Random Musings: Notable in 2017

Towards the end of the year for the past few years here at Experiments in Manga, I have made a point to compile a list of some of the manga, comics, and other books that have been released during the previous twelve months that to me were particularly notable for one reason or another. It’s not a “best of” list, nor is it necessarily a list of my favorite releases from the past year (although admittedly some of them are). Instead, it’s a list of books which stood out to me for one reason or another that I both read and were released in 2017. I certainly haven’t read everything that was published in the last year, so the following titles have been taken from an already limited selection. For the sake of this list, I also decided to focus on debuts and one-shots rather than ongoing series. And while the list doesn’t include all of the noteworthy releases or even all of my favorites from the last year, I have tried to highlight one of the trends from 2017 that made me particularly happy–the continued growth and inclusion of queer representation and themes within the works being published.

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1That being said, one of the manga that left the deepest and most lasting impressions on me in 2017 was The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe. Both the series’ haunting story and beautiful artwork are marvelously atmospheric. Nagabe delicately balances sweetness and charm with darkness and tragedy. It isn’t unusual for horror manga to explore the monstrosity of humans and the humanity of monsters, but The Girl from the Other Side does so with incredible nuance.

My Lesbian Experience with LonelinessManga tends to be a niche within the larger niche of comics, but every so often there is a work that gains recognition and acclaim outside of the usual audiences. Kabi Nagata ‘s autobiographical My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is one example of a manga from 2017 that found a wide readership; Nagata’s authentic, frank, and honest depiction of her struggles with depression, anxiety, sexuality, and feelings of isolation resonated deeply with others’ personal experiences.

My Brother's Husband, Omnibus 1Gengoroh Tagame is an important creator who is known worldwide, so it’s probably no surprise that his series My Brother’s Husband would garner a fair amount of attention as well. Quite different in tone from Tagame’s sadomasochistic and homoerotic manga, My Brother’s Husband is a wholesome work which tackles and refutes socially and culturally ingrained prejudices–such as homophobia–through the lens of family. The manga’s message is not subtle, but it is a good one.

I Hear the Sunspot I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino is a quieter and more understated work dealing with the impact of disabilities on relationships, romantic and otherwise. It’s a lovely and thoughtful manga which treats its naturally complex characters with respect, acceptance, and understanding. I Hear the Sunspot is actually the beginning of a series, something that I didn’t realize when I first read it. The volume stands very well on its own, but I certainly look forward to reading more.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Omnibus 1My introduction to the work of Takako Shimura was through Wandering Son, a manga which is tremendously meaningful to me. I was very happy then when her other major series, Sweet Blue Flowers, finally received a proper release in English in 2017. (It only took three different publishers.) On the surface, Sweet Blue Flowers can tend towards the melodramatic, but Shimura’s layered portrayals of young women who love other young women are still emotionally convincing and compelling.

After Hours, Volume 1Most of the yuri that has so far been translated into English generally falls into the category of schoolgirl manga, so it is wonderfully refreshing to see series featuring adult women, like Yuhta Nishio’s After Hours, being published as well. It’s also immensely satisfying to see a relationship develop between two women that, while not without its complications, is largely free of angst. After Hours, along with Sweet Blue Flowers, is also notable for being Viz Media’s first real foray into the yuri genre.

Murciélago, Volume 1Yoshimurakana’s Murciélago is likewise a manga that features adult women in adult situations. But in this case, the series makes no attempt at realism. Murciélago is ridiculously over-the-top top and extreme. The manga is lewd and crass, but it can also be massively entertaining in its outrageousness. However, due to the explicit sex, violence, and gore, Murciélago is definitely not a series that can be recommended to just anyone. Predatory lesbian assassins understandably have limited appeal.

The Backstagers, Volume 1: Rebels without ApplauseThere were a great number of wonderful queer-friendly comics released in 2017, but James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh’s The Backstagers  is particularly delightful. The comic is a tremendous amount of fun, featuring energetic artwork, an entertaining story, and a marvelously diverse cast. Especially noteworthy is the series’ challenging of gender stereotypes through the positive representations of a wide range of masculinities. The Backstagers even includes a transguy as a prominent character!

So Pretty / Very RottenAnother engaging work from 2017 that deals with gender, identity, and self-expression in interesting ways is So Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. The individual pieces in the collaboration vary significantly in tone and style, ranging from accessibly academic to intensely personal, but the volume is an informative and fascinating examination of Lolita culture and its influence both inside and outside of Japan.

