Hide and Seek, Volume 2

Hide and Seek, Volume 2Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421558585
Released: March 2014
Original release: 2013

Hide and Seek is a three-volume boys’ love manga series by Yaya Sakuragi. The manga is a direct spinoff of another of Sakuragi’s boys’ love series, Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, which is itself tangentially related to her series Tea for Two. All three series can be read and enjoyed separately from one another, but there are some shared characters and references. Both Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love and Hide and Seek were licensed and released in English by Sublime Manga, the boys’ love imprint associated with Viz Media. (Tea for Two was published by Tokyopop’s Blu Manga imprint back in the day.) Hide and Seek, Volume 2 was originally released in Japan in 2013 while the English-language edition was released in 2014. I began following Sakuragi’s work in translation after encountering her boys’ love one-shot Hey, Sensei?. I’ve continued to enjoy and read her manga, but I find Hide and Seek to be particularly good.

It was supposed to be a simple fling, an uncomplicated relationship to enjoyably pass the time with no expectations that it would develop into something more serious. Except that Shuji, who generally isn’t interested in other men, is falling more and more for the young neighborhood doctor Saji. Though he’s slow to admit that he’s in love, Shuji can’t deny the jealously he experiences when he sees another man kiss Saji. Those feelings intensify when he discovers that the man, Yuki, used to date Saji and due to various unfortunate circumstances is currently staying at the doctors’ home. Saji picks up on some of that jealousy, but he has already resigned himself to a fleeting relationship with Shuji. He would certainly be interested in a more devoted partnership, but he’s been burned so many times in the past that he’s trying no to get his hopes up. And with neither man being completely honest with the other about his feelings, any sort of relationship will be difficult to maintain.

Hide and Seek, Volume 2, page 107While Hide and Seek definitely has its humorous moments, overall it tends to be a much more serious, and to some extent much more realistic, manga than its immediate predecessor Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love ever was. Likewise, Shuji, the main connecting character between the two series, is significantly more developed and complex in Hide and Seek. Although at heart he hasn’t really changed much from who he was in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, in part due to the tone of Hide and Seek his character has now become convincingly believable instead of being intentionally comedic and shallow. Shuji amused me greatly in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, but I really like Hide and Seek‘s more nuanced version of him. He is much more considerate and much less self-centered than his outward demeanor would initially lead one to assume (as well a more responsible and mature), and he’s honestly concerned for the well-being of those he cares most about, including Saji.

Overall, the characterization in Hide and Seek is excellent, particularly that of Shuji, but Saji is also a realistically complicated individual. I’ve enjoyed watching their relationship evolve and develop over the course of Hide and Seek and look forward to seeing how things turn out for them in the final volume. Shuji and Saji’s relationship isn’t in danger because they’re incompatible. In fact, the two men are surprisingly well-suited for each other. It’s actually because they care so much for each other and are trying not to force their feelings on, take advantage of, or hurt the other person that their relationship has the potential to dissolve. Although they do misinterpret the meaning and motivations behind some of each others’ words and actions, and make some inaccurate assumptions as a result, Shuji and Saji do communicate with each other, something that is absolutely critical for any relationship to succeed. Granted, they still need to learn to open up to each other a little more if they’re going to make things work in the long-term.

Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas

Red Girls: The Legend of the AkakuchibasAuthor: Kazuki Sakuraba
Translator: Jocelyne Allen
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578576
Released: April 2015
Original release: 2006
Awards: Mystery Writers of Japan Award

Kazuki Sakuraba is probably most well-known as the creator of Gosick, a series of light novels which would later be adapted as a manga series, an audio drama, and an anime series. Two of those novels were released in English by Tokyopop. After her success with Gosick, Sakuraba would go on to write and publish mainstream novels and essays as well, several of which would earn her awards and nominations for her work. Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas is one of those novels. Originally published in Japan in 2006, Red Girls won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 2007. That fact caught my attention as I have thoroughly enjoyed other novels that have won that particular award, as did the striking cover design of the English-language edition of Red Girls. The novel was released in English in 2015 by Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru with a translation by Jocelyne Allen. Although Red Girls is the third novel by Sakuraba to have been translated, it was actually the first one that I read and was my introduction to her work as a whole.

