Random Musings: Seven Years of Experiments in Manga

As of today, I have been writing at Experiments in Manga for SEVEN YEARS. And of those, four have been spent as a contributing member to Manga Bookshelf and its cohort of blogs. I have spent much of this past year trying to find a balance between my writing and reviewing and the multitude of other responsibilities requiring my focus and attention. I had to cut back significantly on my posting, more than I really would have liked, but was still largely happy with what I was able to achieve both with Experiments in Manga and in other areas of my life. Among other things, over the past twelve months I’ve been granted the rank of shodan in traditional Okinawan karate, was hired for a new job at a different library, and started teaching introductory taiko classes. It’s all been rather tumultuous. But perhaps most importantly, at least for the sake of this post, I am now able to celebrate the seventh anniversary of Experiments in Manga!

Unlike past years, there weren’t really any big projects or special features at Experiments in Manga this time around. In fact, much to my dismay, I actually even stopped writing in-depth reviews for a few months. However, I re-found some of my inspiration to write after reading and reviewing the eighth omnibus of Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga after which I finally started to post long-form features a little more regularly again. Other reviews from the past year that were personally memorable or meaningful to me in some way include those for the marvelous children’s book Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, Yeon-sik Hong’s autobiographical manhwa Uncomfortably Happily, and most recently Kazuki Sakuraba’s soon to be released novel A Small Charred Face. I also continued two annual features that I especially enjoy, my random musings on notable releases for the year and my Toronto Comic Arts Festival adventures.

I started writing at Experiments in Manga seven years ago as a way to more actively engage with the online manga community. To some extent, I was successful with that. Not all of my experiences have necessarily been positive ones, but Experiments in Manga has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of people that otherwise I never would have. I especially cherish the friendships that have been fostered because of it. While I primarily write for myself, I also love sharing my excitement for manga and such with people; it makes me incredibly happy to know that at least from time to time others have found Experiments in Manga interesting, entertaining, or useful.

And so, while I am celebrating seven years of Experiments in Manga, it is with some amount of sadness that I am also announcing my semi-retirement from manga blogging. I will continue to regularly write at Experiments in Manga through the end of 2017, but once 2018 arrives I will no longer be actively posting here. However, I’ll still be a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, chiming in on the Manga the Week of and Pick of the Week features, and starting in January my quick takes on manga will be included as part of the Bookshelf Briefs. I’ll likely be a little more active on my Twitter account, too, using it as an additional outlet for my thoughts on a variety of topics. This all was an extremely difficult and even heart-wrenching decision for me to make, but while I remain conflicted, I do feel that it was ultimately the right choice. There are a number of different reasons behind it, but perhaps the most obvious is that the demands on my time only seem to increase with every year that goes by. And at this particular point in my life, I find I most want to return to my roots in music and to be able to devote more of my attention to studying, performing, and teaching taiko.

To conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and Experiments in Manga over these last seven years–my readers, colleagues, contributors, friends, family, publishers, industry contacts, the creators I’ve met, and anyone else who has taken the time to care, participate, comment, provide feedback, or share. Experiments in Manga truly couldn’t have lasted this long without your encouragement; I am incredibly grateful and appreciative of you all. Writing here has been an illuminating experience and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’m also going to miss it tremendously. Experiments in Manga and I have had our ups and downs, but I am honestly proud of some of the things that I have been able to accomplish both with and through it. Going forward I won’t be writing as much, but I will certainly be reading even more and hope to continue finding ways to share my love of manga, Japanese literature, and all of the other wonderful things that mean so much to me.

Random Musings: Six Years of Experiments in Manga

I did it! Experiments in Manga is officially six years old! While a respectable achievement in its own right, this anniversary is even more meaningful to me because I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the year. As many regular readers of Experiments in Manga know, I have needed to significantly cut back on how much I’m writing. I explained a bit about the change in posting schedule and what to expect couple of months ago, but basically my already limited amount of free time has been dramatically reduced. The causes, while time-consuming, haven’t all been bad, though. I’ve bought a house and my family has moved, which will be fantastic in the long run even if it was initially extremely stressful. After passing an audition in February, I’m now playing taiko semi-professionally. (Being an established, performing musician means a tremendous amount to me personally since for many years I had given up on that even being a possibility; I would love to make my living through music one day.) I’m also still trying to adjust to this whole parenthood thing, too.

But even with all that and more going on in my life, I have managed to find a way to keep Experiments in Manga going in some small capacity, so I’m going to celebrate that fact. At Experiments in Manga’s peak I was posting on average four features each week; now I’m doing my best to post two. It hurts to have cut back so much and I’d love to write more but, because writing is so difficult for me to begin with and because I’m so incredibly busy, that’s not a sustainable option for me at the moment. By necessity, at least for the foreseeable future, most in-depth features will rely on me being truly inspired to write. This might not actually be a bad thing; what I’m lacking in quantity I do hope that I can at least make up for in quality. (Though to be completely honest, I’m not at all confident about my ability to do so!)