A Small Charred FaceI don’t tend to seek out vampire fiction, so was it not for the fact that A Small Charred Face was written by Kazuki Sakuraba, translated by Jocelyne Allen, and published by Haikasoru, I might not have gotten around to reading the novel. Hearing A Small Charred Face described as being BL-adjacent certainly caught my attention, too. The novel is an unexpectedly beautiful and heartbreaking work about outsiders, found family, and the intimate connections that tie people together.

Notes of a CrocodileMiaojin Qiu was an influential lesbian author whose work has made a lasting impact on Taiwanese culture; her acclaimed novel Notes of a Crocodile is considered to be a cult classic of queer literature. The work is both metaphorical and literal in its exploration of gender, sexuality, and identity, combining fantasy and reality in a way that is tremendously compelling and at times even devastating. While not always an easy read, Notes of a Crocodile is a rich and powerful work.

Knights-Errant, Volume 1

Knights-Errant, Volume 1Creator: Jennifer Doyle
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9781987988239
Released: November 2016
Original run: 2015-2016

Jennifer Doyle’s series Knights-Errant had its beginnings as a webcomic in 2009. It was Doyle’s first attempt at a long-form comic. Somewhat unsatisfied with how the story’s structure was developing, Doyle decided to reboot the series as Knights-Errant: Pavane. The subtitle was eventually dropped and Knights-Errant ultimately became a part of Chromatic Press’ online multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly in 2015. As a beautifully illustrated, queer-positive historical fantasy with compelling characters and engaging story, Knights-Errant was a perfect addition to the lineup. In 2016, the first volume of Knights-Errant was released in both print and digital formats. The book is in full-color and collects the first three chapters of Knights-Errant serialized online between 2015 and 2016 in addition to content not previously released: a short comic, “Anton & Beppe,” exploring the backstory of those characters, and a short story, “Justice,” written by Doyle’s partner Ursula Wood and featuring the characters Kadeen and Oswald.

The city of Adigo in North Vetal is under siege by the army of its own king. The population is slowly starving, essentially being held hostage by an influential but traitorous margrave whose loyalty to his god comes before his faith in the monarchy. Not all of the margrave’s soldiers share or support their commander’s fervent beliefs, however. At least one guard, Beppe, is working to end the deadly impasse by conspiring with a criminal. Wilfrid, after some amount of convincing, has become vital to Beppe’s plans. Jailed for stabbing two men, Wilfrid is given a choice: certain death by hanging for the crime or almost certain death by attempting to guide the king’s forces into the city. But only the latter gives Wilfrid the chance of surviving long enough to seek retribution and exact revenge. Wilfrid’s fundamental goals may only temporarily align with those of the soldiers who are are hoping break the margrave’s self-destructive control over the city and its people, but it is a risk that they are all willing to take.

Doyle has on occasion described Knights-Errant as a “hate/love letter” to Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. While that influence and inspiration can be seen in the comic, Knights-Errant is more than just a response to a single series–it is a brilliant work based completely on its own merits and worth. One of the many things that I particularly love about Knights-Errant, and one of Doyle’s intentions behind its creation, is the inclusion of queer themes and representation. Notably in the first volume, Wilfrid’s gender is naturally complex and Beppe’s closest and most intimate relationship is with his fellow guardsman Anton. But these sorts of personal qualities make up only one aspect of the series’ believably imperfect and multi-faceted characters. The layered portrayal of both the antagonists and protagonists–many of whom are dealing with traumatic pasts, grim presents, and potentially tragic futures–is excellent. The evocative artwork, colored with subdued but striking tones, seems to effortlessly carry and support the emotional weight demanded by the story. However, in part due to the comic’s admittedly dark and sardonic sense of humor, Knights-Errant does manage to avoid being overly oppressive.

Knights-Errant is a nuanced tale of politics, religion, intrigue, and revenge. It’s amazing how high the stakes have already risen in the first volume with the main players and the beginnings of the underlying plot having only just been introduced. The fate of a city and the lives both within and outside of its walls are at stake, and the threat of psychological and physical violence that the series’ main characters must personally face is tremendous. The entire situation is extremely volatile and everyone knows it–whatever happens next will not only have a major impact on the people who are directly involved, it may very well change the course of history for the kingdom as a whole. The tension and pacing in the first volume of Knights-Errant is magnificent, the intertwining complexities of the characters’ individual stories unfolding within the context of a much larger narrative developing on an even grander scale. Everything about Knights-Errant is intense in the best way possible, from the sophisticated dynamics of the characters’ relationships, to the intricacies of the plot and fully-realized setting, to the dramatic and expressive artwork. The comic is incredibly easy to recommend.

