My Week in Manga: January 2-January 8, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Kuroko’s Basketball giveaway was announced. The post also includes a list of some of the tournament and competition manga that has been licensed in English. As per usual these days, there wasn’t much else from me, but there is some other very exciting Manga Bookshelf news: The Manga Critic is back! Be on the lookout for some great content from Kate Dacey. Last week I also read Makoto Yukimura’s eighth Vinland Saga omnibus which was, as expected, excellent. (I highly recommend the series as a whole.) However, you won’t find a quick take of it below because I’m going to try to write up a full-length review of it instead. We’ll see how it goes!

Elsewhere online, The OASG has started a new series called How Fans Can Help the Anime & Manga Industries Grow in which industry folk share their experiences an thoughts on the subject. So far, the responses from Charlene Ingram, Viz Media’s senior manager of marketing, and Charis Messier, lead translator at Cross Infinite World, have been shared. Another interesting read courtesy of Sakuga Blog is a translation of a roundtable with three manga editors (Tatsuya Kusunoki, Katsuyuki Sasaki, and Ryouji Takamatsu) discussing the growth of the yuri genre. As for boys’ love, Khursten at Otaku Champloo takes a closer look at the Dangerous BL Manga list for 2017.

Quick Takes

Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, Volume 2Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, Volumes 2-10 by Masahito Soda. I enjoyed the first volume of Firefighter! well enough to seek out the rest of the manga (while the entire series is now available digitally, most of the individual volumes are well out-of-print) and I am so incredibly glad that I did. I’m only halfway through, but Firefighter! is fantastic. It has exciting action, compelling drama, and engaging characters. The titular Daigo is a rookie firefighter who, although he seems to have good instincts, has a lot to learn. Each rescue he’s a part of is more audacious than the last and he frequently ends up in the hospital as a result. Daigo hasn’t lost anyone yet, but his unorthodox ways, disregard for direct orders, and tendency to go overboard puts his own life and the lives of other rescue workers at risk. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before tragedy will strike, but no one can deny that he has saved people who would have otherwise died. Firefighter! is intense and thrilling, but it actually has a fair amount of humor as well. (For all his bravery, Daigo is kind of a goofball.) I’m definitely looking forward to reading the series’ second half.

Horimiya, Volumes 2-4 written by Hero, illustrated by Daisuke Hagiwara. While I wasn’t quite as taken with these few volumes as I was with the first, I am still enjoying Horimiya a great deal. After accidentally discovering each other’s secrets, Miyamura and Hori have developed a close friendship which is slowly evolving into something more. It takes some time, but eventually they’re able to recognize their feelings and actually act on them. In large part, Horimiya is a manga about relationships of all types. Friendship and family are just as important, and are sometimes even more important, than the series’ romance. It’s also a manga which excels in depicting the characters’ multifaceted natures, showing how they behave differently depending on who is present. As more characters are introduced (including Hori’s father and some of Miyamura’s friends from middle school), the social dynamics in the series naturally change. Horimiya isn’t a manga that has me on edge desperate to know what will happen next, but the characters are tremendously endearing and I do want to see things work out for all of them.

Warning! Whispers of LoveWarning! Whispers of Love by Puku Okuyama. So far, only two of Okuyama’s boys’ love manga have been released in print. I had previously read and wasn’t overly impressed by the more recent Caramel despite liking some of the manga’s individual elements (in fact, overall I can’t really say that I enjoyed it much) but I already had a copy of Warning! so I figured I should at least give it a try. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Warning! much more than I did Caramel. It’s a collection of rather silly boys’ love stories ranging from the subtly amusing to the overtly goofy. They tend to be fairly cute as well and generally any physical intimacy that is shown is limited to a few kisses and chaste embraces. Most of Warning! is devoted to the story of Hajime, a first year at an all-boys school, and the incredibly awkward relationship that develops between him and an upperclassman who seems to want nothing more than to clean the wax from Hajime’s ears. It’s easily the most ridiculous setup in the entire volume but it can be legitimately funny–all the boys’ love tropes and jokes that would typically be applied to sex are applied to ear cleaning instead and it’s surprisingly effective.