Anyway, enough of all of that! I have been reading and writing about manga, Japanese literature, and other tangentially related items for six years! Six years! That’s pretty impressive, especially when considering the circumstances. Even though I’m writing less, looking back over the past year I am still happy with much of what I’ve been able to do. The manga and comic reviews that seemed to be particularly popular (or at least most frequently read/visited) from the last year included Hiroaki Samura’s Die Wergelder, Omnibus 1, Inio Asano’s A Girl on the Shore, Rokudenashiko’s What Is Obscenity?, Studio Kôsen’s Windrose, Volume 1, and Yui Sakuma’s Complex Age, Volume 1. I was also able to successfully wrap up my horror manga review project which featured Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare and Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi.

As for the non-manga reviews from the last year that people seemed to be particularly interested in there was Project Itoh’s Genocidal Organ, Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders, the tenth volume of Mechademia, Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, and Ryu Murakami’s short story collection Tokyo Decadence. (I’ve apparently been reading a fair amount of Japanese mystery and crime fiction of late, which is reflected in that list.) Although I’ve written mostly reviews at Experiments in Manga, the features that I often end up enjoying working on the most tend to be the non-reviews like my write-up of TCAF 2016 or my overview of Mushishi adaptations. The post from the last year that was probably my personal favorite was A Moment of Respite in Kohske’s Gangsta, some random musings sparked by a single scene in the manga. Generally, these types of features require significantly more inspiration than standard reviews, but I suspect that they may become slightly more common going forward as I shift my approach to writing at Experiments in Manga.

One last thing: I’d like to thank all of my readers, past and present, old and new. When I started Experiments in Manga it was in part to connect more with other readers and fans of manga and I think that it helped me to do that. I primarily write for myself, but it makes me tremendously happy to know that at least on occasion other people actually do find the site useful or interesting. I love hearing from people who have given something a try or have learned about something new because of what I’ve written here. I hope that in the coming year Experiments in Manga can continue to inspire people even if I’m not able to write as much as I once was. Thank you to everyone for your kindness and support over the last year and for sticking with me! It’s time to get started on year seven.

Random Musings: Five Years of Experiments in Manga

As of today, Experiments in Manga is now five years old! In some ways it feels like I’ve been writing here forever, and in other ways it seems like I’ve just started. When I first began Experiments in Manga, I had no idea how long it was going to last (honestly, I still don’t know), but I am rather pleased that I’ve been able to keep it going for so many years. And I find it especially impressive when I stop to consider all of the other things going on in my life right now.

What are some of those other things, exactly? Well, I and my partners all managed to survive our first year of parenthood, for one. (As did the little one, whose first birthday was last week.) That has certainly been a huge change in my life. I’m incredibly busy at work of late, too, since my supervisor retired in December and I’m still filling in for that position on top of my regular one. Another significant development is that I am now part of the leadership team for a new taiko performance group and I’ve more or less become an alternate for another semi-pro ensemble. I’ve actually been doing some teaching and composing for taiko, too. It’s all been rather exciting. And extremely challenging. And a bit exhausting.

There really doesn’t seem to be such a thing as “free time” anymore for me, and since Experiments in Manga is something that I do in my free time… Well, this past year is the first year that I’ve posted fewer things than I did in the year immediately preceding. Although I have been able to maintain a regular schedule, overall I’m reading less, and I’m writing less, too. I miss both things terribly (the reading especially), but I might have to cut back even more in the coming year depending on how things continue to progress and for the sake of my own sanity.

For example, I’ve decided to quietly retire the Discovering Manga and Finding Manga features. I enjoyed writing them, but I’m just not posting them frequently or regularly enough. (Which I then end up feeling guilty about.) But although I may be saying goodbye to those particular features, last year I actually introduced a new one that seems to be rather popular: Adaptation Adventures. I’ve only posted two so far—Udon Entertainment’s Manga Classics (which incidentally was one of my top posts from the last year) and The Twelve Kingdoms—but I’m hoping and looking forward to writing more.

Speaking of top posts, my Spotlight on Masaichi Mukaide was very well received. In fact, it wasn’t just one of the top posts from last year, it’s one of Experiments in Manga’s most frequently visited pages ever. It probably helped that the spotlight made the rounds on general comics sites in addition to catching the attention of manga enthusiasts. That single post may very well be the most noteworthy thing that I’ve ever written. Likely, I’ll never be able to top it. I’dbe lying if I tried to say that I wasn’t at least a little proud of it.

