Bookmarked! The Best Manga of 2014

File this week’s Bookmarked! column under the heading Better Late Than Never. Brigid and I sat down this week to review our favorite manga of 2014, from swashbuckling Viking sagas to goofy shojo comedies. We also chatted about the series we thought we’d love but didn’t, and looked ahead to potential candidates for the Best Manga of 2015.

JUN131345 Brigid: When I was compiling my best of the year list for Robot 6, I mentioned three manga—Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter, Moyoco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat, and Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph—but I’m smacking my head because I somehow spaced on Vinland Saga. Even though Kodansha Comics has temporarily put the series on hold, it’s well worth a read. It’s a really well done story with a complex plot—lots of double-crosses and surprises—and some interesting characters. It’s also beautifully drawn, and Kodansha Comics has gone the extra mile in terms of production quality, with double-size hardback volumes and some little touches that make it feel really special. I simply disappeared into these books over the Fourth of July, and now I want to go back and read all the way through Volume Five.

Kate, what was your standout pick for the year?

974d10d54b54987b252eb2fece9827d4_1394065624_full_a3d4c3086a7e1d355a3b27f0c4f2091cKate: I’m also a Moyocco Anno fan, though I preferred Memoirs of Amorous Gentleman. I found Anno’s depiction of Colette, the prostitute-heroine of Memoirs, less mean-spirited than her depiction of Noko, the binge-eating heroine of In Clothes Called Fat; when I read Noko’s story, I had a difficult time distinguishing the author’s feelings about Noko from the other characters’. The other reason I liked Memoirs better: the artwork! The story takes place in a fin-de-siecle brothel in Paris, which provides Anno with a swell excuse to draw extravagant clothing, accessories, and lingerie. Her attention to detail doesn’t end with the clothing, either; the character designs are more soft and sensual than in her earlier series like Flowers & Bees.

Other titles making my best-of list would include Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, which DC Comics has presented in a smart-looking, unflipped edition; Master Keaton, an older Naoki Urasawa title about a globe-trotting, crime-solving insurance agent; My Love Story!!, a goofy shojo comedy that offers a teenage boy’s perspective on first love; and OPUS, a manga-within-a-manga by the late animator Satoshi Kon. Honorable mention goes to the final volume of Thermae Romae, which managed to wring a surprising amount of story from a slender premise.

If you could only pick one of the titles from your list as “the best manga of 2014,” which one would it be?

Yamazaki_ThermaeRomae_V3_HCBrigid: I think Vinland Saga truly was the best manga of the year, but let me go back to your honorable mention of Thermae Romae. It’s hard to give that the best-manga tag, because the art is a bit odd and the story wobbled all over the place, yet there’s something really wonderful about that manga. I think it reflects our own reality in a way, because just like Lucius, we are taking artifacts from Japanese culture and making them our own—only for us, it’s manga, not bathrooms. I thought this was an amazing series and kudos to Yen Press for publishing it in such a beautiful edition.

Attack on Titan hardly needs a boost from me, but I have to say it was one of the series I turned to when I just wanted to relax and enjoy a good story. I also really liked Nisekoi in the same way—it’s not deep, just a fun read.

Were there any series you were reading just for fun?

Kate: VIZ tends to be my go-to label for fun series. I already mentioned My Love Story!!, which usually makes me laugh out loud, but I also enjoyed the first volume of Assassination Classroom. I won’t make any grand claims for Classroom; the story has a sentimental streak a mile wide, even though the premise is subversive. Koro-sensei’s preposterous assignments, dedication to his craft, and super-human grading skills, however, provide a reliable stream of chuckles even when the author loses his nerve and goes for the “awwww” moment instead of risking offense.

