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!

Pride and the Manga Market

Happy Pride! I spent yesterday dolled up as Loki, marching with various other Avengers as a part of Boston’s Pride Parade. It’s something we’ve been doing at Comicopia for the last decade now, though this is only my second time going, personally.

Marching in Pride is pretty tiring, but being there reminds me of why this kind of visibility is important for the queer community — of Boston, and of the world as a whole. I marched and screamed and smiled while hoisting the bisexual pride flag high, and I locked eyes with a small child wrapped in their very own bi pride flag. Another little one ran right out and gave me a hug, and countless people cheered as they saw me: visible and queer and there to celebrate myself and them.

But queerness isn’t visible everywhere, or at all times. It’s not allowed to be part of so much of mainstream culture, even now in 2018. In the comics world, however, it’s steadily on the rise. I have kind of accidentally read a lot of gay material this year; and while the content and quality vary greatly, that’s not something I could have said a scant five years ago.

I feel as though I can hardly scroll through my Twitter feed without someone bringing up My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, and I’m glad of it! It’s sequel recently came out, the first part of My Solo Exchange Diary. And Seven Seas has also released The Bride Was A Boy, which I have already covered; soon, they will also have released Riyoko Ikeda’s Claudine, about a transman living in 19th century France.

The yuri market seems to be expanding as well, and though Seven Seas has often taken the lead in that genre, we’re seeing Viz Media throwing their hat in the ring with titles like After Hours and Sweet Blue Flowers. And they’re going to be publishing some BL too (or perhaps the term shonen ai would be more appropriate in this context), under their normal Viz moniker, not their SuBLime imprint: That Blue Sky Feeling, coming out in August.

Volume one of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband came out last year, and we’re expecting its sequel in the early fall. Fantagraphics recently reprinted the Massive bara anthology, which is excellent for us because…honestly, we sell a ton of Tagame and bara in general! I know that’s probably not typical, I can’t completely fathom why we’re able to move it the way that we do.

I haven’t even gotten to talking about non-manga comics, with publishers like Boom Studios and Oni Press taking the lead in queer material, especially queer material for young audiences. And a lot of those gay young people books? It’s clear that they’ve been influenced by anime and manga.

So. What does this all mean? I would surmise that someone somewhere has realized that queer content is marketable. For a long time, that market seemed to be fujoshi scrambling for yaoi, but the tides are turning a little bit. A lot of those fujoshi have explored their own sexuality or identity and found themselves identifying as something other than straight or cisgender. They’ve been joined by fudanshi, perhaps. Or maybe the strange nature of animanga has made readers flexible to ideas outside of their norm.

I can’t say, of course, that that’s how things have progressed. But I can say that for me, the animanga community has always been very…well, gay. I had a conversation with someone about the local Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) recently, and when I said I loved it because it felt like one big artist’s alley, he responded that it seemed much queerer than any artist’s alley at any con he had ever been to. And that’s when it hit me — the comic book conventions cater to a completely different crowd than the anime conventions. I mean, obviously, right? But not just in content; in age and economic standing and social status…in every way imaginable.

We’ve graduated from the yaoi paddles of my adolescence, thank God, but I can’t spit at Anime Boston without hitting a kid wearing a YAOI-emblazoned snapback. I sell out of My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and I Hear the Sunspot on a regular basis at the store, and still sell them with lightning speed at shows. I see pronoun pins on shoppers almost as often as I see character goods.

And some enterprising person (or people), perhaps queer themselves, has discovered that there is a whole group of people out there whose media is under-serving them on a daily basis. And so they’re filling that niche. That sounds cynical, and clinical, I guess, but it’s really a wonderful thing.

The first Pride march was a riot; the current Pride parades have corporate sponsorship. The nature of achieving progress in our society, as it currently stands, seems to necessitate becoming a “commercial success,” so to speak. I don’t love the coupling of business and marketing with identity; I hate the fact that my Pride marshal badge both this year and last proudly proclaimed the name of a bank sponsor. I don’t trust corporations to do better just because they choose to align themselves with a hot topic like feminism or gay rights or whatever.

But…I feel differently about the world of publishing. It’s naiive, perhaps, and maybe it’s because I know people who work in publishing that I’m able to hold on to this hope. Comics as an industry is a mess, but I want to see myself and my queer siblings as the heroes of our own stories. I want to trust that these license agreements are coming not solely from a sales point of view, but from a desire to help bolster visibility.