Wandering SonWandering Son directed by Ei Aoki. Takako Shimura’s manga Wandering Son is an incredibly important series to me personally, so I was greatly saddened when Fantagraphics stopped releasing it in English. Initially I wanted to read the entire manga before watching the anime adaptation but, seeing as the rest likely won’t be available any time soon, I finally gave in. The Wandering Son anime is a lovely series. It’s not an exact adaptation of the manga, but it is faithful to the original story and characters. In general, the narrative style of the anime tends to be a little more linear than that of the manga. However, both series provide an empathetic exploration of gender identity, following a group of middle school students who are learning who they are. It’s a fairly realistic portrayal, meaning that society isn’t always the most accepting which can be absolutely heartbreaking. However, seeing the characters become more confident in their selves even when that goes against what is expected of them is exceptionally validating. The anime only adapts a portion of the manga and doesn’t provide much of a resolution (though it does go beyond where Fantagraphics left off), but it is still very well done and well-worth watching.


Wandering Son, Volume 8

Wandering Son, Volume 8Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606998311
Released: May 2015
Original release: 2008

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura is a manga series that is incredibly important to me on a very personal level. The series’ exploration of personal identity, especially in regards to gender and sexual identity, is beautifully done with great sensitivity. It’s a rare comic in which gender expression and other issues relating to gender are treated realistically and not as a joke. Wandering Son is an authentically meaningful series. Fantagraphics Books has been releasing the manga in English in a lovely hardcover edition; I only wish that the individual volumes were able to be released more frequently. Wandering Son, Volume 8 was first published in Japan in 2008 while the English translation was published in 2015. Wandering Son concluded in 2013 with its fifteenth volume, meaning that the eighth volume marks the beginning of the second half of the series. I am so incredibly grateful that Wandering Son is being translated and look forward to reading the remaining volumes.

Spring has come, which means a new school year is about to begin. Shuichi, Takatsuki, and their classmates are entering the eighth grade, but with a new year comes new class assignments. The students, whose often precarious friendships and relationships were at least temporarily stable, once more find themselves confronted with new and changing group dynamics. Some friends are separated while others are reunited. And of course, not-quite-friends and past bullies are included in the mix as well, creating some challenging and awkward situations for everyone involved. Springtime has come for some of the young people in a more figurative sort of way as well. Anna and Shuichi continue to date each other and enjoy being together despite Shuichi’s lingering affections for Takatsuki. Everyone has mostly come to terms with this development in their relationship, but more than one person has commented that Takatsuki and Shuichi would make an ideal couple.

Wandering Son, Volume 8, page 101I’ve come to really like Anna as a character. When she was first introduced in the series, she came across as aloof and perhaps even a bit mean-spirited, but as Wandering Son has progressed, more about Anna has been revealed. It’s not exactly that she’s bad-natured, she just doesn’t have a high tolerance for people who don’t approach their lives and work seriously. Anna can be surprisingly mature for her age—something that may probably be true for many of the younger characters in Wandering Son—but I still find her personality and character to be a believable. She is extraordinarily accepting and kind in her own fashion, seeming to lack the jealous tendencies that cause so many problems for her peers. But what I love most about Anna in Wandering Son, Volume 8 is her acceptance and support of Shuichi through their relationship as a couple. She is perfectly content to go on dates as two girls if that’s what Shuichi wants and she never denigrates Shuichi’s interests or feelings.

For the most part, Wandering Son tends to be a fairly quiet series, which is not to say there isn’t drama. And I certainly don’t intend to downplay the very real and intense emotions experienced by the characters as they struggle through their adolescence and personal turmoils. Those are central to Wandering Son. However, the eighth volume is the first volume that really ends with a dramatic turn of events that could be described as a cliffhanger. Throughout Wandering Son, Shuichi and Takatsuki have become more comfortable and increasingly bolder with how they express themselves in the clothes they wear, largely because they’ve received encouragement from their classmates and friends. But up until this volume, that outward expression has mostly been limited to their private lives; now they’ve begun to push the boundaries in how they dress at school, which has an explicit dress codes and uniforms based on gender. I am very glad to see the two of them developing a firmer understanding and acceptance of who they are, but I also worry for them because, as Wandering Son honestly portrays, the world can sometime be a very cruel place.

Wandering Son, Volume 7

Wandering Son, Volume 7Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606997505
Released: August 2014
Original release: 2007

The wait between the release of each new volume of the English-language edition of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son can seem torturous, but without fail I’m exceptionally glad when the next installment is finally available. Wandering Son is a manga that is personally very meaningful to me, so I’m always a little worried that Fantagraphics won’t be able to complete the series, which would be a shame. Fantagraphics’ edition of Wandering Son is beautiful, complete with color pages and hardcover binding. Wandering Son, Volume 7 was originally published in Japan in 2007 while Fantagraphics’ English translation by Matt Thorn was released in 2014. The series concluded in Japan with the fifteenth volume, which means that the English-language release has just about reached the midway point of Wandering Son. I sincerely hope the rest of the series will be able to be published, too.