142156906XAnother series in my “just for fun” pile was Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. When VIZ began reissuing Monster last year, I dusted off my old set and revisited it for the first time since 2008. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the series was almost as good as I remembered. The crack pacing and twisty plots held my attention, as did the plight of the enormous cast of supporting characters. (And oh, those characters! No one draws a nose, a brow, or a paunch with the same elan as Urasawa.) The only thing that disappointed was the ending, which felt more suitable for an episode of Scooby-Doo than the conclusion of a thriller exploring the underbelly of the former Soviet bloc.

I was certain that Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? would be on my “fun” list, too, but I’ve found it oddly unengaging. The problem, for me, lies with the ratio of interpersonal to culinary shoptalk. Though Shiro and Kenji’s travails as a middle-aged couple are compelling, the endless panels of recipes, food preparation, and grocery shopping are too run-of-the-mill to hold my attention, even if some of the ingredients are exotic from an American’s perspective. I liken it to reading a manga about household chores: unless the character has a talking robot vacuum cleaner or uses depth charges to clear a messy bedroom, it’s hard to make such routine tasks interesting on the printed page.

What series didn’t live up to your expectations?

1421575892Brigid: Shockingly, Naoki Urasawa’s Master Keaton. I really loved his other series (although I agree with you about the end of Monster), so I was really looking forward to this one. The setup is great: The main character is an archaeology professor who moonlights as an insurance investigator, which gives him plenty of excuses to solve mysteries, but the plots have holes you could drive a Mack truck through. Still, Urasawa on his worst day is better than most other creators on their best. His art is great, although not quite as sophisticated as in his later books, and his lead character, who is sort of a combination of Sherlock Holmes and McGyver, is fun to watch.

Another manga that I felt was solid but didn’t quite live up to its hype was Barakamon. The premise is solid: A talented calligrapher punches the wrong guy and exiles himself to a remote island to hone his craft in solitude, but the locals keep intruding into his life. The city-boy-in-the-country humor works, and Satsuki Yoshino does a nice job of establishing a sense of atmosphere with the backgrounds and settings. The weak point was the way figures were drawn—they often looked like piles of clothes with no structure underneath. Also, while I understand the decision to have the locals speak in dialect, I don’t really agree with it. It makes the story hard to read. I think this series is just hitting its stride, though, and I have the second volume queued up on my reading stack.

Jaco 1To end on an up note, though, I already have a favorite manga of 2015, and it’s one I had low expectations for: Jaco the Galactic Patrolman. It’s a one-shot by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, which is not really my kind of book, so I didn’t have high expectations, but I was really impressed by the art. Toriyama knows how to set a scene, with clear lines and just the right amount of detail. All his characters looked very different, with strong personalities of their own. The plot is a ridiculous pileup, but Toriyama pulls it off, and his earnest but vain galactic patrolman is a perfect foil for the cranky Omari and the spunky Tights. (Yes, that’s her name.) There is a bit of a Dragon Ball crossover, plus a bonus Dragon Ball story at the end, but you don’t have to have read that series to enjoy this book. It was a real treat, and I highly recommend it for one of those gray winter days when you just need a laugh.

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Now we turn the floor over to you: what were your favorite new manga of 2014? What titles disappointed you the most? Inquiring minds want to know!

Bookmarked: Satoshi Kon-a-thon

It’s not every day that an American publisher releases a manga by the late, great Satoshi Kon, so Brigid and I decided to mark the occasion with a roundtable discussion. Joining us is David Brothers, one our favorite comics journalists. David has written for Comics Alliance, Pop Culture Shock, Publisher’s Weekly, Wired, and The Atlantic Monthly, and currently works in the comics industry.

On our plate: Tropic of the Sea, which was published by Vertical Comics in 2013, and OPUS, which arrives in comic book stores today courtesy of Dark Horse. Both works date to an early stage of Satoshi Kon’s career, but explore themes present in such films as Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Paprika—most notably the boundary between reality and imagination.

KATE: Let’s start the conversation with a basic question: which did you enjoy more, OPUS or Tropic of the Sea, and why?