The most popular (or at least most frequently viewed) manga reviews at Experiments in Manga from the last year included the anthology Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, Mentaiko Itto’s Priapus, Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1, and Yaya Sakuragi’s Hide and Seek, Volume 1. (On a personal note, I am rather pleased that all five of those manga to one degree or another have a queer bent to them.)

As for my top non-manga reviews from the past year there was The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan by Ivan Morris, Haikasoru’s anthology Phantasm Japan: Fantasies Light and Dark from and about Japan, Frederik L. Schodt’s Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics, Seven Seas’ edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Kriss Sison, and Yu Godai’s Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1.

I’m actually pretty happy to see Avatar Tuner on that list; the novel was one of the books published in 2014 that left the greatest impression on me. As was Massive, for that matter. Last year was actually only the second time that I compiled a list of notable manga, comics, and prose, but I’ll likely compile another one for 2015 since I had so much fun putting together the first two. Plus, other people seem to enjoy them. That goes for my TCAF posts, too, which remain popular. As long as I attend TCAF, and as long as I’m still writing at Experiments in Manga, I plan on rounding up my experiences at the festival.

Another feature of sorts that I’ve continued to work on is my monthly manga review project—a recurring set of reviews that focuses on a specific series or genre. In November, I wrapped up my second project, “Year of Yuri”, a series of reviews featuring manga and comics with lesbian themes. For the following review project, I was feeling in the mood for some horror manga. But while I picked the genre, I let readers of Experiments in manga pick the series. It ended up being a tie between Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare and Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, so I decided to review both series, alternating between them each month. At the moment, I’m about halfway through the project.

I still maintain that I write Experiments in Manga for myself, but it does give me great satisfaction and joy to know that other people read and appreciate it as well. Over the last year several readers have let me know that they’ve given a particular manga, comic, or novel a try simply because I wrote about it. I and Experiments in Manga have started to be referenced and cited in Wikipedia as well as other places online as well, including an Italian comics website. (Admittedly, while very cool, I also find this kind of terrifying.) As always, I would like to thank everyone out there who reads and supports my efforts here at Experiments in Manga. It’s truly appreciated. I hope that I can continue to improve and continue to provide content that is useful or at least occasionally interesting. Here’s to another year!

Random Musings: Four Years of Experiments in Manga

I have been writing about manga, Japanese literature, and other related (and occasionally not-so-related) subjects here at Experiments in Manga for four years now. That’s…kind of incredible in its own small way. I don’t generally delve too deeply into my personal life on the blog, but this past year has been particularly momentous for me, and not just because I’ve managed to keep Experiments in Manga going for so long.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing all sorts of coming out both online and off. I’m very fortunate to be in a place in my life where I am able to be more open about who I am, and I’m probably the happiest that I have ever been because of it. My family, friends, and coworkers have all been amazingly supportive. I’m also currently a month into recovering from a major surgery that (without going into all of the gory details) has improved my quality of life tremendously. And a little less than a week ago I and my partners became parents. So, yeah, there have been some big changes in my life over the last year!

As for Experiments in Manga, there have been some changes here, too. Probably the most noteworthy is that Experiments in Manga joined the Manga Bookshelf family of blogs and has now been a part of that cohort for a year. In addition to keeping up with my writing at Experiments in Manga, I also regularly participate in Manga Bookshelf’s group posts. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of Manga Bookshelf and working more closely with other manga bloggers. It’s brought Experiments in Manga more readers and commenters, too, which for the most part has been a lot of fun.

After almost two years of effort, I was finally able to wrap up my Blade of the Immortal review project in November. It was a good and challenging experience for me, and one that I wanted to repeat. So I let Experiments in Manga’s readers pick which manga I would tackle next. In a few months I’ll be wrapping up my Year of Yuri monthly review project and once again I’ll be putting my next review project up for a vote. I also had a couple of smaller, informal review projects over the past year. Back in January I celebrated my very own “Usamaru Furuya Week” by reviewing everything of his available in English that I hadn’t already. And every weekend in March I reviewed a volume of Takehiko Inoue’s phenomenal manga Real. (Because March equals basketball, or something like that.)

Last year saw more queer content discussed at Experiments in Manga than ever before. It wasn’t entirely done intentionally (well, except for the Year of Yuri project), but I’ll admit that it did make me happy. Many of those posts, like my random musings on a lecture about queer theory, Japanese literature, and translation and my review of Jeffery Angles’ Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature, have been some of my most popular, or at least most frequently visited. Gengoroh Tagame also appears to be a perennial favorite; quite a bit of interest continues to be shown in my Two from Tagame post, which looks at two of his manga released relatively recently in English: Endless Game and Gunji.

