My Week in Manga: April 10-April 16, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga was relatively quiet, but I did post the Bookshelf Overload for March. As mentioned in that post (and I think sometime prior to that as well), I’m currently in the process of changing jobs, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied to say the least. (If you follow me on Twitter, this largely explains my sporadic appearances there.) This week is my last week in my current position, so I’m understandably pretty busy with meetings and tying up loose ends and such. I still plan on finishing up and posting my review of the first volume of Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side sometime this week, but it will probably be towards the end.

Over the last week, Seven sees announced a couple more new licenses: Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s Perfect Blue novels (which were the basis for Satoshi Kon’s anime film of the same name) as well as Jin and Sayuki’s manga series Nirvana. Yen Press also had a slew of announcements: Natsume Ono’s ACCA 13 (probably the one I’m most excited about), Kudan Naduka and Nakoto Sanada’s Angel of Slaughter, Matoba’s As Miss Beelzebub Likes, Rihito Takarai’s Graineliers, Afro’s Laid-Back Camp?, Mufirushi Shimazaki’s The Monster Tamer Girls, Koromo’s A Polar Bear in Love, Matcha Hazuki’s One Week Friends, Fuse’s Regarding Reincarnating as Slime light novel (Kodansha Comics has licensed the manga), both the light novel and manga of Carlo Zen’s The Saga of Evil Tanya, Okina Baba’s light novel So I’m a Spider, So What?, Keiichi Shigusawa and Tadadi Tamori’s Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, Abec’s Sword Art Online Artworks artbook, Reki Kawahara and Shii Kiya’s Sword Art Online: Calibur, Mai Tanaka’s Terrified Teacher at Ghoul School, Kakashi Oniyazu’s Though You May Burn to Ash, and Ryousuke Asakura’s Val X Love.

As for crowdfunding efforts, Digital Manga will be launching its most recent Juné Kickstarter sometime later today in an effort to publish print editions of some of Psyche Delico’s manga which were previously only released digitally. (This is in addition to recently announced print licenses of Psyche Delico’s Even a Dog Won’t Eat It and Choco Strawberry Vanilla.) Another Kickstarter project to keep an eye on is Retrofit Comic’s Spring 2017 collection which includes Yuichi Yokoyama’s Iceland. (In general Retrofit Comics releases some great books, but this will be the publisher’s first manga to be translated.) Finally, the wonderful people behind Queer Japan are currently raising funds for the film’s post-production as well as some of the non-profit organizations featured in the documentary.

Quick Takes

Dawn of the Arcana, Volume 7Dawn of the Arcana, Volumes 7-13 by Rei Toma. I enjoyed the first part of Dawn of the Arcana a great deal and so was looking forward to reading the rest of the series. As the manga progresses it becomes less reliant on the standard fantasy tropes that form its base, although it never escapes them entirely. However, even considering this, Dawn of the Arcana is still a satisfying and enjoyable series. The story’s most dramatic plot twist I guessed at long before it was actually revealed, but there were still developments and directions that the story took that managed to surprise me. At times it felt like Dawn of the Arcana was only scratching the surface, as if the manga was only providing a summary version of a much more complicated narrative. The characters and story have depth to them, but not everything is thoroughly and completely explored, much of the more nuanced interpretations being left to the readers to form. I really liked Dawn of the Arcana. It can be heartbreaking–the characters’ struggling with circumstances that have no easy resolutions–but also thrilling as they find ways to take control of their own fates.

Murciélago, Volume 1Murciélago, Volume 1 by Yoshimurakana. I was forewarned about the violence, gore, and otherwise explicit nature of Murciélago, so I was well aware of what I was getting myself into by picking up the manga. Murciélago is ridiculous, absurd, extreme, over-the-top, and a great deal of fun if someone doesn’t have a problem with the series’ aforementioned blood and brutality. Interestingly, the risqué lesbian sex scenes which both open and close the first volume, while being deliberately lewd, scandalous, and outrageous are also entirely consensual and in a way are bizarrely one of the more wholesome aspects of the manga. The lead of Murciélago is Kuroko Koumori, a dangerous, murderous, and lecherous woman who has been sentenced to death for her crimes. Kuroko is a monster and is portrayed as such. (She’s an awful person, but I really like her as a character.) The only reason that she’s still alive is that the police have indefinitely postponed her execution in order to take advantage of her impressive skills as an assassin. So, yeah, Murciélago definitely isn’t a series for everyone, but I certainly plan on reading more of it.

