November Favorites

Well, I realize we’re already nearly halfway through December, but I promised monthly favorites lists, and by golly I’m going to get one out to you! I had considered rolling November and December together, but I have a brief moment of respite between all the end-of-the-year deadlines, so I thought I’d take a few to get this done.

Like many people, my life gets increasingly hectic starting in October and ending…well, never, but at least settling down somewhat by January. November saw me baby showered, nursery tidying, having my blood pressure monitored at the hospital, celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, attending a birthing class, and just generally becoming more worn down as I entered the third trimester. Even more has happened since November, but I’ll leave that to next month’s favorites list (which might be the last one for a while).

And of course, much of my reading these days comes down to what is necessary for work, not always what is foremost on my personal interest list. I’ve gotten much more reading done this month already — somehow, being extra busy means finding creative ways to get other things done sometimes! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at two stand-out comics that I read in November!

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Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World, Volume 1, by Asaya Miyanaga — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I wrote a full review of this manga over at Comics Beat, but I couldn’t help but talk it up again. I have a hard time finding manga that I can unreservedly recommend for all ages, but Nicola is one of those rare books that I can hand to any kid confident that it will be fun, appropriate, and suitably weird. Obviously, parents who keenly object to sympathetic depictions of Hell might be put off, but on the whole, this is a story about a sweet little witch girl who is scooped up by a traveling Devil merchant on her quest through the demon world. She has only one magical ability: she can make a flower appear. She is proud of this, but sad that she can’t seem to get any further in her magic abilities — except that she’s had a couple big breakthroughs that she can’t replicate. The premise is fun, the characters are charming, and the sketchy quality of the artwork (printed in brown ink in the physical version of the manga) is unique and rich. I was pleased that my initial review on Comics Beat led my cousin to consider it for his daughter’s Christmas gift; it’s an excellent pick for the kid who delights in the weird but isn’t really keen on being outright scared.

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Baby: A Soppy Story, by Philippa Rice — published by Andrews McMeel, out January 14, 2020

When I announced my pregnancy, I put out a call for comics recommendations about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The options, especially for pregnancy narratives, were very slim, and I was beginning to get disheartened. But it looks like there are a number of autobiographical pregnancy comics coming early next year, right around the time my own baby will be born! I was lucky to be able to grab an early copy of Philippa Rice’s Baby, which is both gentle and honest in its depiction of Rice’s experience with her first pregnancy. (Judging by her Instagram feed, it looks like she’s pregnant again — with twins!) I’ve read a little bit of her other work (like Sister BFFs), and I’m always struck by how similar our experiences are…and only slightly because she draws herself a little bit like how I look/used to look, all bobbed hair and red/black/white clothing, haha. This little book had me laughing, nodding, and sighing along with how relatable it is to my own pregnancy experience, and it really got me excited about bringing this new little life into the world. Her work is very sweet, so I definitely recommend looking back through her previous works while you wait for this book to come out in January!

So this month was something for the kiddos and something for moms and moms-to-be, it looks like! Next week, I’m expecting my in-laws in town for the holidays, so there’s a chance that the December Favorites will also be delayed. I am pretty keen on getting it done, however, since who knows how much I’ll be able to do once I have a tiny baby attached to me at all hours of the day. Until then, I hope everyone has an enjoyable holiday season full of warmth, tasty meals, family and/or friends, and excitement for the year ahead!

October Favorites

October is over! Can you believe it — my favorite month zipped by so quickly, just like it does every year. I love Halloween but also always get a little sad when it gets close because that means the spookiest month of the year will soon be done. But no matter, November is also lovely, and the holidays are coming up fast. I do enjoy spending the cold winter months with family — and this year we’ll be inviting a new member come late January or early February, so there’s a lot to look forward to!

This year, I helped to organize and run the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, better known as MICE. Because it was my first time helping, and because I was not as mobile as usual, I felt like I did more observing and learning than anything else. But I had a wonderful time, and I was even able to pick up a couple zines on pregnancy and motherhood! I’m slowly chipping away at my goal of writing about what I’m affectionately referring to as “mom comics.”

