Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

Edited by: Frédéric Boilet and Masanao Amano
U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788496427167
Released: December 2005

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, a project coordinated by Frédéric Boilet and Masanao Amano, is a part of the Nouvelle Manga artistic movement, a collaboration between Franco-Belgium and Japanese comic creators. The volume was published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2005. It was also released in five other language editions at that time: Japanese, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. The collection brings together eight creators who were living in Japan (including Boilet) and nine French-speaking creators from outside of the country who were invited to visit Japan for two weeks as part of the project. I had previously read the volume but because Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators includes Moyoco Anno’s short manga “The Song of the Crickets,” I wanted to look at the collection again for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast. I have an even greater appreciation for the anthology now that I recognize and am familiar with more of the contributors and their work than I did the first time reading it.

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators begins with Kan Takahama’s beautifully illustrated, slightly nostalgic and melancholy story “At the Seaside” which takes place in Amakusa at the far western tip of Japan where she was born and raised. Each subsequent piece in the collection slowly works its way north and east across the country. The first contribution included by a French-speaking creator was “The Gateway” by David Prudhomme who visited Fukuoka. It, Aurélia Aurita’s delightful “Now I Can Die!,” and Fabrice Neaud’s “The City of Trees” read very much like travelogues and memoirs, although Prudhomme’s piece has a touch of the fantastic to it. Nicolas de Crécy’s “The New Gods” is also a travelogue of sorts but is told from the perspective of a work-in-progress searching for inspiration among Japan’s advertisements and mascots. In “Waterloo’s Tokyo,” Joann Sfar channels the thoughts and feelings his French friend living in Japan has for the city. “Osaka 2034” by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters and Emmanuel Guibert’s “Shin.Ichi” aren’t so much comics as they are illustrated narratives.

Interspersed between the contributions from French-speaking creators are the works created by comic artists living in Japan. Frédéric Boilet, active in both Japanese and European comics, serves as a sort of bridge between the two groups. His piece, “Love Alley,” features a discussion about trash and recycling collection in Japan which steadily becomes a much more personal conversation as the comic progresses. Both Jiro Taniguchi’s “Summer Sky” and little Fish’s “The Sunflower” are slice-of-life stories, although “The Sunflower” is more surreal and completely without words. Moyoco Anno’s period piece “The Song of the Crickets” is beautifully drawn and atmospheric. “Kankichi” by Taiyo Matsumoto, “The Festival of the Bell-Horses” by Daisuke Igarashi, and “In the Deep Forest” by Kazuichi Hanawa all have folkloric and religious influences and undertones. The collection concludes with Étienne Davodeau’s “Sapporo Fiction” which follows a Japanese gentleman and a Frenchman who become traveling companions by chance.

What I appreciate the most about Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is the wide variety of artistic expression and styles of storytelling. There’s a wonderful mix of fiction and non-fiction, the fantastic and the mundane. The power of images and illustration is a common theme, as is the influence that each culture, French and Japanese, has had on the other. Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is a very aptly named volume as the collection give the contributors a chance to explore the country in a way that they each choose. The comics are largely personal works, whether they focus on reality or fantasy, the past or the future. As with any anthology, some of the pieces are stronger than others, and some will appeal more than others due to personal preference, but overall Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is a fascinating collection and an excellent project and collaboration.

Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast: Roundup Three

© Moyoco Anno

Welcome to the third Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast roundup!

As promised, I posted two reviews since the last roundup. I took a look at Sakuran: Blossoms Wild, the most recent of Anno’s manga to be published in English, as well as the first volume of Sugar Sugar Rune, the series which won Anno the Kodansha Manga Award for best children’s manga.

Both manga have strong-willed and saucy leads, but other than that they are very different. Sakuran is a period piece taking place in Yoshiwara, the pleasure district of Edo, while Sugar Sugar Rune is a fantasy in a more contemporary setting. Sakuran was serialized in a seinen magazine aimed at an adult male audience while Sugar Sugar Rune was shoujo created for girls between the ages of six and twelve. However, both manga have tremendous crossover appeal and show just how versatile a creator Anno can be.

