My Week in Manga: July 31-August 6, 2017

My News and Reviews

The winner of The Royal Tutor manga giveaway was announced last week at Experiments in Manga. As usual, I also used the giveaway as an excuse to compile a thematic list of manga–in this particular case, a list of some of the manga available in English which feature royalty. This week I’m (once again) probably going to be switching around my regular posting schedule a little bit. Normally, this week would feature the Bookshelf Overload for July, but I’ve been working on an in-depth review of Kazuki Sakuraba’s A Small Charred Face which I would like to post sooner rather than later.

There are a few interesting things that I’ve recently encountered online that I’d like to share. First of all, MariNaomi has created the Queer Cartoonists Database (which does include mangaka), a followup of sorts to the Cartoonists of Color Database, both of which are fantastic resources. Khursten Santos and Thomas Baudinette, both scholars of queer themes in Japanese media, discuss gay manga, boys’ love, and such on the latest episode of the Fujojocast. Also, hat tip to Khursten for pointing out the recent audio recording and transcript of Masafumi Monden’s fascinating talk A Portrait of Shōjo: The Poetic Ambience of Japanese Girlhood.

As for some of the Kickstarter projects that have caught my attention lately: Sweethearts of 1989 is a queer romance comic by Kale Jeffery which is also in part an homage to anime and manga from the 1980s and 1990s. Zainab Akhtar is campaigning for a second volume of Critical Chips, an anthology of comics and comics criticism. (At least one essay will be about manga, specifically Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5.) Allison Shaw’s ongoing comic adaptation of the Greek myth of Persephone looks lovely. And of course, the Sparkler Monthly Year 5 campaign is still underway and could use a boost to help fund another twelve months of fantastic new content.

Quick Takes

I Hear the SunspotI Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino. Although in Japan it was serialized in a magazine that focuses on boys’ love manga, Fumino didn’t originally envision the story of I Hear the Sunspot with that in mind. However, even if the potential for the manga’s to lead characters to become romantically involved was added at a later point, their relationship grows and develops beautifully. After an illness in middle school resulted in permanent hearing loss, Kohei has struggled not only with his sudden disability but also with finding acceptance and understanding from others. Now in law school, Kohei has become withdrawn and has closed himself off from his peers, though that doesn’t stop his more outgoing and personable classmate Taichi from trying to become his friend. As the importance of their unexpected friendship naturally takes hold both Kohei and Taichi have their own issues to deal with, but it is obvious that they care tremendously for each other. As a whole, I Hear the Sunspot is a lovely story, but the nuanced characterization and character growth in the manga is particularly excellent. The depiction of Kohei’s hearing loss and how it has impacted his life and who he is also handled very well. I wholeheartedly loved I Hear the Sunspot.

Liselotte & Witch's ForestLiselotte & Witch’s Forest, Volumes 1-3 by Natsuki Takaya. While waiting for the next volume of Twinkle Stars to be released, I figured I might as well give another of Takaya’s recently-translated manga series a try. (Liselotte & Witch’s Forest is actually one of Takaya’s most recent manga period, although I believe in Japan it’s on hiatus at the moment.) So far, while I am still enjoying the series, Liselotte & Witch’s Forest doesn’t work as well for me as either Twinkle Stars or Fruits Basket. I think the biggest impediment is that there seems to be a significant imbalance in the tone of the manga. The underlying story is dark and tragic–Liselotte & Witch’s Forest largely following in the tradition of Western fairy tales–but the narrative often relies heavily on lighthearted humor to carry it out. As a result, it feels as though Takaya can’t quite decide whether the series should be a drama or a comedy; every time something serious happens it’s countered by something ridiculous and it doesn’t always mesh well. It also takes a little while for the story to take off, although it’s interesting once it does. A young woman of noble birth, the titular Liselotte is now living in exile along with two servants, her stubborn cheerfulness obscuring the anguish she feels.

Stages of RotStages of Rot by Linnea Sterte. The comic Stages of Rot is the first published work by Sterte, an illustrator and animator currently based in Sweden. I wasn’t previously aware of Sterte’s creative output before reading Stages of Rot, but if the comic is at all representative, it will be well worth seeking out more. Although Stages of Rot does include some dialogue and narration, the comic is largely wordless, the strength of Sterte’s gorgeous illustrations easily carrying the flow of the narrative. The story unfolds in five chapters, each of which uses a different palette of muted colors to depict the passage of time and the evolution of nature and civilization within the fantastical world that Sterte has created. The title is derived from the comic’s narrative impetus–the body of a giant sky whale has crashed to the earth, the creature’s death allowing both life and conflict to flourish in ways that would have otherwise been impossible, the accomplishments of one era in some ways dependent on the decay of another. If nothing else, the comic is visually stunning, but the themes exploring the cyclical nature of life and death are also marvelously executed. Stages of Rot is a curious, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful work; I am very glad to have encountered it.

