A Girl on the Shore

A Girl on the ShoreCreator: Inio Asano
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220856
Released: January 2016
Original release: 2011-2013

Several of Inio Asano’s manga have been released in English in the past—Solanin, What A Wonderful World!, and Nijigahara Holograph—and I’ve read every one. While they all left a significant impression on me and can be difficult works, Nijigahara Holograph in particular floored me, further convincing me to seek out more of Asano’s manga. Vertical Comics published one of Asano’s more recent manga series A Girl on the Shore in early 2016. While the English-language edition of A Girl on the Shore is complete in a single omnibus, in Japan the series was originally released in two volumes which were published in 2011 and 2013. I didn’t actually know much about A Girl on the Shore before picking it up beyond the fact it was by Asano, but I rightfully anticipated that it would be a fairly challenging read in addition to being beautifully drawn.

Junior high can be a trying time for anyone as students become more aware of themselves and each other while hormones and the intense desire to belong complicate relationships and they make decisions that will greatly influence their futures. Koume has a crush on her upperclassman Misaki, but he turns out to be something of a playboy, taking advantage of her interest by receiving sexual favors with no intention of returning her feelings. In order to cope, Koume turns around and does the same thing to her classmate Keisuke who she had previously rejected after he confessed that he liked her. Keisuke and Koume both know that they’re manipulating and using each other, but that doesn’t stop their increasingly intimate relationship from evolving and their feelings from changing. Both of them are searching for some deeper connection and meaning in their lives. For a time, having sex together seems to satisfy that need, but in the end the physical relationship only obscures their underlying emotional crises.

A Girl on the Shore, page 147A Girl on the Shore contains numerous and frank depictions of teenage sex. However, the sexual content of the volume is integral to the story that Asano is telling and carries meaning beyond titillation. In fact, A Girl on the Shore provides a deliberately uncomfortable and voyeuristic reading experience, often showing events and personal encounters unfolding directly from the characters’ perspectives. Sex isn’t romanticized or idealized in the manga and carries with it significant repercussions. Koume and Keisuke’s relationship has consequences not only for them both, but for the others around them as well. Physically the two are intimate and daring, but there continues to be a separation between them and they remain emotionally distant. Their relationship is an incredibly important one and their feelings and needs become progressively intertwined, but they are never quite able to completely and truly connect with each other.

Asano’s works tend to be emotionally intense and A Girl on the Shore is no exception. The manga is filled with discontent and sadness that occasionally erupts in physical or psychological violence. A Girl on the Shore is coming-of-age story that can be brutally unsettling and hard-hitting. Koume finds herself drawn more and more towards Keisuke and the complicated power dynamics of their intimacy, seemingly oblivious of the toll that the relationship is taking on them both. Independent of that, Keisuke is also dealing with some heavy family matters and emotional issues of his own. Ultimately, one of the most prominent themes of A Girl on the Shore is loneliness and isolation even in the midst of a relationship. This is beautifully emphasized by Asano’s artwork in which detailed backgrounds, dramatic perspectives, layout and use of space form settings in which people seem set apart not only from others but the world around them as well. At times A Girl on the Shore can tend to be overwhelmingly bleak and tragic, but there is a deliberate narrative purpose and intent behind the pain and pessimism.

Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound

Attack on Titan: Kuklo UnboundAuthor: Ryo Suzukaze
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130877
Released: May 2015
Original release: 2012

Between 2011 and 2012, three light novels written by Ryo Suzukaze and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto were released in Japan, forming a prequel trilogy to Hajime Isayama’s massively popular manga series Attack on Titan. All three novels were translated into English by Ko Ransom and published by Vertical. The first novel was released as Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, which is the title that the entire trilogy is known by in Japan. The second and third novels, originally published in 2012, were released together in English as an omnibus in 2015 called Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound. The manga series Attack on Titan: Before the Fall adapts the same story found in Kuklo Unbound. I’ve been reading the Before the Fall manga and I enjoyed the first Before the Fall novel well enough, so I was interested in reading Kuklo Unbound as well.

