Elsewhere update

The daily-life mayhem continues to prevent me from being a productive blogger. (We just had a very mild earthquake. In West Virginia. Seriously. This is getting ridiculous.) But I am still holding forth in other venues!

I joined the Manga Bookshelf crew to discuss Fumi Yoshinaga’s ceaselessly wonderful Flower of Life (DMP) for the recently concluded Manga Moveable Feast.

I also make my pitch for the jManga title that interests me most… at the moment. I may soon be distracted by something sparklier.

I contribute a review of a smart and suspenseful horror comic for the latest Not By Manga Alone column, too.

And, if you’re curious as to what I like the look of from the current ComicList, you need only look to last week’s Pick of the Week.


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.)


Random weekend question: playing favorites

As we all gear up for the Fumi Yoshinaga Manga Moveable Feast, I must ask the inevitable, almost impossible question. What’s your favorite Yoshinaga work in translation?

Every time I try to come up with an answer, another title clears its throat to reassert its worthiness. And Kodansha hasn’t yet let me read What Did You Eat Yesterday? How can I possibly make a fully informed choice until that title is available in English?

But you might be more decisive than I am, so feel free to hold forth in the comments!


Fruits Basket MMF: Sunday wrap-up

We have a couple more pieces before we officially close up this installment of the Manga Moveable Feast!

At Otaku Ohana, Jason Yadao takes a retrospective look at his relationship with Fruits Basket:

Readers loved Fruits Basket. So much so, in fact, that the hyperbole on the books’ covers gradually built over the series’ run.  Need to be reminded that Fruits Basket was “The #1 selling shojo manga in America!”? There was a blurb for that, starting from volume 5 …

And at All About Manga, Daniela Orihuela-Gruber admits that she came to Fruits Basket later than some of her peers, but she fell hard:

In short, I really could have used Fruits Basket and its complex drama about a number of well-meaning souls tormented by a restrictive and isolated society, then freed by great friendship and love. I would have loved to learn that I didn’t need to be trapped into being “friends” anyone in that school in order to have the life I wanted.

You can see a listing of all of the Feast posts here. Thanks so much to everyone who weighed in with such insightful posts. You made the week a treat!

Next up in Manga Moveable Feasts is an in-depth look at the gifted and awesome Fumi Yoshinaga, to be hosted by Kristin (Comic Attack!) Bomba an Linda (Animemiz) Yao. Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey has the full roster of upcoming events.


Fruits Basket MMF: Saturday links

Tons of great reading today! And it’s not even over! (That’s my way of saying I’ll do one more round-up tomorrow.)

First of all, Laura (Heart of Manga) Mucciarone takes a particularly apt approach to character examination:

Along with the character analyses I’ve seen other bloggers post, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the characters align with their equivalent zodiac personalities. I did some research to find information on Chinese astrology and over-arching personality traits that are supposedly observable in anyone born within a particular year of the zodiac. I thought I’d post them here and let you see if you agree with them matching Takaya’s characters.

Adam (Completely Futile) Stephanides has some questions about Tohru’s idealized mother, Kyoko:

There’s one discordant element from the start, though: Tohru’s constant self-denigration. Even as she’s unselfishly helping everyone, she feels guilty for not being unselfish enough. My favorite example is the time when, after visiting Rin (who doesn’t even like her) in the hospital, she condemns herself for having forgotten for a moment about her goal of lifting the curse. If Kyoko was so wonderful, why was Tohru so bent on punishing herself?

Sometimes, it takes a village to address a book. That’s the approach the citizens of Manga Village took with their roundtable:

Connie: Too many!  Way too many!  I hate hate hate series with a huge cast of characters like this, especially characters that are introduced to fulfill a role (in this case, because there needs to be 14 Sohma family members) and then don’t figure into the story at all later.  Ritsuka is the best example in this series, but that was the worst case scenario.  Takaya does do a good job of juggling all the other characters, but the side effect is that the main story seems to drag on forever.

Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith take another bite at the apple with their latest Let’s Get Visual discussion:

MICHELLE: So, we’ve been talking about Fruits Basket all week, but I’m certainly not yet weary of the topic. How about you, Melinda?

MELINDA: I suspect I could discuss Fruits Basket for weeks on end!

I could certainly read their discussions of the series for weeks on end. So it’s nice that Melinda looks back on Michelle’s examination of Takaya’s Twinkle Stars.

Again, thanks to everyone who’s linked to or tweeted about this iteration of the Manga Moveable Feast! If you’ve got a link you’d like to share, email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com or post a link in the comments.


Fruits Basket MMF: Friday links

Lori (Manga Xanadu) Henderson looks at the first four volumes of Fruits Basket. Her verdict?

Fruits Basket is slow to build up, but once you get past them whole “OMG! They turn into animals!” and the “Which zodiac animal will Tohru meet this time?” parts of the story, it really start to have something to say.  The themes of being alone and finding a place to fit in and call home are ones that strike a chord with teens, which is probably one of the reasons it sold so well. This is another series that the MMF has convinced me I want to read, but since it’s OOP, that going to be kind of hard. Wouldn’t it be nice if another company could rescue it and make it available in Omnibuses (3 not 2 volumes) or better yet, digitally?

Oh, man, whoever scores the digital distribution rights to Fruits Basket won’t even need to print money.

Zoe (Manga Kaleidoscope) Alexander takes a good long look at one of her favorite series of all time:

I’m not even going to try to come across as unbiased during this review, because I’m not. I’m totally, completely 100% biased, and I make no apologies for that, because Fruits Basket is just that awesome.

Much as I enjoy a spectrum of opinion on a given work, I fully endorse this sentiment.

Again, thanks to everyone who’s linked to or tweeted about this iteration of the Manga Moveable Feast! If you’ve got a link you’d like to share, email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com or post a link in the comments.



Fruits Basket MMF: Takaya et cetera

While I like throwing a license request into the mix with every Manga Moveable Feast, it does occasionally feel like preaching to the choir. I mean, nobody needs me to remind them that, hey, it might be a good idea to publish more of Natsuki Takaya’s work because, hey, that crazy kid really seems to be on to something.

Since Fruits Basket, Takaya completed an 11-volume series called Hoshi wa Utau, which ran in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume. It’s about a lonely orphan who finds solace in stargazing. Her life is complicated by the new boy in town. That doesn’t sound especially complicated, but brief descriptions of Takaya’s works rarely do them justice, so I think it’s safe to assume that she makes time to break readers’ hearts over and over again in the course of the story.

Takaya’s current series is also in Hana to Yume, and it’s called Liselotte to Majo no Mori. It’s about a girl who moves to a forest full of witches. She apparently does this on purpose. You can look at some sample pages here.

So that’s what’s lurking out there. I have to admit that I continue to wonder why Hakusensha doesn’t stake its own claim to the English-language market rather than relying on other licensors. I think we’re pretty much down to Viz in terms of Hakusensha publishing partners, what with CMX and Tokyopop gone.  Given how many popular-in-English series the publisher has generated over the years, you’d think they’d be interested in taking the commercial wheel.


Fruits Basket MMF: Thursday links

Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith devote this week’s Off the Shelf column to Fruits Basket, much to my delight:

MELINDA: I think it is pretty early on that the wacky transformations disappear, and by the time we’re getting around to discovering things like Kyo’s true form, if they’d still been happening I think they would have seriously damaged the story. Though some of the later, softer transformations are favorite moments for me. Pretty much every time Momiji hugs Tohru, it’s the sweetest thing in the world (even when it’s very sad), and Tohru’s reaction to Hatori’s transformation will always be hilarious and charming.

MICHELLE: Momiji’s hugs are indeed both adorable and heartbreaking. He just wants to hug her so bad, he doesn’t even care what will happen as a result. I think, though, that I probably prefer older Momiji, whose method of choice for breaking hearts is his sad smile.

