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

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!

Bags of BL

Last week, I went to go pick up some manga that a friend was getting rid of — several bags of yaoi, all out of print at this point. There were a lot of treasures in and among them that I hadn’t read yet, plus she tossed in a few extra manga that she had found laying around (including a hardcover copy of Shirahime-Syo, by CLAMP).

I’ve only had a chance to read two of the manga so far, Same-Cell Organism, by Sumomo Yumeka, and Say Please, by Kano Miyamoto. I enjoyed the former quite a bit; it was a collection of sweet, fluffy BL stories that I would feel comfortable recommending to just about anyone. The latter…well, I’m super exhausted by the domestic abuse tropes in yaoi, and if Say Please had left those out, it might have been perfectly fine. As it was, it was hard to believe in the “five years later” happy romance when I couldn’t stop thinking about the assault that occurred earlier in the story.

I’ve been trying to keep up with yaoi as it’s coming out these days, and I have to say…there are still a lot of problems, still a lot of harmful tropes. But on the whole, it seems as though there’s a bit more vetting going on of material that could be considered offensive or harmful. It’s been nice to see titles like Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot get their English debut; stories that aren’t centered around sex, but around creating bonds and falling in love are more gratifying for me than straight-up porn. Even some of the saucier titles have been a real treat, though! I really enjoyed Scarlet Beriko’s Jackass, which could have so easily fallen prey to any number of horrible tropes. I’ll admit, as I was reading it, I was trying to predict how long it would take before I became thoroughly disappointed in my choice of reading material. Glad to say that disappointment never came!

I know that rummaging through the backlog of out of print DMP yaoi is going to be…challenging. I suspect there was a sort of “we’ll take what we can get” mentality about licensing at the time, and fans were so hungry for whatever they could get their hands on that they were willing to overlook some of the more egregious faults of the BL genre. But North American fujoshi are pickier now, I think. I know I certainly am! But I also think there’s a certain value in me going back and reading through this material I wasn’t able to get my hands on at the time of its publication (either because the places I shopped didn’t carry it, or because I was too young at the time to legally buy it).

I’ve heard Vassalord is…a wacky time.

Even though manga and anime are more popular and accessible now than ever before, there will always be certain series or whole genres that remain under the radar of public consciousness. I think BL is one of those genres; it’s so niche, and can be difficult to navigate. Something like yuri, I think, will continue to grow in popularity because not only will lesbian readers snap it up, but ostensibly straight men will, too, and they will pass it along to their friends and talk it up on social media. (As an aside, I remain pleasantly surprised every time I sell My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness to a man. I always wonder if they know what it is ahead of time, or if they think they’re getting a fun sexybook.) BL will never get that treatment because its main reader base is women, and in my experience women’s opinions on what is sexy are treated as less important. I don’t mean to imply that gay men should feel the need to read BL; Lord knows it’s not generally a great example of actual, genuine homosexual relationships. But BL gets put through the ringer a lot in ways that other media doesn’t, and I can’t help but think that it’s mostly because it’s something that chiefly women read and talk about and bond over.

It is my hope that in the coming years, we’ll see a lot more BL translated into English that appeals to a variety of readers. I get men in the store frequently who want BL but don’t like the painful stereotypes, or who aren’t really interested in porn as much as in gay romance. I’d like to be able to give them more recommendations than just I Hear the Sunspot and His Favorite. And I’d like to see the Western comics world tackle gay male stories, too! There have been a couple good ones lately — Taproot and Generations, both published by Lion Forge, come to mind. Let’s keep the trend rolling!

In the meantime, I’m going to try to wade through all these old books that I had to carry back to the store via the train. Anyone have any remedies for an achy shoulder..?

The resemblance is uncanny!