Reading — The Ancient Magus’ Bride

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I think I’ve learned about myself over the years that I really do love the whole “monster boyfriend” genre. It’s a wellspring for marginalized creators to explore relationship communication issues over what is essentially unknowable. But it’s not without trying, as our plucky leads show.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride series is a cut above the rest. While the initial premise might elicit some side-eye—our young heroine is initially bought at some magical slave auction by the intimidating mage—it quickly does away with that threat and gives the lead Chise the freedom to explore this opened up new magical world on her own terms. And we quickly learn that Chise isn’t completely isolated, she soon meets a whole bevy of powerful side characters who are there to support and guide her, even against some of the Magus’ teachings.

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Anyone else read the book The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley? While reading Magus’ Bride I’m very much reminded of the section of that book where princess Aerin finds herself shacking up in some timeless lakeside magical realm with a grumpy young mage who begrudgingly becomes her teacher, then lover….

So if you like that scenario but with a lot more actual Welsh lore references and Full Metal Alchemist fight brutality then I say read this beautiful manga!

Also I love when they boop.

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Also author Kore Yamazake’s little postscript comics are adorable.

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You may also be interested in the short anime series as well!

 

Best Manga of 2016

A few months ago I was invited to Anime Fan Fest to be on a panel along with Jason Thompson and Daryl Surat to champion my choices for best (and worst) manga of the past year. Just recently this same panel has been held at SDCC and it reminded me that I never got around to posting my list. So here is my selections of what I personally recommend should be read from among the countless domestic releases in the past year. I’m leaving out my votes for worst manga since I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum, I just had to give some titles for the sake of discussion at the panel. You can read Jason and Daryl’s submissions for the panel’s list here.

Best New Manga (YA)

Yowamushi Pedal — Triumphantly heralding the return of sports manga in English! I love artist Watanabe’s flow and sense of speed, and while his characters may look rough in the beginning for those used to the anime’s style, their designs quickly catch up.

My Hero Academia — After watching episode one of the newly released anime I immediately jumped to read every English volume available. Themed after Western superhero stories and comic books, this series has a distinctly different flavor than One-Punch Man. And I never thought All Might would become my favorite character.

A Silent Voice — Emotionally draining but so worth the read. About a deaf girl and her bully.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride — I love Kore Yamazaki’s take on fairy stories and magic. And a mysterious skull-headed fae magician is oddly appealing.

Best New Manga (Adult)

Goodnight Punpun — Much anticipated by me! I love the style of all the background characters when compared to how Punpun and his family is portrayed as crudely drawn little bird people. Yet all their problems are just as real.

Princess Jellyfish — Also highly anticipated by me. Artist Akiko Higashimura is a personal hero of mine. It’s so great to see Kodansha taking a chance on manga aimed at older women (josei).

Monster — Naoki Urasawa’s long out of print masterpiece. It’s back in larger deluxe omnibuses and I can finally begin its mysterious journey.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun — I put this in the Adults section because I feel like there’s a lot of humor to Nozaki that I can only appreciate now that I’m older, especially a lot of the stuff revolving around the working adults the main characters interact with.

Gangsta — A violent mob assassin story but written and drawn by a woman for a change. Kohske’s rich artwork makes the topic all the more appealing to me.

Most Looking Forward To (these are both out now)

Haikyu!! — More sports manga please! I never knew I cared about volleyball until Haikyu came around.

Fruits Basket — And a rescue! Extremely out of print (I would see $24 used volumes and never #1) and something I missed out on in my old shoujo days, I’ve been wanting to experience this one for a while.

Unlicensed Dream Manga

Kakukaku Shikajika — Higashimura’s autobiographical manga! Tells the story of her getting her start in art in a rural costal town with a strange painting teacher. Very emotional.

My Brother’s Husband — Gengoroh Tagame’s general work! It’s a story about a man and his daughter, and his deceased twin brother’s Canadian husband who comes to live with them.

Manga — Happy 801 Day!

It’s August 1st, Yaoi Day (8/01: Japanese eight can be read “ya”, then zero as “o”, then one read like “i”). My friend Anne has a really good short breakdown of the genre if you’re unfamiliar with it.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the list of BL (boys love) manga recommendations that I’ve been planning. For a while friends have been asking me to recommend BL manga that I enjoy and that would be good for beginners. I’ve also been asked by other friends for recommendations that deviate from the typical 90s-esque CLAMP-Shoulders Yaoi-Hands styles that are most prevalent. There are a lot of artists working in the genre so styles can range significantly.

If you want a BL history lesson I can’t recommend more Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas printed in a nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics. It’s a shoujo series from 1974 and one of the earliest examples of mainstream women manga artists exploring themes of same-sex relationships. While BL media can be fraught and filled with problematic portrayals that in no way reflect realistic homosexual relationships between men, it is an interesting space to explore because it’s one where women have a lot of creative power in, as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

My tastes in BL manga tends to lean towards odd-couples with some domesticity, humor, and a bit of smut, so that will be present in my following recommendations. I definitely have a longer list and I plan to do a follow-up post outlining some series that would totally be on this list if only they were officially localized. It’s also safe to assume that these books are rated 18+.