CRYING BUNNY! CRYING BUNNY! Must… maintain… composure…

Michelle and Melinda also use 3 Things Thursday to contemplate their favorite Fruits Basket characters. I support all of their choices, but I’m increasingly suspicious that Melinda and I were possibly separated at birth.

Going solo, Michelle reviews the final three volumes of the series at Soliloquy in Blue.

Sean Gaffney gives Fruits Basket fan extraordinaire Ysabet MacFarlane the keys to A Case Suitable for Treatment so she can ponder the relationship between Rin and Hiro:

As a reader, what I look for in a series is great characters, and Fruits Basket has them in spades. I’m generally happy to talk about any of them, including the few I dislike, but when I’m starting a conversation it almost always starts or ends with Rin, and usually has a lot to do with her relationship with one of the other characters.

Over at Manga Therapy, Tony Yao looks at Rin from another angle:

The fact that Rin was able to go through so much physical & emotional abuse from her parents (who faked their happiness around her when she was a child) & Akito and still comes out with a lot of determination says a lot about her.

Again, thanks to everyone who’s linked to or tweeted about this iteration of the Manga Moveable Feast! If you’ve got a link you’d like to share, email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com or post a link in the comments.



Fruits Basket MMF: Harry and Tom and Tohru and Akito

While it’s never a bad time to consider Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Tokyopop), the fact that this feast has fallen on the calendar shortly after the opening of the final movie in the Harry Potter series offers some other possibilities for thought. J.K. Rowling’s novels are at least partly about breaking traditional and abusive cycles, as is Fruits Basket. Rowling builds that around a rivalry between a naïve outsider (Harry) and the person who represents the worst extremes of a flawed system (Tom Riddle). Takaya does the same, positioning Tohru against Akito.

Tohru goes fairly quickly from knowing nothing about the curse to recognizing its profound destructiveness. This gives her something of an advantage over Harry, who takes roughly forever to consider the larger implications of his grudge with Voldermort. It could be argued that Tohru displays an improbable degree of altruism, and that argument isn’t automatically wrong, but most of Tohru’s qualities appear to an improbable degree – her maternal concern, her optimism, her faith in the essential goodness of others, and her belief that things and people can change for the better.

With a few exceptions, I found Tom Riddle to be a very boring antagonist. His behaviors were certainly frightening, but I very rarely recognized anything in his point of view. In this sense, Akito has the advantage as a “villain.” The leader of the Sohma family is certainly unpredictable, powerful, and frightening, but there’s a very evident level of emotional damage. Akito isn’t the progenitor of the cycle of abuse so much as just another partial victim of it.

This highlights another interesting contrast between the two properties. Harry may briefly feel stabs of sympathy for the young Tom Riddle when he learns of his circumstances, but that never translates to an attempt to save the adult Voldermort from himself or to stop him through reformation. As Rowling constructs things, that’s a ludicrous notion. It isn’t in Takaya’s narrative, and it’s entirely credible that, in spite of Akito’s cruelties, Tohru can see Akito as a victim in need of rescue.

There are other points of comparison. Like Harry, Tohru has some untrustworthy mentors. Shigure is a weird fusion of Severus Snape and Sirius Black. He manipulates Tohru for his own ends, but he cares for her as an individual, not unlike Dumbledore does with Harry. Those ends will benefit all, but Shigure has no way of knowing how Tohru will end up when his aims are met. Tohru’s allies sometimes find her as frustratingly naïve as Harry’s companions do him. And both Harry and Tohru are fixated on absent parents.

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite of the two sagas. Fruits Basket has a more nuanced villain, but Harry Potter conducts a volume of world-building that’s almost impossible to match. Takaya really nails a lot of complex emotional truths, perhaps at the expense of chapter-by-chapter momentum. Rowling excels at building things to a crescendo, but she’ll blunt emotional nuance along the way. Basically, I’m just glad I live in a world where I can enjoy both of them, over and over.