Triton of the Sea, Omnibus 2Triton of the Sea, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 3-4) by Osamu Tezuka. It has been a very long time since I read the first half of Triton of the Sea. So long ago in fact that I had forgot that I hadn’t actually finished the series yet. Fortunately, the manga was pretty easy to pick up again. I seem to like Triton of the Sea best when the story centers its focus on family. In the first omnibus, it was Triton’s relationships with his human family that really captured my attention and in the second it was his experiences as a new father that most delighted me. (It probably didn’t hurt that the baby merfolk were super cute.) Triton of the Sea is also a story of revenge. Triton is determined destroy the Poseidon clan for the sake of his people who have been nearly driven to extinction, his desire for retribution blinding him from seeing other courses of action that might allow the two clans to establish a lasting peace. This of course only serves to continue the cycle of violence that puts him and his loved ones in danger. Triton of the Sea isn’t Tezuka’s strongest or most notable work, but I did appreciate the themes that Tezuka was exploring with the series.

Wandering Island, Volume 1Wandering Island, Volume 1 by Kenji Tsuruta. The premise of Wandering Island is fairly simple: Mikura Amelia is a pilot for an air delivery service based in the Izu Islands that she and her grandfather established together. When he unexpectedly passes away, she understandably takes it pretty hard. While in mourning she discovers package among her grandfather’s belongings with an address on it that shouldn’t exist, leading Mikura to become obsessed with a search for a mysterious, disappearing island. Although there are some wonderful scenes of Mikura in flight, there’s not really much action in Wandering Island. Instead, the manga is rather leisurely paced with a contemplative and melancholic feel to it. Wandering Island is also beautifully illustrated, Tsuruta’s artwork being one of the series’ highlights. I love how Tsuruta is able to capture a sense of place and the people who live there. I’m not sure when or if the second volume of Wandering Island will be published in English (the Japanese edition itself isn’t even scheduled to be released until next month), but I would definitely like to see it translated.

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains PureHorses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima by Hideo Furukawa. Fukushima has been on my mind lately which reminded me of the fact that I had yet to read Furukawa’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, one of the first major literary responses to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters associated with March 11, 2011. The work is rather curious, but it’s also worthwhile and powerful. In part it’s a sequel of sorts to Furukawa’s novel Seikazoku (The Holy Family), which hasn’t actually been released in English. However, familiarity with that earlier work isn’t at all necessary. Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure also delves into the history of Fukushima as a whole, both before and after 2011. But perhaps most importantly, it’s an incredibly personal memoir. Though he was away at the time, Furukawa was originally from Fukushima. Soon after the disasters struck, he traveled back to the area in order to witness the aftermath of the events himself. A fair amount of the volume is devoted to Furukawa’s profound experiences while on that trip, combining fiction, history, and biography in a compelling way.

My Week in Manga: April 3-April 9, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid manga giveaway was announced. The post also includes a list of some of the manga available in print in English which feature dragons. Also posted last week was a guest review by my friend Jocilyn. She was inspired to write about Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1, the most recent yuri manga to be released by Yen Press. As mentioned previously, I’m currently working on my own in-depth review of the first volume of The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún by Nagabe. It looks like I should be on track to post it sometime next week.

Elsewhere online, Seven Seas has completely revamped its website, adding new features like browsing by genre, launching a newsletter, and so on. It looks great and what’s more, there will be a regular survey which provides readers an opportunity to give feedback and submit license requests. As part of the launch of the new website, Seven Seas also announced a few new licenses: Touki Yanagimi and Youhei Yasumura’s Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon, Shin Mashiba’s Yokai Rental Shop (I loved Mashiba’s Nightmare Inspector, so I’m really looking forward this one), and an omnibus of Fumiyo Kouno’s In This Corner of the World (Kouno is the creator of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms which is also excellent).

In other publishing news, some of Kodansha Comics digital-only titles were recently called digital-first, so there may yet be hope for print editions of some of the manga. I missed (or maybe forgot about) the initial announcement, but Titan Comics will be releasing Ravina the Witch? by Junko Mizuno in English later this year. (Ravina the Witch? was originally released in French in 2014.) In sadder news, Bruno Gmünder recently announced its bankruptcy (again). I’m not entirely sure what this will mean for the publisher’s past and future comics releases, including the Gay Manga line, but they might not stay in print long. (I’ve featured some of Bruno Gmünder’s releases here before; I’ll be sad to see them go if the publisher folds.)

