March Favorites

Hey all, I hope you’re all doing well. This has been a wild month for all of us, I’m sure. For my part, not a whole lot of day-to-day has changed. I already work from home, so I’ve been meeting deadlines as usual (though I’m taking on fewer things right now as I still adjust to being a work from home mom). My husband is still on paternity leave until April 13, but it’s looking like he’s going to be working from home after that point, as well. We were already largely staying at home since Sev can’t get her flu shot until she’s 6 months old, but now the flu has been completely overshadowed by COVID-19. And of course, we can’t have any visitors now. My mother had been coming up from Connecticut weekly to spend the day with us, and we really miss her presence.

It almost feels silly to do a reading round-up, a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to spend their time at home, so hopefully some reading recommendations won’t be amiss. And besides, sometimes it’s helpful for our mental health to try to keep some sense of normalcy in the face of adversity.

The Golden Sheep

The Golden Sheep, Volume 1, by Kaori Ozaki — published by Vertical Comics

This is one I missed when it initially came out and ended up borrowing from the library before we all had to avoid public spaces. I had read and loved Kaori Ozaki’s The Gods Lie, so I was eager to read something else of her’s. In The Golden Sheep, protagonist Tsugu Miikura is moving back to her hometown after having moved away in elementary school. She is eager to reunite with her three childhood friends, expecting that nothing would have changed between them in the intervening years. Unfortunately, she finds that tensions in the group are high, and her dream of coming home to something familiar winds up backfiring. Ozaki’s got an incredible ability to pepper her high drama stories with humor and gentleness. The simplicity of her character designs does not hinder their expressiveness; indeed, her characters are full of emotion. I may have to wait until I can go back to the library to read the second volume, but I’m looking forward to it!

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition

Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition, Volume 1, by Kouji Kumeta — published by Kodansha Comics, available digitally

I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this manga. I almost didn’t read it at all, in fact. At first glance, it can seem like one of those series where a father has a questionable relationship with his daughter. In this case, father Kakushi Goto is a mangaka who specializes in “dirty” manga. He is desperately trying to keep his career a secret from his little daughter, Hime. He wants to protect her from the embarrassment of having a father in a sleazy line of work, not realizing that everyone around him respects him and loves his work. In pursuit of keeping his secret, Kakushi gets into a lot of weird and humorous situations. But I was most struck by the fact that this really does seem to be a sweet story about a father who wants what’s best for his daughter, and a daughter who loves and supports her father no matter what. I personally also like the inside baseball stuff about the manga industry. My favorite part was the frankly absurd cameo by Kazuhiro Fujita, creator of Ushio & Tora and The Ghost and the Lady. Really fun, and available digitally — so good quarantine reading!

Therapy Game

Therapy Game, Volume 1, by Meguru Hinohara — published by VIZ Media’s SuBLime imprint, available June 9, 2020

This is another manga I liked more than I anticipated! This is the sequel series to Meguru Hinohara’s oneshot Secret XXX (coming out April 14), which I also had a review copy of and thought was reasonably cute. But Therapy Game has character types I like better: the aloof, beautiful, and very gay guy who is actually very sensitive, and the gentle, heartbroken guy who is trying to sort out his feelings. The story focuses on the brothers of the main characters from Secret XXX, Shizuma and Minato. Shizuma had been drinking his sorrows away in a gay bar after getting dumped by his girlfriend, and Minato happened to listen to him and then take him to a hotel room to sleep off the booze. Shizuma, allegedly straight and definitely wasted, ends up giving Minato an extremely memorable evening — which Shizuma completely forgets by morning. Minato decides that he’s going to get revenge by seducing Shizuma and then dumping him, but of course…real feelings crop up unexpectedly! It’s definitely a dramatic, sappy manga, and it leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger in terms of the guys’ relationship. But I often feel like I have to wade through a lot of middling to bad BL, and this one stood out in character and artwork for me. You don’t have to have read Secret XXX to understand what’s going on, but a couple references might be lost on you. (I didn’t realize it was a sequel going in, only realizing it after seeing characters from the other manga.) Needless to say, this is absolutely a mature manga for readers 18 years old and over. There’s not a lot of explicit sex, but it’s definitely there, so reader beware!

And that’s March! I hope that by the end of April, we’ll all have some better news about COVID-19. In the meantime, I have to spend my birthday and Easter both at home away from family and friends, and that’s hard — but it’s necessary, and I know we’re all giving up a lot to make sure that we flatten the curve! Please be safe and responsible, and if you can, take advantage of any free time to catch up on reading, or take up a hobby, or just simply rest. And wash your hands! ;3

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.

whatsmichaelbakenekodance

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!

ourdiningtablepicnic

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.

youarenew

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!

kodochaitscaresthechipmunk

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.

Blueflagembarrassed

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.

myandrogynousboyfriendyouretheman

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.

ReadingwithSev