Although not technically written for the Feast, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Melinda Beasi’s wonderful interview with Moyoco Anno on behalf The Beat which was recently posted—Interview: Moyoco Anno “I really don’t like women that much!”. The entire interview is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by Anno’s response when she was asked what she would like to see more of in comics for women:

So I think what I’d really like to see is comic books for women who are older–forty, fifty, or sixty–I don’t think that means you can’t write about romance anymore. You can still write about that theme, but I would love to see people writing for an older female audience–continue to write things like romance, but in a realistic way. That would be nice to see.

Today is technically the last day of the Feast, but I’m hoping to see more contributions before it ends. I will be posting one more roundup and a final farewell late tomorrow, so there’s still plenty of time to participate! Please let me know of any contributions that I might have missed and I will make sure to include them in the final roundup as well as in the archive. Please enjoy the rest of the Feast!

Sugar Sugar Rune, Volume 1

Creator: Moyoco Anno
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345486295
Released: September 2005
Original release: 2004
Awards: Kodansha Manga Award

Sugar Sugar Rune was the third manga series by Moyoco Anno to be licenced in English. The first volume of Sugar Sugar Rune was released in Japan in 2004. The English-language edition, published by Del Rey Manga, was released only a year later in 2005. Unlike all of Anno’s other manga currently available in English, Sugar Sugar Rune is a shoujo manga created for a younger audience, specifically girls between the ages of six and twelve. However, the series also appeals to adult readers. Sugar Sugar Rune is probably one one Anno’s most popular and well known manga series. Anno received the 2005 Kodansha Manga Award for best children’s manga for Sugar Sugar Rune. The manga was also adapted into a fifty-one episode anime series between 2005 and 2006. I thoroughly enjoyed Sugar Sugar Rune when I first read it and was happy to have the excuse of the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast to take a another look at the series.

Chocolat Meilleure and Vanilla Mieux are two best friends whose personalities couldn’t be more different. Vanilla is shy and reserved while Chocolat is brash and outgoing. Now the two of them are rivals as well as friends—both of the young witch girls have been selected as a candidate for the next Queen of the Magical World. As part of the test to determine who will become Queen, Chocolat and Vanilla are sent to the Human World to see who can capture the most hearts. Chocolat’s aggressive personality, which was admired in the Magical World, seems to have put her at a disadvantage in the Human World where most boys appear to prefer the more demure Vanilla. But that’s not about to stop Chocolat from doing her best to win over, and take, the hearts of those she meets.

In part, Sugar Sugar Rune is a magical girl series and so many of the tropes and conventions of that genre are present. There are strong themes of love, friendship, and staying true to yourself as well as plenty of accessories and merchandising opportunities. But underneath Sugar Sugar Rune‘s sugary, candy-coated exterior is a center that’s bittersweet. There is fun and magic, but there’s also the beginning of Chocolat’s coming-of-age story. Stealing hearts and playing with the feelings of others have some very real consequences with which the girls will have to come to terms. They also have to guard their own hearts carefully: humans can have their hearts taken multiple times, but witches and wizards only have one true heart. Should a witch fall in love with another person and have her heart stolen she may even die.

Sugar Sugar Rune starts out innocently enough but there are also hints of something more ominous brewing. I think that’s one of the things that makes the series so engaging. I also love Anno’s characters and their designs. Chooclat really steals the show in the first volume. I wasn’t as enamored with Vanilla at first, but she did grow on me. The secondary characters are great, too—everyone from the girls’ guardian of sorts Robin, who makes his living in the Human World as an idol stealing the hearts of women hundreds at a time, to the neighborhood boy and classmate Akira, who is obsessed with aliens and is convinced Chocolat is from another planet. Anno’s artwork is a wonderful as always although occasionally there’s so much going on on a given page that it can be overwhelming. Sugar Sugar Rune is a truly delightful series; the first volume only gives a taste of what is to come.

