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.

My Week in Manga: October 30-November 5, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I announced the winner of the Oresama Teacher giveaway. The post also includes a select list of some of the manga released in English that have notable delinquents (and in some cases ex-delinquents) in them. In licensing news, Dark Horse recently announced that it will be releasing The Flame Dragon Knight, a novel by Makoto Fukami which is based on Kentaro Miura’s manga series Berserk. Also, Yen Press is adding more yuri to its catalog: the manga anthology Eclair and the light novel adaptation of Napping Princess will both be released in English in 2018.

Quick Takes

Yokai Rental Shop, Volume 1Yokai Rental Shop, Volume 1 by Shin Mashiba. I greatly enjoyed Mashiba’s earlier manga series Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun and so was very excited when Yokai Rental Shop was licensed. I have been looking forward to giving the manga a try not only because of Mashiba’s involvement but also because yokai play a prominent role. Hiiragi is a public servant who recently learned, on his mother’s deathbed, that he has a half-brother. Initially he’s thrilled, but then he actually meets Karasu, a man who doesn’t hesitate to help his customers realize their darkest desires. So far, Yokai Rental Shop has yet to really distinguish itself from any number of other horror series featuring a supernatural boutique. Additionally, one of the things that made Nightmare Inspector so engaging–the use of a wide variety of illustration styles–is largely missing from Yokai Rental Shop. The major exception to this is how most of the yokai in the spirit district are drawn to be more reminiscent of traditional ink drawings, an artistic touch that I particularly appreciated. While at this point Nightmare Inspector would seem to be the stronger manga of the two, there’s enough about Yokai Rental Shop that interests me that I plan on continuing the short series.

Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind AkiraOtomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira edited by Julien Brugeas and Ben Applegate. In 2015, Katsuhiro Otomo won the Angoulême International Comics Festival’s Grand Prix, a prestigious award recognizing comics creators for their lifetime achievements. As part of the celebration, an art exhibition showing work by creators from around the world in a tribute to Otomo was held. A limited-edition catalog of illustrations was also produced at that time, becoming the basis for the Otomo artbook. The English-language edition expands upon the original and includes contributions from more than eighty creatives, resulting in an attractive, oversized, 168-paged hardcover volume. Otomo is probably best known as the creator of Akira, so it isn’t too surprising that most of the artwork in Otomo make reference to either the anime or manga version of that story, but other works like Domu also provide a source of inspiration. There is a fantastic variety and a great range of styles represented in Otomo; some of the individual pieces are truly stunning. Accompanying each illustration is a short biography of the artist. Some also include a section in which the contributors write about their encounters with Otomo and his work. (I wish there were more of these.)

Juni Taisen: Zodiac WarJuni Taisen: Zodiac War written by Nisiosin, illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. My interest in the Juni Taisen novel largely stemmed from creators associated with it. Nisiosin seems to be something of a cult favorite and has had a fair number of stories translated recently (Juni Taisen is actually the first that I’ve read, however) and Nakamura is the creator of Saint Young Men and Arakawa Under the Bridge (it turns out Nakamura’s contributions to the novel are fairly limited). On top of having notable creators, the physical production and design of Viz Media’s release of Juni Taisen is beautiful. I have also been known to enjoy battle royale-type stories. Sadly, Juni Taisen is rather unsatisfactory as a novel and comes across as superficial, though I suspect the related manga and anime will be more successful. Twelve characters, none of them particularly likeable, are brought together in a battle to the death known as the Zodiac War. The winner will be granted a single wish, although there’s an even greater purpose to the contest. Juni Taisen has potential. The various super powers and abilities of the characters result in tactics and strategies that are interesting and even clever. Unfortunately, the coolness factor is undermined by inconsistent logic, repetitiveness, predictable narrative developments, and a sore lack of worldbuilding and a meaningful context.

