Some Brief Thoughts On Writing

Hello, everyone! SO sorry that I haven’t written for a while. I was away visiting family last weekend, and then I became very busy with both my day job and the review work that I do on the side. As such, I haven’t had much time to read any manga! My husband and I have made our way through most of the Wotakoi anime, though, and it’s so good…definitely going to be disappointed when we finish.

I had a great time on the Manga Machinations podcast a couple weeks back. If you haven’t had a chance to check that out, I’d urge you again to find the episode at mangamachinations.tumblr.com. I’ve been on panels at conventions several times in the past, so doing a podcast was a bit similar…but it was definitely novel to be the center of attention!

Despite not updating here, I have been doing a great deal of writing, both personal and professional, and thinking a lot about how much I enjoy it. I’ve always liked writing, and my parents and teachers and peers always made a point of telling me I was good at it. But for a long time, I fretted over whether or not I was good enough. These days, I worry less about that and more about getting thoughts down onto paper (or computer screen), and I do feel that I’m able to convey what I mean to say more often than not.

I mentioned that I do paid review work; it’s uncredited, so I don’t have the ability to claim it as my own. But this kind of very structured writing, while I initially thought of it as a chore, has actually been very good for me. It allows me to separate out writing as a tool and writing as an art. I like being creative and writing creative reviews here, but it’s also important to be able to practice brevity and clarity that my personal writing might eschew for more whimsy or flair.

Basically, I love writing and I’d like to do more of it. My life being what it is right now, I don’t know how likely that is; but if I could find more paid writing work (which also gives me a byline…), I would find a way to make it work.

I’m happier when I’m writing. It took me a long time to remember that fact — that I used to write not to be good at it, but because I enjoyed it. In any practice, it’s hard to remember that we often start with joy, and then get bogged down by the need to excel. (I draw, as well, and this is a major problem for me in that arena.) There is no one person who is the best at anything. It’s hard to not compare yourself to others, but its important to only mark your progress against yourself. Doing otherwise will only result in angst…and it prevented me from writing for many years.

Anyway, soon my schedule should go more or less back to normal and I’ll be able to talk about manga again, instead of waxing poetic about my feelings. 😛

Happy Monday, and I hope you all have a great week ahead of you!

Eisner Follow-Up & Podcast Announcement

As I’m sure amny of you remember, when voting for the Eisner Awards opened up, I had some complaints about the manga nominees — not because they weren’t worthy, but because I didn’t think they really reflected what manga readers cared most about. I stand by everything I said in that post; I think a lot of improvements need to be made in regards to manga’s position in the Western comics world. However, on the whole I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results of the award ceremony.

Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband won the “Best Adaptation of International Material – Asia” category…and while all the nominees were outstanding in their own ways, I think this is the book I most wanted to win. (I didn’t vote for it; I wrote in Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, but I knew that winning would have been a long shot.) It’s not necessarily my favorite manga in the nominee lineup (I’m an enormous Junji Ito fan, so Shiver would probably claim that role), but I do think it is the most important, and the most indicative of a shift in the comics-reading demographic. Which is to say, queer folks have always been reading and making comics, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged.

In fact, many queer folks, women, and creators of color were acknowledged at this year’s award ceremony. I won”t go too deep into the non-manga awards here, but I was extremely pleased to see a lot of my favorite creators and books given the acknowledgement I never dreamed the comics industry would provide. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

The Akira boxset won two awards, as well! Readers will probably note from my last post that I have a boxset of my very own, and I can’t possibly overstate how incredibly beautiful its presentation is. I don’t always agree with Kodansha’s printing choices (about half of their titles are oversize right now, which makes them hell to shelve), but this is one notable time where they did no wrong. I’m glad to see that it’s been in high enough demand that it’s gone to second print!