OpusDAVID: I definitely liked OPUS a lot more than Tropic of the Sea, I think owing to the fact that while both are stories in well-worn genres, OPUS is way more up my alley in general, since it was at least partly about storytelling as a creator. Tropic of the Sea felt fairly pat, with precious few surprises all the way down to the last panel. OPUS follows the blueprint of other stories in its genre, but it’s also funnier and warmer somehow, I suppose because it’s about the nature of free will and humanity, and to tackle those points you kinda have to have characters that are entertaining to watch.

I actually read these books back-to-back the first time I read both, Tropic of the Sea and then OPUS, with a break for cooking and dinner in-between. OPUS did a great job of sparking my imagination. I think it’s cool that the story works as both how we read it, as the story of a creator in his creation, and also a crazy deus ex machina ending for the manga Resonance. Tropic of the Sea sorta is what it is, which is a well-executed story to be sure, but OPUS goes places I really enjoy.

I’m focusing on OPUS, but I didn’t dislike Tropic of the Sea. It’s good, but it’s just not quite my bag. How was it for you two?

BRIGID: Wow, I’m actually feeling the opposite: I really liked Tropic of the Sea because I thought that it was very well done, even if the story had been done before. I’m finding OPUS much harder to follow, though. Maybe I’m just not good with action stories, but it seems like things are constantly exploding and flying apart without any visible cause. And right at the end of chapter 1 there’s this weird non-sequitur where Satoko’s leg is trapped under a stone column and then, without anything changing in the panel that I could see, she just pushed it off and jumped up. On the one hand, this manga has a pretty sophisticated sense of space, but on the other hand, I’m having a lot of trouble following the motion of people and things within that space, and in particular, why things are blowing up. As I write this, I haven’t finished the manga, so maybe there’s a resolution or explanation I’m not seeing yet, but right now it’s pulling me out of the story to have to stop and figure out what just happened. It’s weird, too, because you would expect an animator to be tighter about that kind of thing.

KATE: My experience tracks with yours, David: I liked OPUS more than Tropic of the Sea. I found the premise of Tropic of the Sea a little too familiar, in large part because the characters were all such obvious types—the skeptic, the unscrupulous developer, the wise old-timer—that none registered as individuals. The story’s length was also a contributing factor, as Kon didn’t have enough space to flesh out the cast beyond their specific plot functions. It’s a shame that the script wasn’t better, as the illustrations create a palpable sense of place.

As for OPUS, it irresistibly reminded me of the a-ha video for “Take on Me” and the Will Farrell/Emma Thompson flick Stranger Than Fiction, with a pinch of AKIRA for seasoning. I normally find these kind of meta-exercises tedious, but Kon infuses the story with a sense of playful urgency that thwarts the urge to deconstruct every page. (For me, at least; your mileage may vary.)

DAVID: Oh, I’m definitely knee-deep in that urge to deconstruct. Resonance feels like the anime and manga that was around when I was getting into this stuff, something halfway between Ryoichi Ikegami’s ’80s realism and Masamune Shirow’s willingness to blend weird tangents into his hard sci-fi worldbuilding. The haircuts, the fashion, the motivations, the poorly thought-out backstories, and somehow even the fourth wall breaking action are all my bag. Which I think is a big part of why I share the constant feeling of Things Are Happening All Over with you, Brigid, but have a different response to it. The story-in-the-story is something I know well and have read often (the cop mentor, the thug friend, the weird way the heroine keeps getting rescued instead of rescuing!), so I buy into that, and through that the rest of the story, maybe a little harder than others would. This feels a lot like a lost chapter of a comic I never read as a kid, from late enough in the story that doing a daring metafictional “let’s talk about comics stories by way of being in a comics story!” tale was not just feasible, but something you could dedicate 300+ pages to.

KATE: I agree with Brigid that the draftsmanship in Tropic of the Sea is crisper—in fact, I think that’s part of the reason that I’m so focused on the creakier aspects of the story. The illustrations are almost… well, “invisible” isn’t quite the right word, but they don’t call attention to themselves in the same way that the illustrations in OPUS do. I don’t always respond well to flashy artwork, but I found OPUS engaging enough that I didn’t linger on the busier images.