My Week in Manga: October 23-October 29, 2017

My News and Reviews

In addition to the usual My Week in Manga, two other features were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. First up was the most recent monthly giveaway. The winner won’t be announced until Wednesday, so there’s still a little time left to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Oresama Teacher by Izumi Tsubaki. (I finally got around to reading Oresama Teacher because I love Tusbaki’s other manga series Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun so much. I am delighted to report that Oresama Teacher is great, too.) I also posted my review of the first omnibus of Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura last week. The manga was one of the debuts that I was most excited for this year and I was not at all disappointed. Like Shimura’s earlier series Wandering Son (which is an extremely important manga to me personally), Sweet Blue Flowers is a beautiful work. I’m so glad that it’s finally getting the print release it deserves and look forward to reading the rest of the series. (Now if only the rest of Wandering Son could be published, too! My fantasy is that Sweet Blue Flowers will be so successful that more of Shimura’s work will be translated.) Once again, I wasn’t actually online much last week and I worked on Sunday so I’m sure there’s plenty of news that I’ve missed. However, I did catch that Thomas Baudinette posted a translation of “Painting the essence of gay erotic art”an interview with Gengoroh Tagame from a 2014 issue of the art magazine Bijutsu Techo.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail: RhodoniteFairy Tail: Rhodonite by Kyouta Shibano. At first I was a little confused by the “2” emblazoned upon the cover of Rhodonite since it’s not in fact the second volume of Rhodonite. Instead, it’s the second volume in Shibano’s Fairy Tail Gaiden manga, one of a multitude of series spinning off from Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail that have recently been translated into English. Despite retaining the volume designations, the Fairy Tail Gaiden manga are being released as independent works by Kodansha Comics. Shibano’s three spinoff volumes, while relying very heavily on the original series, largely stand alone from one another. Rhodonite collects two side stories featuring Gajeel Redfox, one of the Dragon Slayers associated with the Fairy Tail Guild. Since I’m not especially well-versed in the Fairy Tail franchise, I’m not exactly sure where the first story, from which the volume gains its name, fits in. However, it does reveal more of Gajeel’s past and backstory as the guild is investigating the magic drug trade. The second story takes place while Gajeel is a member of the Magic Council during Fairy Tail’s disbandment. In this story he temporarily teams up with Cobra to rescue a group of children who were kidnapped to be sold as slaves. Already intended for those already familiar with Fairy Tail, Rhodonite will even more specifically appeal to those who are fans of Gajeel.

Spirit Circle, Volume 1Spirit Circle, Volume 1 by Satoshi Mizukami. I rather enjoyed Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, currently the only other manga series by Mizukami to be licensed in English. I would have been interested in Spirit Circle for that reason alone, but I’ve also been hearing great (and well-deserved) things about the manga beyond that. Like it’s predecessor in English (which is actually briefly referenced in passing), Spirit Circle is a manga that’s a little strange and quirky but that also has a great deal of heart and soul. Fuuta Okeya has the ability to see ghosts. That by itself would generally be enough to form the basic premise of a series, but thanks to a new transfer student, Fuuta must now also confront his past lives. Though meeting Fuuta for the first time in this life, Kouko Ishigami is very familiar with his previous incarnations. Historically, their encounters haven’t always gone so well, though. In the first volume of Spirit Circle, Fuuta is made to relive two of his pasts to the point of his deaths and parts of a third life are revealed as well. So far, I’m loving Spirit Circle. Fuuta and Kouko’s past lives are filled with heartbreaks and joys, echoes of which are apparent in the teenagers’ current existences. Taken separately, the stories are interesting, but together they’re marvelous. I’m very curious to see where Mizukami takes the series next.

Sweet Bean PasteSweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. The 2015 film adaptation of Sukegawa’s novel An has been released internationally under several different titles–Sweet Red Bean Paste, An, and Sweet Bean–and now the original work has been translated into English with yet another title variation, Sweet Bean Paste. I’ve not seen Naomi Kawase’s film, but it seems to have been generally well-received. As for Sukegawa’s original novel, it makes for a fairly quick and light read despite some of the story’s more tragic undercurrents and philosophical musings. Sentaro is a man with a criminal past, out of prison but still working off his debt by making and selling dorayaki in a confectionery shop owned by the widow of his boss. He’s not particularly invested in the job, but that begins to change when an elderly woman named Tokue, her hands disfigured from a childhood illness, convinces him to let her join him at the shop. Bringing a unique perspective on life along with a recipe for sweet bean paste more delicious than any other Sentaro has tasted, Tokue has a huge influence upon the younger man as their unexpected friendship blossoms. Although much about Tokue’s past is unfortunate and she continues to deal with the stigma associated with leprosy, she has still found a way to live on in the face of prejudice and discontent. Sentaro has much to learn from Tokue, even if the lessons are bittersweet.

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.

