MMF: Yoshinaga top five

I suppose that, since I asked others to pick their favorite Fumi Yoshinaga title, I should be willing to make the same impossible choice. It’s a thankless process, to be honest, since almost all of her works that have been published in English (which is almost all of them) assert their worth so forcefully. But, since I feel forced to do so, here are my five favorite works by Yoshinaga, in order:

  1. Antique Bakery, Digital Manga Publishing, four volumes, originally published in Shinkoshan’s Wings: As with many who left comments, this was my introduction to Yoshinaga, and it’s hard to get over your first time. A handsome straight guy opens a bakery and hires an irresistible gay guy to be his pastry chef. Additional employees of varying individual adorability hare subsequently hired, and Yoshinaga gives a glimpse into their complicated lives and those of their customers, friends, and families.
  2. Flower of Life, Digital Manga Publishing, four volumes, originally published in Shinkoshan’s Wings and later republished by Hakusensha: Yoshinaga dissects the milestones and tropes of school comedy with such precision and warmth that this series could easily have taken first place, though Antique Bakery gains an additional, slight edge by being about grown-ups. We follow a group of classmates and their teacher as they get to know outgoing (and blunt) Harutaro, a new student who missed a year due to leukemia treatment.
  3. Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law, 801 Media, two volumes, originally published by Biblos: As I wrote in greater detail earlier this week, Ichigenme is at the very top of my list of favorite yaoi, tied with Saika Kunieda’s Future Lovers (Deux Press). What Yoshinaga has here is a fully fleshed-out tale of evolving love between grown-ups, funny, smart, and sexy as you could hope.
  4. All My Darling Daughters, Viz Signature, one volume, originally published in Hakusensha’s Melody: This is quite possibly my favorite fictional examination of a mother-daughter relationship, an all-too-often neglected dynamic. This collection of interconnected short stories isn’t limited to that topic, and Yoshinaga does a marvelous job throughout, but the best moments involve a grown woman whose relationship with her mother changes when the mother begins a new relationship with a much-younger man.
  5. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Viz Signature, currently serialized in Hakusensha’s Melody: It’s probably strange, if not blasphemous, to put Yoshinaga’s most critically acclaimed series last on this list, but it’s hard not to favor completed works over one that’s still ongoing, good as that series may be. And, don’t get me wrong, Ôoku is very, very good. This history-with-a-spoke-in-the-wheels saga looks at a feudal Japan where the male population was decimated by disease, leaving the women to assume power, with all of the intrigue, drama, and conflicted emotions that prospect suggests.

There. I’ve committed my list to blog. I actually feel liberated. And it should probably be noted that all of these titles are among my favorite manga published in English, period.

Ichigenme, Vols. 1 and 2

Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law (801 Media) wasn’t the first yaoi work by Fumi Yoshinaga that I read, but it’s my favorite, and it has all of the qualities I use to define what I classify as the best of that category.

It’s about law-school students, and, by that, I don’t mean that it features characters who are identified as law-school students. In some romance stories, regardless of the sexual orientation of the protagonists, their professions are identified as a matter of course. For all careers matter to the narrative, they could just as well be identified as working in weaponized genetics or unicorn husbandry. But Yoshinaga has her characters spend a lot of time in the classroom, and she’s given a lot of thought to the culture of a law school.

Hard-working, average-income Tamiya and lazy, elite Tohdou are in the same seminar. It’s a notoriously easy course, so it’s generally populated with the entitled spawn of politicians, business magnates, and celebrities. They’re the kind of people who are just vamping until their inevitable success, because they know it’s ensured, relatively speaking. Tamiya’s success is equally assured, but that’s because he’s brilliant and he works hard. His classmates view him as a kind of charming oddity, and you can tell he bristles at their condescension as much as their stupidity.