As for the story, I’m with you, David: OPUS is a fun throwback to the kind of manga that Dark Horse and VIZ were publishing in the 1990s, right before the Sailor Moon/InuYasha revolution. OPUS isn’t as gonzo as some of the Koike/Ikegami manga from that era, but it still has that same breathless, hyperbolic quality. I’m kind of surprised that I liked it better than Tropic of the Sea, actually, as Tropic seems like it would be more in my wheelhouse. But I thought the script was too on-the-nose—a little ambiguity would have made the ending more satisfying, and more in keeping with Kon’s mature work. (An aside: I wondered what Rumiko Takahashi could have done with the premise of Tropic of the Sea… sigh.)

Switching gears, how did you react to the ending? Was Dark Horse right to include Kon’s unfinished sketches, or should the manga have been left incomplete?

DAVID: I came into OPUS cold, not even knowing it was unfinished, so I was both surprised, disappointed, and glad to see them. Surprised at the lack of an ending, disappointed at the same, but glad there was some kind of resolution, even if it’s just a metafictional one. For a story about stories to end with “Welp, and I guess I just didn’t finish this one, but I might one day!” is the kind of serendipity you can’t plan for, but is sometimes thematically correct for the work. It worked here, and I especially liked to see the pages Kon did with no faces. I thought that was a cool and creepy touch, and when combined with the rest of the backmatter, it made for a satisfying, though not all the way satisfying, ending.

Bookmarked! 11/12/14

Welcome to another edition of Bookmarked! This week, Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading joins Kate and I as we talk about what’s on the top of our reading stacks this week. I’ll start:

Legal DrugBrigid: I have been reading CLAMP’s Legal Drug a few pages at a time, which is really not the way to read it. I know this manga was a big deal back in the 2000s, but I have to confess I don’t always get CLAMP, and I’m finding this story somewhat tiresome because the characters all seem like types. The lead character, Kazahaya Kudo, was dying in the snow (for reasons that aren’t at all clear) when he was rescued by Rikuo, a young man who is as sullen as he is handsome. Now they live together and work for a pharmacy, but they spend a lot of time doing side jobs for the overly winsome owner of the business. The tasks they are assigned seem impossible—catch an invisible firefly—and they are given no direction, although they do have special psychic powers to fall back on. The puzzle part of it is interesting, and the art is lovely, but I just can’t warm up to any of these characters. It is nice, though, that Dark Horse has collected it into a single, thick omnibus, and that makes it easy for me to keep on plowing through it.

AnomalAnomal, by contrast, is a slim volume filled with lots of interesting characters. It’s a collection of short stories about the interactions between humans and yokai, and although they are all by the same creator, they vary quite a bit in tone. The character on the cover is a hyaku-me, or “hundred-eyes,” and he only figures in the first story, which is a shame as he’s a striking character. Some of the tales touch on deep emotions such as love, loss, and indebtedness, but there are a couple of semi-humorous ones, too. Unfortunately, the longest story is also the most annoying, about a schoolgirl who wants to become a yokai master because she loves to hug yokai. Nukuharu has an interesting way of drawing yokai, but like the stories, the art is uneven. I would love to see a more polished work from this creator, but Anomal is an interesting work and very different from the usual run of yokai tales.

Kate: I read Legal Drug about eight years ago. Though I loved it then, I’m not sure I’d be as enthusiastic about Legal Drug now. I still find CLAMP’s artwork elegant, but I agree with your assessment of the characters: they’re paper-thin collections of tics and mannerisms that grow tiresome quickly.

book_witchcraftworks01My nightstand is overflowing with new Vertical Comics. First up for me is volume one of Witchcraft Works, a series that falls squarely under the heading of Manga for Teenage Boys. The story focuses on Honoka Takamiya, a nebbishy high school student who has inexplicably attracted the attention of the class queen, Ayaka Kagari. After Ayaka rescues Honoka from an army of vicious stuffed rabbits — yes, it’s that kind of manga — we learn that Ayaka has been tasked with protecting Honoka from her fellow witches.