My Week in Manga: November 6-November 12, 2017

My News and Reviews

The Bookshelf Overload for October was posted at Experiments in Manga last week, giving a quick summary of some of the interesting manga, anime, and other media that made their way into my home last month. Otherwise, it was a fairly quiet week at the blog, and it’s going to be even quieter this week. I’m currently work on my next in-depth review, but I suspect that it won’t be ready to reveal to the world until sometime next week. (Hopefully it will be worth the wait.) As for other interesting things recently found online: Brigid Alverson wrote up a recap of an interview with Fairy Tail creator Hiro Mashima from this year’s New York Comic Con for Barnes & Noble and over at Crunchyroll Evan Minto interviewed Frederik L. Schodt, a manga translator, scholar, and personal friend of Osamu Tezuka.

Quick Takes

Shirley, Volume 1Shirley, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori. Only the first volume of Shirley was ever released in English. It’s now well out-of-print, but it’s also well-worth picking up. I would love to see Yen Press release the entire series in a handsome omnibus that would be at home next to the new edition of Mori’s Emma. I believe that most if not all of the short manga in the first volume of Shirley precede Emma, but the collection was only published after the first volume of Emma was released. The artwork is simpler than that found in Mori’s most recent series in translation, A Bride’s Story, but it is still quite lovely and evocative. As a whole, Shirley is a charming work. Mori’s love of maids is quite evident. The first volume collects five episodic chapters which follow Bennett Cranley and the titular Shirley Madison, a young maid that Bennett hires, in addition to two other stories unrelated by plot although they both also feature Edwardian-era maids. Shirley is only thirteen when she starts working for Bennett and they develop a close, if somewhat unusual, relationship as a result. While Shirley is a very capable maid she is still young–at times its as though she’s more like Bennett’s ward rather than her employee. She’s a sweet, likeable girl, so it’s easy to see why Bennett would be so taken with her.

The Witch BoyThe Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag. I first learned about The Witch Boy while at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival earlier this year. Ostertag was on the panel “LGBTQ Comics Abroad” along with several other creators when she mentioned the upcoming publication of the graphic novel; I immediately added it to my list of comics to pick up when it was released. Ostertag is probably best known as the artist of the ongoing webcomic Strong Female Protagonist and has collaborated as an illustrator on several other comics projects as well. However, The Witch Boy is her debut work as both author and artist. The graphic novel is aimed at middle grade readers, but the comic will be able to be appreciated by adult audiences as well. Aster comes from a family of magic users–the women are taught the secrets of witchery while the men are expected to learn how to shapeshift, a tradition which is strictly adhered to. Much to his family’s dismay, Aster would much rather study with the girls than roughhouse with the boys. Forbidden from learning the women’s magic despite his talent for it, Aster longs for his family to accept his true self. The Witch Boy is a beautiful story with a wonderful message; I hope to read more of Ostertag’s writing in the future.

Attack on Titan: The Anime GuideAttack on Titan: The Anime Guide by Ryosuke Sakuma and Munehiko Inagaki. Kodansha Comics almost exclusively publishes manga, although over time a few other things have been released as well, most of which are in some way a part of the massively successful Attack on Titan franchise. One of the more recent non-manga offerings is Attack on Titan: The Anime Guide, a full-color volume consisting of artwork, character designs, process overviews, and other background information relating to the first season of the Attack on Titan anime. The Anime Guide will mostly appeal to readers who are already devoted fans of Attack on Titan. What interested me most were the numerous interviews included in the book. The most notable is the lengthy interview with and conversation between Hajime Isayama and Tetsuro Araki, the original creator of Attack on Titan and the series director of the anime respectively. (Isayama saw the anime as an opportunity to improve upon or even correct aspects of the manga with which he wasn’t completely satisfied.) The interviews with the anime’s chief animation directors, Titan designer, action animation directors, scriptwriter, voice actors, and theme song musicians were also interesting to read.