I think, though, that the highlight for me was to see Rumiko Takahashi, the most successful and one of the most influential women in comics, finally inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. As Deb Aoki, comics critic extraordinaire (@debaoki on Twitter!), mentioned: having some random American award probably isn’t that big a deal to Takahashi, a woman already festooned with awards, accolades, and a great deal of ongoing market value. But it is an important step for the often very Euro-centric or otherwise cloistered Western comics community to honor a mangaka — and a woman mangaka, at that. That she was a write-in winner warms my heart immensely. It’s exciting to note that Viz Media just announced they’ll be reprinting Urusei Yatsura, as well, so now a new generaton of fans can be similarly inspired by some of Takahashi’s early work!

Eisner stuff aside, I also wanted to mention that later today I’ll be recording content for the 200th episode of the Manga Machinations podcast! They approached me a couple months ago asking if I’d be willing to join them, and it’s been a lot of fun chatting back and forth and listening to some of their past work. They have had the opportunity to host translator Jocelyne Allen twice, and I highly recommend listening to those episodes if you haven’t already. You can find Manga Machinations on Twitter (@MangaMacPodcast) and on Tumblr (mangamachinations.tumblr.com). The 200th episode goes up tomorrow, Monday, July 23rd. I hope you’ll give it a listen; you’ll get a little bit of background about me, my job, and my feelings about josei and LGBTQ+ manga!

Remembering Akira

I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, but I remember that I was nine years old. Sara and I got off the bus as usual. She was staying over my house that afternoon, and she had brought a tape she had borrowed from her older brother, which she had seen at least some of already. She wanted me to see it, needed her best friend to have the same experience.

Up until that point, we had a passing understanding of anime. We watched Pokemon, and I had been a fan of Sailor Moon for years already. But as we sat there on the floor in the basement of my grandmother’s house, the coarse brown carpet biting into our hands as we leaned in, we knew that what we were watching was the same and yet…it was different.

We were probably too young to watch Akira. I think we knew that, too, because we kept worrying that every sound we heard was my grandmother about to descend the stairs as something truly horrific happened on screen. I didn’t have a concept of body horror, didn’t understand the affects of drug use, didn’t have any background in Japanese post-war anxieties or political climes. But even though it frightened and confused me, I loved Akira.

Time will elapse, and I will carry with me the knowledge that it’s a movie I love, but forget the particulars. And when I go to watch it again, I will be floored all over again. The swell of the gamelan soundtrack, the warmth of the animation, the gorgeous taillight trail…it makes me emotional for reasons I can’t always comprehend, though I suppose I am, at my core, a very emotional person, given to sentimentality.

And so the Akira film celebrates its very sentimental 30th anniversary. From all corners of the internet, all manner of film and animation fans are calling up their memories, lauding their favorite aspects of a film that could only be made in that time, in that place, and with those very specific people. For me, it’s the same: I can’t imagine having not seen Akira, and I don’t regret having seen it early in my life. Quite the contrary, I feel lucky to be able to experience it over and over again, as I age and mature, and as I come to learn new things about myself and about society.

…and I still have yet to finish the manga, so I guess I have a goal before the year is out!

On Recommending Comics

When the Preacher television series came out, I had customer after customer provide me with the fandom theatre of being shocked that I had never read it, and then immediately insisting I amend that as soon as possible. Putting aside the fact that I was a literal baby when Preacher was first running in single issues, it seemed so unfathomable to everyone that despite the fact that I was sitting behind a counter selling them their comics every week, I might not have taken part in this very specific rite of comics passage.

Preacher is not necessarily something I wouldn’t read; indeed, I think the Morgana I was in high school would be very interested in the violence and the symbolism of it (I say, having still not read it). But out of curiosity, I flipped through the first volume after getting enough pushback from folks, just to see what the fuss was about. In no short order, I saw amidst the pages someone getting their face peeled off.