A Small Charred Face

A Small Charred FaceAuthor: Kazuki Sakuraba
Translator: Jocelyne Allen
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421595412
Released: September 2017
Original release: 2014

Kazuki Sakuraba is a fairly prolific author in Japan, having written numerous short stories, essays, and novels; sadly, only a small handful of those have been translated into English thus far. Although Sakuraba is probably best known as the creator of Gosick (which, I’ll admit, I still need to actually read), my introduction to her work was through Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuhchibas, an award-winning, multi-generational epic which I thoroughly enjoyed. When Haikasoru, Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint, announced that it would be releasing Sakuraba’s A Small Charred Face with a translation by Jocelyne Allen in 2017, I immediately took note. I was previously unaware of A Small Charred Face, originally published in Japan in 2014, and I’m not especially interested in vampire fiction, but with Sakuraba as the author, Haikasoru as the publisher and Allen as the translator–a winning combination with Red Girls–it instantly became something that I wanted to read.

The Japanese town in which Kyo lives is bathed in blood, a hotbed of organized crime, murder, and vice. With a population willing to avoid looking too closely at the surrounding bloodshed, resulting in a plentiful and readily accessible supply of food, it’s the perfect place for the Bamboo, vampiric creatures originating from the deep mountains of China, to secretly coexist with humans. Carnivorous grass monsters but human-like in appearance, the Bamboo are extremely powerful and resilient but vulnerable to sunlight, never age but are still mortal. Up until the point he meets one, Kyo was never quite sure if the stories he heard about the monstrous Bamboo were true or if they were just told to frighten children. Confronted with the immediacy of his own impending death while only ten years old, his mother and sister having already been killed by a group of hitmen, Kyo is unexpectedly rescued by a Bamboo. Mustah, impulsively acting in blatant disregard for the rules of his own kind by taking him in, saves Kyos’ life and in the process changes it forever. But even while Kyo, Mustah, and Mustah’s partner Bamboo Yoji form a peculiar, tightly-knit family, it will never be entirely safe from the dangers presented by humans or the Bamboo alike.

At its very core, A Small Charred Face is about the curious, complex, exhilarating, and often fraught relationships that evolve between Bamboo and humans. The novel is divided into three distinct parts–three tangentially related stories which can all be connected to Kyo and his personal experiences with the Bamboo. In some ways the stories are able to stand alone, but the references they contain make them more powerful when taken together as a whole. The first and longest section, “A Small Charred Face,” focuses on Kyo’s life with Mustah and Yoji. The two men are fascinated and enthralled by his humanity, at times treating him as something akin to a pet but also raising him as family while protecting him through his adolescence. To Kyo, Mustah and Yoji are his saviors, parents, and something even more which is difficult to define. The second part “I Came to Show You Real Flowers” serves as an epilogue of sorts to the first, following another Bamboo who becomes incredibly important to Kyo as well as a young woman who plays a crucial role late in his life. Finally there is “You Will Go to the Land of the Future,” a story which delves into the history of the Japanese Bamboo. Linking back to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it traces the tragic origins of the Bamboo’s strained relations with humans and the strict, harshly-enforced rules implemented to guard their society and existence.

A Small Charred Face opens with the brutal aftermath of the rape and murder of those close to Kyo with him facing a similar fate. It is a horrific, gut-wrenching scene, but the story that follows becomes surprisingly beautiful. Though still punctuated by moments of extraordinary violence and devastating heartbreak, A Small Charred Face is a relatively quiet and at times even contemplative work. The relationships shown are intensely intimate, with love, desire, and devotion taking on multiple, varied forms. The characters struggle and frequently fail to completely understand one another–the worldviews, life experiences, and fundamental natures of humans and Bamboo occasionally at odds–but the strength of the connections that they form regardless of and in some cases because of their differences is tremendously compelling and affecting. There’s also an inherent queerness to the stories that I loved. It’s perhaps most obvious through Yoji and Mustah’s partnership and the fact that Kyo spends a significant portion of his life presenting himself as a girl for his own safety, but many of the novel’s essential underlying themes explore found family, the need for acceptance, and what it is like in one way or another to be a hidden outsider within society. While A Small Charred Face resides firmly within the tradition of vampire fiction, Sakuraba’s contemporary take on the genre is still somewhat unusual and unexpected; I enjoyed the work immensely.

Thank you to Viz Media for providing a copy of A Small Charred Face for review.