My Week in Manga: September 25-October 1, 2017

My News and Reviews

September has ended and October has begun, but there’s still a little time left to enter the most recent manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga! The results will be announce on Wednesday, so be sure to get your comments in for a chance to win the first volume (actually, I think it may even be the first half) of Takashi Yano and Kenji Oiwa’s Assassin’s Creed: Awakening. For this giveaway, I’m interested in learning more about everyone’s favorite pirate characters in manga. Otherwise, it was once again a fairly quiet week here at the blog. It’s been a while since I’ve last mentioned any of the Kickstarter’s that have caught my eye, but Matthew Meyer’s campaign to continue his series of illustrated yokai guides launched last week. The Book of the Hakutaku: A Bestiary of Japanese Monsters will be the third volume following The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai (which I’ve previously reviewed) and The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic. I really love these books, and the artwork is fantastic.

Quick Takes

Love and Lies, Volume 1Love & Lies, Volume 1 by Musawo. In general, I don’t tend to gravitate towards high school romances, but I am a sucker for utopian and dystopian fiction, so when those two genres mix I can’t help but want to give the resulting story a try. Love & Lies is set in Japan in the near future. In response to the crisis of an extreme decline in population, the government has implemented a program which assigns marriage partners based on their genetic makeup and social circumstances so that any children born will be healthy, skilled, contributing members of society. Once both partners have turned 16, they receive a notice from the government revealing their identities to each other for the first time. Who they may or may not truly love isn’t really taken into consideration, but it also seems that program may be susceptible to corruption. I find the premise of Love & Lies to be very interesting; it has great potential to explore the nature of love and personal relationships in a dramatic and engaging way. When the entire purpose of marriage has become a government-funded reproduction program, the impact on society and its people will be tremendous. I also especially appreciate that Love & Lies includes at least one character who isn’t heterosexual seeing as a marriage program of this type would have particularly drastic social implications for a person who is queer in some way.

TaprootTaproot: A Comic about a Gardener and a Ghost by Keezy Young. I first encountered Young’s work through the ongoing webcomic Yellow Hearts which joined Sparkler Monthly‘s lineup of online comics relatively recently. Part of what I love about Yellow Hearts is Young’s gorgeous illustrations and use of color as well as the natural inclusion of queer characters in the story. Taproot is Young’s debut graphic novel and it, too, has what I’ve come to love and expect from the creator’s other comics. The graphic novel has a great amount of depth to it, more than the rather simple, straightforward subtitle would seem to imply. Hamal is young man who can see ghosts, an ability which has made it difficult for him to find acceptance from others. At least from those who are living. Many of the ghosts, on the other hand, are drawn to and quite like Hamal; Blue has even fallen in love with him, although being incorporeal presents a few challenges. But there’s an even greater problem that the two of them must face–the very existence of the local ghosts is being threatened by a frighting supernatural disturbance. There is a sense of loneliness and melancholy to be found in Taproot, but the comic is also incredibly heartwarming and endearing. Taproot is a sweet and touching queer romance with beautiful artwork, making it something that’s extremely easy to recommend.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Volume 1That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime written by Fuse and illustrated by Taiki Kawakami. There seems to be a preponderance of manga series right now with the underlying conceit of a person dying and then being reincarnated in some sort of fantasy world. I have read a few of these series, so I haven’t been completely avoiding them, but I’ve not really been seeking them out, either, having experienced genre-fatigue by proxy. However, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime still managed to pique my interest simply because it sounded like such a ridiculous spin on what has become such a well-worn story. And I’ll admit, the first volume of the That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime manga is surprisingly entertaining. The protagonist of the series also happens to be a 37-year-old man, which isn’t the most common in translated manga. Of course, as can be safely assumed from the title, he soon dies only to start life again as a slime, one of the lowliest monsters there is. Mikami accepts this turn of fate pretty quickly and focuses his attention on gaining the ability to verbally communicate with the adventurers and other creatures he encounters. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s essentially been leveling up the entire time he’s been trying to find a way to talk and has unintentionally become one of the most powerful monsters in the area, inadvertently gaining a large following in the process.

Notes of a CrocodileNotes of a Crocodile by Miaojin Qiu. So far, only two of Qiu’s long-form works have been translated into English. Last Words from Montmarte, originally published posthumously after the author’s suicide at the age of twenty-six, was released in translation in 2014 and the English-language edition of Notes of a Crocodile, described as a cult classic of queer Taiwanese literature, was more recently released in 2017. Notes of a Crocodile is also one of Qiu’s most highly acclaimed and well-known works. The novel is about a small group of lovesick and psychologically troubled queer college students coming of age in Taipei in the late 1980s. The narrative unfolds as a series of notebooks which contain a combination of diary-like entries, letters between friends and lovers, and fragments of a surreal story about crocodiles posing as humans, in part a metaphor for those who have to live hidden lives. The narrator of Notes of a Crocodile is nicknamed Lazi, a young lesbian woman with self-destructive tendencies who is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. The women she falls obsessively in love with and their doomed romances feature prominently as do the tumultuous and fraught relationships between her and her small group of extremely close friends. Notes of a Crocodile is a beautiful work but it is also filled with pain, desperation, and longing–the novel resonated very strongly with me and I hope to read more of Qiu’s work.