Knowing nothing about me, scores of men (they were all men) told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to read this comic. Scores of men have told me to read Berserk, and not a single one of them have ever mentioned that their are depictions of sexual violence — I just found that out recently through a thread on Twitter. When these people have given me their “recommendations,” it has been more about them pushing their interests on me, than about considering what I might enjoy, or trying to convince me of their value while also alerting me to things I might not like about them. Who recommends graphic violence porn to a stranger! Jesus Christ, guys, get it together.

I have had customers who have confessed that their “friends” belittled them for not having engaged in certain media. Forcing, shaming, belittling…these are really, really ineffective ways to convince someone that what you’re recommending to them is worthwhile. How can they be expected to start, if they keep associating the title with guilt and pressure, and on their inherent “unworthiness” as a fan?

Coming up against my distaste for being told what to consume, I find myself in the position of getting paid to tell other people what to consume. Giving good recommendations isn’t easy. My initial desire is the same as everyone’s: to recommend the things that I love. I don’t think this is a bad gut instinct — something is enjoyable, and you want more people to experience that, and you want to support the creators and the publisher. That’s great! But what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone else. There’s a comic for everyone, but not every comic is for everyone.

This means I have to know how to talk about even the books I didn’t like, or that I haven’t read. I have to not use negative language about books I found boring or bad, because the person I’m helping might be looking for exactly that kind of thing. I have to try to figure out what a customer wants through asking endless questions, and there is nothing more frustrating than someone saying “oh, I’ll read anything!” (Especially when I then recommend ten different things and they turn every single one down!)

It is hard to know what people enjoy, even if youre familiar with their tastes. There are books that I thought I’d love that I just didn’t, so even for myself I can’t always pick ’em right! But I really, really think it’s important to be able to let go of the fact that not everyone is going to like the things you like, and that doesn’t make them a less good consumer of media. And when you’re really dead-set on giving a recommendation, it’s important to be able to give some insight into why it’s worth the time and effort, and maybe a caveat if there are some, uh, upsetting facets of it.

Basically, I want people to read comics, so I feel that it’s always best to be kind and cautious. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I’d love it if we were all a little more generous with our thoughts, and less concerned with checking off the boxes of cultural currency that allegedly make someone a “real fan.”

Tokyo Tarareba Girls & the Fear of Feeling Unwanted

Just a couple weeks ago, I talked about how much I had been enjoying the Wotakoi manga, and how I yearned for more josei manga that centered around the relatable struggles of women’s everyday lives. I had forgotten that the print edition of Akiko Higashimura’s Tokyo Tarareba Girls would be coming out so soon, and it is another shining example of exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I want to preface the meat of my review by saying that I am very different from the story’s protagonist, Rinko. I am 28 years old, happily married, and while I’m still trying to figure out my career, I am at least heading in a direction that feels fruitful. And even if all that weren’t the case, I very strongly do not ascribe to societal ideas about appropriate ages to marry, have children, etc. But a lot of women do, and that external pressure can be suffocating.

Rinko, at 33, is an established screenwriter for various webseries dramas. She is not only unmarried, but has also not really been dating for quite some time. Our story starts with her 33rd birthday and the announcement that Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Olympics. Suddenly, she feels that she doesn’t want to remain unwed once the Olympics start, so she’s given herself a deadline to find a husband.

The only problem is, she’s not working particularly hard to meet anyone new! She hopes that a man she works with who had shown interest in her ten years previously might be interested again, but he has moved on to her much younger, pink-haired coworker, leaving Rinko feeling old and unwanted. At the pub she and her friends frequent, they encounter a rude young man who tells them plainly that they’re wasting time getting drunk, and that their activities are less like a “girls’ night,” and more like an “old maids’ gossip circle.” He is the one who first calls them “”what-if” women, and while he’s extraordinarily rude, something about his words rings true for Rinko. When he shows up to audition for one of her dramas and complains about the script, she loses her position on that series and begins to truly feel that she is unwanted.