I’ll give creator Ryu Mizunagi credit: he wastes no time on exposition, diving into the action in the very first pages. Later chapters are denser in explanation, but generally read like conversations, rather than convenient exchanges of information for the reader’s benefit. I’m a little “meh” on the art, as it’s been calculated to appeal to the male gaze; most of the female characters are comically well endowed. (Several would topple over in real life, given their otherwise slender proportions.) There’s a fair amount of mammary-oriented fanservice and silly outfits, as well as an element of male wish fulfillment that just doesn’t resonate with an older female reader like me.

book_ajin-demihuman01More promising is Ajin: Demi-Human, a supernatural thriller that starts slowly but builds momentum quickly. The first ten or so pages are a chore to read, as author Tsuina Miura provides a detailed explanation of what demi-humans are—they’re immortal—and how many walk the earth. (Hint: not many.) After this clumsy intro, however, the author delivers a nasty jolt: seemingly ordinary teen Kei Nagai learns the hard way that he’s immortal when he survives a hit-and-run accident with a truck. The intense media interest in this discovery forces Kei to go on the lam to avoid bounty hunters, government agents, and evil scientists.

A story likes Ajin lives or dies by its artwork, and manga-ka Gamon Sakurai proves he’s up to the task of bring Miura’s script to life. Kei’s accident, for example, is suitably icky and unsettling, leaving the reader as dumbfounded as the characters who witnessed it. Sakurai’s action scenes are crisply rendered, too—a big plus, considering how many pages of volume one are devoted to high-speed chases and hand-to-hand combat. My only nit-picky criticism is the character designs: although the adults look good, some of the teenagers have serious Manga Hair. That’s a minor complaint, however, considering how much I enjoyed volume one.

9781939130402Also on my nightstand are volumes three and four of Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? I admit that I began this series fully expecting to love it, but have been mildly disappointed thus far. The issue, for me, is the ratio of drama to shop talk. The vignettes exploring the relationship between Shiro, an uptight lawyer, and his partner Kenji, a cheerful hairdresser, are lovely, capturing the normal rhythms of a middle-aged couple’s life. We also get glimpses of each man’s work situation, and how they interact with peers and clients—another winning touch. The food talk, however, is less compelling. Though some of the dishes sound appetizing, I found these passages as tedious as listening to someone give a blow-by-blow account of an expensive meal. Your mileage may vary; if you live to eat, you may find these stove-side rhapsodies more engaging than I have.

Johanna: It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to read any manga—too much life stuff getting in the way—but the bright side of that is lots of volumes to catch up on over the holidays from series I expect to enjoy. I did manage to dive into a few books recently, plus try a new one-shot.

What Did You Eat Yesterday 5

Let’s start with one of my current favorites, What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 5 is just out, and every new book for me is a reminder that I’m thrilled that we’re getting this series in English. I adore Fumi Yoshinaga’s art, and her combination of recipe how-tos and small moments of daily life for a gay couple works well. I keep thinking I’m going to try one of the dishes Shiro prepares, but they’re too domestic. They use short-cut bottled sauces and whatever he gets at the local grocery, which is realistic (someone who has to get dinner on the table every day doesn’t spend a lot of time making fancy dishes) and a great insight into his personality, but that makes them difficult to replicate in the U.S. Yet that cultural authenticity adds another level of enjoyment. I need to learn to mimic how he thinks about meals, with easy but balanced side dishes included, instead of getting caught up in the details. I’m not sure I could filet my own whole fish in my kitchen, the way Shiro does, either.