My Week in Manga: August 21-August 27, 2017

My News and Reviews

I was away last week traveling for work as well as for yet another family wedding (this year has been full of them), but I still managed to post a review before it was all said and done. It’s several month’s later than I really intended it to be since the manga was actually released back in May, but I’ve finally reviewed the first omnibus of My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame. The manga was easily one of my most anticipated releases for 2017. I’ve actually been collecting the series in Japanese (even though my reading comprehension of the language isn’t quite where it needs to be yet), but I am incredibly happy that it’s being translated into English. I’m not sure when the second and final omnibus is scheduled to be released, but there’s not question that I’ll be picking it up once it’s available.

Quick Takes

Assassin's Creed: Awakening, Volume 1Assassin’s Creed: Awakening, Volume 1 written by Takashi Yano and illustrated by Kenji Oiwa. There have been numerous Assassin’s Creed comic adaptations published by Titan Comics, so including Yano and Oiwa’s Awakening  as part of its catalog seems an obvious choice to make even though the publisher doesn’t typically release many manga. Admittedly, I’ve not played very much of any of the Assassin’s Creed video games (although what I have played I’ve largely liked) and I’m not especially familiar with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the installment upon which Awakening is loosely based. What primarily drew me to the series was the involvement of Oiwa, one of the creators behind the manga adaptations of Otsuichi’s Goth and Welcome to the N.H.K., both of which I greatly enjoyed. Awakening alternates between two stories taking place in different time periods which turn out to be deeply connected to each other although the depth of that connection isn’t immediately clear. The first, and the one I prefer, is set in the early eighteenth century and follows Edward Kenway, a pirate captain who gets caught up in the conflict between the Templars and Assassins. Centuries later, that conflict is still ongoing, impacting the life of Masato Yagyu and his family in unexpected ways.

The Backstagers, Volume 1: Rebels without ApplauseThe Backstagers, Volume 1: Rebels without Applause written by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Rian Sygh, and colors by Walter Baiamonte. I believe The Backstagers first came to my attention when it was featured on a list of ongoing comics series which included trans characters. And indeed, one of the characters in The Backstagers–and an important main character at that–is a transguy, something that is almost unheard of in mainstream comics. (Also of note, the series’ co-creator and illustrator is also trans, which I hadn’t initially realized.) That was enough to make me interested in the series, and the first volume was more than enough to make me a fan. The Backstagers is set at an all-boys high school and largely follows the stage crew of the drama club. Jory, a recent transfer student, who at first he thought he wanted to be an actor ultimately finds himself swept up in the magic of what happens behind the scenes. Quite literally, actually. The Backstagers is a tremendous amount of high-energy fun with brightly colored artwork and sparkles, blushing, and flowers galore. The comic is also delightfully queer and diverse, breaking down gender stereotypes by presenting a wide variety of masculinities. I absolutely loved the first volume of The Backstagers and definitely look forward to more.

Nirvana, Volume 1Nirvana, Volume 1 by Jin and Sayuki. Due to her selflessness and devotion to volunteer efforts, Yachiyo Hitotose has become known as the Modern-Day Florence Nightingale. While on a trip to help those in need overseas, Yachiyo’s flight crashes and she suddenly finds herself reincarnated in another world known as Gulgraf. Believed to be the new embodiment of the divine goddess Sakuya, the bringer of light, Yachiyo has naturally taken upon herself to rescue and protect the residents of Gulgaf from the powers of darkness. As well-meaning as she is, Yachiyo will still need plenty of help if she wants to make a difference, especially as there are those who already want her dead. And so she sets off on an adventure, traveling across the world in search of allies as she learns to control the new powers she has been granted. Nirvana does seem to at least in part be be inspired by Buddhist and Hindu mythologies and mysticism–which honestly is what compelled me to give the series a try–but at this point they seem to be used mostly as a veneer and to provide the series’ most basic narrative structure and worldbuilding. I wasn’t as captivated as I was hoping to be with Nirvana, but I was still entertained by the first volume which takes a much more comedic approach than I was expecting.