And this, for me, is what Tokyo Tarereba Girls is about: the fear of being unwanted once you are no longer young, pretty, and willing to please. There is an insidious idea that women are no longer interesting once they become — pardon my language — unfuckable. In fact, Rinko loses her position to a younger woman who she discovers is sleeping with the producer, causing Rinko to spiral into a deep depression. At the close of the first volume, the rude young model/actor, Key, offers her a way to get ahead.

Tokyo Tarereba Girls has been available in English digitally through Kodansha for some time now, so I’ve seen a fair amount of single panels or discussions of its message and meaning (without completely spoiling myself, of course). It is my feeling that the story will go on to redefine Rinko’s position that she needs to be married to one where she learns to focus on herself and her goals, without buckling to outside pressure. At least, that’s what I hope!

In many ways, Tokyo Tarereba Girls isn’t a happy story. So many women (and I’m sure folks of other genders, as well) feel adrift in a sea of societal expectation. There are so many thinkpieces out there on millennials “choosing” not to buy houses or have children; even if you have no interest in bending to the whims of society, it’s hard to avoid acknowledging that you don’t tick off certain boxes. And yet, Higashimura delivers this anxiety wrapped in the sense of humor that set Princess Jellyfish apart before; there is no attempt to show Rinko and her friends as beautiful paragons of virtue who are underserving of their fate. They are all normal women, with normal lives and normal stresses. They are crass and selfish, women who we might not want to be, but who we recognize in ourselves and in our friends and family.

It is tempting to claim that women like Rinko, who obsess over age, desirability, and the perceived expectations of others, are silly and shallow. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see this kind of criticism even coming from other women. So it was rather refreshing to see, at the back of this first volume, Higashimura’s own beliefs about marriage — essentially, that she fell into it by accident and that she doesn’t put too much weight on its merits. She has pushed back against her friends for their own fears, encouraging them to eschew their anxieties and just live their lives…but then she has also crafted this story highlighting those very real anxieties. She cannot relate to her friends in real life, but she can understand the concerns they have enough to show readers their value.

Since manga began legal English-language circulation, there have always been stories centered around adult men and their struggles and fantasies. It is gratifying to know that the girls and women who facilitated the huge manga boom of the late 90s and early aughts now have manga that have grown up with them, with protagonists their age who also may feel adrift, alone, and unwanted as they age and change. I believe that the manga market is ready for more josei and has been for a while now.

Because I’m terrible at keeping up with digital releases, I’m looking very forward to continuing Tokyo Tarareba Girls as it comes out in print. I know that she’s been acknowledged extensively in Japan, but I really hope to see Akiko Higashimura recognized for her genius in the North American market. To that end, I encourage everyone to try her work, whether it be this or Princess Jellyfish. She captures the struggle of being a woman from so many different perspectives and with such sensitivity, without sacrificing either wit or drama. She truly is a spectacular creator.

Anime On the Big Screen

I have mentioned in the past that I am astounded by how available anime is now, compared to when I was a young teen and becoming really invested in it as a medium. One of the more shocking aspects of that availability is seeing anime films in movie theatres.

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pom Poko at a cinema around the corner from work. It’s a film I had seen before, and one of my favorite non-Miyazaki-directed Ghibli films. What could be better than a hopeless meditation on the dangers of overpopulation and humanity’s fraught relationship with nature, punctuated by adorable tanuki antics and a spooky yokai parade? It’s truly lovely — but also, I would think that it would have a remarkably narrow fanbase in North America, being both very culturally Japanese and also rather old at this point. I’m pleased to report that the theatre was very full, and on a Wednesday night, no less!

Pom Poko is only the most recent anime film I’ve seen in theatres, though the others have been more recent releases: A Silent Voice and your name come to mind first…oh, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, but I actually had to leave the city to find a theatre playing that one! And though I don’t get out to the movies often, I have been making a conscious effort to make sure I do go see these, because I want the companies that show them to know that there is a very willing paying audience out there to support these efforts.

