Guest Post: Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1

It’s been some time since Experiments in Manga has hosted a guest post, but my friend Jocilyn was once again inspired and is back to review one of the more recently released yuri manga, the first volume of Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl. (Also if you’re interested, you can find some of Jocilyn’s non-manga writings over at her delectable tea blog Parting Gifts!)

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Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1Seeing Canno’s name on the cover of a book in English feels like quite the sea change. Not only is she somewhat obscure with only one full manga series and a couple of one-offs and anthology contributions to her name, her writing style also leans heavily toward the heart-throbbingly romantic yuri (which English publishers have traditionally avoided as being too risky/niche). Also, although not an uncommon setting for yuri manga, Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is the first genre title in English in a decade (i.e. Hakamada Mera’s Last Uniform and Hayashiya Shizuru’s Hayate X Blade, neither of which are exactly realistic), to give us a long look at dorm-life in a prestigious all-girls’ school. Finally, in case those weren’t enticing enough reasons, “Ano Kiss” has been translated by the matchless Jocelyne Allen, easily the most talented and enjoyable manga translator in the industry (and kind of my personal heroine). Hands down, Kiss & White Lily was my most anticipated manga of the year, and it has not disappointed.

To briefly summarize the plot, Ayaka Shiramine was told as a child that a 95/100 was an unacceptably low grade and ever since has never settled for anything less than no.1 in her class. Enter Yurine Kurosawa, a genius transfer student who can work academic and PE miracles with seemingly zero effort, who’s constantly seen sleeping in class. Indignant of the presumptuous upstart, Shiramine tries even harder than usual but still only manages second place on their midterms. In a fit of pique, Shiramine rips up her 98/100 test in front of Kurosawa declaring “It’s no good unless it’s perfect. If only you weren’t here, I would still be no.1” Kurosawa who had initially been impressed and quite smitten with Shiramine, amps up the rivalry and lords her superiority over Shiramine as a means to get closer to her. Before long Kurosawa has stolen Shiramine’s first kiss and being somewhat tsundere, Shiramine goes into total denial mode before being caught in a compromising position by her roommate cousin. Naturally, being a yuri manga, the cousin represents a B-story involving the boyish star of the track team and a hotly akogared sempai. Yada Yada Yada.

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1, Chapter 2I won’t belabor the obvious parallel to Kare Kano in overall plot. Kurosawa’s utter genius and complete ambivalence to nearly everything that doesn’t involve Shiramine is oddly cute and compelling. One scene that paints Kurosawa as particularly superhuman had me in stitches for a while the first time I read it, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Although Shiramine might be outwardly cool and dissembling toward Kurosawa, when they’re alone together she manages to unwittingly send all the right signals. As with its inspiration, the honor students’ relationship is all blushes and awkward but swoon-worthy and adorable.

Kiss & White Lily variously waxes exciting shoujo romance and lighthearted school girl fun in an enticing mixture. Although Canno does tend to use a lot of screen tones to the point of necromancing Kare Kano, her art style is very cute and emotive, moreso reminiscent of Shimura Takako. I very much enjoyed the gorgeous full-color introductory pages Yen was good enough to reproduce. Naturally Kiss & White Lily’s translation is nigh seamless perfection. I honestly cannot produce a single gripe this time. A thoroughly fabulous read!

Guest Post: Sweet Blue Flowers, Vol. 1

Earlier this year my good friend Jocilyn Wagner contributed a review of Hiroki Ugawa’s Shrine of the Morning Mist, Volume 1 to Experiments in Manga. She was recently inspired to do so more manga blogging and to write another review, and so I’m happy to welcome Jocilyn back to Experiments in Manga! This time she’ll be taking a look at the Digital Manga Guild edition of Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 by Takako Shimura.

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Easily Shimura Takako’s most well-known manga endeavour, Sweet Blue Flowers is an unforgettable bildungsroman of the classic Japanese girl’s school (minus the dorm boarding). The story focuses on two heroines: Manjoume Fumi and Okudaira Akira. Childhood friends who were separated for elementary and junior high and by coincidence have moved into the same neighborhood together for high school. The girls, who don’t at first recognize each other, are reintroduced when Akira (called “Aki” in this version) saves the timid Fumi from train molestation. Although the two attend different schools, their close friendship and shared interest in acting cause Fumi to find excuses to attend theatre club at Aki’s much more wealthy/prestigious school.