Roaming the earth in search of humans to feast upon are the Titans–giant, monstrous creatures of mysterious origins which nobody completely understands. In order to protect itself, humanity literally walled itself off from the outside world. The Titans are nearly invincible and very few people manage to live through a direct encounter with them, but Kuklo is one such survivor. Swallowed whole by a Titan while still in his mother’s womb, against all odds Kuklo was somehow saved. However, he has never been able to completely rid himself of the stigma of being born the “son” of a Titan. Feared and hated during a time when very few people have actually even seen a Titan, Kuklo is an orphan who is abused, held captive, and treated as a sideshow oddity. As he grows older he desires nothing more than to escape his cruel fate and to prove to himself and others that he is indeed human. And though his birth was ill-omened, Kuklo may in fact be the key needed to unlock humanity’s full potential in the fight against the Titans.

Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound, page 52Since I have been reading the ongoing Before the Fall manga series, I was already familiar with a fair amount of the story of Kuklo Unbound and wasn’t especially surprised by any of the developments. I do think that out of the two versions the original novels are the stronger, though. The manga doesn’t always capture the internal thoughts and feelings of the characters very well, and that perspective is very important to understanding Kuklo Unbound. I feel that Kuklo Unbound is better written than the first Before the Fall novel, too, or at least it was overall more enjoyable to read. Parts of Kuklo Unbound did feel very repetitive–there was a tendency to restate obvious and well-established plot points and even use the exact same descriptions over and over again–but for the most part the pace of the narrative is quick enough that the redundancy wasn’t too frustrating. As a whole, many of the characters in Kuklo Unbound seemed to be slightly better-developed and less reliant on worn tropes when compared to those of Before the Fall, too.

Kuklo Unbound works well as an omnibus, telling Kuklo’s entire story, but the two novels contained are distinct in their focus. In the first novel, Kuklo is the undisputed star. In the second novel attention is still primarily turned towards Kuklo, but by that point in the trilogy the story is really about the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, the most recognizable technological innovation to be found in Attack on Titan. The predecessor of the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment was created in the Before the Fall novel, so this ties the prequel together quite nicely. While being different from most other Attack on Titan stories, the prequel trilogy also feels familiar, incorporating the types of scenes that have been seen before, including deadly battles with Titans, political intrigue and religious turmoil, and intense military training sequences. What makes Before the Fall and Kuklo Unbound particularly interesting is that they serve as an origin story, showing not only the development and implementation of the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, but also the beginnings of the Survey Corps when it was still celebrated instead of despised.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8

What Did You Eat Yesterday, Volume 8Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220238
Released: May 2015
Original release: 2013

I have been a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga for quite some time now, so I was very happy when her series What Did You Eat Yesterday? was licensed for release in English. Although I’ve enjoyed all of Yoshinaga’s translated work, I was particularly interested in What Did You Eat Yesterday? because it promised and has since proved to be a manga realistically portraying the lives of two gay men (and boyfriends) living together in Japan. As can be safely assumed from the title of the series, What Did You Eat Yesterday? also happens to be a food manga, which is another niche genre that I especially enjoy. Unsurprisingly, with its well-developed characters a touches of humor, I find the series immensely appealing. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 was originally released in Japan in 2013 while Vertical published the English-language edition of the manga in 2015.