Actually, one of the posts that I was personally very satisfied with from last year, a Spotlight on Kaita Murayama, was also somewhat queer-related. In general, I’ve been writing more of these Random Musings features. I’ve really enjoyed working on these posts. They allow me to be a little more freeform and talk about things that aren’t necessarily suited for the format that I currently use for my in-depth reviews. Other non-reviews that haven’t yet been mentioned that I was particularly happy with or that were otherwise well received include my thoughts on TCAF 2014, tips on finding manga in libraries, and a list of some of the notable releases of 2013. I had never done one of these end-of-the-year lists before, but it was surprisingly fun, so I’ll most likely do it again.

As for the in-depth reviews from the last year that seemed to be especially popular, I was a little surprised to see the amount of interest shown in some of the nonfiction titles that I read, such as The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan and The Way of Taiko (both of which were great). My review of the omnibus of the Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy of novels received a fair amount of attention, too. The five manga reviews from the past year that were the most frequently visited included Saki Nakagawa’s Attack on Titan: Junior High, Volume 1, Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, Torajiro Kishi’s Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1, Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato’s Sherlock Bones, Volume 1, and Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga, Omnibus 1.

By this point I seem to have settled into a fairly predictable posting schedule at Experiments in Manga. Each week sees at least three or four posts, occasionally more if I have some sort of project going on or am feeling particularly inspired. I think I’ve said this every year so far, but I really would love to write more than I do. Sadly, my free time is very limited and from here on out (with the kidling and all) it will be even more so. Right now three to four posts a week still seems like it should be a reasonable and manageable pace for me, though.

I’ve said this every year, too, but as always I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to all of the readers of Experiments in Manga, both new and old. I mostly write for myself, but it is extremely satisfying to know that Experiments in Manga is at least occasionally interesting or helpful to other people as well. There certainly is plenty of room for improvement—I know there are some things that I don’t do very well and need to work on—but generally I’ve been very happy with the continued evolution of Experiments in Manga and the general direction the site has been taking. Thank you all for your support over the last year. Here’s hoping that the next one will be even better!

Experiments in Manga at Manga Bookshelf

Experiments in Manga has joined Manga Bookshelf! The site will no longer be updating at Blogger, so if you have bookmarks in place you may want to update them to http://experimentsinmanga.mangabookshelf.com/. Although I won’t be removing the old site, all of the content and comments have been moved to the new one. I’m hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible but I still have a bit of tidying up to do. I’ve tried my best to get everything to redirect properly, but if you notice anything missing or strange please do let me know. Thanks for your help and thanks for sticking with me! And now:

A huge welcome to new readers of Experiments in Manga and an even bigger thank you to returning readers!

My name is Ash Brown. I’m a musician by training, a librarian by profession, a blogger by choice, and a manga addict by nature. My interest in Japan and Japanese culture actually extends far beyond manga and includes other literature, art, music, language, food, and probably anything else you can imagine. I practice traditional Okinawan karate-do (specifically Shōrin-ryū and Shūdōkan) as well as kobujutsu. I also happen to be a member of a taiko ensemble. Oh, and I love riichi mahjong. I’m pretty bad at it, though.

My day job has absolutely nothing to do with manga (although once I did catalog a collection of underground and independent comics; that was pretty cool.) Experiments in Manga is a personal site that I write and maintain entirely in my free time. I would actually like to write more than I do, but unfortunately that free time is very limited. Besides, I like to spend some of my waking hours actually reading, too.

I started Experiments in Manga in 2010 (mostly for myself) as a way to interact with the manga blogging community to a greater extent and to help keep track of all the manga that I read. And I read a lot of manga. Depending on who you ask I either have a very eclectic taste or no taste at all. I’m extremely open-minded and difficult to offend. I read and enjoy manga from just about every genre and aimed at any demographic or audience.

What can you expect from Experiments in Manga? Typically, I release three or four posts a week, including the weekly My Week in Manga feature. I also write in-depth reviews, among other things. Not surprisingly, the primary focus of Experiment in Manga is on manga but I also cover Japanese literature and write about tangentially related subjects and other things that interest me as well. I currently hold a monthly manga giveaway which allows me to quite literally share my love of manga. It also gives me an excuse to make lists. I love lists.

I am absolutely delighted to be joining the Manga Bookshelf Battle Robot. I’ve been a devoted reader of Manga Bookshelf since I discovered the site and some of my most admired manga bloggers are associated with the group. I consider it a great honor to be invited to join. I’m truly looking forward to working with everyone at Manga Bookshelf and hope that readers (new and old) will find Experiments in Manga at least occasionally interesting or useful!