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

February Favorites

Time for something new! I’m going to start trying to round up some of my favorite comic reads at the end of each month. These won’t necessarily be things that came out the month in question (though I do try to keep up when I can), but anything I’ve managed to get my hands on that I feel is worth a mention. I read a lot, so I’m going to have to figure out how to limit my choices, but hopefully with time will come clarity!

I will say, first off, that this has been an…interesting month. I still feel so new to the freelance writing world, but I do think that things are coming together nicely, and I’m getting to a point where I can start challenging myself with how much work I take on. I also lost my cat, Mia, on February 12th. She was quite old, and her decline was very rapid. While she was sick, I spent a good deal of my time attending to her; after her death, there was a lot of time where I was just too miserable to feel like I wanted to do much of anything, let alone read. Still, a visit to Comicopia did help lift my spirits considerably, and while I have to be a little bit more judicious in my purchases right now, I was able to bring home some good new material.

I am also about to spend five days with my family while James is away on business, which is why I’m getting this out before the true end of the month. I suspect I will be too busy doing things with my mom and trying to keep up with my writing work to read too many more comics. But I wanted to give this segment a try, anyway, so I’ve decided to work with what I’ve got.

So without further ado, my picks for the month!

NotAnotherMagicalGirl
Magical Beatdown
, Volume 1, by Jenn Woodall — published by Silver Sprocket

This slim little issue does one of my favorite things: It combines a love of the ultra-femme concept of the magical girl and mixes it generously with a hyper-violence that is both gross and cathartic at the same time. I think there’s a lot to be said about women enjoying and creating violent content, and some day I hope to talk about it more in-depth. But for now, I want to recommend the excellent pastel gore-fest revenge fantasy that is Magical Beatdown, because sometimes you just wanna go to the arcade without having to deal with losers! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second installment.

HouseofPenance
House of Penance
, by Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, and Dave Stewart — published by Dark Horse Comics

Speaking of gore-fests, this standalone graphic novel is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The Winchester mansion in San Jose, California, is famous for it’s staircases that lead to nowhere, its doors that open onto nothing but air, and the nagging suspicion that it is not entirely empty. House of Penance is an exploration of Sarah Winchester’s mental state as she commissions the building of this strange domicile while grappling with the grief of losing her daughter and her husband, and the guilt of inheriting the wealth from a company whose business is murder. I’m always down for a strong anti-gun message, personally, and there is no holding back here as Sarah is confronted relentlessly by the victims of her in-laws’ firearm empire. Ian Bertram’s art is eerie and textured, Sarah especially portrayed with bug-like eyes that can see more than the men working around her. Dave Stewart’s incredible colors compliment Bertram’s lines beautifully, and his use of bright, vibrant blood red is very effective.

Lulu
Shion: Blade of the
 Minstrel, by Yu Kinutani — published by VIZ Media (out of print)

I came upon this volume completely by accident, while I was still working at Comicopia. It was hidden away in storage, in a long box full of old single issue comics, many of which were single issue manga, from way back when everything was flipped and companies tried selling manga like Western single-issue comics. I was drawn to its striking cover and detailed artwork, so I brought it home. That had to have been nearly two years ago, as I had put it into a comic box and promptly forgotten it. I dug it out recently while I was doing some organizing, and I resolved to finally read it.

And honestly, I was stunned. This little volume is so extraordinarily different from any manga that is being licensed and published today. It wouldn’t be seen as marketable, probably, but I’m so glad that VIZ took a chance on it back in 1991, because it was a pleasure to read. The book is split into two stories that follow a mysterious minstrel who must first take his revenge on a monster who wronged him and his family, and then must take up a legendary sword to fulfill his destiny. That one sentence seems like straightforward fantasy, and in many ways that’s what Shion is; as an essay at the back of the volume explains, it is a classic hero arc seen in many fairy tales and epics. But it’s so gorgeously textured in its artwork, and for me it invoked the same feelings as Vampire Hunter D and classic Jim Henson works, especially The Dark Crystal. It’s creative and beautiful, and I’d love to see what Kinutani did after this work. Worth hunting down if you are able!

SoloExchange2
My Solo Exchange Diary
, Volume 2, by Nagata Kabi — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

In many ways, there’s not much I can say that I haven’t said before, in various spaces, about Nagata Kabi’s autobiographical work. Of the three volumes she has out from Seven Seas right now, I think this one was my favorite, even though much of it was spent talking about her time in the hospital. I appreciate, more than ever, her honesty, especially as she realizes how her mental state had prevented her from understanding how much her family actually loves her and wants what’s best for her. She continues to struggle throughout the volume, but it is evident that she’s repairing her relationships and learning, slowly, how to better communicate her pain so that she’s not suffering alone. I know that many people have been critical of her constant self-destruction, but to that end I just have to say…it is evident those people have never struggled with serious mental illness, or really known anyone who has. What Kabi is going through is not logical, it is not easily navigated, and her honesty and willingness to expose herself like she this has surely had a positive effect on others who have felt similarly isolated, self-destructive, and hurt. I continue to send her only the kindest, gentlest, most positive thoughts as she works on overcoming her pain. It’s a hard road, and she’s been working at it for a long, long time. I hope she’s able to find some peace soon.

AllMyDarlingDaughters
All My Darling Daughters
, by Fumi Yoshinaga — published by VIZ Media

Fumi Yoshinaga is one of those creators whose work I always know I’ll enjoy, but who also manages to completely exceed my expectations every single time. So was the case with All My Darling Daughters, a standalone volume that explores various relationships between people in a friend group, with special emphasis on the one between Yukiko and her mother, Mari, who has married a much younger man. Yoshinaga has such a sensitive touch with her characters that I find myself sympathizing even with those who in a different author’s hands, I would absolutely hate. It is an incredible skill to express the nuances of humanity, and Yoshinaga is extraordinarily good at it. I felt especially drawn to the last story in the collection, which dives into Mari’s antagonistic relationship with her own mother (Yukiko’s grandmother). Mari hates her mother for having been unnecessarily cruel about her appearance while she was growing up, not realizing that her mother was trying, in her own imperfect way, to protect her daughter from becoming reliant on her good looks. I was so strongly reminded of the dynamics between the women in my own family, the dynamics between my mother and my grandmother, and the increased awareness I have lately of how heavy motherhood can be. “A mother is an imperfect woman,” Yukiko realizes, and it is a perfect underscore to a book full of imperfect people who are just trying to do the right thing.

Looking back, it seems I’ve read a lot of very different books this month, but there are certain themes that run throughout. A lot of introspection, explorations of mental health (both real and fictional), and a little bit of violence and some adventure to balance things out. I like the micro-review format because I can fit several recommendations into a post at once, and I am not liable to give too much away. I hope this proves useful, and I look forward to following up again next month with some more excellent reads!