Other than MICE and Halloween, it’s been business as usual. I read a couple lovely things this month that I want to share with you, both very much in the spirit of the spooky season!

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The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I actually did a full review of this manga for Comics Beat (along with a review of Cats of the Louvre), but I just wanted to reiterate how much I enjoyed it since I don’t write those reviews in the first person, and these posts on my blog are more about my personal opinions! Wize Wize Beasts is, in a word, great. It is fluffy BL romances set in a magical wizarding world full of humanoid animals. It plays with some BL and romance tropes that aren’t my favorite (like a student-teacher mutual attraction, though it doesn’t get taken too far), but it’s mostly just fun. I keep using the word “indulgent” to describe it, because it’s not pretending to be anything other than pure entertainment. And, as always, Nagabe’s artwork is wonderful — dark and whimsical, with deft character designs.

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The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, by Koren Shadmi — published by Life Drawn (Humanoids)

Oh, Rod Serling. I had been looking forward to reading this advanced copy I had for a while, and I finally just went for it. No regrets. I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone and of Rod Serling as a writer and a person, so this biographical comic was always going to be my catnip. It is thoroughly and lovingly researched, and follows Serling from his days serving in World War II all the way through post-Twilight Zone and to his all-too-early death. Koren Shadmi chose to depict the entire book in black and white/grayscale, which I really appreciate. As a manga reader, I often prefer black and white comics because I like to see the use of texture and shading really pop (which is possible in color comics, of course, but less common). In this case, it also lends that old-TV look and feel, giving us the Rod Serling we all recognize from our small screen. I also love the way Shadmi used the framing of The Twilight Zone to pull a bit of a twist on the reader — but I don’t want to give anything away! Definitely give it a read if you’re interested in the show, the man, or in the television industry in the 50s and 60s. There’s a lot of really fascinating information about how writers, producers, and studios operated at the time that I think most people wouldn’t know much about otherwise — and a lot of conversation about commercialism, appealing to the “lowest common denominator” of an audience, and being subject to the whims of the censors.

And that’s October’s recommendations! Just two months left this year, and I’m way behind on my Goodreads reading challenge, which isn’t too much of a surprise. We’ll see if I’m able to make it to 250 books (an ambitious goal to be sure) by the end of December. I definitely have some really interesting manga in my to-read pile, so I’m looking forward to having more to share by the end of November. Until then, happy reading!

 

September Favorites

I’m a little later than usual this month! September was a good month, full of lots and lots of writing work, visiting in-laws, and a trip to New Hampshire for some good New England-y early autumn fun. I continue to grow rounder with each passing day, and the baby has decided to set up a dance studio in my belly.

In manga-related news, I got to cover Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san and The Way of the Househusband for Comics Beat this month. I did mini-reviews of them here last month, but you can read a more detailed review if you follow the links. I’ve also officially started as one of the hosts of Manga Machinations, and it’s been so much fun. It’s really rewarding to be able to have good, engaging conversations with people about manga. And knowing that others are interested in listening to those conversations and providing their perspective is awesome, too. Aaaaaaand Selling Comics came out! My name and my writing is in a real, printed book! It’s so cool, I’m still kind of in shock.

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In terms of reading this month…unfortunately, a lot of it was for work or the podcast (and right now I’m reading a long-anticipated novel), so I only have one pick for you all. But it’s a real good one!

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Phantom Tales of the Night, Volume 1, by Matsuri — published by Yen Press

Some of you may remember my love letter to Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors, one of my favorite manga of all time. My exposure to that series set in motion an obsession of mine; namely, the episodic morality play that utilizes an unreliable or amoral shop owner or service provider involved in the supernatural to mete out cosmic justice — or just sate his own desires — all wrapped up in a pretty, artistic package. Phantom Tales of the Night falls neatly into that description, with a mysterious innkeeper who trades protection, information, or a room for his clients’ secrets. And like every good nameless creepy innkeeper, his origins and history appear to be less than savory, though the first volume only gives us a glimpse at his arcane abilities. I’m such a sucker for stuff like this. It’s kind of pulpy, kind of queerbait-y, definitely pure, shameless entertainment. And while nothing will ever quite move me like the artwork in Pet Shop of Horrors, this series’s creator Matsuri (a different Matsuri!) has a lovely style that lends itself equally to beauty and body horror and weirdness. Again, totally my kind of manga.