And while the queer stories themselves are a boon, I want to see a growing trend of stories by queer creators. I think that’s the most important way to show support — to give a voice to those who for so long have been voiceless. To allow those creators to feel safe, and listened to, and proud.

25 Otaku Facts About Me — From The Manga Hoarder!

One of the bloggers I follow, known as The Manga Hoarder, did a cute little list of 25 otaku facts about herself, which you can find here. Since she invited others to take a crack at it, I thought I’d give it a go. This blog is still fairly new, so I hope this helps to give readers some insight as to who is behind the keyboard.

Without further ado, the list:

1. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but both my first anime series and my first manga were Sailor Moon.

2. I’m pretty flexible about what genres I read, but my favorites are shonen action from the 90s, horror, BL that isn’t burdened by harmful tropes, and women writing about women’s problems.

3. I…really don’t care at all about Evangelion. I’m sorry. I can recognize its importance, but it does pretty much nothing for me.

4. Yu Yu Hakusho is my favorite series — both anime and manga. You might have been able to tell from my blog’s banner image!

5. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been interested in reading vintage manga, stuff like Hino Horror, etc. I think I was biased as a younger reading toward manga with pretty boys and protagonists that were my age. Now…I want all the weird old stuff.

6. I first watched Akira at the tender age of 9, when my best friend brought over her older brother’s VHS copy. We watched it in my basement and prayed that my grandmother wouldn’t interrupt us and demand to know what we were doing!

7. I attended my first convention — the very first Connecticon! — for a friend’s birthday in middle school. Unbeknownst to me, my current boss was also there, selling things! And now I go every year to my home con to sell manga to the next group of nerdlings — I’ve come full circle!

8. I have had several false starts at learning Japanese, but it remains a goal of mine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely fluent, but it would be nice to be able to hold a conversation and read some simple things.

9. The yaoi/BL/slash community and the media surrounding/that’s part of it can definitely be…tumultuous? But I’m glad it was available to me at a critical point in my life, because I think it allowed me to think flexibly about sexuality — both my own and other people’s. That’s why, while I’d still like to see better, less harmful BL books coming out, I can’t every really dunk on the genre completely.

10. I like manga better than anime, and consume it far more readily and rapidly.

11. In the last few years I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to increase my manga collection. I know it’s a drop in the bucket compared to some, but I’m hovering somewhere around 500 manga in my collection so far!

12. I desperately want the From Eroica With Love license to get rescused, and for the series to be completed in English!

13. I successfully turned someon into a manga reader by recommending A Silent Voice. She went from knowing nothing about the medium to starting her own collection and attending cons within a few months. When she told me, I was inordinately proud of myself. 😛

14. I didn’t really read any manga during college (which I hear is a common occurrence). When I got back into it, I suddenly felt like I had been missing a part of myself all along. (I felt similarly when I got back to novels after a long time away — I am one of Nature’s bookworms.)

15. I am constantly perplexed by otaku who are really into anime but have no interest in other aspects of Japanese culture. Media isn’t created in a vaccuum, so I always felt the need to delve a little deeper into the backgrounds of the stuff I was consuming.

16. I can’t hear cicadas buzzing without thinking of anime.

17. I really like reading about the manga industry, both in Japan and elsewhere. I have a huge stack of non-fiction books on the subject that I need to read!

18. I have a huge weakenss for artbooks and own a good handful, both Japanese ones and English-language ones. I have exactly zero resistance to any Yoshitaka Amano book.

19. I am also, conceptually at least, fond of boxsets, though I have fewer of those. I did splurge on the Akira manga boxset and have no regrets about that — it’s beautiful.

20. I don’t have very many anime figures, and I know what a deep hole that cam become…but I really want some more.

21. I love Vampire Hunter D, but I haven’t read any of the novels yet! I have the first one, I’ve just gotta start.

22. For Christmas a few years ago, my husband got me the Kitaro one-cup sake set. I love the concept of making collector’s items out of otherwise mundane products. Since I’ve drunk the sake (I honestly have no taste for sake), I’ve been thinking of sealing the labels so I can use the cups as little vases or juice glasses.

23. I really love Yu-Gi-Oh!, but I’m a pretty mediocre duelist. I enjoy playing, but I’m much more invested in the story, especially the ancient Egyptian plotline. I wanted to be an archaeologist for a very long time growing up, so this series was like catnip for me.

