April Favorites

Time moves differently when you have a baby. Though being stuck at home without seeing family and friends makes things feel sluggish, I also can’t believe that my daughter is approaching three months old in a mere few days. Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, but I’m starting to feel like an old person who can’t stop saying “Where has the time gone?” Not that 30 is remotely old; in fact, I’ve been excited to reach this milestone for quite some time…though doing so while isolated has been an odd experience.

Still, some exciting things have happened this month. I’m back to recording with Manga Machinations! It’s so nice to be back talking about manga with the guys, getting a little time away from mom duties. I’m super excited that we’re doing a Yu Yu Hakusho retrospective series right now! I haven’t had an opportunity to write all my feelings about Yu Yu Hakusho (because they are vast and hard to articulate), but it’s one of my favorite series. To pique your interest, there’s an awesome promo video, as well as my reread thread on Twitter. And of course, there’s the first episode! Check it out!

Happily, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of reading this month. I’m starting to get into a good routine where that’s concerned, trying to read when Severina nurses (if she’s cooperative, which is less often lately), and then getting more reading done at night after she’s down for bed. Writing gets done during nap times — like right now, she’s sleeping on me in a sling. By the time I finish this blog post, I probably will have come back to it several times. There’s a learning curve to balancing working and parenting (and luckily I have my husband home right now to keep helping), but we’re getting the hang of it. In many ways, being at stuck at home right now is working to my benefit, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. At least there’s plenty to read!

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Happy Mania, Volume 1 — by Moyoco Anno, published by Tokyopop (out of print)

I’ve been feeling really nostalgic about manga lately. I’m wondering if this is a byproduct of no longer working in comics, and therefore not being up on everything that’s new right now at all times like I used to be. Regardless, this led me to find some used copies of old Tokyopop volume ones that I never got to read back when they were in print. As someone who came late to Moyoco Anno, it was important to me to check out Happy Mania. And as I expected, it was a riot. Protagonist Shigeta works at a bookstore and is desperate for a boyfriend. She continually keeps going out with guys who take her for granted, meanwhile her coworker Takahashi is clearly in love with her — and is a decent, dependable guy to boot. Shigeta is very much her own worst enemy when it comes to romance, and I continue to admire Anno’s willingness to depict women with glaring flaws. Her protagonists toe that line between insufferable and lovable, and as always, her frenetic artwork is a refreshing break from overly-trendy styles. It looks like there’s a sequel to this series in Japan. With the original out of print here, I doubt this new series will see the light of translation, but I can hope!

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Spy X Family, Volume 1 — by Tatsuya Endo, published by VIZ Media (available digitally through Shonen Jump, print version out June 2nd)

People have been talking up Spy X Family for a while, and I finally got on the train because it’s coming out in print, and I have an opportunity to review it for Comics Beat (which I plan on doing). This is another one of those circumstances where I kick myself for not reading it sooner; it’s way more up my alley than I had anticipated! A spy known as “Twilight” is put on a mission to infiltrate the prestigious school, necessitating the acquisition of a fake family. The catch is that his “family” cannot know about his mission, otherwise it will be jeopardized. He adopts a little girl named Anya, not realizing that she is the result of government experimentation that left her with psychic abilities. Through happenstance, he marries an assassin named Yor, who is also trying to keep her job a secret from him. Little Anya is the only one who knows the whole story, and she isn’t telling anyone! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for found family stuff, and I especially love Twilight’s reasoning to become a spy in the first place. The first volume is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, and I am definitely planning to continue reading.

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Wave, Listen to Me!, Volume 1 — by Hiroaki Samura, published by Kodansha Comics (digital available now, print version out May 26th)

Time to confess that I’ve never read Blade of the Immortal (and I suspect it’s not really my kind of manga). This is actually the first Hiroaki Samura manga I’ve read all the way through, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Minare Koda is a loud-mouthed waitress who spills her drunken heartbreak to a local radio show host at a bar one night. He records her ramblings and airs them on live radio, pulling her into the world of broadcasting with his desire to harness her untrained but ceaseless voice and see what comes of it. Minare reminds me a bit of Shigeta from Happy Mania, actually, in that she’s a fast-talking lady preoccupied with her love life who goes off on wild fantasy tangents a lot. Samura is an excellent artist, so I’m really glad to be able to read something of his that doesn’t seem to rely on the, uh…torture of women. Though Minare might feel tortured to some extent in this series! There’s a current anime adaptation of this series airing right now, as well, which makes the print version’s timing excellent.