As for a few of the interesting Kickstarters that I’ve discovered lately: Emily Cheeseman is raising funds to release the print edition of Gawain and the Green Knight, a beautiful webcomic that she’s been working on since 2015. I wasn’t previously familiar with the work of Elise Schuenke, but Living Space looks like it should be another great queer-themed comic. And speaking of queer-themed comics, the initial campaign for the Tabula Idem tarot anthology wasn’t successful but the creative team has revised and relaunched the project. Finally, anyone interested in Weird Al may be curious about Kelly Phillips’ comic memoir Weird Me about her experiences as the webmaster of a Weird Al fan site in her teens. (Weird Al’s music was a major touchstone for me growing up.)

Quick Takes

Dissolving ClassroomDissolving Classroom by Junji Ito. Lately there has been a resurgence in manga by Ito being released in English. In many cases they’ve actually been re-releases, but there have been a few newly-translated manga being published as well, Dissolving Classroom from Vertical Comics being the most recent example. I love Ito’s brand of horror manga and Dissolving Classroom was originally serialized in a josei magazine, so the volume was an obvious candidate for one of my most anticipated releases of the year. As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the manga, but Dissolving Classroom didn’t end up leaving as strong of an impression on me as some of Ito’s earlier works. The loosely connected stories in Dissolving Classroom follow the demise of the people who meet Yuuma, a young man whose constant apologizing will literally make a person’s brain melt, and his incredibly creepy little sister Chizumi. Neither of the siblings are quite what they initially seem. Yuuma in particular comes across as a troubled but largely benign individual; very few people actually realize what’s going wrong before it’s too late. Dissolving Classroom is bizarre but certainly not the strangest manga that Ito has created. The visuals aren’t as shockingly memorable as some of Ito’s other series either, but they are still successfully disconcerting.

Everyone's Getting Married, Volume 1Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 1 by Izumi Miyazono. While josei manga have recently become more common in translation (a trend that I would love to see continue), there still aren’t all that many to be found. I’ve generally enjoyed the josei manga that I’ve read in the past and I like to show my support for new releases, so I made a point to try Everyone’s Getting Married. Asuka is well-admired for her successful career, but what she really wants in life is to get married and become a housewife. When her boyfriend of five years unexpectedly dumps her, she suddenly finds herself looking for a new long-term relationship. That proves to be more difficult than she expected and unfortunately for her most likely candidate is Ryu, a man who has made it very clear that he has no interest in marriage. I’ve growing a little weary of high school romances, so I found Everyone’s Getting Married to be a wonderfully refreshing change of pace; I enjoyed reading about adults and their lives and relationships for once. I also like Asuka a great deal. She’s independent, knows what she wants out of life, and is willing to work hard for what is important to her. I’m looking forward to reading more about her and reading more of Everyone’s Getting Married.

Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1.5: Human-Error ProcessorGhost in the Shell, Volume 1.5: Human-Error Processor by Masamune Shirow. While I had previously read the first and second volumes of Ghost in the Shell, I had never actually read the manga’s third volume, something that I didn’t realize until Kodansha Comics recently re-released the entire series in a deluxe, hardcover edition. Even though it was the third volume of Ghost in the Shell to be collected and released, the events of Human-Error Processor take place between the first and second volumes (thus being numbered 1.5). The episodic chapters focus almost entirely Section 9 and the cases that group is investigating. A few intriguing new characters are introduced, but sadly the Major only makes the occasional guest appearance. Out of the three Ghost in the Shell volumes, Human-Error Processor is the most straightforward and easy to follow. While that’s something that I would generally welcome, the volume was somehow less interesting as a result even if it was more readable. As with the previous volumes in the series, some of the most interesting parts of the world-building in Human-Error Processor are actually only found in the footnotes instead of being directly incorporated into the manga.

NightlightsNightlights by Lorena Alvarez. It was the bold, vibrant colors and gorgeous illustrations of Nightlights that initially caught my attention. Alvarez is a Columbian illustrator; Nightlights is her first comic and my introduction to her work. Nightlights is about a little girl, Sandy, whose imagination takes flight at night. She gathers together small, mysterious, glowing lights and uses them to create anything that she can dream of. Come the day, she spends her time alone drawing what she has seen. It’s an innocent enough premise, but Nightlights can actually be pretty dark and some of the comic’s themes are fairly heavy. Nightlights could be described as an all-ages comic, but some younger readers might find it scary in places. There is also a depth and nuance to the comic and its narrative that only more mature readers will likely pick up on. Although the stories are notably different, Nightlights actually reminded me a little bit of the animated film The Secret of Kells which I likewise greatly enjoyed. Each in their own way the works are fairytale-like, telling stories about imagination, creation, and the unknown. Nightlights was a beautiful comic and I sincerely hope to see more work from Alvarez in the future.