The seventh graders’ production of a gender-swapped Romeo & Juliet for their school’s cultural festival is over, but there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for the drama unfolding in the classroom. Although a few of the students were dissatisfied with their own parts and performances, the play was generally well received, resulting in the theater club attempting to scout some of the best talent. This does cause some tension as the members of the various school clubs shift around to follow their personal interests, leaving friends behind in the process. Some friendships are being severely tested while other, more antagonistic, relationships appear to be on the mend. As Shuichi, Takatsuki, and the others grow and mature, their connections to one another change and evolve, too. Puberty continues to progress as well, bringing with it unwanted changes, anxieties over developing bodies, and concerns over physical appearances. What to wear, what not to wear, acne, and skin problems are all legitimate worries, providing opportunities for both teasing and bonding.

Wandering Son is told in a somewhat non-linear, almost fragmented sort of way. Shimura takes individual moments and memories, often from different points in the characters’ lives, and then layers them together, drawing connections between the separate pieces that would not necessarily have been obvious otherwise. This makes it easier for readers to see that the characters, though they all have their own unique perspectives and individual experiences, are dealing with some very similar issues. Their approaches to those issues and how they deal them are often quite different, though. This layering and revealing of parallels, as well as the other narrative and storytelling techniques that Shimura uses, are very effective in building on some of the themes that Wandering Son explores—namely personal identity—by exhibiting the depth and nuance of the series’ sensitive portrayal of the characters as individuals. The realism and authenticity of the characterization in Wandering Son is one of the manga’s greatest strengths.

Another related aspect of the manga that is handled particularly well is the natural changes in the characters’ relationships with one another. Wandering Son has a large cast of both primary and important secondary characters and it’s a close-knit group. When something happens between two of the members, the social dynamics of the entire circle is influenced. Major developments occur when Shuichi and Anna begin dating, helping to trigger some unexpected changes in Chiba and Takatsuki’s relationship which were particularly interesting to see. Chiba is incredibly self-centered and at times exceptionally unlikeable, but she’s also perceptive and seems to be very sure of herself and who she is. Takatsuki, on the other hand, is still working all of that out but is fiercely determined in other ways. It’s because of Takatsuki’s persistence, despite Chiba’s prickliness, that their friendship has a chance of improving—something that everyone would be happy about. It won’t be an easy process, though, and will take some time. Wandering Son excels in capturing the real-life messiness of relationships.

Wandering Son, Volume 6

Wandering Son, Volume 6Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606997079
Released: January 2014
Original release: 2007

Wandering Son is currently the only manga by Takako Shimura to have been released in print in English. Although I would love to see more of her work translated and published, I am particularly grateful that it is Wandering Son that has been licensed for print release. (Fantagraphics’ large format hardcover edition is simply lovely, too.) Wandering Son is a beautiful series that explores the young protagonists’ search for personal identity and addresses issues of gender and sexuality in a very sincere, sensitive, and accessible way. Wandering Son often hits incredibly close to home for me which is one of the reasons that I personally hold the series so dear. I’m not sure how popular the series is in general, but it has been well-received by critics both inside and outside of Japan. The sixth volume of Wandering Son was initially published in Japan in 2007. Fantagraphics’ English-language edition of Wandering Son, Volume 6 was released in 2014.

As the school’s cultural festival approaches, the students are hard at work preparing for their classes’ projects. Chiba and Shuichi are trying to put the final touches on their script for a gender-swapped version of Romeo and Juliet despite some of their classmates’ well-intentioned interference. To Chiba and Shuichi the play is much more than a simple seventh-grade class production. It’s also a very personal expression of their desires: Chiba wants to see Shuichi in the role of Juliet and Shuichi wants to be seen as a girl. In some ways their version of Romeo and Juliet is a reflection of Shuichi and Takatsuki as the two of them are faced with challenging society’s established gender roles and expectations. Shuichi and Takatsuki’s bonding over the play is a source of immense frustration for Chiba. She’s in love with Shuichi, and Shuichi has feelings for Takatsuki, but Takatsuki isn’t interested in pursuing those feelings. The result is that there’s quite a bit of drama both on and off the stage.

For my part, I’m glad to see Shuichi and Takatsuki becoming close again after their relationship was disrupted by Shuichi’s confession of love. Thankfully, they were able to work through that and are once again able to lean and rely on each other as friends. This is particularly important for the two of them since they share so much in common. The additional support is something that Shuichi especially needs. At the beginning of Wandering Son, Shuichi was a very meek and hesitant person. However, as the series has progressed, Shuichi has grown, becoming much more assertive and confident and is now able to begin to express in words needs and desires. In a very touching scene with Takatsuki, Shuichi sums it up quite nicely, “It’s my wish. You as a boy…me as a girl…a happy ending for everybody.” It’s really the first time that Shuichi has been able to be so clear and forthright about the their situation. Happily, it’s not the last time that it happens, but it is a very formative and noteworthy moment.