So the series is also about class distinctions, which isn’t unfamiliar territory for Yoshinaga. It was the crux of conflict in Gerard and Jacques (Blu), and caste inequities inform virtually every page of Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz). The injustices of the smug and privileged don’t sour the good times, though, and Yoshinaga doesn’t sermonize. The elites are basically a benign but useless subspecies that’s good for a laugh, though their systemized superiority can certainly be damaging. Class differences in romantic fiction aren’t uncommon, but they can be as cosmetic as careers. Yoshinaga goes deeper, and she earns laughs in the process.

So that’s two things that Ichigenme is actually about aside from a romantic relationship, and they bring me to another good-yaoi differential in evidence: there’s a female character of consequence in the series. Terada is as good a student as Tamiya, and her pedigree is about equal to his. Tereda gives Tamiya a partner in eye-rolling, and she lets Yoshinaga work in some stinging examples of sexist double standards that successful women have to endure. Tereda is a more driven, polished version of Haruka and Tammy in Antique Bakery (Digital Manga), and her scenes have sly, satirical power. That she vanishes after the first volume isn’t really a problem; that’s another pattern of Yoshinaga yaoi, and it’s better than no representation at all of the other 50-plus percent of the population.

It’s starting to sound like Ichigenme is seinen slice-of-life, so I should hasten to mention that the core relationship between Tamiya and Tohdou is urgent and persuasive, and it’s barely formulaic at all. Okay, so Tamiya has never thought of himself as gay, and Tohdou’s attentions surprise him. That’s one of the most common starting points there is. But Tamiya actually goes through an evolution instead of a spontaneous conversion. It takes more than one drunken kiss for Tamiya’s whole life to change, and it’s quite charming to see Tohdou’s combination of patience and determination in wooing his overly serious classmate. (One of his techniques is cooking for Tamiya, another always-welcome feature of Yoshinaga’s manga.)

Even though Tohdou is refreshingly secure in his sexual orientation, he’s got his own insecurities and issues. Tamiya isn’t the only one moving toward maturity and understanding. Yoshinaga is very careful with the emotional progression of both of her protagonists; it’s not a matter of one catching up to the other. And their milestones feel like actual milestones rather than foregone conclusions.

The last distinguishing factor if this title is that it’s very, very sexy. The erotic moments she portrays aren’t pristine; they can be awkward and ridiculous and still erotic at the same time. Yes, Tamiya and Tohdou are very attractive, but they don’t reach the point of magical beings, and their sex scenes have a kind of credibility that make them even more urgent and effective. (This is much more evident in the second volume. Lots and lots of sex in the second volume is another thing you grow accustomed to with Yoshinaga yaoi.)

So, that’s my list of the things I love about Ichigenme. It has credible, mature characters with rounded lives. It takes sexual identity seriously. It’s funny. It’s sexy. It’s pretty much everything I hope for when I pick up yaoi.

(This review is part of the Fumi Yoshinaga Manga Moveable Feast.)


Boys’ love blind date June 2011

Gather ‘round, and help me ponder the boys’-love titles in the June 2011 edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog! How else can I separate the men from the bores?

Private Teacher! vol. 1, written and illustrated by Yuu Moegi: Not only is the schoolwork so confusing that Rintarou needs a private tutor, but the maelstrom of emotions he feels when spending time with Kaede-san is weirdly unsettling. But when Kaede-san decides to reward unsatisfactory progress with some unusual punishment, Rintarou figures out that what he is feeling is love. But what about Kaede? Does he love Rintarou or is he just a perverted sadist? Juné Manga proudly presents the first volume of the popular manga by Yuu Moegi in her English language debut!

Sounds kinky, which may mitigate the likelihood of high-school boy dullness, but it could cross over into creepy town. It originally ran in Core Magazine’s Drap.

Mr. Tiger and Mr. Wolf, written and illustrated by Ahiru Haruno: When a tsundere wolf finds an adorable kitten, he thinks he has found the perfect wife candidate to bring up. But when it reaches adulthood, it is not only male, but rather unexpectedly is a huge Bengal tiger. The wildly popular comedy fantasy story now in English for the very first time.

That description is barely coherent, which doesn’t raise my hopes very high. Also, I’m not remotely keen on anthropomorphic boys’ love or stories with a pet construct, so you would have to sell this one very, very hard. It originally ran in Houbunsha’s Hanaoto.