My Week in Manga: April 24-April 30, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted two features in addition to the usual My Week in Manga. First up was the monthly giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas. All you have to do is tell me a little about your favorite space manga (if you have one). Also posted last week was the long-form manga review for April. I took a look at The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1 by Nagabe. The manga was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2017 and it is easily one of my favorites to be released so far this year. Last week was also the first week at my new job so I was rather preoccupied and busy with settling in there and so wasn’t online all that much. However, I did catch an interesting feature on the recent josei renaissance over at Anime Feminist. The article is written by Megan from The Manga Test Drive, one of the manga review blogs that I make a point to follow and particularly like.

Quick Takes

Ghost Diary, Volume 1Ghost Diary, Volume 1 by Seiju Natsumegu. My experience reading Ghost Diary was a little odd. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by the first volume while I was reading it, but by the time I reached the end I found that I actually had enjoyed myself and was interested in reading the rest of the short series. The individual elements of Ghost Diary aren’t particularly original, but as a whole it’s horrific fun. In some ways the manga feels like it’s a mashup of other existing stories which deal with the supernatural and the occult. Even the illustrations reminded me of other works, in particular some of CLAMP’s darker series. I was actually expecting Ghost Diary to be much more serious than it actually was. The manga definitely has a disturbing side to it, but to me it comes across as a dark comedy more than anything else. It’s both goofy and grotesque. The story follows Sukami Kyouichi, the youngest son in a long line of exorcists whose older sister (also an exorcist and far more powerful than he is) mysteriously disappears after he angers a god due to his inexperience, ineptitude, and ignorance. Now he’s desperately searching for her which proves to be a very dangerous venture.

Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 4Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 4 (equivalent to Voluems 7-8) by Akiko Higashimura. At this point the Princess Jellyfish manga has progressed much further along in the story than the content that was adapted for the anime series (which was my introduction to the work). So far, my love for the series has yet to diminish. In this omnibus the women of the Amamizukan apartments (along with Kuranosuke) somehow manage pull off a successful fashion show which is intended, in a roundabout way, to save their home from being demolished and redeveloped. However, for that to work, their success will have to extend to actually launching the Jelly Fish brand as well, and reality is much more challenging than a dream. Princess Jellyfish is intentionally outrageous and comedic in the telling of its story but the underlying heart of the manga is believable earnest. I find the manga’s style of humor to be immensely entertaining, but probably what I enjoy most about Princess Jellyfish are its characters and their relationships with one another. I especially liked how Shuu and Kuranosuke’s brotherly affections were developed and portrayed in these two volumes.

Twinkle Stars, Omnibus 1Twinkle Stars, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-4) by Natsuki Takaya. Probably like most people, my introduction to Takaya’s work was through the series Fruits Basket, a landmark title in the North American manga industry. It would seem, then, that Takaya’s next major series, Twinkle Stars, would be an obvious license choice, but the manga only began to be released in English relatively recently. Other than the fact that Takaya was the creator, I actually didn’t know much about Twinkle Stars before reading it. The series turns out to be an incredibly compelling and emotionally resonant work even if some of the story developments do seem a little convenient and trope-worn. The lead of Twinkle Stars is Sakyua Shiina, an endearing highschool third-year whose outward cheerfulness goes a long way to hide her inner struggle with depression and self-worth, the result of a troubled family life. Fortunately, she now has people in her life who care for her dearly. Under some rather peculiar circumstance she meets and ultimately falls in love with Chihiro, a young man who likewise is left dealing with the aftermath of past tragedies. At times Twinkle Stars can be absolutely heartbreaking but this countered by the immense kindness that is also exhibited in the series.

WitchlightWitchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Before being edited and published in a collected edition with additional content, most of Witchlight had previously been released as a series of individual comic chapters. Described as a shoujo adventure, Witchlight is a delightful fantasy comic about the close bond of friendship and love which slowly develops between two young women as they travel together on a quest. They don’t start out on good terms, though. Sanja is kidnapped by Lelek, a candle witch who demands that she teach her how to use a sword. Lelek is searching for a part of herself that has been lost and magic isn’t always enough to protect her. While being abducted isn’t exactly a promising beginning to a relationship, Sanja is more curious than afraid and her good nature and openness has a positive influence on the untrusting Lelek who has kept her heart closed off from others for so long. Lelek and Sanja’s emotional journeys are the most important aspects of Witchlight, but their physical journey is also wonderful to watch unfold as they encounter other cultures and and types of magic. The characterizations, worldbuilding, artwork in Witchlight are all lovely.

RevengeRevenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa. I find the cover design and even the title selected for the English-language edition of Ogawa’s Kamoku na shigai, midara no tomurai to be somewhat misleading. Revenge, although it does make a few appearances throughout the volume, is not at all an overarching theme. And while there is death and violence, most of the gruesomeness implied by the cover occurs off-page. That being said, Revenge is a marvelously disconcerting work of subdued horror. Everything in Revenge is told from a first-person perspective, giving the collection a surprisingly quiet and contemplative atmosphere which becomes increasingly dark as the volume progresses. The individual stories can all be read and function well on their own, but what makes Revenge such a phenomenal collection is how they are all entangled with one another. Often the connections are tangential–similar turns of phrases and references are used, main characters and plot points from one story appear and reappear in the backgrounds of others, and so on–but sometimes they have a profound impact on the interpretation of the various narratives. A close, careful reading of Revenge is rewarded with the revelation of a complex, strange, and surreal web of the macabre.

Your NameYour Name directed by Makoto Shinkai. Originally I thought I would be waiting to watch a home video release of Your Name but the film actually ended up being shown at one of my local theaters and a friend invited me out to see it over the weekend. Your Name is a beautiful film, both visually and thematically, and not quite what I was expecting. (Granted, I’m not entirely sure exactly what it was that I was expecting.) To me it almost feels like three different films have been merged into one. Initially Your Name is about Mitsuha and Taki, two young people who don’t really know each other but who have started to spontaneously and erratically switch bodies when they fall asleep. But when the switching suddenly and unexpectedly stops, the film changes its focus to Taki as he tries to locate Mitsuha, keenly feeling the absence of the close intimacy that the two understandably developed over time. From there the urgency of Your Name increases even more as Taki uncovers the truth and he and Mitsuha struggle to prevent further disaster and loss. In part a romantic comedy, in part a meditation on love and spirituality, and in part (it would seem) a response to the Fukushima disasters, Your Name largely remains cohesive even while bending and shifting between genres.

Manga Giveaway: Hikaru no Go Giveaway Winner

And the winner of the Hikaru no Go manga giveaway is…Alessandra!

As the winner, Alessandra will be receiving a new copy of Hikaru no Go, Volume 1 written by Yumi Hotta, illustrated by Takeshi Obata, and published by Viz Media. For this giveaway, I asked entrants to tell me about manga that sparked an interest in something new for them. I received some great responses, which I will be excerpting here, but I hope you’ll take the time to check out the full comments as well. Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway. I really enjoyed reading all of your stories. I hope you’ll come back for next month’s contest, too!

Matt identified Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto as a source of intellectual stimulation:

After reading Pluto by Naoki Urasawa, I thought a lot about artificial intelligence and the questions that come with that subject. Is there an essential difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence? Can a machine have a mind and consciousness?

Pluto is actually one of my favorite manga series and it helped to trigger my current obsession with manga. I particularly enjoy manga about androids and AI because they can be so thought provoking.

Callie was brave enough to share with all of us the influence Miyuki Kobayashi and Natsumi Ando’s Kitchen Princess had:

I always feel a little embarrassed admitting it, but ‘Kitchen Princess’ got me into baking; I started trying some of the recipes in the volumes, and found that I really enjoyed it. It’s quite funny, I’ve never been one for cooking in a form, and now I’m the family baker!

I think this is marvelous and you shouldn’t be embarrassed at all! Kitchen Princess is an award-winning series after all, and who could complain about mastering such a delicious hobby as baking?

Bakuman, which is written by Tsugumi Ohba and happens to be illustrated by Takeshi Obata (who also illustrated Hikaru no Go) was actually mentioned by two people—Arlen and Voldie Moldie—as playing a part in their desire to start creating manga of their own. Kim was also inspired to draw because of manga. Similarly, Alessandra was encouraged to become a better writer because of favorite characters who are also writers, such as Shigure Sohma in Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket. (Shigure is my favorite character in the series, too!)

And finally, Courtney takes after my own heart, appreciating manga influenced by legends and mythology:

I discovered that manga with strong mythological, folklore, or religious aspects actually made me want to read and study up on what it was based on or drew influence from. […] To be honest any manga that has derived something from folklore, mythology, or religion fascinates me. It’s a shame a lot get passed up on, especially the ones with strong mythological roots. […] While a tend to not dig too deeply into studying such things I do enjoy reading even just the surface of it all. It adds an extra layer of sprinkles on top of my reading experience.

I hope everyone continues to be inspired and encouraged by the manga that they read!