As a lawyer, Shiro often finds himself involved in sorting out other people’s relationships, helping to resolve child custody disputes and providing divorce consultations and such. In many ways, this allows him to better appreciate his relationship with his boyfriend Kenji. Shiro isn’t always the most outwardly or physically demonstrative with his affection, especially when in public or when compared to Kenji’s exuberance, but the two men have built a comfortable life together. Their relationship has its ups and downs, just like any other couple might encounter, though being gay in contemporary Japan still has its own particular challenges. While Kenji’s family is largely supportive, Shiro’s parents are still adjusting to the fact that their son is in committed relationship with another man and has been for years. Thankfully, both Kenji and Shiro have close friends and acquaintances who have no problems whatsoever with the two of them being together.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8, page 53While Shiro and Kenji are obviously a couple, What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 offers several scenarios in which they’re actually acting as a couple. I honestly enjoyed all of the stories collected in the volume, but two that particularly stood out to me explicitly showed them as boyfriends. The first story featured a trip where the two of them visit Kyoto together for Kenji’s birthday in which Shiro acts more stereotypically romantic and boyfriend-like than he has during the entire rest of the series, stunning Kenji in the process. Granted, the underlying reason for Shiro treating Kenji to such an extravagant vacation is a little heartbreaking when it is revealed. A story taking place a few months later sees Kenji and Shiro baking brownies together to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is all sorts of sweet and wonderful. That chapter is also an excellent example of how the food and recipes included in What Did You Eat Yesterday? can be directly incorporated into the story itself. Some chapters are more successful at this than others–occasionally the food in the series comes across as being tangential–but I absolutely love when Yoshinaga pulls it off well.

The relationships between the characters of What Did You Eat yesterday?, often expressed through the sharing and enjoyment of food, are a crucial part of the series. There are many different types of relationships portrayed, but What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 8 in particular reminded me of the importance of family relations in the manga. Just like in real life, the opinions and actions of family members can have a tremendous impact on an individual. The eighth volume reveals more about Kenji’s family circumstances when he returns home on the occasion of the death of his father. The acceptance shown to him by his mother and his sisters and their children was comforting to see, giving hope that in time Shiro’s parents, too, will be able to more fully accept their son. Family isn’t necessarily limited by law or blood in the series, either–Shiro ends up becoming a godfather of sorts when the daughter of one of his friends has a baby. And, of course, there is the small family made up of Shiro and Kenji themselves. Though they have their disagreements, What Did You Eat Yesterday? makes it clear that they greatly care for each other.

A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

A Sky Longing for MemoriesCreator: Makoto Shinkai
Translator: Maya Rosewood
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220436
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2008

I was introduced to the work of Makoto Shinkai through his animated film 5 Centimeters per Second, which left a huge impression on me. The beautifully melancholic story about lost and unrequited love was simple enough, but the visuals were stunningly gorgeous. A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai is an artbook that was originally released in Japan in 2008, the year after 5 Centimeters per Second debuted. I was very pleased when Vertical Comics announced its intention to publish an English-language edition. That volume was ultimately released in 2015 with a translation by Maya Rosewood. Vertical hasn’t released very many artbooks, but A Sky Longing for Memories is a good fit for the publisher. Not only has Vertical published other nonfiction works about Japanese film, it has also released two Shinkai manga: 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words.

A Sky Longing for Memories primarily consists of stills and background artwork from four of Shinkai’s projects initially released between 2002 and 2007. Prominently featured are three of his animated films—5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star—as is the television commercial he created for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, “Say Something Important.” More than half of A Sky Longing for Memories is devoted to 5 Centimeters Per Second, the volume opening with some of Shinkai’s most visually refined and impressive work. The three sections that follow are dedicated to each of the earlier films and “Say Something Important.” Also included in the volume is a glossary—useful for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the technical terms used in the animation industry—as well as “Makoto Shikai’s Colors,” a section exploring the methods and techniques used by Shinkai, and “Testimonials of Makoto Shinkai’s World,” a collection of brief interviews with Shinkai and ten other members of Shinkai Works.

Although A Sky Longing for Memories can simply be appreciated and enjoyed as a collection of stunning artwork, the volume also provides insight into the creative processes and artistic direction required to achieve such impressive images. Many of the individual pieces are accompanied by brief descriptions of the decisions that were made in their overall design in addition to the specific considerations and techniques used in their creation. It’s unclear who actually wrote much of the text in A Sky Longing for Memories, but from the context it would seem to either be one (or several) of Shikai’s staff members or someone else who was close to the work being done. Either way, I was glad for the inclusion of the various descriptions and explanations; I don’t have a strong background in visual art or design and so found A Sky Longing for Memories to be illuminating and intellectually stimulating as well as beautiful to look at.