The setting of two close-knit girls’ schools often lends itself to a Yuri manga and Sweet Blue Flowers positively embraces the plot line. As the story opens, Fumi (tall and bashful) is recovering from her separation with Chizu, Fumi’s first love, a cousin who’s getting married. Enter in the dashing heartbreaker Sugimoto Yasuko who’s been recently cast against her will as the swoon-worthy Heathcliff. Yasuko is immediately smitten of Fumi and Fumi is quick to return her feelings (…perhaps too quick?). Despite being easily embarrassed and a worrier, Fumi manages to confide the relationship and her sexuality in Aki. The level-headed Aki doesn’t really understand why this would be a problem but ponders the issue while Fumi, who’s assumed it will come between them slips into fear-induced avoidance of her. When Aki’s finally able to snag Fumi aside she asks her, “What can I do to support you?”

Sweet Blue Flowers is as wonderful and poignant in English as it is in Japanese. The story is moving and rapturous. I’m really hopeful DMP can publish Sweet Blue Flowers in print…

But now I think I have a better understanding of why they might not. Compared to Fantagraphics’ Wandering Son, this version of Aoihana is frankly an embarrassment that in no way lives up to the beauty of the original and really shouldn’t be printed as is. It’s in desperate need of an English adapter and some real copy editing. As a Shimura fangirl, I really want to see Aoihana in print, so just in case the project leader is listening, the following is a substantial critique. The optimist should stop reading here. :)

The biggest problem in my mind is that bizarrely, instead of how it’s always been rendered “Ah-chan” in both the original manga AND the anime near and dear by now to the hearts of North Americans, this version replaces all the Ah-chans with “Aki.” To be fair, Aki is more of a fleshed out name than Ah-chan, but it’s really a boy’s name and it doesn’t suit Akira’s character, besides which it’s not a name Shimura-sensei chose. Part of what makes Aoihana so cute is that the Okudaira siblings have their names reversed: that is to say, Akira is usually though not always a boy’s name and Shinobu is similarly a girl’s name occasionally used for boys. Perhaps the idea here with “Aki” was to emphasize that her name doesn’t fit the image? Yet I think Shimura-sensei would argue that’s exactly why she’s always been called Ah-chan (to make up for/ignore the more masculine Akira). Put simply, Akira is always called Ah-chan because she’s ridiculously cute and her role in the story is to be the best friend and onee-chan from Fumi’s childhood, thus someone you’d want to give a cute nickname to like “Ah-chan.” Perhaps because she’s given a bit more wisdom than other characters or because of her future role in the story, the DMG team chose to call her Aki. At any rate, it feels like an awkward and unnecessary change that will stick out painfully to most fans of the work.

Additionally, there’s just too much left untranslated in terms of signage with parenthetical notes given instead that really detract from the flow of the reading. As far as I can tell, all the signs and documents are left untranslated (even ones that couldn’t possibly be hurt by replacement with English such as the heading card in the photo album scrapbook that reads “Christmas Party” or the words on the cake for Chizu’s party) which comes off looking like the typesetter just couldn’t be bothered/too inexperienced to handle the job. For the none-Japanese reader it’s too much work to constantly be hunting for marginalia. Shimura’s penmanship isn’t all that legible anyway (most were drawn with marker), so if you can read Japanese, leaving the signs as is doesn’t necessarily help things—except in the case of one of her school gateway engravings, it doesn’t exactly have a “Shoudo” quality. Perhaps the concept here is to give the English reader a sense that they’re really in Kamakura, but that’s actually doing Shimura-sensei a disservice as the gorgeous well-researched setting she’s drawn is more stark and striking than most mangaka can muster.

sweet blue flowers snippita

Add to this a lot of really tiring typographical errors such as “Pap” for “Pat” and “Beautiful is Youth” “Hasegawwa” and “Fajisawa”, really detract from the reading experience. The emanga version of Sweet Blue Flowers is very welcome and we love you for it, but please consider further editing before sending it to the printer.

In terms of the digital file, it’s definitely topknotch. Emanga allows you to choose from among seven or eight major formats as well as offering you the option of reading your books through their proprietary online reader. I was really happy to be able to get Sweet Blue Flowers in PDF since it looks and functions the best on the iPad. It’s not always the most annotation friendly, but since manga is an artistic medium it makes sense to use an Adobe format to access it. Unfortunately, once you’ve chosen to download the file in one format, you’re stuck with only that single file type and you’d need to repurchase it from emanga to get it in a different format (DRM is kinda evil like that). I had no trouble downloading the file and it opens great on all my devices. Given their many options for downloading, their pricing system that’s free from points and rentals and their interface with Amazon, I’d highly recommend emanga over some other digital manga sites I’ve tried (except when it comes to editing).

Guest Post: Shrine of the Morning Mist, Vol. 1

I am very pleased to introduce Jocilyn Wagner to readers of Experiments in Manga. Jocilyn doesn’t currently have a platform of her own, but she was still interested in occasionally writing about manga. And so, I’m happy to offer up some space here and welcome her to Experiments in Manga as a guest.