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life UnstrungGone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym. In 2010, Kym’s Stradivarius was stolen from her in a London cafe. The violin was an integral part of her identity, not just as a musician but as a person, and its loss was devastating. Her burgeoning career as a soloist came to a sudden halt. The violin was recovered three years later, but circumstances didn’t allow Kym to reclaim the instrument as her own. Ultimately she had to put it up for auction, losing it once again. In part, Kym’s memoir Gone was written in an attempt to process these traumatic events, rediscover who she is, and move forward with her life. Telling her side of the story she recounts growing up as a child prodigy–as the youngest daughter, her family’s devotion to her talent as a violinist was at odds with their South Korean heritage–her development as a musician, and her relationships with the Stradivarius and the people around her. Gone is an incredibly heartfelt and personal memoir but it can be somewhat discursive; Kym’s style of writing is very informal and at times even chaotic. Her voice as an author isn’t as clear as her voice as a violinist, but her passion and pain resonates throughout Gone. Complementing the release of Kym’s memoir is a companion album available from Warner Classics.

My Week in Manga: March 13-March 19, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted an in-depth review of Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant by Kazuto Tatsuta. It’s an important and fascinating manga which reveals the day-to-day lives and work of the people who are directly involved with the ongoing cleanup following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in Japan. On a related note, a while back I also reviewed Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill’s Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster which provides a fairly comprehensive and approachable overview of the disasters themselves as well as some of the initial recovery efforts. As for future in-depth reviews, I’m currently working on one for Akira Himekawa’s The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 1 which I hope to post sometime later this week. (That would mean two reviews from me this month!) Initially I was planning to write a quick take on Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side, Volume 1 for today’s post, but I loved it so much that I want to delve into it more deeply, so expect to see a more comprehensive review for that manga in the relatively near future as well.

Quick Takes

Erased, Omnibus 1Erased, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Kei Sanbe. Although I haven’t actually watched it yet, Sanbe’s Erased manga was first brought to my attention due to its recent anime adaptation. I’ve heard very good things about it and so when Yen Press started releasing the original manga in a hardcover, omnibus edition it immediately caught my attention. Satoru Fujinuma has a peculiar ability which causes him to spontaneously travel back in time. Usually it happens just before some tragedy is about to occur, allowing him to try to prevent it, although doing so can sometimes cause problems for him personally. When a particularly traumatic event occurs, Satoru unexpectedly finds himself nearly two decades in his past, giving him the opportunity to try to stop a series of kidnappings and murders that haunted his childhood. While I found the story’s premise intriguing from the very start, it actually took me a little while to get into Erased. But by the end of the first volume I was hooked and by the end of the first omnibus I couldn’t wait to read more. (Also, fun fact!: Sanbe was one of Hirohiko Araki’s assistants and worked on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of AgesThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages by Akira Himekawa. Despite being a fan of The Legend of Zelda, I haven’t actually read very many of the video games’ manga adaptations. However, the Legendary Edition of Himekawa’s The Legend of Zelda manga that Viz Media has recently begun releasing may very well change that. With the handsome book designs, larger trim, color pages, and previously unreleased material, the new edition of the series is tremendously appealing. Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages is the second volume in the Legendary Edition to be released, adapting the two linked video games of the same name. I haven’t actually played the Oracle games so I can’t comment on the adaptation itself, but the manga is fun and energetic. The series is aimed at younger readers which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but the story and characters can occasionally come across as somewhat simplistic as a result. The antagonists in particular seem to lack nuance and tend to be evil for evil’s sake. But as a whole the Oracle manga are enjoyable adventures, following a young Link, a warrior of destiny but still a knight-in-training, as he tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life even while he’s saving the kingdom.