And so, I end September and begin October on a decidedly spooky note. Historically, October has been an extremely busy time for me, and this year is no exception. I have volunteered to help with the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) this year, which is one of my absolute favorite local shows. If you’re around Boston the weekend of October 19-20, you should totally check it out and say hi! In between that, celebrating the season, and getting my normal work done, I’m going to try my best to read more. I’m hopefully going to also talk a bit about my horror manga recommendations! It’s something I always want to do but never quite get around to, and I’d really like to make the time to write about one of my favorite genres of manga.

Until then, happy reading!

July Favorites

It’s been another bustling, busy month, but I made good on my promise and read more comics in July! I’m still more behind on my reading than I’d like to be, but it feels good to get back into some kind of routine (even if I have been doing all my work from our new couch instead of at my desk…).

At the top of the month, I started recording a four-part series with the wonderful gentlemen of the Manga Machinations podcast, a retrospective of Akiko Higashimura’s EISNER-AWARD WINNING Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Long-time readers and folks who follow me on Twitter will know that this is one of my absolute favorite modern series. I wrote about my feelings on the first volume ages ago, and those feelings have multiplied and intensified with each passing volume. By the time this post goes up, we’ll be three-quarters of the way through the retrospective. I hope that those of you who have had a chance to read the series will listen to our discussion of it and give us some feedback on your feelings about Higashimura’s love letter to 30-something women and the problems they face. It’s thrilling that I was able to talk about this series in the midst of its Eisner victory. Deb Aoki asked for some of my thoughts on the win and its potential affect on sales for her Answerman column over on Anime News Network, as well. I can’t reiterate enough how every manga fan should follow Deb on Twitter if they want all the latest news from cons and publishers. She’s a force of nature with her Tweeting skills!

I’ve also continued my work for The Comics Beat with reviews for Beastars volume 1, Junji Ito’s Smashed anthology, and the first two volumes of Satoko and Nada. Writing long-form manga reviews is my favorite job right now, hands down. It’s nice to be able to take the skills I utilized recommending manga to customers through working at Comicopia and translate that into recommending manga to readers all over the world. Since leaving the shop, I had been feeling a little isolated from the comics community, but writing for The Beat has helped me reaffirm my place within it and remind me that the work I do is worthwhile and (hopefully) helpful to readers.

So a lot is happening for me these days, and I’m hoping to have even more good news for you next month. But for now, it’s time to talk about what you all came to read — my favorite comics that I read in July. Some of these will likely be given the full Comics Beat review treatment in the near future, but I wanted to write about them a bit in a space where I can let my personal bias really shine through. :3

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Popocomi, by various — published by Eriko Obayashi of Books and Gallery POPOTAME

I bought this wonderful anthology at TCAF and finally, finally sat down to read it. Organized by the Japanese comic shop POPOTAME, this collection features works by “underground” Japanese mangaka — something readers in the West rarely get to see. This collection runs the gamut from more straightforward short narratives to surreal or nonsensical offerings. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was really impressed with the variety and the skill on display. I was especially fond of Ikumi Nakada‘s melancholy “In a Worm-Eaten Town” and Maiko Dake‘s bubbly “FROM the BOOK SHOP.” They’re very different little glimpses into the lives of a couple of young women, but they both struck me with their ability to convey tone and emotion through the expressiveness (or lack thereof) of their characters. This collection was created in collaboration with TCAF and translated by the incomparable Jocelyne Allen, who has translated scores of my favorite books, provided interpretations for Junji Ito during TCAF, and who is a lot of fun to hang out with. The book was enthusiastically sold to me by one of the artists (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch!), and came with a sweet little map of bookshops in Ikebukuro-Mejiro. The whole experience of buying and reading this book was unique, and it reminded me of the importance of connecting bookshops and artists with their products — something I believe in very strongly. Support your local bookstores! Support your local artists! Remember that a lot of love and care goes into putting together the works you love.

