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.

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!

 

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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!

Anime — Kamisama Kiss

 

Kamisama Kiss (known in Japan as Kamisama Hajimemashita) is one of my favorite anime series. But it doesn’t seem very well known so I try to recommend it to my friends who like shoujo series. Just getting screenshots for this post made me want to watch it again, for the third time.

The series is told from the perspective of Nanami Monozono, a high-school student who is made homeless thanks to her now-absentee gambling-addicted father. But she’s taking things in stride. While sitting in a public park thinking of what to do next about her living situation she happens upon a man stuck up in a tree who is being hassled by a small dog. She shoos off the canine and the man thanks her for rescuing him by offering her his old house.

It turns out his old house is a creepy shrine inhabited by will-o-the-wisps and a fox-demon familiar named Tomoe, and she has now inadvertently inherited the position of Land God.

While visually Kamisama Kiss looks to be taking a lot of cues from Inuyasha, thanks to school-girl Nanami and silver-haired fox-eared Tomoe, its narrative is extremely different. Inuyasha is a shounen fantastical action-adventure with romantic themes, Kamisama Kiss is a more modern shoujo romantic comedy with fantastical themes. The anime is directed by the same person who did Fruits Basket, if that gives you an idea of what kind of show to expect. The Kamisama Kiss anime has a short and sweet single season run (a second season has been announced and will start in early 2015) that is enjoyable to blow through on a weekend.

And it should be stressed that Kamisama Kiss is really funny. Nanami’s take-no-shit attitude when dealing with all these supernatural creatures in the guises of hot men, such as an idol rockstar crow-demon, who keep showing up in her life is very entertaining to watch. But she is also believably characterized as a vulnerable teenager that is working through a lot of stuff and trying her best given the circumstances. I like Nanami a lot. But I have to say, my favorite character is the bumbling yet cunning sacred snake familiar, Mizuki (he shares the same voice actor as Mikorin from Nozaki-kun, so that is a bonus).

The Kamisama Kiss manga is also very good. It extends quite a bit farther than where the first season of the anime ends and, from that the previews show, it also extends farther than what the second season will see, so if you enjoy the anime and want to follow more of the story you can buy up to volume 16 in English thanks to Viz’s Shojo Beat (print only).

All 13 episodes of Kamisama Kiss are currently streaming on Hulu in addition to FUNimation’s site and YouTube channel (first two episodes only), and it also has a domestic Blu Ray/DVD available for purchase.

Anime — Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

I saw some people talking on Twitter about a new series whose first episode just aired and the premise sounded interesting enough so I gave it a shot. The show’s called Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun) and it’s about a high-school girl who attempts to confess her feelings to the guy she’s been crushing on but instead ends up becoming an art assistant on the serialized shoujo (girl’s) manga he draws professionally after school. I was really surprised by how genuinely funny the show was and I loved the characters introduced so far. Nozaki is a tall, deadpan airhead who utilizes his friends for story ideas, often to disastrous but humorous results (Nakamura does a really good job of voicing him). And Sakura is slowly learning how much of a doofus her crush is, and that doesn’t seem to sway her too much. The anime is based on a 4-koma style manga (4-panel gags) much like Azumanga Daioh was, and is written and drawn by Izumi Tsubaki (Oresama Teacher).

I’ve found all my comic artist friends who have taken up the show are really smitten with it. Having some professional insight into sequential art creation can help make some of the jokes pack a bit more of a punch but it’s definitely not a requirement to enjoying the show, they generally explain anything too obtuse and most of the humor is in the character interactions. It also has a lot of jokes relating to the shoujo manga genre so if you grew up on those kinds of stories (or still partake) then you will find the show extra endearing. You can watch the first episode right now with Crunchyroll Premium (free next week).

Manga — My Love Story!! volume 1

A couple of months back I saw Shojo Beat, Viz’s publishing arm focusing on manga aimed at women, advertise that they had picked up the rights to My Love Story!! (aka Ore Monogatari!!) The cover preview image they included caught my eye because it was a style I remembered noticing at the Kinokuniya Japanese bookstore in New York City the prior year. At that time the art was advertised heavily on the shelf endcap as an award-winning and popular manga. The series’ covers feature a giant man with a buzzcut and prominent lips—that’s the main protagonist, Takeo Goda, and he’s a first-year in high school who is very sweet, if a bit dense. His is not the point-of-view that you usually see in shoujo romantic comedy manga, which is what makes this series all the more unique and interesting.

The first English volume was released in print and digitally just this past week so I snagged it on my Kindle and read through with my iPad. At first the art seemed really sparse to me and it took some getting used to but later on that becomes part of its charm and is worked for comedic effect. The art is done by a mangaka unfamiliar to me, her name is simply Aruko, and the story is done by Kazune Kawahara, who previously did High School Debut. The simple art and snappy writing gradually become a nice change of pace, being able to read something that doesn’t feel too busy or drawn out. All the characters come off as human and likable, even the rivals, and I’m curious to see what conflicts arise in later volumes, of which are 6 total available in Japan currently.

I recommend this series for anyone who likes seeing romance genre tropes flipped on their head. I was genuinely giggling the whole way through reading it and can see why it’s so popular. If you want to briefly check it out you can download a sample for Amazon Kindle before you buy.