With the exception of monumental properties like Pokemon, I never thought anime movies were deemed viable for theatrical releases in North America. And truly, at one time they weren’t. I remember so desperately wanting to see the Cowboy Bebop film, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, when it came out only to discover that there was no way any theatres around me would be showing an R-rated cartoon to the general masses. (And even if they had, I was probably too young to go see it…though I suspect my mother would have come along. She always did rather like Spike….) Certainly there have always been small local art house theatres playing all manner of foreign films, anime included. But I just saw Pom Poko at a Regal Cinemas! I saw A Silent Voice at an AMC!

Perhaps this is the era that Spirited Away‘s success has ushered in; perhaps it is merely that those of us who grew up with anime are making business decisions now. Whatever it is, I’m surely grateful that I can go to a movie theatre and see masterpieces from the last 30 or so years, as well as modern hits. And you can bet I’m going to be looking to get tickets for Sailor Moon The Movie S in the next couple months!

Romancing the Nerd; or, Wotakoi Is Actually As Good As Everyone Says

I had a good manga week this week! I’ve been doing a lot of reading in general (I’ve been devouring novels at an alarming rate lately), and I was glad that I have had such a high rate of success with the quality of my choices. I started going through the Ranma 1/2 manga finally, and the new Captain Harlock Classic Collection came out, as well. I’m very pleased.

But you’re all here to read about my thoughts on Wotakoi, which are basically: I love it.

I have a conflicted relationship with hype. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon who doesn’t engage with things because they’re talked about a lot, but I also find that a lot of what is most popular is completely uninteresting to me. And as I’ve said before, I’m not fond of being told to engage with something because I “should,” as opposed to because the person recommending it is taking my tastes into account.

But I had seen many people whose opinions I trust mention how much they’re enjoying both the anime and the manga, and since volume two had just hit the stands this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad to admit that I’ve boarded the hype train completely!

I’m constantly craving more josei manga, ones that can acknowledge that the core group of North American manga nerds from the late 90s into the aughts are now adults who may still enjoy their shonen romps every now and then, but would really like something that reflects their own experiences a little bit. Shojo romances are all well and good, but I’ve been out of high school for over a decade now, and frankly I don’t want to relive my teenage years, thanks.

Along comes Wotakoi. Our main character, Narumi, is your typical office worker with a dark secret: she’s an otaku! Honestly, she’s the only one who thinks it’s a dark secret, and her core group of work buddies are all also immersed in their own nerdy ventures: video games, manga, cosplay, etc. Her childhood friend, Hirotaka, offf-handedly asks her if she’d like to date him since she wouldn’t have to hide her otaku lifestyle from him. And thus our office romance begins!

I love romantic comedies. I think really good ones are hard to come by, but when you get a story that’s got all the right beats of both comedy and romance…man, that’s the stuff. I also love manga that are self-aware. I have thus far enjoyed Kiss Him, Not Me for this reason; it’s a kind of unflattering glimpse into fujoshi life, written by a fujoshi, for fujoshi. Wotakoi hits those similar marks, but ultimately is more sophisticated in its delivery.

The comedy is heavy in the manga, which makes the touching romantic moments stand out all the more. And the mangaka, Fujita, isn’t overly precious about those moments. Narumi is pretty clueless about both her own feelings and those of Hirotaka, but in a way that feels genuine as opposed to frustratingly ditzy. She and Hirotaka have been friends forever, so their relationship is already rock-solid, their trust already established. She relies on him to keep her grounded, and enjoys his company regardless of their new dating status. I’ve always been a firm believer in friendship being the cornerstone of any romantic relationship, so I love the way theirs develops.

I don’t want to give too much away, but from the first two volumes alone, it appears that I’ll be getting my fill of wacky antics, nerdy in-jokes, heart-rending backstories, and genuinely moving romantic gestures. I’m grateful for a series that recognizes the growth in my tastes, but also the state of my concerns as an adult woman. With the anime streaming right now, I hope that the manga becomes the success it deserves to become and thus ushers in a new wave of licenses for the modern otaku lady and her modern lady concerns!