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The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

When VIZ announced that they were going to be publishing this for North America, I was really glad I hadn’t dropped $90CAD on the original Japanese printing at TCAF last year — though it was extremely tempting. To say that it’s a gorgeous collection of paintings and illustrations is an understatement. The silver and black of the jacket is echoed on the interior pages that were originally black and white, giving the feeling that they are truly special. Most fans are used to seeing Ito’s pen and ink illustrations, and while there are plenty of those, it is exciting to see his painting work, and to learn in the interview at the back that his original intention was to be a painter and not a mangaka at all. As always, his quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor shines through in translation. This is a must-have for an Ito completionist (like myself), and a great addition to any art book library, as well.

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A Man and His Cat, Volume 1 — by Umi Sakurai, published by Square Enix

Square Enix is having a moment right now with the release of the new Final Fantasy VII remake. But a couple months back, they released their first manga as a North American publisher (having already been a publisher in Japan for many years). One of those new manga is A Man and His Cat, AKA the exact kind of thing I love to read. In it, a chubby, so-ugly-he’s-cute cat who has been ignored by shoppers at a pet store for over a year is worried that he will never find his forever home. One day, however, an older gentleman adopts him, naming him Fukumaru. The man had been living all alone after the death of his wife, and the two had always talked about getting a pet. The first volume is packed with situations instantly recognizable to those who share their home with a cat. In many ways, it reminded me of What Michael?, except there is a loose ongoing plot and far less absurdist humor. It’s sweet, it made me chuckle, and I’m looking forward to more!

If we stay in a state of relative physical isolation for much longer, all of my monthly favorites are going to be this long! Hopefully there’s something here to help you pass the time, as well. Stay safe!

A Little Life Update + January & February Favorites

As promised, I didn’t update last month because I was busy being 9 months pregnant. On February 3rd, my daughter Severina was born, a little late but in good health! In the ensuing weeks, I’ve been busy trying to learn how to do this whole “mom” thing, and just generally enjoying her presence. She sleeps a lot, of course, so I’ve had a chance to get a little reading done as I ease back into work, on top of the reading I got done before she arrived. That means this is a longer “favorites” post than usual — a nice challenge for me as I get back into the groove of writing!

I’m also trying something new this month. I’ve become an affiliate of Bookshop.org, a website that is seeking to redirect some of Amazon’s book sale profits to independent bookstores. I try not to preach too much, but I have serious concerns about Amazon’s affect on the publishing industry, so I’m glad to be able to provide an alternative option to readers. Full disclosure: If you order books through my links, I will get a percentage of that sale. I am obviously very grateful if you do choose to do that — but I would also encourage you to try to do more of your book shopping through the website itself when you can’t get to your local independent bookstore or comic shop, regardless of whether it kicks back to me or not. It will benefit other affiliate bookstores and folks in the world of book retail and reviewing.

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What’s Michael? Fat Cat Collection, Volume 1, by Makoto Kobayashi — published by Dark Horse Comics

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will likely have seen some of my ravings about What’s Michael? in the past, and will know that I’m a huge lover of cats. This hilarious series is about the quirks of cats, as shown through Michael, a sort of stand-in for all orange tabbies everywhere, and his cat companions. This is also, however, a series about the quirks of cat lovers; frequently the human characters are depicted as going above and beyond what seems reasonable in favor of providing the best for their cats. My personal favorite recurring characters are the yakuza member known as K who doesn’t want anyone to know that he keeps and dotes on a cat, and his rival yakuza member M who doesn’t want anyone to know that he is horribly afraid of cats. Each man is worried about shattering his manly image, you see. Makoto Kobayashi seems to enjoy the incongruity of stereotypically masculine men loving cats, and it is clear from his keen observation that he himself is a great lover of felines. Dark Horse had originally published this series in smaller volumes back in the 90s, and I’m really, really excited that they’re bringing it back in this “fatcat” edition for a new wave of cat-loving readers!

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Our Dining Table, by Mita Ori — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I read a lot of BL, and the majority of it is…not great, honestly. I wade through a lot of excessive drama seeking out romances that are sweet, or comforting, or just plain pleasant. Luckily, those kinds of BL are becoming easier to find, and I would count Our Dining Table among them — though honestly, the romance is more of a bonus than a feature in this cozy food manga. Yutaka is a salaryman who has trouble eating around others. One day, he intercepts the young Tane, a little boy with a big appetite who becomes obsessed with Yutaka’s homemade onigiri. Through Tane, Yutaka meets Minoru, his older brother, and the three fall into a pattern of sharing meals together regularly. Obviously a romance buds between Yutaka and Minoru, but the real draw is the focus on shared meals — regardless of their quality — as a vehicle for creating familial bonds. As someone who grew up in an Italian household (and who loves food), this idea of sharing meals as a family is really important to me. I loved to see it utilized in a “found family” narrative, highlighting the importance of nourishing each other physically and emotionally.