Ha! I originally typoed “meals” as “males” above, which leads into the other piece of the work, the comfortable relationship between the two men. It’s not about what Shiro and Kenji say, specifically, to each other in an evening, it’s that they’re sharing the details of their experiences. Some of them are dramatic, as when Kenji explains how his father abandoned his family. There’s a good deal of humor, too. Early on, a friendly housewife’s husband tries to make Shiro friends with the other gay guy he knows just because they’re both gay. Anyone who’s been matched up on a superficiality can ruefully relate to that. Overall, I never know what a new chapter will bring, which I like a lot.

Genshiken Second Season 5

Reaching further back, I also read Volume 5 of Genshiken: Second Season. I don’t always know exactly what’s going on with the characters, since they’re so fannish and detailed about media I’m unfamiliar with, but I can appreciate their dedication to their hobbies, even if this go-round for the series is a lot about cosplay and yaoi.

The one character I remember best from the previous series, the terminally nerdy Madarame, is still hanging around the college club, although he’s graduated. The younger club members have decided to do him a favor by orchestrating him being in the club room with the girl he’s had a crush on for four years. The encounter plays out in a way I found totally unexpected, but quietly charming and good-hearted. That’s why I’m still “hanging around” with these wackos—it’s like being part of your own group of fans, virtually. The details may vary, but the underlying love and dedication, even when taken to extremes, is similar. I also like the way each chapter is followed up by four 4-koma strips that comment on the events we’ve just seen.

In my own burst of fannish trivia, it’s part of the cosplay girl’s (I don’t know any character names beyond “Sue”) character that she’s very large-breasted, in contrast to her sweet, unassuming personality (when she’s not dressing up). In some of the outfits she wears here (and the chapter where she’s topless), I was reminded of what they used to say about Wally Wood drawing Power Girl, that he told his assistants that he was going to keep drawing her bigger and bigger until they made him stop … and they never did.


From sex to violence. I also read Judge, volume 5, although I am embarrassed to admit it. I only keep up with it because I’m lucky enough to get review copies. (If not, I’d be getting it out of the library, because I only want to buy series I expect to reread, and once the final villain is revealed, I suspect my interest will disappear entirely.) Next volume is supposedly the last, and I’m glad, the same way I’m glad when they cancel a TV show I should have stopped watching several episodes before but couldn’t quite break the habit on.

It’s one of those “a bunch of random people are told to kill each other one by one” stories—and why did Japan develop that genre?—that’s gone on too long. There are a couple of revelations in this book that I think are supposed to be interesting and provide twists, but I just want it to be over. Especially since it’s turned into a mini-harem, with our nice-ish guy protagonist mostly dealing with three girls. I expected more from it, with the original theme of the seven deadly sins, but I can’t keep up with who had which animal head which was what sin. Really bad pacing, this series has.

Garden of Words

My one new read was The Garden of Words, which I failed. Remember when I said things had been really busy lately? As a result, I’ve been in a super-charged mood of “let’s get more stuff done,” and I want what I’m reading to keep up. This book is the exact opposite. It’s about an older woman and school-age boy who meet at a gazebo when it rains. It requires leisurely reflection and an awareness of connections in life and pondering how someone can affect our lives temporarily but then we move on.

I was in totally the wrong mood for it. I’m going to try reading it again when I can better calm myself and approach it on its terms before I decide whether it’s too much like other things I’ve read or has its own special qualities.

Bookmarked! 10/22/14

A few weeks ago, we promised that we’d be introducing some new features to complement our regular link-posts. Today we’re launching the first of those columns, Bookmarked! Every Wednesday, Brigid and I will discuss what’s sitting on our nightstands, and invite someone from the mangasphere to join the conversation. Our first guest is Deb Aoki, who’s been a force in manga journalism for almost a decade. Deb was the editor of About Manga from 2007 to 2013, and is currently a contributor to Publisher’s Weekly. She also runs her own website Manga Comics Manga, which offers a mixture of reviews and commentary.