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Waves, by Ingrid Chabbert & Carole Maurel — published by BOOM! Studios

I’m going to be completely honest — I sobbed through this book. The protagonist is pregnant, and the reader is made to believe this is not her first pregnancy, but that her other attempts thus far have failed. She and her wife are deeply invested in having a child, but because the protagonist’s condition is so tenuous, she is made to stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst and the couple loses their precious son — stillborn. God, I’m starting to tear up just typing this! But the story is not just about losing the baby. It is about how that loss is used to help the protagonist push forward and find hope in a new career of writing books for children. This is an autobiographical comic with gorgeous illustrations by Carole Maurel that utilize color to great success. It’s definitely not a light read, but it is short and extremely affecting. I thought it was brilliant, even if I had to read a lot of it through blurred vision.

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Our Dreams At Dusk, by Yuhki Kamatani — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I have been SO excited for this release for so long, and I finally got my hands on a copy through the library. It is a little different from what I anticipated, but I’m not at all disappointed in it; rather, I think it’s great, and I can’t wait to check out the next volume which just recently came out. Protagonist Tasuku Kaname is struggling at school. Not with bad grades, but with being the new kid and being singled out for being gay. Of course, he didn’t tell anyone that he was gay, and he vehemently denies it, but the teasing comes anyway, to the point where Tasuku’s conflicting feelings nearly lead him to make a fatal decision. Luckily, he is distracted by a woman he sees in the distance who appears to be jumping to her death as well, and when he runs to see what became of her, he is confronted with her, whole and hale, and referred to by everyone in the drop-in center he found her in as “Someone-san.” Through this strange encounter, Tasuku meets others who are queer, and he is able to begin confronting his own fears about his sexuality and what it means for his life and his relationships. I find it deeply gratifying to have a fictional LGBTQ+ manga written by a non-binary creator and depicting a supportive queer network. A lot of the genuine queer works we’ve seen coming Stateside are autobiographical, and while their messages are so important, it is nice to see the field open up to fiction that isn’t relegated to BL or yuri — both of which are great in their own way, but which seldom reflect lived experiences or common concerns, especially amongst queer youth. Kamatani is know for their other manga series, Nabari no Ou, and I’m hoping that the name recognition might help get this manga into the hands of those who need it most — though my guess is that it’s already doing quite well based on the force of its subject matter alone. The importance of the story and characters aside, Kamatani’s artwork is gorgeous — fluid and expressive, with a boldness that I wasn’t expecting based on the dreamy cover designs.

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Blank Canvas, by Akiko Higashimura — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

This month I finished reading Tokyo Tarareba Girls and then immediately delved straight into Higashimura’s autobiographical work Blank Canvas, where she details her teenage experience of attending art classes outside of school to help boost her portfolio for college, and her relationship with an old, ornery art teacher who helped her improve immensely. I love Higashimura’s no-holds-barred, unflattering depiction of herself at that age: cocky, under-motivated, and underneath everything, deeply uncertain. This helps to shed new light on Higashimura’s many successes as a mangaka, reminding readers that while there might be something about her that is innately talented, it took years and years of work and drilling to become the master she is today. I could have used this manga as a self-assured teen, if only to light a fire under my butt to work harder at my dreams and to seek out the guidance I didn’t really think I needed. I’m still a little too cocksure sometimes, so it’s amazing to see someone I respect as much as Higashimura humble herself for her audience in this way. I’m not sure I’d have the same confidence if I were her, but she has absolutely, 100% earned it. And besides, she seems like the kind of teen it would have been fun to be friends with.