Only Serious about You, written and illustrated by Kai Asou: Yoshioka is a regular at Oosawa’s workplace, and always seems to be bringing in yet another boyfriend that he wants to introduce the good food to. As a single parent, Oosawa works very hard and doesn’t have time to make many close friends, or even consider dating. But when his beloved daughter Mizu falls ill and Yoshioka offers his help, Oosawa finds he must accept this frivolous seeming person’s outstretched hand. Sometimes, people are not quite what they seem, as Oosawa discovers – a tender romance story of a single father, a lonely businessman, and the child who brings them together.

Okay, I should probably disqualify this one, because the description tracks so closely with my tastes that I’m 95% likely to just order it no matter what the consensus declares. Grown-ups with jobs and complicate personal lives! It originally ran in Houbunsha’s CitaCita.

I was going to include Seven Days: Friday – Sunday, written by Venio Tachibana and illustrated by Rihito Takarai, but it’s just a sequel to Seven Days: Monday – Thursday, which I haven’t read. They have really nice covers, though. Moving on to the 801 smut!

A Fallen Saint’s Kiss, written and illustrated by You Higashino: When high school teacher Okano is molested on the train on his way to school, the last thing he wanted was for his shame to be witnessed by anyone. But one of his students not only witnessed it, but decided to use the incident to blackmail his teacher! Threatened with exposure, Okano must submit to Tokiwa’s perverted will or have his shameful secret exposed.

Well, take that, Private Teacher! I’m not entirely sure what that pink thing is that’s strapped to the teacher’s thigh, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. On the other hand, I do like making the comic shop clerks uncomfortable. It was originally published by Taiyo Tosho.

That’s certainly a range of options, isn’t it? What say you?


At Manga Recon, Kate Dacey and Erin F. take an entertainingly thorough (and thoroughly entertaining) look at the translated works of Fumi Yoshinaga. I’m a big fan of Yoshinaga’s work, and I’m thrilled that so much of it is available in English. And since I never pass up a chance to lazily develop blog content, here’s my list of her works ordered from favorite to least:

1. Flower of Life (DMP)
2. Antique Bakery (DMP)
3. Tie — Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law (801 Media) and The Moon and the Sandals (Juné)
5. Gerard and Jacques (Blu)
6. Don’t Say Any More, Darling (Juné)
7. Garden Dreams (DMP)
8. Tie — Lovers in the Night (Blu) and Truly, Kindly (Blu)
10. Solfege (Juné)

I’ll probably annotate these at some point, but I haven’t had enough coffee yet, and as I said… lazy blog content development.

Quick comic comments: Road reading

There’s always plenty to do in Las Vegas, not least of which is compensating for the feeling of complicity in propping up a fundamentally unsustainable and wasteful human settlement. But a trip to Alternate Reality Comics always helps me forget the guilt, at least briefly, because it’s an awesome shop. It has a really great selection, and the staff is always helpful. And since it’s located between the airport and our hotel of choice, I was totally justified in stopping there before we checked in.

I haven’t read all of my haul yet, and I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with what I’ve read so far.

First were two second volumes of Fumi Yoshinaga series: Ichigenme… The First Class Is Civil Law (801) and The Moon and the Sandals (Juné). It’s Yoshinaga, so neither is anywhere close to bad, but it seems like she concentrated all of the heavy lifting in terms of character and nuance in the first volumes so she could concentrate on the hot couple action in the second rounds. And hey, at least she did that initial heavy lifting at all, which gives the action some welcome depth.

Then there was Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite (Airship). Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy this series and would strongly recommend it. It’s just that this volume focused more on the narrative spine of the series than its heart. In other words, Agatha got pushed to the sidelines, which served to escalate the tension in the story but left me disappointed. I like the supporting cast, many of whom were pressed into service to rescue Agatha, and it was nice to believe that a bunch of people would run around risking their lives for the lead. A lot of times, creators will try and pass their lead off as beloved without doing any of the set-up needed to make it credible. Phil and Kaja Foglio have earned this kind of development, though.