24. I don’t own a lot of physical anime. I think this is partially because when I was growing up, it was pretty expensive to collect. It’s also very easy to stream things now, so the urgency to own isn’t as great. Plus, I live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and the books are taking over all the space already! A good handful of the things I do own are on VHS, and I’ll likely never be able to update them as their license has lapsed or the company has since gone out of business.

25. I’m not always super receptive to people giving me recommendations (on anything, not just animanga) if they don’t consider who I am and what I like. But my job is essentially to give folks manga recommendations, and I enjoy doing it! Learning what other series people like and trying to connect the dots to their next favorite series is like a fun puzzle for me…so basically, don’t be afraid to ask me for recs!

And that about wraps it up! It took me a couple days to come up with all these facts. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty open person, it can sometimes be hard for me to write about myself in this way. This was an interesting challenge!

I encourage you all, once again, to go check out The Manga Hoarder; she’s often got really great reviews up, and she’s currently running a readathon and some giveaways!

Comic Book Trivia and Gunpla Fun

I honestly don’t have much to report this week, but since I’ve been keeping up with this blog regularly, I feel loath to break the habit for even just one week, lest I fall behind. The past week at work as been super busy, such that I haven’t felt up to doing too much reading with intent to review, or anything like that.

This weekend has been fun, though! After work on Saturday night, my coworkers and I legged it over to another comic shop for their annual Battle of the Comic Shop All Stars, in which several local comic shops put together teams of four for a comic book-based trivia event to benefit charity. Our team is usually second to last (that’s what we got this year, too), but it’s still super fun and I learn a lot of random facts about first appearances and whatnot. And just for me, this year they had a “name that anime” sheet full of screenshots from various series. I aced it. 😛

When I got home from that, I found that I had received a package from my oldest and best friend. She had had some trouble sending it to me in time for my birthday, but it finally got to me and it was a pair of completely adorable handmade Sailor Jupiter transformation wand earrings!

And then there was today…I drove (by myself for the first time ever!) to the local East Asian supermarket to get a load of snacks for a Gunpla building party that another friend was hosting. The only Gundam series I’ve ever been able to become invested in is Gundam Wing, so naturally I built myself another Sandrock model — this time a Master Grade, which was an interesting exercise in fiddly bits and frustration.

As we were building our models, we listened to some Gundam tracks, and then watched some various Gundam series — including Gundam Wing Endless Waltz. Remember the friend who made me the earrings? Her name is Sara — well, Sara and I used to watch Endless Waltz every single day after school for the better part of a year. It’s deeply important to me, and tied to my reasons for getting into fanfiction, drawing, and animanga as a whole.

I am the type of person who is extremely prone to nostalgia, so I didn’t need all this external help to start reflecting on my past and my passions. In truth, I do it often; I do, professionally, what I did for fun as a teenager basically. I always say that 13-year-old Morgana would think 28-year-old Morgana is so cool, and on some days…that’s really the sentiment that keeps me going.

Working in comics has allowed me to relapse, but not in a bad way. I’ve been able to come back around to things I really care about, and not only am I engaging again in singular, personal hobbies that used to be important to me, I’m also engaging in a community of people with similar hobbies and interests.

The more and more I delve into comics, the more I feel the particular pull of community, and how important I believe it is to have a community that is supportive and uplifting. Conventions like Anime Boston and ConnectiCon, both shows which I do with work, have that feeling of community that I think some of the bigger shows are starting to lack for me. Of course, CTcon is my hometown show, so it’s always going to feel like home. I walk through the Hartford Convention Center and remember that time I was randomly asked to dance by a Vash cosplayer, or that time a bunch of people piled into the lobby to watch AMV Hell.

There are times when I am envious of today’s teenagers; every series they could possibly ask for is at their fingertips, streaming or available to read digitally through so many publishers. At the risk of sounding like an ornery old person, they have no idea how good they have it. I hear complaints about manga chapters not getting translated quickly enough, and I am bowled over by the fact that only fifteen short years ago, literally NOTHING came over to North America with any kind of speed or even decent translation sometimes.