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His Favorite – Suzuki Tanaka (free preview)
I wasn’t sure what to think of His Favorite at first and grabbed it out of boredom, but it charmed me pretty quickly. This one is about an unattractive boy, Yoshida, and his popular classmate who takes a liking to him, Satou. At first Satou can come off as pretty pushy, but I enjoy how their relationship ends up in later volumes and the silly backstories. The Rumic-style humor and stylistic weighted lines of the art kept me coming back for all 7 volumes. Also I should note this one is very tame as far as any sexual content goes, so it’s a good start for those not feeling ready to take that plunge yet. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Awkward Silence – Hinako Takanaga (free preview)
Enthusiastic and consensual relationship from the get-go! Yes! So unfortunately rare (and lamentably doesn’t remain true for the second pairing in the same series). Satoru is an introvert who has trouble making his expressions apparent on his face (which for the reader is supplemented by thought bubble exuberance and small expressive avatars). So this leads to communication issues with his new boyfriend to work out. Lots of misunderstandings that thankfully get resolved quickly and end up being more cute than irritating. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Apple and Honey – Hideyoshico
I am a big fan of artist Hideyoshico! She captures very cute interactions between her characters and draws such expressive faces. Apple and Honey is actually side stories intersected with a different couple’s short story in the middle. The other volume, His Rose Colored Life, is the main couple set in a college and is a bit more melodramatic than the other books on this list. I recommend getting these ones in print instead of digital, the transfer quality leaves much to be desired.


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Crimson Spell – Ayano Yamane (free preview)
Crimson Spell has got that corny fantasy romance novel aesthetic going for its covers and I love it. It’s about a prince getting cursed by a heirloom sword and traveling with a sorcerer in order to find out how to remove his demonic affliction. Artist Ayano Yamane’s books regularly top the New York Times Bestsellers list for manga when they are released (Crimson Spell volumes as well as Finder) and she is surprisingly popular here. One thing I didn’t expect from Crimson Spell was the humor. It reminds me of Bastard!! but with way more actual sex. This one is only available in print.

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Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.

Manga — Princess Jellyfish coming in English!

Once there lived a girl in Tokyo. She didn’t deal well with crowds. Or people. Or expectations…

But she understood jellyfish.

One fateful night this pitiful girl happens to meet a benevolent, powerful, and glamorous princess. The princess-in-disguise brings both boon and bane—ultimately changing the trajectory of the girl’s life.

We still don’t know yet if this encounter was for better or for worse…

Ever since marathoning with friends the single existing season of Jellyfish Princess (Kuragehime) on Netflix during New Years 2014 the show has held a special place in my heart. While the narrative thread is prematurely cut off in the anime, the Jellyfish Princess manga has continued on significantly farther. Since then I’ve found that while the series has earned some extreme fondness among my shoujo-influence indie artist and comics friends, the manga that started it all hasn’t had an official domestic release yet.

But publisher Kodansha announced at Anime Expo 2015 just this weekend that they would finally bring over the Princess Jellyfish manga in English, to much rejoicing! I was really happy seeing the outpouring of supportive tweets about Kodansha finally bringing over the title. I was literally tearing up myself when I heard the news. Jellyfish Princess had always been one of those titles sorely missing from my bookshelf, one that I would love to recommend and loan to friends who don’t read much manga in the first place. Thankfully Kodansha finally decided to take a chance on a longer (15 volumes and counting) josei title, and will be printing them in convenient 2-in-1 bindings.

Artist Akiko Higashimura’s post-volume autobiographical update comics are some of my favorite things, revolving around her sudden obsession with K-Pop idols, stalking Japanese Olympic stars as a teen, and initially raising her son as a single mom. She is seriously one of my heroes.

At Anime Expo it was also announced that Crunchyroll Manga would be making the first four volumes of Jellyfish Princess available on their site as soon as July 15th! That’s absolutely amazing! Crunchyroll Manga is fully accessible to anyone who has a Crunchyroll premium membership.

You can also watch the first two episodes of the 11-episode Jellyfish Princess anime on YouTube or Hulu, or get the DVDs for a very reasonable price. The opening sequence is something to behold. Can you identify all the pop-culture references?

TCAF Trip Report!

Last Friday morning I boarded a propeller-driven puddle jumper from Boston’s Logan airport and then one complimentary glass of wine later I was in Toronto. This would be my second visit to the city and my second TCAF. After landing I felt it was already a much better experience because my new phone plan allowed for unlimited, albeit slow, data roaming services, so I was able to better navigate the city’s public transportation system by myself without feeling a constant, desperate, anxious tether to Starbucks’ free wifi.