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Classmates, by Asumiko Nakamura — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

There was a time, not too long ago, where I was very skeptical of Seven Seas’s output. They published a lot of works that were not for me in the extreme, with plenty of fanservice and an uncomfortable blurry line between what constituted age-appropriate content and what did not. And yet here I am today, promoting three of their recent manga with nothing but my highest accolades. At some point around the time they published My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, Seven Seas took a deep dive into queer stories and have really set the standard for what types of manga readers are really scrambling for. Among those is one of my all-time favorite manga, Classmates. DMP had already owned this license, for digital distribution only, so I had read it a couple years back. I was struck then by a few things: the genuine sweetness of the story itself, and Asumiko Nakamura’s bizarre, stretchy, almost uncomfortable art style (which I adore). In my twenty-ish years of manga reading, I’ve read a lot of BL. A vast majority of it has been purely horny trash, stuff I didn’t particularly even like but felt compelled to read just to see if I could find the hidden gems. And the hidden gems are there, but you have to wade through scores of tropes: near-rape or rape scenes, coercion, incest, abuse, student-teacher relationships…basically, the tawdry, the inappropriate, and the obscene. But sometimes a manga like Classmates comes along — a sweet story about two teenage boys who fall in love and stumble through a predictable teenage relationship without too much meddling from the outside. And it’s a happy manga, one that brightens your day with its effortless charm and its delightfully wacky artwork. Nakamura’s long-limbed, long-lashed, almost alien-looking characters seem suited to eroguro works or philosophical stories — and she’s done things like that, too (I’m thinking specifically of Utsubora) — but somehow her distinct flair makes the characters’ expressions of amorousness, embarrassment, and teenage hilarity all the more effective. I’m so glad that this series has gotten the print treatment, and I hope that it draws in many, many new readers!

Phew! A really long one this month to make up for June’s scarcity. It’s nice to be back on a roll with reading — let’s hope I can keep it up for a while. Until next month, I wish you all happy reading!

April Favorites

Every month, I get the itch to write this segment about halfway through, thus defeating the point of having a monthly round-up! I get too excited to talk about what I’ve just read, and I read a lot of good stuff in April.

Actually, a lot of stuff in general happened in April. I turned 29 on the 4th, so here’s to the last year of my 20s! My husband and I are in the midst of apartment hunting, which is always chaotic, especially here in the Boston area. And Anime Boston was last weekend! Even though I don’t technically work at Comicopia anymore, I helped with the ordering and was there on the floor from set up on Thursday to break down on Sunday. It was a really great show, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it. Selling at conventions is my favorite kind of retail, because everyone is just so excited to be there and see what you’ve got and talk to you about it. And all the con-goers are so creative — I saw so many excellent costumes! Oh, and my very first post for Anime Feminist went up this week, as well: a spotlight on amazing artist and mangaka Junko Mizuno.

As May approaches, I’m getting ready to head over to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) for the first time, and I’m super excited. Between that and moving, May is going to be intense — but we’re not there yet. For now, I want to reflect on all the good stuff I read in April! And it’s actually all relatively new stuff this month, a sure change for me.

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Maiden Railways, by Asumiko Nakamura — published by Denpa

This is the first of Denpa’s offerings that I’ve gotten a chance to read, and it’s the one I was most looking forward to. I love Asumiko Nakamura. Her art is so strange, both adorable and almost uncomfortable with all its sharp angles and long limbs. This volume is an anthology of railway-themed romances. It is simple and straightforward in many ways, but as with all of Nakamura’s work, it sets a very distinct tone, in this case of hope and longing and compassion. It’s a really lovely little collection with some lesbian themes neatly tucked into it with no fuss. Between this and Seven Seas’s upcoming print version of Classmates coming out soon, I am thrilled that more readers have access to Nakamura’s work.

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Bloom, by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau — published by FirstSecond

I had to wait for this book from the library for months, and I absolutely understand why — it’s absurdly charming. Ari’s dream is to move to the city with his band, but he can’t seem to escape his responsibilities at his family’s bakery. Hector, a culinary school student, has come to town to pack up his deceased grandmother’s home. Ari hires Hector to help in the bakery, in the hopes that by replacing himself, he will leave his parents no room to argue about his leaving home. But over the course of the summer, Ari and Hector grow close, and they have to make some big decisions about where their lives are headed, and whether those lives include each other. This book was so unbearably sweet, and so beautifully illustrated. Savanna Ganucheau does an excellent job of showing everyday examples of sexiness — nothing exploitative, but the little kinds of things that a person appreciates in their partner, like how they look when they’re focused, or how they move when they’re excited. With a cast diverse in both ethnic background and body type, and a strong, happy queer narrative, this is an incredibly delightful read for teens and up.

