick Takes

Beast & FeastBeast & Feast by Norikazu Akira. After a somewhat dubious first chapter, Beast & Feast ends up being a rather cute and sweet boys’ love manga, although it does seem a little odd to describe it using those words. Considering the seriousness of the yakuza storyline and the violence (mostly implied rather than seen), the manga can actually be surprisingly lighthearted. This is mostly due to the characters. Despite their differences, and despite the fact that Hyodo is a yakuza and Kazuha is a police detective, the two of them ultimately make a great couple and they care about each other tremendously. There’s also a fair amount of explicit sex. Hyodo’s sexual appetite is insatiable, making Beast & Feast a very apt title for the manga. While I wasn’t blown away by Beast & Feast, it was solidly entertaining in addition to having attractive artwork. I enjoyed the manga and its characters. So much so that I plan on picking up Honey Darling, the only other manga by Akira currently available in English. (Actually, now that I think about it, she also collaborated on Clan of the Nakagamis.)

Bride of Deimos, Volume 1Bride of Deimos, Volumes 1-7 written by Etsuko Ikeda, illustrated by Yuho Ashibe. There is something about shoujo horror that I find irresistible; maybe it’s just that so much of it seems to have close ties to Gothic literature and Romanticism and emphasizes the emotional and psychological aspects of the story. Bride of Deimos is an interesting example of this type of shoujo horror. It’s from the 1970s and so it also has that fabulous classic shoujo style, too. Only seven of the seventeen volumes were ever released in English. However, the manga tends to be mostly episodic, so it’s not as though the story feels terribly incomplete. I do wish more had been translated though; I ended up really enjoying the series. The framing story for Bride of Deimos focuses on Minako, a young woman whom the androgynously beautiful devil Deimos is determined to make his bride. Many of the individual tales in some way involve love and generally end very badly for those involved. Bride of Deimos somewhat strangely incorporates both Japanese and Greek mythology as well other elements of traditional Western horror and the supernatural.

Panorama of HellPanorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino. And then there’s Panorama of Hell, a horror manga of a completely different sort from 1982. As can probably be determined from the cover alone, Panorama of Hell is extremely gruesome, bloody, violent, and visceral. Panorama of Hell is legitimately terrifying and frightening, and probably one of the best horror manga that I have read. But because it is so graphic and disturbing, and because the humor is so exceptionally dark, Panorama of Hell is definitely not something that I would recommend to just anyone. It takes a reader with a strong heart and stomach to really appreciate the manga. Panorama of Hell is the story of an unnamed painter who has an obsession with blood which he uses in the creation of his artwork. The manga explores his paintings before turning to his family, his past, and all of the abuse and insanity which has had a tremendous influence on him. Hino mixes surreal imagery with historic events in Panorama of Hell. The results are hellish, driving home just how terrible reality can be. Some of Panorama of Hell is actually based on Hino’s life, which in itself is terrifying.

Sunny, Volume 2Sunny, Volumes 2-3 by Taiyo Matsumoto. Sunny is another manga that draws inspiration from the creator’s life. Set in Japan in the 1970s, Sunny can be almost overwhelmingly melancholic. Although there are heartwarming moments there are just as many scenes that are absolutely heartbreaking. Sunny follows the lives of the children at the Star Kids Home. Some are orphans, some have been completely abandoned by their parents, and some have only been temporarily separated from their families. The story also follows the adults in their lives, both those who are positive influences on the children and those who have caused them harm. The people at Star Kids Home, the children and the adults, form an odd sort of family with all of the benefits and disadvantages that that entails. Out of all of the manga by Matsumoto that has so far been released in English, Sunny is the most realistic and therefore probably the most readily accessible for a casual reader. It lacks much of the surrealism present in his other works. Instead Sunny relies even more heavily on the complexities of the characters and their relationships with one another.