all_need_killKate: First up for me is Takeshi Obata’s adaptation of All You Need Is Kill. The premise is equal parts Ground Hog Day and Stormship Troopers: a soldier dies on the battlefield, only to relive the same day over and over again. Naturally, he takes advantage of this time-loop to learn more about his alien foes, honing his hand-to-tentacle combat skills with each ill-fated mission. Though it’s a boffo premise for a story, the execution—in manga form, at least—is mediocre. The combat scenes are rendered with gory zest, but the aliens themselves aren’t terribly frightening; if anything, they look like irradiated dust mites. The manga also suffers from a bad case of Explanation-itis, with too many text boxes filling gaps in the story. My verdict: skip the manga and read Hiroshi Sakurazawa’s original novel instead.

I’m also reading My Love Story!! a new-ish shojo title that’s been getting good buzz around the web. The key to its success, I think, is the artwork. Though most of the characters conform to shojo norms—button-cute faces, artfully tousled hair—Takeo, the hero, looks like a graduate of Cromartie High, a big bruiser with a gorilla’s face. His size and fearsome appearance are, of course, played for laughs, but artist Kazune Kawahara also plays against type, revealing Takeo’s gentler (and nimbler) side through brief but hilarious vignettes involving treed cats, imperiled children, and falling i-beams.

What I like best about My Love Story!!, however, is the friendship between Takeo and Sunakawa, his impossibly handsome, cool friend. Sunakawa finds Takeo’s social cluelessness exasperating, but remains staunchly loyal to his buddy. As someone who’s had her fill of cocky shonen characters, I found it refreshing to see Takeo discuss his anxieties to Sunakawa so openly; younger female readers may be pleasantly happy to discover that boys worry about their looks and “it” factor as much as girls do, even if it isn’t socially acceptable to admit such fears. And if that last sentence made you say, “Holy Phil Donahue, Batman!” rest assured that Takeo and Sunakawa’s exchanges are blunt and funny, not touchy-feely; Sunakawa never sugar-coats his advice to Takeo. (He’s a big proponent of the “She’s just not that into you” school of keepin’ it real.)


Brigid: Barakamon is the story of an up-and-coming calligrapher, Seishuu Handa, who retreats to a remote island after putting his career in jeopardy by getting physical with an expert who calls his work “highly conformist.” There’s a lot of city-slicker-goes-to-the-country humor, with the locals invariably getting the better of Seishuu—especially the children, who have turned his rented house into their own clubhouse and have no intention of letting it go. The chief miscreant is a very young girl named Naru who is cute and inquisitive but suffers from the irritating habit of referring to herself in the third person. Manga-ka Satsuki Yoshino has a weak sense of anatomy—the characters often look like a pile of clothes with no structure underneath, and the parts of the body are frequently out of proportion—but she also does a good job of evoking the open, rural area and the playfulness of the children. This is a charming book with broad humor and a nice sense of atmosphere.

My Love Story 2

Deb Aoki
My Love Story!! Vol. 2: Spring has sprung, and now that cute, sweet and petite Yamato and huge, big-hearted hulk Takeo are officially GF/BF, things are headed toward their happily ever after, right? Well, KINDA. Now Yamato wants to introduce her super cool boyfriend to her friends via a group date, and has a bit of a rude awakening when her friends are less than impressed with his uh, “gorilla-like” appearance. Will their love survive when friendship gets in the way?

My Love Story!! was one of my picks for best new manga at San Diego Comic-Con this year, and that was based on only one volume! Now that the second volume is out, the question is, can Kawahara (the creator of another fave shojo romantic comedy, High School Debut) and Aruko keep the ball rolling on what basically seems like a one-joke-wonder? Based on what I’ve seen in volume 2, it looks like they’re just getting started.