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You Are New, by Lucy Knisley — published by Chronicle Books

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. You Are New is actually a picture book that I bought for my daughter before she was born. But I’m including it here because it is another in an ever-growing collection of works by cartoonist Lucy Knisley about…well, babies. I haven’t forgotten my promise to write a piece about pregnancy and parenthood in comics, and I’m slowly accruing a small horde of books and links to use to that end. Knisley keeps churning out content that simply demands to be part of that future post! In this case, she speaks directly to children instead of parents, assuring them that their newness — whether it’s because they were just born or because they are meeting new people or whatever the case may be — is a wonderful gift of growth and change. We are constantly in the process of reinventing ourselves day to day, and none moreso than children. I’ve read this to Severina a few times now, both before and since she was born. Soon, she’ll be able to appreciate the lovely, bright illustrations that depict kids of all ages and backgrounds. Until then, well…she’s still very new!

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Kodocha, Volume 1, by Miho Obana — published by Tokyopop (out of print)

This also feels a bit like cheating, since this is actually a reread — though I first read this manga in 8th grade, about seventeen or so years ago! I have a soft spot for “old” shojo (stuff from the 90s and early 00s, basically), and on a whim realized that I wanted to revisit this series, which is so good at balancing absurd, slapsticky humor with intense, soap opera-style drama. Protagonist Sana is a famous actress, and she’s having trouble at school with a bully named Akito. As she tries to fight back against his classroom tyranny, she learns about his tragic past and is spurred to help his family overcome their issues through her performance in a movie that closely mirrors their experiences. It sounds trite, and perhaps in some ways it is…but there’s something so appealing about the characters that I find myself drawn in, anyway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but if you can find old copies of Kodocha at your library or used somewhere, I do recommend checking it out, especially if you remember the good old bad days of North American manga publishing.

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Blue Flag, Volume 1, by KAITO — published by VIZ Media (available April 21, 2020)

This is one of those series around which there’s been a lot of buzz, so I was really excited to see it getting a print release through VIZ this year. In many ways, Blue Flag seems like a straightforward high school drama revolving around an uncomfortable love triangle. Protagonist Taichi is entering his final year of high school, and discovers that he’s in the same class as his childhood friend, Toma. While Toma doesn’t seem to think anything between them has changed, Taichi feels that Toma’s popularity and good-naturedness separate them, and he doesn’t really considering Toma a close friend. He happens to discover that a timid girl in his class, Futaba Kuze, has a crush on Toma. She asks for Taichi’s help to get Toma’s attention — and complications ensue. The three get along well, but Toma is hiding his real feelings about his own affections, and Taichi suddenly feels far more attached to Kuze than he anticipated, especially considering he rather disliked her at the outset of the manga. I had never read anything by KAITO before, but his artwork is absolutely lovely, and he manages to keep a high school love triangle (one of my least favorite tropes) interesting through genuinely likable characters. So far, there’s no overly-dramatic backstabbing or eyeroll-worthy declarations of romantic intention. And besides, there’s an LGBTQ+ angle here as well, and I’m curious to see how that’s handled in future volumes.

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My Androgynous Boyfriend, Volume 1, by Tamekou — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Upon seeing my Goodreads rating of this volume, a friend with whom I didn’t think I had much discussed my love of androgynous men commented, “Oh brand.” And truly, this is a very on brand manga for me in so many ways. Wako is a hard-working manga editor who isn’t terribly interested in her own appearance, but who loves cute and beautiful things. This affection extends to her boyfriend, the fashionable and feminine Meguru. This unlikely couple loves each other fiercely, and the story mainly revolves around the misconceptions others have about their sexualities (since some people assume Meguru is a woman, or that he is gay). So far, even though Wako and Meguru both deal with some struggles in their professional and personal lives, this is a series without any malice. These two lovebirds are happy with each other, and they work hard to maintain their relationship with a great deal of mutual respect and admiration. The first volume was simply relaxing and enjoyable to read, and I look forward to seeing what future volumes have in store.

Well, there’s two months’ worth of recommendations for you, dear readers! I’ll be getting back to reviewing for Comics Beat soon, too, so continue to look for my long-form reviews there. Much as the time away has been nice (and brief!), I’m looking forward to diving headlong back into manga writing, as well as my other work. It’s important to keep the mind active, even when caring for a child! At the very least, I’ll be back again next month for another favorites post, so keep an eye out for it.

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