Greetings and Salutations! Some of you might know me from my love of yuri and occasional manga and light novel translations, but that’s not what I’m doing this time. Instead… I thought I’d introduce you to some of the most forgotten and/or unappreciated (usually for good reason) manga I own, which have, in all likelihood, never before been reviewed on a Manga Bookshelf blog!

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I’d like to begin with a title that was so under-sold and under-appreciated it literally debuted at number 92 in graphic novel sales. The year was 2006; it was the end of an era. I’d just wrapped up my undergrad and year-long stint as president of the Western Michigan Anime Addicts and my heart was still full of some of the incredible anime we’d enjoyed: Paradise Kiss, Madlax, Last Exile, Read or Die, the list goes on. In my youthful vigor and utter boredom I was working on one of the many anime subtitling teams (in the days before Crunchyroll a great many of these existed if you can believe it!) editing scripts for #Ishin, when I was asked to finish up work on a silly series no one was watching. It was bizarre, ugly and ridiculously cute, and the episodes were so short it would be a breeze. I’m speaking of course of Asagiri no Miko (朝霧の巫女). You may now groan and pinch your noses in despair and hopefully save yourself the trouble of reading the following review of TokyoPop’s 2006 edition of the series they called “Shrine of the Morning Mist.”

Shrine of the Morning Mist, Volume 1

The name has always been something of a sticking point with me since a literal translation would be closer to “shrine maiden of the morning mist” but then, I suppose TokyoPop didn’t want to confuse people with the bull in a china shop, Kannazuki no Miko, for which they’d already used the term (never mind the fact that the miko in Asagiri no Miko actually resemble real miko and Himeko and Chikane are rather infamous, but not for their pious purity), but I digress.

Ugawa Hiroki’s story is usually seen as a seinen action comedy, but I always thought of it as a supernatural slice-of-life romance. In the fine tradition of early 2000s dating sims, the story revolves around a loner teenage dude (Amatsu Tadahiro, usually referred to as Hiro) who returns to the home of his childhood and some of the girls he left heartbroken in his wake. In this case, the brokenhearted is his cousin Yuzu who is painted to be a fiery but loveable tsundere, as well as his closest childhood friend. Yuzu is the middle child of three girls: Kurako, the eldest, is quiet, thoughtful and spiritually driven and has made it her goal to bring the two star-crossed lovers back together. She reminds me of a cross between Belldandy and Toudou Shimako. Yuzu’s younger sister Tama-chan is the fun rascal who dotes on “Hiro Onii-chan” but often speaks with a maturity beyond her years. Actually she very closely resembles Yukino’s sister Kana from Kare Kano, except she isn’t a manga geek. Their father, in his insane knee-jerk reactions to everything, sketchy behavior and extreme unpopularity could easily be mistaken for Shimura-sensei of Azamanga Daioh! fame. A chapter or two into the series, we’re introduced to the girls’ mother Miyuki. I’m not at all sure how to describe Miyuki since she isn’t given a lot of dialogue in this volume. She’s really rather unlike other manga moms: she arrives on the scene with a samurai-like speed, agility and appearance, wielding a bouken and saves Hiro from becoming breakfast to a giant cyclops. The reader’s told she’d been sent to Izumo, so one might infer she’s a gifted Shinto priestess, but it’s not at all clear at this point. Finally, we’re introduced to Koma-san, a mysterious short-tempered but otherwise solemn woman who claims to have known Hiro’s father, though he had died before Hiro was born and this woman looks to be in her mid-to-late 20s. The way Koma is drawn, I can’t help but be reminded of Yumura Kirika, except Koma is endowed with some rather annoying feline qualities. No doubt inspired by a little known game at the time, Tsukihime.

The plot is tragically somewhat thin. Hiro has been traveling, searching out his way in life and has finally come home to the quiet town of his childhood (Miyoshi, in Hiroshima Prefecture). His cousins, the Hieda sisters put him up for the night but are hesitant to let him go since it’s obvious Yuzu still has feelings for him. From the moment he arrives, Hiro is hellhounded by a mysterious sorcerer who wears a tengu mask and summons a host of cruel-intentioned spirits to eliminate Hiro and his spiritual potential before it upsets the balance of something or other. Tengu-san and Hiro have many annoying random encounters in which Tengu-san is always easily defeated by the sisters, and a thoroughly incompetent yet nevertheless unappreciative Hiro is saved from certain doom in the nick of time. One might compare Hiro to Morisato Keiichi, except Hiro’s not all that nice or mature. He’s also unmoved by Yuzu’s total red-faced embarrassment (which comes into play whenever he’s around), though he obviously remembers what transpired between them five years ago. Yuzu’s mom and sisters are constantly trying to push Hiro and Yuzu together. That’s basically the entire plot.