For a time, the village of Benimidori, found in the western reaches of Japan’s Tottori Prefecture, was largely controlled by two rival families: the Akakuchibas, known as “red above” and who operated a steelworks factory, and the Kurobishis, known as “black below” and who were prosperous shipbuilders. While the Kurobishis were nouveau riche, the Akakuchibas were an old, upstanding family, and so quite a stir was caused when a young mountain girl who had been abandoned in the village was selected to marry the family’s heir. That was Manyo, a clairvoyant whose ability to see the future would help guide the family through a number of crises, including the tragic death of her firstborn son. The responsibility to carry on the Akakuchiba name then fell to her daughter Kemari, a wild young woman who would also die young, leaving behind a daughter of her own. By all appearances, Toko, unlike her mother or grandmother, seems to be an ordinary girl, but she is the only person to whom Manyo confessed a closely kept secret—she once killed someone.

Red Girls is divided into three parts, each one respectively devoted to the retelling of the lives and legends of Manyo, Kemari, and Toko. Eventually it is revealed that Toko is the novel’s narrator, recording the stories that she has been told by and about her mother and grandmother in an attempt to identify the person whose death Manyo claims to be responsible for. People associated with the Akakuchibas have a tendency to die in unexpected or peculiar ways, and so Toko knows of several individuals who could have been potential victims. As with any family story passed on from one generation to the next, there is a certain amount of fiction and embellishment that is added to the retelling of events. As she investigates the unusual circumstances involved in the various deaths, Toko must also closely reevaluate everything that she has been told about her family, teasing apart the stories in order to determine what exactly is the truth, what has been exaggerated, and what details continue to remain hidden and unsaid.

In addition to providing an intriguing mystery that Toko feels compelled to unravel, the narrative found in Red Girls serves another, very important purpose. It is a way for Toko to come to terms with the history of the Akakuchiba family and her position within it, allowing her to take her place in a line of powerful matriarchs. It’s not something that she is initially prepared to do, feeling inadequate when compared to her grandmother and mother and their various accomplishments. Red Girls also situates the legend of the Akakuchibas—and a legend it is, full of peculiar and fantastical elements—within the greater context of Japan’s economic and social histories. As Japan changes over time, so must the Akakuchiba family and its members, and so must the way they think about themselves, their relationships, and their stories. Red Girls is a tremendous multi-generational epic, sometimes strange and sometimes mysterious, but always engaging and oddly compelling. I enjoyed the novel immensely.

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1Creator: Aya Kanno
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421567785
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2014

The English-language release of Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King was one of the manga that I was most looking forward to in 2015. Several of Kanno’s series have previously been translated into English—Soul Rescue, Blank Slate, and Otomen—all of which are quite different from one another, and Requiem of the Rose King is different still. I tend to enjoy Kanno’s work, but I was particularly interested in Requiem of the Rose King because the series is based on William Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III, the first tetralogy of a series of plays that dramatize the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict over the English crown in the fifteenth-century. I adore Shakespeare (I actually used to perform monologues competitively as part of my high school’s speech and drama team back in the day) and so was excited to learn about Kanno’s adaptation and thrilled when Viz Media licensed it. Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1 was first released in Japan in 2014 while Viz’s English-language edition was published in 2015.

Young Richard is the third son of the Duke of York, a man who many believe to be the rightful successor to England’s throne. The current king, Henry VI, inherited rulership from his father as a child, but the Lancasters are accused of usurping the crown when their house executed King Richard II for treason. Richard desires nothing more than to see his father crowned king and as his son to prove himself worthy of his noble lineage. But Richard’s fate is a troubled one. His body, not fully male, is considered to be deformed and weak, a sign of demonic influence. He is plagued by nightmares, visions, and seemingly prophetic dreams. Richard is adored by his father and loved by his older brothers, but his mother despises him, believing his cursed existence to be a harbinger of evil and death and ashamed of her role in bringing him into the world. Whether or not it is because of Richard’s presence, that world is about to descend into chaos and civil war as the Yorks and the Lancasters vie for the crown.

Requiem of the Rose King, Volume 1, page 58Requiem of the Rose King is not a strict adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays. Instead, Kanno uses them as a source of inspiration, remixing, as she describes it, the characters, dialogue, and settings of Shakespeare’s originals to create a distinct work of her own. The manga’s English translation is excellent. With their refined formality and elegance, the patterns of speech, dialogues, and monologues are reminiscent of Shakespeare without necessarily quoting directly from his plays. A reader does not at all need to be familiar with Henry VI or Richard III to enjoy Requiem of the Rose King. One of the most striking differences between Requiem of the Rose King and Shakespeare’s dramas is the portrayal of Richard. At this point in the series, Kanno’s Richard is a much more sympathetic character than Shakespeare’s ever was. However, there is still a tense and ominous atmosphere that surrounds him in Requiem of the Rose King. It is very clear that the first volume of the manga is a prelude to even grater tragedies to come.