I don’t want to spoil the laughs, but there are several scenes in My Love Story!! vol. 2 that made me genuinely guffaw. Seeing Takeo wearing a skimpy apron as he works at a “Bro Café” and listening to his matter-of-fact interactions with his mom (who unsurprisingly, was a former pro wrestler) reminded me that this ensemble of quirky characters still has lots of comedy left to mine, I hope they keep it comin’.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vols. 4 & 5 : I was down with the whole concept of What Did You Eat Yesterday? almost as soon as Vertical announced that they licensed it for publication in English—but somehow, volumes 4 and 5 really sealed the deal for me.

Written and drawn by Fumi Yoshinaga (Ooku, Antique Bakery, Flower of Life, All My Darling Daughters, and more BL than you can shake a stick at), What Did You Eat Yesterday? seems at first like just a foodie-centric slice of life story about couple in Tokyo who just happen to be gay. Kenji is a hairdresser, who’s basically out, while Shiro the lawyer keeps his sexual preferences under wraps for professional reasons. What they have in common (besides their love for each other) is their shared love of good food. And not super fancy food either—Yoshinaga focuses on simple recipes that are inexpensive and relatively easy to make.

While the first few volumes set up the basic premise for the series and introduces us to the characters, volumes 4 and 5 make it very clear that being gay in Japan is not as simple as boys love manga would have you believe.

Kenji and Shiro deal with the everyday issues that remind them that their lives, while happily domestic, can be somewhat complicated. There are little moments that bring this point home to the reader, particularly as we observe Shiro’s discomfort as he’s forced to consider his relationship with Kenji and his relationship with his gay-ness. Shiro feeling self-conscious while they’re dining out with another gay couple or purposely standing apart while riding the subway together. Shiro enduring being cheerfully greeted with “Hey, it’s the gay guy!” by his well-meaning neighbors. Getting a request from a gay friend to help arrange the adoption of his long time partner, so his estranged family won’t automatically inherit his estate. Talking about wanting or not wanting kids, and how it’s not so easy when you’re gay in Japan. Turning down an offer to be on a TV show because it would be too difficult to maintain one’s privacy. After years of seeing fantasized M/M manga romances in BL/yaoi manga, it’s eye-opening to see the realities of gay life in Japan depicted in such a matter-of-fact way.

Mind you, there’s still a lot of witty, gentle humor in these books, so it’s not preachy or dreary. Yoshinaga is too skillful a storyteller and too funny to let things get too heavy-handed. I hope that there’s still more volumes of this manga planned for publication—but that may depend on more people getting turned on to its subtle, quirky charms. So go pick it up, why don’t you? I’d love to read volume 6 and beyond, and every additional reader who buys this manga will certainly help ensure that this will happen.

Manga Dogs 1

Manga Dogs, vol. 1: Kanna Tezuka is a high school girl with a secret: She’s a published professional manga artist, albeit one whose first series is near the bottom of the popularity rankings in her magazines—but hey, it’s still better than the three hunky but clueless schlubs who are her classmates in her manga art class.

The trio, Fumio Akatsuka, Fujio Fuji, and Shota Ishinomori have big dreams of manga superstardom, but very little actual talent. When the trio discover that they have a pro in their midst, they beg Kanna to be their manga mentor. Can she keep making manga, hit her deadlines and not go nuts listening to her classmates’ delusions of comics grandeur?

A quirky satire of manga making by the creator of I Am Here! and Missions of Love, Manga Dogs is kind of like the goofy younger sister of Bakuman. It definitely doesn’t take comics creation as a career as seriously as Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga about making manga, but come on, does it have to?

Manga Dogs has loads of manga in-jokes for hardcore fans (for example, Shota Ishinomori’s name is a play on “shota”, a word used to refer to underage boys and Shotaro Ishinomori, the legendary comics creator of Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider), and enough general-purpose slapstick to make it a fun read. A very nerdy read with filled with excruciating mishaps for the heroine, and several pages of translation notes to clue readers into its many in-jokes, but fun anyway. Not for everyone, but for the manga obsessed, this new shojo comedy delivers lots of light-hearted. goofy fun.