Samejima-kun and Sasahara-kunSamejima-kun and Sasahara-kun by Koshino. Currently, Samejima-kun and Sasahara-kun is the only boys’ love manga by Koshino to have been released in English in print, but I enjoyed it so much that I hope there will one day be more translated. For a while there Samejima-kun and Sasahara-kun had gone out-of-print, but it’s more-or-less available again. (Digital Manga seems to be using some sort of print-on-demand service to restock titles lately; sadly, though adequate, the production quality isn’t quite as good.) Samejima and Sasahara are both college classmates and coworkers at a convenience store. Everything seemed to be going along fine  between them until Samejima confesses that he has fallen in love with Sasahara, thereby putting their friendship in danger. At first Sasahara tries to ignore the development, wanting to just remain friends, but he comes to realize he enjoys the attention, if only he could get Samejima to believe him. Their relationship (as well as the eventual sex they have together) is endearingly awkward–Samejima obviously cares about Sasahara and vice versa, but they also annoy the hell out of each other in a way that only the closest friends can do. They’re an argumentative couple, but the manga’s humor makes it work.

Now with Kung Fu Grip!: How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for AmericaNow with Kung Fu Grip!: How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America by Jared Miracle. It would be understandable, if inaccurate, to assume from its title and description that Miracle’s Now with Kung Fu Grip! is a work of popular history. I personally found the subject matter to be interesting and learned quite a bit, however the book is difficult to recommend to a casual reader. While Miracle’s style of writing isn’t overly academic, it is incredibly dense and as a whole the volume seems unfocused. Most people will do well to simply read the book’s conclusion which provides an adequate summary, foregoing the rest of the content unless more explicit detail is desired. The cover image, taken from the Chinese martial arts film Fearless, is somewhat misleading as well as the book is almost exclusively devoted to Japanese martial arts and the ways in which they’ve been incorporated into American culture. Now with Kung Fu Grip! is less about martial arts themselves and more about their social and historical contexts and the mythologies and stories that practitioners construct around them. In particular, Miracle ties the evolution of Japanese martial arts traditions in America to their commercialization and to the changing interpretations and expectations of idealized American masculinity over time.

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power PlantCreator: Kazuto Tatsuta
Translator: Stephen Paul
U.S. Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632363558
Released: March 2017
Original release: 2014-2015
Awards: Manga Open

Although Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant isn’t Kazuto Tatsuta’s first manga, it is very likely the one for which he will be best known. Based on his experiences as a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the memoir provides an important and highly personal perspective on the ongoing recovery efforts following Japan’s combined earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of March 2011. Initially submitted as an amateur work, Ichi-F won the Manga Open Grand Prize in 2013 which led to its continuation as a three-volume series published between 2014 and 2015. The English-language edition of Ichi-F was released by Kodansha Comics in March 2017. The entire series, including Tatsuta’s original one-shot, has been collected into a single, massive omnibus formatted to read left-to-right. Also included is an introduction by the journalist Karyn Nishimura-Poupée and an exclusive interview with the creator. A tremendous amount of work from the translator Stephen Paul and others at Kodansha has gone into Ichi-F in an effort to make the manga as accurate and as widely accessible as possible.

On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake centered off of the northeast coast of Japan triggered a devastating tsunami which ultimately lead to multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Many people in Fukushima were required to evacuate and have yet been able to return to their homes due to the radiation levels in the area. Cleanup and recovery work, including the decommissioning of the plant, continues to this day and will continue for quite some time. Most of the people directly involved in the work are from the Fukushima area but others like Tatsuta (a pen name taken from the region for purposes of anonymity) are outsiders drawn by the promise of high wages, personal curiosity, and altruism. Despite the need for workers, it took Tatsuta more than a year after the disaster to secure clearance for employment at Ichi-F, one of the local names for the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Initially he was assigned to a shelter where he helped to manage a rest area for the construction workers, but eventually he would become one of those construction workers himself, at one point even serving on a team working inside one of the plant’s reactor buildings.

Ichi-F, page 39Ichi-F is primarily about the day-to-day lives and work of those employed at the nuclear power plant but Tatsuta also addresses some of the related recovery efforts and the issues caused by them in the Fukushima region as well as the some of the complications surrounding the publication of his memoir. In part the manga was created in response to the misleading, sensationalistic, and often inaccurate way that Fukushima and the surrounding areas are portrayed in the media. This is not to say there haven’t been problems with the decommissioning and cleanup–even Tatsuta’s account reveals social conflicts and questionable employment practices, not to mention that exposure to high levels of radiation is inherently dangerous–but some of Fukushima’s poor representation is due to ignorance and fearmongering. In fact, excepting the radiation concerns, much of the work outlined in Ichi-F, while being incredibly important, is outright mundane. Tatsuta explains in detail the safety procedures and regulations intended to protect the workers at the plant, showing just how difficult, time-consuming, and challenging the cleanup efforts are. Careful vigilance, caution, and concerted effort are absolutely necessary, especially to counter desensitization to the dangers involved, and there is always room for improvement.