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Smashed, by Junji Ito — published by VIZ Media

It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE Junji Ito fan. (That’s part of the reason I’m so excited about TCAF!) I never know what to expect with each new anthology: Will I be scared? Will I laugh? Will I feel like I just watched a particularly poignant episode of The Twilight Zone? For me, this collection had a lot of humor in it, and that is perhaps one of my favorite things about Ito’s work. There is a very fine line between comedy and horror, and no one loves to hop back and forth across that line as much as Ito. I think my favorites in this collection were “Bloodsucking Darkness” (because I love bats), “Soichi’s Beloved Pet” (because I love cats), and “Library Vision” (because I love books). The linked Soichi stories never fail to be silly fun, and as usual Ito’s artwork throughout the whole anthology is gorgeous and detailed. Truly, he is a master of horror, and all other kinds of base human emotions.

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Kitaro’s Yokai Battles, by Shigeru Mizuki — published by Drawn & Quarterly

It’s been so long since there was another installment of Kitaro, and I was thrilled when I was alerted to this making its way into my pull at Comicopia. Who on this earth doesn’t love adorable, weird, childish monsters with potty humor? Only boring people, that’s who! In this collection, I was particularly fond of the “Oboro Guruma” chapter, in which Shigeru Mizuki has inserted himself as a major character, plagued by yokai who are taking over his home as their base of operations. As usual, Mizuki’s cartoony characters sit atop his lush and gorgeous backgrounds seamlessly, and the oft-times odd solutions to yokai-related problems harken back to simpler times and simpler story-telling mechanics. With each volume comes another installment of translator Zack Davisson’s “History of Kitaro,” which really appeals to my interest in both general world history and manga history specifically. A fun read suitable for just about anyone who appreciates a little dark whimsy in their life.

That’s going to do it for this month! I made the conscious decision not to include the sixth volume of Tokyo Tarareba Girls this time around, even though it’s one of my absolute favorite series, because I’ve already written about it in the past, and I anticipate I will talk at great length about it in many forms in the future. I thought I’d spare you all, haha.

I already have a huge pile of comics waiting to be read (don’t I always?), so hopefully I’ll have a nice round-up for May, as well. Happy reading!

March Favorites

It’s finally starting to feel like spring, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s so much easier to motivate myself to work when the sun is shining, especially after months and months of frigid winds and gray skies. March is always an odd month, sitting right at the edge of winter and spring, and it often makes me feel unsettled.

After over a month since my sweet kitty Mia’s passing, my husband and I decided we would start the process of looking for new feline companions, specifically hoping to adopt a bonded pair. We absolutely did not expect to adopt on the day we went to the local MSPCA shelter, but of course…the cats had other plans. On March 17th (Saint Gertrude’s Day, the patron saint of cats!), we brought home Zelda and Hilda, a mother-daughter pair of little black cats. They are charming in the extreme, so expect me to gush about them even more as time passes.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m going to be having my wisdom teeth removed this coming Friday. It’s long overdue, and I’ll be glad once it’s done, but I’m definitely dreading what I’ve heard is a rather painful healing process. But who knows, maybe it’ll afford me more time to read….

Which brings me to the point of this post! Last month I did a round up of my favorite comics reads, and I’m going to go for it again. If I do it twice, it’s a monthly column, right? I actually didn’t read a ton of comics this month, instead favoring some truly indulgent murder mystery audiobooks. But of what I did read, there are a few certain gems that I want to share.

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Star Light Woman, by Rie Kanou — available through Crunchyroll

At the start of the month, I decided to sift through the various reading-oriented apps on my tablet to find something new, and I came upon Star Light Woman on Crunchyroll. I was drawn by the image of protagonist Hoshi, rendered in what I think of as an 80s manga style, all puffy hair and cut-off shorts. I’m not sure what I was expecting — maybe a silly, slightly sexy sci-fi romp? And that’s more or less what it is, but somehow I really, really loved it. Hoshi just wants to lead a normal life, but she is the product of an experiment by an alien race to create the perfect weapon to save them from their enemies. She continually has to thwart these aliens while encountering other humans who have undergone similar transformations at their hands. It’s a short little series without much depth, but it’s truly funny and the artwork is stunning. I’m usually very critical of “sexy lady protagonist whose clothes don’t fit properly,” but Hoshi even gets my blood pumping, and I think that her strong, solid frame coupled with her highly moral principles lends a lot to her appeal. She’s like an embodiment of righteous female anger — a subject I’m always eager to see in my fiction!