Of course, it just reminds you that Agatha is terrific and plucky and smart and that you aren’t seeing very much of her in action. Which was a downer.


I love this story:

801-chan, pronounced ‘Yaoi-chan,’ is the mascot for the Misonobashi 801 shopping district, not far from Kyoto’s World Heritage Kamigamojinja shrine. And true to its roots, the character was inspired by Kyoto-grown vegetables.

“But what really made the mascot an unexpected smash with young otaku geeks is the accident of its name. ‘Yaoi,’ which was chosen by locals as a pun on the shopping center’s name, is also a slang term for a cult genre of manga comics on homosexual themes.”

Of course, the shopping district isn’t the only enterprise to find the 801-chan mascot appropriate for their ends. I smell a crossover!

Previews review

It’s time again for a trawl through the current edition of Previews. There’s lots of interesting new stuff, but there are also new versions of excellent comics that have been published previously and re-lists of some great books.

The first in DC’s Minx line of books, The Plain Janes, rolls out in this edition, and DC provides some preview pages that look nice. It’s interesting to see how much effort DC is devoting to getting these books in comics specialty shops, but I sure hope there are concurrent efforts in the kind of outlets where the target audience actually shops.

On the CMX front, there are a few attractive preview pages of Tomomi Yamashita’s Apothecarius Argentum, another period poison piece. But will it be completely insane?

The solicitation for 801’s Affair by Shiuko Kano catches my eye with phrases like “real adult relationships.” It’s also a collection of shorts, which is one of my weaknesses.

I’ve already enjoyed David Petersen’s terrific Mouse Guard (Archaia) in floppies, but I’m glad to see that the publisher hasn’t wasted any time in putting out what will surely be an attractive hardcover collection.

The manga-with-princess-in-the-title wars rage on as Del Rey debuts Yasunari Mitsunaga’s Princess Resurrection. The tiara and the chainsaw balance each other out rather nicely, don’t they?

Also from Del Rey is the first volume Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, which has generated considerable anticipation. It’s one of their “older readers” books at the $12.95 price point.

Drawn & Quarterly re-lists the first volume of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip for anyone who may have missed it. I’m crazy about this book and will mention it at any opportunity.

The story described in the solicitation for Gipi’s Garage Band doesn’t immediately grab me, but First Second has demonstrated impeccable taste in the books they choose to publish, and I’ve been wanting to sample Gipi’s work.

I like the idea of the multi-generational story described in the blurb for Morim Kang’s 10, 20 and 30 from Netcomics. I’ll have to swing by the publisher’s site and sample a few chapters when they become available.

Oni focuses on new versions of already-published material, collecting Scott Chantler’s terrific Northwest Passage in an omnibus edition and delivering a “Definitive Edition” of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s bottom-of-the-world thriller Whiteout. They also re-list a bunch of great books from their catalog, so if you’ve missed stuff like Past Lies, Capote in Kansas, or Banana Sunday, now’s your chance.

New from Oni is James Vining’s First in Space, a 2006 Xeric Grant recipient, telling the tale of “a chimpanzee Americans trained for the first sub-orbital spaceflight.” I’m intrigued, but my “sad animal story” radar is pinging.

Say what you will about the prospect of OEL from Avril Lavigne. It’s bound to be The Rose of Versailles compared to the Bratz Cine-Manga (Tokyopop).

Tokyopop’s Blu imprint delivers more Fumi Yoshinaga in the form of Lovers in the Night. How many of her titles are left to license? It’s like we’re in the middle of a Yoshinagalanche. That’s not a bad thing, obviously. I didn’t like the opening gambit of Gerard and Jacques, but the series of explosions in the second volume was one of the funniest pieces of cartooning I’ve seen all year.

Top Shelf delivers a new volume of Andy Runton’s Owly, A Time to Be Brave, which would be generosity enough for one month. But after taking a look at the preview pages for Christian Slade’s Korgi (via Blog@Newsarama), I realize that they’re determined to spoil me.