Sakuran: Blossoms Wild

Creator: Moyoco Anno
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654452
Released: July 2012
Original release: 2003

Sakuran: Blossoms Wild by Moyoco Anno was initially serialized in the manga magazine Evening between 2001 and 2003 before being collected into a single volume in Japan in 2003. The English-language edition of Sakuran was published by Vertical in 2012. It’s a physically beautiful volume with a foil color and retaining Anno’s color pages. The previous manga by Anno to be released in English, the final volume of Sugar Sugar Rune, was published in 2008. Four years later, I was thrilled to finally have more of Anno’s work available in English. Except for her short manga “The Song of the Crickets,” collected in the anthology Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, Sakuran is currently the only historical period piece by Anno in English; her other manga all take place in contemporary settings. Although I’m only now getting around to actually reviewing Sakuran for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast, I was very excited for its release.

Kiyoha is one of the highest-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara, the pleasure district in Edo. She hasn’t always held that position, though. Bought as a young girl by Tamagiku House, Kiyoha began her service as a maid but her good looks and cleverness made her an ideal choice to become an apprentice courtesan. Kiyoha’s willfulness and lack of social graces prove problematic and her attempts to escape Tamagiku lead to her being severely punished. Life in Yoshiwara is an extremely difficult one and the women who live there have very little control over their own existences. Kiyoha, like so many of the other courtesans, is both admired and hated. It’s a harsh world. Every glimmer of hope, as few of them as there are, is accompanied by sadness, heartbreak, and tragedy. And yet Kiyoha perseveres.

Sakuran is one of the most realistic and honest portrayals of sex work in Edo-era Japan that I’ve come across in manga or in fiction in general. No doubt Sakuran is sensual, but the brothels and the lives of the courtesans haven’t been glamorized or romanticized. The story is almost matter-of-fact in its presentation. There is explicit sexual content in Sakuran, which probably shouldn’t be too surprising considering the manga’s subject matter, but Anno handles it very tastefully. Even though the women in Sakuran are largely powerless, forced to work within a system not of their own choosing, they are also incredibly strong. Becoming a high-ranking courtesan had its benefits but also carried with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. Supporting their houses and those who served them was often a thankless job.

Before reading Sakuran, I had never seen any of Anno’s color work. I am very glad that Vertical kept the color pages for the English release of the volume because they are gorgeous. Some might find Anno’s art style to be ugly, but it is also exquisitely elegant. I love it. I’ve always been a fan of Anno’s distinctive artwork, but Sakuran is particularly arresting visually. Anno has an interest in fashion and Sakuran allows her to really let loose. The attention she gives to the details of the elaborate kimono and intricate hairstyles and their accessories is stunning. Sakuran is a beautiful manga. It may only be a single volume, but that also means it’s more immediately accessible than her longer series. Sakuran is one of Anno’s more serious and sophisticated works, but I also think it’s one of her strongest overall. Simply put, Sakuran is marvelous.

Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast: Roundup Two

© Moyoco Anno

Today is the second Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast roundup!

Except, it appears as though the only new Feast content was posted here at Experiments in Manga. I took a look at the first volume of Happy Mania, which was the very first manga by Anno to be published in English. I also posted a review of Flowers & Bees, Volume 1, which was the first seinen series that Anno created as well as the second of her series to be translated into English.

Although the two series are definitely their own works, they do share many similarities: rude and raunchy humor that can be a little harsh, absurd and ridiculous characters and situations, and protagonists who both have terrible luck when it comes to love, just to mention a few. I enjoy both series immensely, but I can more closely identify with Komatsu from Flowers & Bees than I can with Shigeta from Happy Mania. Interestingly enough, Anno mentioned in an interview that Komatsu was the character of hers who most closely reflected her own personality and experiences.

So, that’s where things are with the Feast at the moment. I have posts planned for the rest of the week, but I’m looking forward to reading others’ even more. And if I’ve missed any contributions, please let me know so that I can add them to the next roundup and to the archive!