There is always a danger of disappointment when anticipating a manga to such a great extent, but I can honestly say that I loved the first volume of Requiem of the Rose King. It’s theatric and dramatic, with appealing artwork and interesting interpretations of historical figures. Because Requiem of the Rose King is based on plays that were already dramatizations of actual persons and events, the series isn’t rigorous in its historical accuracy. However, I find Kanno’s version to be both fascinating and immensely engaging. The manga is a bit fragmented in its storytelling, quickly moving from one scene to the next and to from time to time overlapping dreams and reality, but I feel this effectively reinforces the turmoil of the era as well as the unrest experienced by the individual characters. Requiem of the Rose King is a beautifully dark and compelling historical fantasy. I’m very much looking forward to reading the second volume and seeing how the rivalry between the Lancasters and the Yorks continues to play out.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1Creator: Hirohiko Araki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421578798
Released: February 2015
Original release: 1987-1988

Hirohiko Araki’s multi-generational epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest-running manga series in Japan. Araki began the series in 1986 and the manga is still ongoing at well over a hundred volumes. Between 2005 and 2010, Viz Media published the sixteen volumes of the third story arc, Stardust Crusaders, arguably on of the most popular, or at least well-known, parts of the series. In 2012, NBM Publishing released Rohan at the Louvre, a largely standalone manga related to Diamond Is Unbreakable, the fourth arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Finally, in 2015, the first part of the epic, Phantom Blood was released in print in English by Viz in a beautiful, deluxe hardcover edition. Phantom Blood was originally published in Japan in five volumes between 1987 and 1988, but was reissued in three volumes in 2002. That release is the basis for Viz’s English-language edition. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1 includes the entirety of the first volume and the majority of the second volume of the original Japanese release.

Jonathan Joestar, known as JoJo, is the son of a wealthy 19th-century English nobleman. He lost his mother while still an infant when the entire family was involved in a tragic carriage accident. JoJo survived, but his mother and the driver died and his father was severely injured. Years later, a young man named Dio Brando is sent to live with the Joestars. His father, who recently passed away, was the first person upon the scene of the carriage accident. Lord Joestar believes himself to be in Brando’s debt, under the mistaken impression that he saved his life, and so welcomes Dio with open arms. But Dio isn’t the upright character he often portrays himself to be. His intention is to destroy the Joestar family and take its wealth for his own using anyone and any means necessary, including a mysterious stone mask that grants vampiric powers. JoJo is the only person to suspect Dio isn’t all that he seems, and Dio is determined to make his life miserable. The two of them are raised as brothers, but despite JoJo’s initial attempts at friendship, there is no love lost between them.

Phantom Blood, Volume 1, page 80JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a very aptly named series. Phantom Blood is strange and outlandish, proceeding at a breakneck pace with a tremendous amount of drama and flying fists. It’s not subtle by any means, but the series’ uninhibited, over-the-top nature is part of Araki’s style. Heightened action and drama often take precedence over logical consistencies or realism in the manga’s artwork and story. Devastating injuries that would maim or kill most people are easily disregarded or overcome by the series’ heroes and villains, although the pain and suffering they incur certainly leave an impression. JoJo and Dio fight it out on several different occasions in the first volume of Phantom Blood, each battle becoming increasingly more violent and destructive, and they are pretty bloody to being with. And that’s not even taking into account the psychological damage that also results. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure can be brutal.

Dio is one of the most fabulous antagonists that I’ve come across in manga. Extraordinarily charismatic and completely without scruples, he makes an extremely dangerous opponent. But Dio does have flaws, and he is a much more interesting character because of them. While he is often unable to control his intense anger and arrogance, even at a young age he is able to hold people under his thrall. JoJo on the other hand, especially in comparison to Dio, is astoundingly honest, naive, and kindhearted, a gentleman through and through in both mind and deed. He uses his strength of character and impressive physical fortitude to protect his family and other people he cares about. JoJo’s repeated confrontations with Dio force hem to become even stronger as the series progresses. He grows into a formidable opponent in his own right with a firm sense of and desire for justice. The stark contrast between the two young men and the extreme dynamics of their relationship are a large part of what makes Phantom Blood such an engaging manga.