Tatsuta’s own personal experiences while working in Fukushima are what inform Ichi-F. As such, it cannot provide a comprehensive look at the disaster and recovery efforts as a whole, but it does offer an individual perspective critical to the larger context. Tatsuta is an insider telling a story that’s often left untold because it isn’t particularly dramatic or exciting–the manga is a thorough, informative account of the work being done to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The manga can be a bit text-heavy at times, and the way that it has been modified to read left-to-right occasionally interrupts the narrative’s visual flow, but the memoir is both fascinating and accessible. Ichi-F is also the story of the people involved in the cleanup and the close relationships that Tatsuta develops while in Fukushima. What in many ways started out as just a job ends with Tatsuta caring deeply about and for his colleagues at the plant, the locals and residents of Fukushima, and the area itself. While the lasting effects of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima are tragic and some areas remain incredibly hazardous, conditions are slowly improving and recovery and revitalization is happening partly thanks to the efforts of Tatsuta and the other workers shown in Ichi-F.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu KanekoAuthor: Misuzu Kaneko, David Jacobson
Illustrator: Toshikado Hajiri

Translator: Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Publisher: Chin Music Press
ISBN: 9781634059626
Released: September 2016

Misuzu Kaneko, who in the 1920s was a well-known author of poetry for children, almost faded into obscurity after her early death at the age of twenty-six only to have her work rediscovered in 1982. Since then her poetry has been met with great admiration and acclaim. Despite having her work translated into nearly a dozen different languages, Kaneko is relatively unknown in English. Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, published by Chin Music Press in 2016, is a beautifully illustrated and crafted children’s book created by a multi-national team with members hailing from Japan, the United States, and Canada in an effort to bring Kaneko’s work to a larger audience. Before reading Are You an Echo? I was unaware of both Kaneko and her poetry. After reading the volume I can only hope that more of her work will be translated in the future–the book is a marvelous introduction.

Are You an Echo? consists of two main parts. The first is a biographical narrative written by David Jacobson, a journalist and editorial consultant at Chin Music Press, which outlines both the life of Kaneko and the history of her work and its rediscovery by Setsuo Yazaki, another poet who also provides the foreword to the book. Although Are You an Echo? is meant for a young audience, Jacobson is honest and touches upon some of the sadder aspects of Kaneko’s story such as her unhappy marriage, unfortunate illness, and eventual decision to end her own life. However, the topics are handled with gentleness and sensitivity. Several of Kaneko’s poems are incorporated directly into the narrative while the second part of Are You an Echo? is specifically devoted to a selection of her work. The poems are presented in both their original Japanese and in an English translation jointly composed by Michiko Tsuboi and the poet Sally Ito.

Are You an Echo?, page 5The format is somewhat unusual for a children’s book, but I feel the decision to include a biography along with a selection of Kaneko’s work in a single volume is ultimately a good one. Are You an Echo? not only introduces Kaneko’s poetry, it also places it within a greater context. Jacobson’ s narrative is easily accessible and the story of how Kaneko and her work have come to positively influence the lives of so many people is a wonderful one. Hajiri’s illustrations are likewise captivating. The artwork is colorful without being garish and has a gentle softness to it that complements both Jacobson’s text and Kaneko’s poetry. Hajiri depicts scenes from Kaneko’s life and imagination and provides a lovely visual accompaniment to and interpretation of her work.

Twenty-five of Kaneko’s surviving five-hundred-twelve poems are included in Are You an Echo?. The translators have taken obvious care in rendering Kaneko’s work into English. Kaneko wrote in a feminine form of Japanese which doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, but Ito and Tsuboi have successfully crafted a translation that reads well and captures the feelings and intentions of the originals. The poems collected in Are You an Echo? are utterly delightful. One of the things that I found most striking about Are You an Echo? is the tremendous empathy that Kaneko exhibits through her work. Though a touch of melancholy can frequently be found, the poems embody the natural curiosity, wonder, and earnestness of the children for whom she was writing. Kaneko’s poetry is immensely charming and deeply compassionate; I am so incredibly glad to have encountered it. While the book may be intended and suited for younger readers, there is still plenty for adults to enjoy and appreciate about it, too. Are You an Echo? is a treasure.

Thank you to Chin Music Press for providing a copy of Are You an Echo? for review.