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Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen, by Moyoco Anno — available through Crunchyroll

I love Moyoco Anno’s work, though I have to admit that this was only the second thing of hers I had ever read. Sakuran was a gorgeous and deeply provocative manga, so when I was scrolling through options on Crunchyroll’s manga app after finishing Star Light Woman, I remembered that I had been meaning to read Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen for quite some time. I was not at all disappointed, and in fact I read Buffalo 5 Gals immediately afterward, just to get more of Anno’s sassy sex working heroines. But Amorous Gentlemen is special, probably my favorite of Anno’s works thus far. She is incredibly sensitive with sex work while also not over-glamorizing it; Colette and all her co-workers go about their day-to-day business like at any other job, and in many cases care very deeply about their clients. But they also are in close quarters, so they fight and disagree, and sometimes they are all too aware of how they are doomed to this life. The sex scenes are sometimes clinical and sometimes genuinely sexy, and I think that knowing when to evoke which mood in a reader is an incredible skill on Anno’s part. I’m also always going to be a sucker for her very stylized artwork, all angles and frills and fashion.

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Candy Color Paradox, Volume 1, by Isaku Natsume — published by VIZ Media

The only manga on this month’s list that’s actually new this month, and the only one that has male protagonists! I was able to snag a galley copy of this right before it came out, and I honestly didn’t think it would be anything special. I’ll usually try to read new BL when it comes out, but I’ve been burned so many times with cliched plots or harmful tropes that it’s more a desire to keep up-to-date than an expectation that I’ll find something great. But VIZ’s SuBLime imprint has been knocking it out of the park lately, and I really liked this first volume. Protagonist Satoshi Onoe is a reporter who is proud of his body of work, but one day he is thrown onto a stakeout team with Motoharu Kaburagi, a photographer with a bad attitude whom Onoe believes stole his girlfriend away. The two start off on rough terms, but soon find that they work well together — and they begin to “catch feelings.” You know, that old gem. Honestly, it was cute and fluffy, and I feel like it’s been a long time since I read some straightforward “loathe to like to love” BL manga. The artwork is clean and appealing, with good sense of movement.

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Nana, by Ai Yazawa — published by VIZ Media

This month, I decided to embark on a reread of Nana, and I’ve gotten up through volume 7 so far. I honestly don’t remember how much if it I’ve read in the past, so I wanted to make sure I got the full experience. I had watched the anime with my husband many years ago, and it wrecked us both, so coming back to it now, as a woman approaching my thirties instead of a woman barely out of her early 20s, is kind of a weird sensation. I’m farther away from any chance of making rash young adult decisions, but also in a place where I can envy the energy and passion that the characters portray as they lead a dramatic, punk-poverty-chic lifestyle. The series is old now, at least in the timeline of manga, so I don’t feel the need to summarize it, though I may one day write a whole piece about its meaningfulness to me, personally. I remember it didn’t sell great at Comicopia, but it was one of those series that I was adamant about keeping around. Yazawa’s artwork is so strange, with leggy, large-eyed Blythe-doll-esque characters and gorgeous renderings of haute couture of the 2000s, and I’m always enthralled by it. And I genuinely wish there was more work like Nana, work that explored the fraught relationships between female friends who love each other so passionately but don’t have the outlet to express it — an experience that will surely be familiar to many who squashed down their feelings throughout their teenage years for fear of judgment, or just because they didn’t have the tools to recognize those feelings. Society fucks women over, and Yazawa does an incredible job of balancing that message with a lot of genuine sensitivity for two very different women who are desperately reaching for an unobtainable happiness.