Fresh off the plane I headed uptown to have lunch with my friend Miguel, who runs the Comics vs Games event that happens in tandem with TCAF weekend activities. I would be giving a microtalk during a session later that weekend so it was a good time to discuss expectations. Then he showed me to a bunch of nearby comic book stores and to the world-famous The Beguiling. It was an amazing shop that I wished I had more time to poke around in. There I found an incredibly out-of-print copy of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, which I snagged with the hopes of getting it signed by The Master himself while he was attending TCAF.

That evening I got to go to a mixer put on by Toronto’s local Japan Foundation and there I briefly met Ken Niimura. I had bought his amazing collection Henshin a couple of days prior and was loving it but wasn’t able to lug it up to Canada to get signed. Later that night my friends and I went to Momofuku, where I had the most decadent Korean fried chicken I have ever eaten, capped off by a dessert of yummy Cereal Milk ice cream with corn flakes on top.

Saturday morning and afternoon was frantic. I scurried into where the artists were selling and grabbed a couple of items, particularly a book from Leslie Hung’s table, before heading over to the Aya Kanno spotlight. She spoke of her start as a manga artist and how originally she was more interested in shounen (boy’s) manga but after a bad experience working with a particular editor she decided to go into shoujo (girl’s) instead.

Immediately after that was the Gengoroh Tagame panel. This session was absolutely amazing! They even had a member from Viz Media’s SuBLime imprint present to provide insight into Western perceptions of geikomi compared to BL/yaoi and publishing realities involved. Tagame even talked about when getting his start initially submitting his works to BL magazines like June because outlets for comics aimed at gay men didn’t exist yet. It was a super fascinating discussion that the wonderful people at Massive recorded, so I hope that becomes available online at some point.

Later I waited in line to get my copy of Requiem of the Rose King signed by Aya Kanno, then waited in a different line to get my Passion collection signed by Gengoroh Tagame. That man is so sweet and bright! He even was taking pictures with guests upon request, which is quite uncommon for manga authors.

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Then I synced up with my friends Christine and Sophia to head down to the Bit Bazaar, which is sort of a game demo exhibit and crafts fair at Toronto’s Bento Miso coworking space. It ended up being a bit too hot and crowded for me to stick around too long but I got to say hi to some pals and bought a cute zine from Kelly K’s table. Then I scurried off to the Queer Mixer and saw some great micro-interviews on stage with a lot of amazing looking artists I was unfamiliar with before.

Sunday was pretty chill for the most part but I was stressed about getting my Comics vs Games talk right. You really can’t underestimate timed microtalks! We were going off the GDC model where it’s 20 slides with each one being displayed for 16 seconds before automatically proceeding. You have to practice and time your words! And of course when you’re actually doing the talk it goes all off script. Hopefully a recording will be posted soon!

And at the end of my section, which was about dating sims and development tools, I announced that in June I’ll be running a dating sim game jam! You can visit the International Love Ultimatum #iluJam Tumblr here where all the announcements and useful posts will be made.

If you ever find yourself able to make it to Toronto for TCAF I highly recommend it! It’s one of my favorite conferences I’ve attended and definitely the top comics one. Admission is totally free too so you can spend all your money a the artists’ tables instead! And Toronto is a great city.

Yowamushi Pedal and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun manga licensed by Yen Press!

 

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

In a completely surprise announcement during their panel at Sakura-Con yesterday, manga publisher Yen Press revealed they had acquired the rights to publish both the Yowamushi Pedal manga and the Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun manga in English, among a list of other new series. I’m really excited about this as I’m a huge fan of both Yowapeda and Nozaki-kun!

It’s also an interesting announcement as nobody expected either of these series to ever be localized. In the past, sport manga like Slam Dunk hasn’t sold particularly well in North America, nor has yoncoma which is the style of 4-panel humor storytelling that the original Nozaki-kun manga uses. Yowamushi Pedal is a significant investment since the series is currently 39 volumes long in Japan without sign of stopping, quite a translation undertaking. Hopefully Yen Press has seen the lively Yowapeda fandom and felt it was time to take a chance of a sports manga again. It’s also great news that they’ll be doubling up their Yowapeda releases into two-volume omnibuses, since maybe it’ll allow the West to catch up to the anime and beyond quicker.

And Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a great aquisition even with its 4-koma stigma because I’ve had so many friends, anime fan and even newbies, who finish Nozaki-kun and ask for more. And without a second season announcement there was only the manga, which was not available in English. Now I have a place I can point them to!

Thank you so much, Yen Press! I definitely plan to preorder both of these and recommend them to all my friends and more!

Meanwhile, you can watch both seasons of the Yowamushi Pedal anime on Crunchyroll or season one on Hulu and the one season of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun anime on Crunchyroll or Hulu.

Preorder Yowamushi Pedal volume 1 or Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun volume 1!