Tune in next time for another segment of The Manga That Time Forgot/Was Hoping To Forget. ~jocilyn

Guest Post: The Infernal Devices Vol 1: Clockwork Angel: Manga Review

Not too long ago I reviewed The Infernal Devices, Volume 1: Clockwork Angel, HyeKyung Baek’s graphic novel adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s novel by the same name. While I am familiar with The Infernal Devices, I haven’t actually read any of the original trilogy. I do, however, know people who have and thought it might be interesting to get another perspective on the work. And so I decided to bribe my good friend Traci with manga in exchange for her thoughts on the adaptation. The video below (a first for Experiments in Manga) is the result. I’m extremely excited that she agreed and am very pleased to welcome Traci to Experiments in Manga!

Hello, all. My name is Traci and I am the mastermind behind the alwynuu channel and Traci Reads vlog on YouTube. I am a photographer by passion and trade and a wanderer, philosopher, and reader by desire and happenstance. I enjoy most things geeky and nerdy, odd literary adaptations, and any genre that includes some form of magic or supernatural business. Don’t be shy. Drop in on occasion and see what I’ve gotten up to and where I’ve wandered.

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Guest Post: How a Non-Manga Fan Got Me Into Sakuran

As host of the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast, I am delighted to welcome Erica Friedman to Experiments in Manga as a guest writer. Thank you, Erica, for your contribution to the Feast!

Erica Friedman is the founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing—she is devoted to bringing fans of yuri together. Erica reviews yuri and shoujo-ai manga and anime as well as other comics with lesbian themes at her blog Okazu. She can also be found on Twitter @OkazuYuri.

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“In your wanderings, can you look for this for me?”

That was the message I received on Facebook from a friend. She’s asked for me to look for random things in Japan before this message, but when I looked at the “this” I was shocked – she wanted me to look for a manga? She has no interest in manga. None whatsoever.

“I like the art,” was her reply to my question. Oh well, now *that* made sense. My friend is an artist – an exceptionally talented one, I might add. Okay, no problem, I’ll look for the book. It was clearly Anno Moyocco’s art, but I otherwise knew nothing about it. I missed out on the Happy Mania! mania when Tokyopop printed it, and although I’d certainly encountered her work in some of the Josei manga magazines I read, I’d never been a fan.

The manga, as it turned out, was well out of print. I never expected to find it for her. One day I wandered into a used manga store, turned the corner and there it was, one of the Kodansha deluxe editions, old, but still with gorgeous paper, with colored edges. I flipped through it, bought it and gave it to her without anymore thought to the contents. Anno’s art was not for me.

And then, out of the blue, Vertical licensed Sakuran. So I contacted my friend with the news, expecting her to say she wasn’t interested in the book in English. I guess I just expected her interest to end with the art, loopy as it appeared to be. But, to my surprise, she said she was interested, so I got her volume 1. And with her permission, I read it before I gave to her.

I loved it. The character was amazing, the story harsh and unsympathetic (all things I had come to expect from Anno.) But about halfway into the book there’s a series of color pages, in which the color washes away leaving only blues. It was, for me, a moment of blinding recognition of Anno’s mastery.

A few years ago, I did a lecture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art about the Ghost in the Shell: Innocence movie. At that time they were running an exhibit of Utagawa art. It was at this exhibit I learned about Prussian Blue and Ultramarine, two colors that completely changed Japanese art forever. (Incidentally, these colors helped inform my understanding of Murakami Haruki’s art which was also on exhibit at the BMA, and of Nakamura Ching’s GUNJO, the title of which means “ultramarine.”)

So there, as the color leeches out of the color pages, we are left staring at a what has to be seen as shockingly good late 19th century print. In a flash, Anno’s style made perfect sense to me. As I read the cold, calculating instructions on how to perform successful oral sex on a man, I became a fan.

I’m having a hard time summing up my feelings about Sakuran, so I turned to my friend who is completely responsible for this review. She nailed it.

“I enjoyed her nonstop and often inexplicable anger and her near-sociopathic disregard for everyone around her. On the other hand, I often wondered why she didn’t just walk out of there and go out on a world-conquering spree on her own. She certainly seemed to have enough bad-assery and blind force of will to make such a move, but I guess traditional Japanese class distinctions were too overwhelming. I also really, really liked her appalling table manners; particularly in that oh-so-proper Japanese setting.”

Yes, that was it. It was her anger that appealed to me most. That white-hot rage against the universe and all the people in it. Recently I was involved in a discussion about how tediously psychopaths were written these days in fan media. Kiyoha’s genuine hatred for every single person around her read more realistically to me than anything I’d seen in ages.

Skilled execution, combined with ferocious misanthropy. No wonder I love this book. Thanks, Meryl, for turning me into an Anno fan.