One of the key components of Shinkai’s style is his use of color. With this in mind, Vertical has taken great care to faithfully reproduce Shinkai’s artwork in A Sky Longing for Memories; the volume uses thick, glossy paper on which the colors in particular are beautifully presented. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous book of gorgeous illustrations. A Sky Longing for Memories reveals Shinkai not only as a talented artist but also as a skilled director. While he solely handled almost every aspect of Voices of a Distant Star except for the film’s music, by the time 5 Centimeters per Second was produced Shinkai was guiding and coordinating the work of an entire staff. Interestingly, most of the team members were traditionally trained artists from outside of the animation industry who had to learn digital techniques and illustration methods on the job. As can be seen from A Sky Longing for Memories, the result of their combined efforts is spectacular.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 7

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 7Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220221
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2012

What Did You Eat Yesterday? incorporates so many things that I love—the work of Fumi Yoshinaga, food, queer life, and so on—that it’s really not too much of a surprise that I enjoy the manga series. Yoshinaga has had many of her manga released in English. I have always been particularly impressed by the subtle complexities of her characterizations. Her skill at writing people is especially important for a series like What Did You Eat Yesterday? in which a tremendous amount of focus is given to the characters themselves rather than to an intricate, overarching plot, at least when the manga’s not focusing on food. The characters in What Did You Eat Yesterday?, likeable or not, are all very realistically portrayed, which is one of the things that I appreciate most about the series. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 7 was originally published in Japan in 2012. The English-language edition, released by Vertical, was published in 2015.

Shiro and Kenji have been living together for years, but it’s only recently that Shiro has managed to get up the courage to actually introduce his long-term boyfriend to his parents. It’s a momentous albeit awkward occasion, but Kenji at least is thrilled by the prospect. Shiro’s family has known he was gay for quite some time, however they are still coming to terms with exactly what that means. Happily, sharing a good meal can go a long way to help acceptance and understanding grow. Food has helped to improve and stabilize Kenji and Shiro’s relationship as well—Shiro enjoys cooking and Kenji is usually more than happy to accommodate his boyfriend, not to mention eat the fruits of his efforts—which is why when work interferes with their dinner dates at home it’s particularly vexing. The salon that Kenji works at is undergoing renovations and staffing changes while the law office where Shiro is employed is inundated with bankruptcy cases. Both men have been very busy of late, but they are still ready to support each other both inside the kitchen and outside of it.

What Did You Eat Yesterday, Volume 7, page 24Food, and the preparation and consumption of said food, is a major component of What Did You Eat Yesterday?. A majority of the seventh volume, if not the entire series, is spent either cooking in a kitchen or eating around a table. While other aspects of Yoshinaga’s artwork are rather simple, she puts a tremendous amount of detail into the various dishes that are featured in the manga—the food in What Did You Eat Yesterday? is beautifully illustrated. The recipes in the series tend to be fairly detailed as well. It is entirely possible for an experienced cook to successfully recreate many of the courses. I’ve even been tempted to try a few myself. (The tea sorbet from the seventh volume sounds especially appealing to me.) Occasionally, the focus on food in What Did You Eat Yesterday? can get in the way of the stories being told, but sometimes it’s expertly integrated.

As much as I enjoy all of the food and eating What Did You Eat Yesterday? (and I certainly do), what really makes the series work for me are its characters and the realistic portrayal of their lives. I have come to love and care for the characters in the series a great deal in spite of, or maybe because of, their very human flaws. They all come across as real people with both good traits and bad. I enjoy seeing their relationships evolve and change, and I enjoy seeing them continue to grow as people well into their adulthood. The individual chapters of What Did You Eat Yesterday? provide small snapshots of the characters’ everyday lives. Sometimes the events shown are fairly ordinary or mundane, such as grocery shopping followed by a quick stop at a cafe, while others are more momentous, like meeting the parents of an established partner for the first time. But even the seemingly small and quiet moments in What Did You Eat Yesterday? are important, carrying signficant meaning and impact, and showing just how skilled a writer Yoshinaga can be.