So sometimes I’m envious that kids can buy their anime swag at their local Hot Topic (though I also can partake of that, of course). But there’s also that deeply sentimental side of me that wouldn’t trade the weirdness of growing up in the 90s and 2000s for the world. There is something very beautiful to me about having to wait for a certain time after school to get the next episode of your favorite series, or hunting through the VHS tapes at your local video rental store for something you haven’t already seen (preteen Morgana saw some series at perhaps too impressionable an age).

I don’t particularly truck with the idea that my youth — or anyone else’s — was any better than the youth of kids today. I think a lot of dangerous ideas can come out of dwelling too much in certain kinds of nostalgia. But I’m also grateful for what I had, and I hope that the next generation of nerds finds a similar solace in their own nostalgia without having to tear down the generation that follows. For those of us who love stories, I think memories and the emotions that surround them are important. I don’t think that’s something that changes much, no matter when you were born.

Anime Boston, My Birthday, and Live Chats — Oh My!

The last couple weeks have been incredibly hectic, but for all good reasons!  As many of you know, Anime Boston was last weekend.  The store I work for, Comicopia, has a large booth at the show, and part of my responsibilities is helping with ordering and organizing what we bring, who our volunteers are, and how things get displayed.  The month leading up to AB is honestly a lot more work than being at the show and selling the books!  That’s the fun part — getting to interact with customers, helping people find what they’re looking for, figuring out new ways to showcase books on the fly.  And we have a really great host of volunteers who help make the experience extra fun.

As is often the case, my birthday was immediately after Anime Boston — this past Wednesday, in fact.  I spent the day…well, going to work and unpacking manga, honestly, haha.  It wasn’t so bad, and my husband and I went out for Japanese barbecue afterwards which was great.

29790073_10155778052001725_4883735307154882560_o

And now, all the manga is unpacked and counted, I’ve figured out what needs reordering, and we can get back to business as usual at work for a little while!  I’ve been pleased to note that some more obscure titles have been selling lately in the store, and I hope that we can continue to fill that niche for customers!

Bit of an announcement before I pop off: at 4pm today I’m taking part in the third installment of The Black Manga Critic’s “Women Talk About Anime & Manga” series!  We’re going to be discussing Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.  Joining us on the panel tonight will be the manga’s translator, Jocelyne Allen, whose insights I’m really looking forward to hearing!  I hope some of you will have a chance to watch that, whether it be live as it airs or after the fact.

I promise that since life has settled down a bit more, I’ll actually get to posting some manga-specific content, not just “day in the life of a Manga Maven” stuff, haha.  I’m especially excited about the new GeGeGe no  Kitaro anime that’s airing right now, so I’m sure I won’t be able to resist sounding off on that!

Keep it real, kids!

 

An Introduction: Who I Am and Why I’m Here

This website has been a long time coming, honestly.  I’ve been reading manga since childhood, I’ve written reviews for other sites, and now I am the manga buyer and manager at a comic book store in Boston.  As part of my duties, I often advise a couple groups of comics retailers on their manga buying, and I keep feeling like I want to be able to dispense that advice on a somewhat  larger scale.

I can’t claim that I know all there is to know about manga, but I am confident in the knowledge that I have, and I know it is specialized enough to be of use to others.  So at least in part, I hope that my reviews and ramblings are helpful for retailers, but also to publishers and consumers.

Beyond that, I just really love manga.  I am deeply interested in its history and its production, both within and outside of Japan.  I was lucky enough to be a young teenager in the early aughts, so my pop cultural experience was very much embroiled in the Cool Japan zeitgeist.  Basically, I never had a chance!

So what will you see here?  My reviews will mostly skew toward less-popular titles, partially because I like and read a broad and strange array of manga, and partially because a series like One Piece will never need my help getting sales.  I will also focus a lot on work by women, because again, the men don’t need my help.  In terms of genre, you can expect a little bit of everything, save perhaps hardcore hentai (though I will review adult works).  The manga will be a mix of old and new works, because there will always be a soft spot in my heart for anything that came out while I was a teen — and besides, there’s some good vintage work out there!

Outside of the reviews, I will try to pop by with interesting little manga-related tidbits from my life, or my opinions on current goings-on in the manga and anime world.  I may also occasionally bring up non-manga graphic novels and maybe even some prose fiction or non-fiction that I think is relevant to manga in some way. My intention is for this site, like all projects, to grow and change as I do, and as I gain more readers who want certain content.

So thank you all for being here, and for starting on me with this adventure!