One of the things that Shimura captures remarkably well in Wandering Son is the natural development of the characters and their relationships with one another. Wandering Son is a story about growing up and determining not only who you are as an individual but who you are in relation to other people; how people see themselves in addition to how others see them. Life itself could be said to be a performance. It’s particularly interesting then that in Wandering Son, Volume 6 so many parallels are made between Shuichi and Takatsuki’s real life and the very deliberately crafted Romeo and Juliet production. Through it they are able to reveal a part of themselves for everyone to see. It may not be a particularly subtle narrative technique on Shimura’s part, but it is a very effective one. The play echos their experiences, emphasizing specific aspects of their lives and relationships not only for the characters, but for the readers as well. Wandering Son continues to be an absolutely wonderful series. As always, I am very much looking forward to the next volume.

Wandering Son, Volume 5

Wandering Son, Volume 5Creator: Takako Shimura
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606996478
Released: September 2013
Original release: 2006

The fifth volume of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son was originally published in Japan in 2005 while the English-language edition of Wandering Son, Volume 5 was published by Fantagraphics in 2013. The entire series is being released in English as beautiful hardcovers; Fantagraphics’ treatment of the manga is simply lovely. Wandering Son is a series that has come to mean a tremendous amount to me on a very personal level. I am very grateful to Fantagraphics for pursuing the manga in English. Wandering Son is a wonderful story about growing up and personal identity with a very sincere and sensitive look at gender and sexuality. The series started out strong and it continues to be a powerful work. Although reading it can sometimes be traumatic for me because the story touches on issues that hit so close to home, I always look forward to reading the next volume of Wandering Son. I wish I didn’t have to wait for so long between volumes, but it’s always worth it.

With the beginning of seventh grade students are faced with a new school, new teacher, new classmates, and maybe even a few new crushes. In some ways junior high is a chance for a new start, but some problems are carried over from middle school. Shuichi’s close circle of friends has started to fall apart as romantic feelings get in the way and cause a fair amount of tension within the group. The rift between Takatsuki and Chiba has grown particularly wide. It seems as though the two of them may never be able to make up, despite the pain that their falling out has caused for the rest of their friends. Though they are still very close, things have become rather awkward between Shuichi and Takatsuki as well after Shuichi declared having feelings for Takatsuki and Takatsuki gently rejected them. Fortunately, Shuichi has Mako as a source of comfort and reason. It’s a good thing, too, as junior high and puberty have their own challenges; having someone to commiserate with is invaluable. Making new friends doesn’t hurt either, although sometimes that just complicates matters even further.

While the focus of Wandering Son, Volume 5 is still on Shuichi and Takatsuki and their families and friends, it’s interesting to see part of the manga being told from the perspective of their new teacher Manabu Saisho. It actually happens to be his first year teaching. He’s inexperienced and easily flustered, and his eagerness may end up getting him into trouble, but so far I (like Mako) find him charming. But as volatile as junior high and his students can be, I do worry for him a bit. And I worry for Shuichi and the others as well. Adolescence is upon them as are all the changes that entails, most of which cannot be ignored. Mortified after being publicly called out by the basketball coach, Takatsuki is faced with the embarrassing prospect of bra shopping while Shuichi and Mako are trying to come to terms with the fact that their voices will soon be changing. Even seemingly benign statements such as “they’ve grown taller again” are painfully bittersweet reminders of what is in store for them as they continue to physically mature.

Shimura does a fantastic job of layering the textual narrative of Wandering Son with its artwork. The manga’s composition is excellent. There is a particularly effective scene fairly early on in the fifth volume that takes place during the academic year’s opening ceremonies—the commencement speaker expresses the desire for everyone to talk together and encourage one another while the illustration clearly shows that Shuichi and the others can hardly bear to look at one another and that some of them aren’t even on speaking terms. Wandering Son is filled with deceptively simple moments like these in which the artwork and the text express far more together than they ever would alone. Wandering Son is told in such a way that it comes across as a sequence of closely related impressions or vignettes rather than a single, rigidly structured storyline. It’s quite effective in conveying the manga’s more emotive and introspective qualities. I continue to be impressed by Shimura’s work in Wandering Son and look forward to the next volume a great deal.