Phantasm Japan: Fantasies Light and Dark from and about Japan

Phantasm JapanEditor: Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421571744
Released: September 2014

Phantasm Japan: Fantasies Light and Dark from and about Japan, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, is the second anthology of short fiction curated specifically for Haikasoru, the speculative fiction imprint of Viz Media. Phantasm Japan, published in 2014, is a followup of sorts to the 2012 anthology The Future is Japanese. A third anthology in the loosely-related series, Hanzai Japan, is currently being complied. I rather enjoyed The Future Is Japanese and so was looking forward to the release of Phantasm Japan. The anthology collects twenty-one pieces of short fiction, including an illustrated novella, from seventeen creators in addition to the two introductory essays written by the editors. Most of the stories are original to the collection, although a few of the translated works were previously published in Japan. Much like The Future Is Japanese, Phantasm Japan promised to be an intriguing collection.

With a title like Phantasm Japan I had anticipated an anthology inspired by yokai and Japanese folklore. And while the volume does include such tales—Zachary Mason’s “Five Tales of Japan” (tengu and various deities), James A. Moore’s “He Dreads the Cold” (yuki-onna), Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Ningyo” (mermaids and other mythological beings)—it incorporates a much broader variety of stories as well. The fiction found in Phantasm Japan is generally fairly serious in nature and tone and all of the stories tend to have at least a touch of horror to them, but they range from historical fiction to science fiction and from tales of fantasy to tales more firmly based in reality. Pasts, presents, and futures are all explored in Phantasm Japan. The authors of Phantasm Japan are as diverse as their stories. Some make their homes in Japan while some hail from the Americas, Europe, or other parts of Asia. Many are established, award-winning writers while others are newer voices. In fact, Lauren Naturale’s “Her Last Appearance,” inspired in part by the life of kabuki actor Kairakutei Black, marks her debut as a published author of fiction. I also personally appreciated the inclusion of both queer authors and queer characters in the anthology.

Sisyphean Other than being a collection of fantastical stories, there isn’t really an overarching theme to Phantasm Japan. However, some of the works do explore similar concepts, but use wildly different approaches and settings. In addition to the stories influenced by traditional lore, like “Inari Updates the Map of Rice Fields” by Alex Dally MacFarlane, there are those that reflect more contemporary concerns like Tim Pratt’s “Those Who Hunt Monsters” which mixes online dating, fetishism, and yokai. Ghost of various types make appearances throughout Phantasm Japan, from the supernatural haunting of Seia Tanabe’s “The Parrot Stone” to the biohazard-induced hallucinations of Sayuri Ueda’s “The Street of Fruiting Bodies.” Joseph Tomaras’ “Thirty-Eight Observations of the Self” is in part reminiscent of stories about living ghosts. Possessions are seen multiple times in the volume as well. In “Scissors or Claws, and Holes” by Yusaku Kitano, creatures are intentionally invited into a person’s body in order to exchange memories for visions of the future while in Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Kamigakari a consciousness is shared by a man and something that isn’t human as a result of an accident.

One of the recurring themes that I found particularly appealing in Phantasm Japan was the power of memories and stories to shape, create, define, and redefine reality. In Gary A. Braunbeck’s “Shikata Ga Nai: The Bag Lady’s Tale,” a tailor from a Japanese-American internment camp is responsible for passing on centuries worth of history. In “The Last Packet of Tea” by Quentin S. Crisp, an author struggles to write one last story. Project Itoh’s “From Nothing, With Love” (which re-convinced me that I need to read everything that he has written) is about a very specific cultural touchstone and the life that it has taken on. As with any short story collection, some of the stories are stronger than others and different stories will be enjoyed by different readers. Some contributions to Phantasm Japan are readily accessible to just about anyone, such as Nadia Bulkin’s “Girl, I Love You” and Miyuki Miyabe’s “Chiyoko,” but then there are more challenging works like Dempow Torishima’s exceptionally bizarre and grotesque novella Sisyphean. As for me, I enjoyed Phantasm Japan as an anthology. I liked the range and variety in the stories collected, and my reading list has certainly grown significantly because of it.