So, fluffy BL aside, it seems like I’ve read a bunch of manga about women who are dealing with too many external pressures getting in the way of their desires. That sounds like an appropriate way to have spent Women’s History Month! Honestly, though, my favorite works are often those by women representing the trials of womanhood — not because womanhood is terrible! But because it is cathartic to see your own worries magnified and projected in media sometimes, to see those fears getting played out somewhere safe, allowing you to recognize their validity but also release them in order to achieve your own goals, always knowing that you’re not alone.

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The Beautiful & the Damned; Where Violence Meets Aesthetics in Pet Shop of Horrors

Among the extensive list of things I shamelessly love are: the occult detective genre, beautiful men, the monster-of-the-week format, and morality plays. Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors very neatly contains all of these things, and indeed might be the reason I’m so fond of some of them.

For those unfamiliar with this late-90s shojo series, the premise is that in LA’s Chinatown there is a mysterious pet shop whose proprietor, Count D, sells exotic “animals” to anyone who can pay the price. Each animal comes with a specific set of rules, and when those rules aren’t followed to the letter, tragedy inevitably occurs. LAPD officer Leon Orcot is assigned to investigate D and the weird phenomena linked to his shop, but in the process he is drawn into a series of Twilight Zone-esque situations that he cannot explain, let alone report to his superiors.

Right now, I can look at this premise and think to myself, “Yep, this is totally my kind of bullshit.” But when I first picked it up as a young teen, it was because I was drawn to its beautiful cover, where the androgynous D is holding a mermaid, whose back is turned to the viewer. D’s eyes are piercing and almost sad, his fingers long and delicate. I was in love with this man who moved in multiple worlds: the masculine and the feminine, reality and fantasy, beauty and horror.

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And when I bought and read this first volume, I was shocked. It wasn’t outright scary, necessarily, but it certainly was gory. In the first chapter already was there a horrific scene of evisceration, in and amongst all the trappings of a classic 90s shojo style, preoccupied with luxury and beauty. It was jarring, and it was effective. I discovered then that I didn’t dislike horror like I had previously thought, I just wanted it to be beautiful.

To this day, I find myself critical of scary or violent media that doesn’t also have a keen sense of aesthetics. I don’t necessarily enjoy being frightened; I am a naturally anxious person with vivid and violent dreams who does not react well to heightened suspense in media. I do like dark themes, though, and in recent years I have made it a point to expose myself to films especially that I know I would like if I could just get over my own hang-ups. And by being discerning, I’ve been rewarded with some of the most gorgeous horror and gore I’ve ever seen.

I think beauty and romance are natural companions to horror. All these themes pivot on an axis of drama, of amplified emotions. They all invoke visceral reactions, not logical ones. All my life I’ve surrounded myself with artwork depicting scenes and themes of witchcraft, hauntings, murders, martyrs, and mortality. It seems natural to me that scary things can pull at the same emotions I feel when I recognize something as beautiful.

And all this because way back in 2003, Tokyopop decided to take a chance on something that wasn’t very common in the comics world at the time: horror for girls. There’s plenty of it to be found in the manga world, and now there is more acknowledgement of girls and women reading outside of the romance genre. But it was new for me then, and even now Pet Shop of Horrors remains one of my favorite series, because it presented to me something I hadn’t known I was seeking out. It understood my tastes uniquely; it was able to marry my desire with my rage and prove them to be not disparate but intertwined and equally valid.

In truth, it is a somewhat silly series. It is certainly more fun than profound, but that in and of itself is not a criticism. It is pure, indulgent entertainment, and for me it is certainly laced with a nostalgic love that I will never be able to shake. How many times have I reread and referenced that first volume, gazing awestruck at the lovingly rendered intestines spilling out of a beautiful man’s body? How many times have I giggled at the flirtatious relationship between D and Orcot? How many times have I wished that modern depictions of mermaids were even half as scary as the one Akino has created?

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The series is unfortunately long out of print, and later volumes are hard to find. I imagine that it wasn’t a huge seller for Tokyopop, though I am forever grateful that they took a chance on it to begin with. The anime is available to stream on HiDive, brief as it is, if you’d like to get a glimpse into Count D’s enigmatic Chinatown pet shop.