Sunday, May 31, 2020

My original yuri romance

Looking for something hopeful to read in these dark times? Each week I'm posting a chapter of an original yuri romance I've written. You can find it at the link above or right here:

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Shortcake Cake volume 8 finally hints at the return of Rei (Manga Review)

A high school boy with an open collared white shirt
Shortcake Cake vol. 8 - 6.25/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Shortcake Cake (Shojo Beat/Viz) has been an up and down series for me so far. I like the main character, Ten, and the side characters. The early volumes introduced a complex back story for Riku in the form of some hidden relationship with the rich strange kid Rei. But then Rei went missing after a couple volumes and the story focused mostly on Ten and Riku coming together as a couple. But now that they are together, Rei pops up in volume 8. And so finally, we start getting a deeper and more interesting story than the bland romance we've had so far.

In volume 8, Ten and Riku are dating and go to visit her family over the Christmas Holiday. On New Years, Ten is leaving for home again, but gets off the bus and returns to the boarding house where she finds Riku alone. The two spend a wonderful night together celebrating the new year. But finally, Rei has popped back up in the story, and his minder (butler?) Shiraoka offers to let Ten know about Rei and Riku's connection. I won't spoil any details, because THAT's the part of this volume you need to read.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Daytime Shooting Star volume 6 - they're actually dating (Manga Review)

A teen boy with his shirt open stares upwards with a hand on his face
Daytime Shooting Star vol. 6 - 5/10 (*see below for full scoring rubric)

Daytime Shooting Star vol. 6 (Shojo Beat/Viz) sees our teen heroine Suzume actually start dating her teacher (and uncle's friend), Shishio. I don't like manga that has kids and adults in relationships, and I'm even more opposed when one is a teacher. But that's the premise of Daytime Shooting Star.

However, I've been assured that the series finds a meaningful way to resolve that situation that doesn't tie it up in a neat bow like nothing is wrong at all with that form of sexual abuse (and yes, I consider an adult with a child to be sexual abuse, I don't believe a child can consent to that, even if they're 16 or 17. And more so when the adult is a teacher which adds another layer to the power imbalance). On to the review of volume 6.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Missed It Monday: Someday's Dreamers - complete series (Manga Review)

A teen girl in a tank top and skirt walks up a road carrying a suitcase
Missed it Monday is the regular column where I review manga/anime that I didn't get to read/watch when they first came out.

Someday's Dreamers volumes 1 and 2 (complete series) - 5.5/10 (*see below for full scoring rubric)

Someday's Dreamers is a two volume manga that was originally published by Tokyopop in English in 2006. I've watched the anime based on it as well as the "sequel" anime "Someday's Dreamers II: Sora" (which was the far better anime, and definitely worth checking out). So I was glad to finally get my hands on the manga it was based on.

Someday's Dreamers takes place in our world, but with one difference: some people can use magic. There is a formal government agency which regulates those who use magic in adulthood and the magic users (mages in the anime) are public servants who work to help others on a contract basis. Someday's Dreamer's follows Yume, a senior in high school, as she goes off to Tokyo to study with a professional and take her final exam to become a licensed magic user.

Friday, May 22, 2020

She-Ra season 5 review - both miraculous and inconsistent

Adora, with a broken sword, see's an image of Horde Prime hovering above a destroyed landscape
She-Ra season 5 - 7/10
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power - whole series - 8/10

It's almost impossible to know how to write this review of She-Ra season 5. The show was both miraculous in so many ways and also inconsistent in writing and animation across its episodes (and seasons).

So I think I'm going to start by talking about the incredible and rewarding nature of this series/season before diving into the nit-picking. Please know that the nit-picking is just that, it isn't some pissed-off fan-girl, it's just a discussion about the quality of the writing and animation that should in no way detract from the incredible things this series did. This was a fun, funny, moving series that also added incredible representation in so many ways and layers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Love Me, Love Me Not volume 2 mines teens' raging emotions (Manga Review)

A high school boy puts a finger up to his lips to tell the girl to keep something a secret
Love Me, Love Me Not vol. 2 - 7.5/10 (*see full rubric below)

Love Me, Love Me Not volume 2 (Shojo Beat/Viz) is the second volume in Io Sakisaka's newest series to be translated into English. I'm a huge (HUGE) fan of her series Ao Haru Ride. While this doesn't quite rise up to that level, it shares much of its essential DNA: nothing happens but the characters feel a lot of feelings, everyone is nice but fighting their inner demons, and the art is amazing.

In volume 1 we met the four leads, old friends Yuna and Kazuomi, and siblings (actually step-siblings) Akari and Rio. This is a romance shoujo, so you know where all this is going: lots of complex will-they-won't-they and conflicting feelings. We find out at the end of volume 1 that Rio was in love with Akari before their parents met and married. He's determined to ensure they are good to their parents and he never lets Akari know his feelings.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow volume 3 - I'm still not sure about this series (Manga Review)

A teen girl holds another girl's hand against her face
A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow vol. 3 - 5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

I'm still not sure about "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" as a series. Volume 3 (Viz) only added to that slight unease. I can't quite put my finger on why, but something about it just doesn't feel genuine to me. There are lots of types of yuri out there, I'm just still not sure what type this is and why it needs to be so hard to decipher.

There's a forced quality to the internal dialogue of the characters and there also seems to be a forced confusion about their feelings and what they want. It doesn't feel like the genuine confusion of whether they're gay or not, nor does it feel like the simpler confusion of "am I attracted to this person or not?"

I think if I had to sum it up, the whole thing feels like queer baiting, when there's no need for that. Just make it clear that the purpose of this series is that the girls realize they like girls and that they are in love with each other OR make it clear that the purpose is exploring deep friendship between girls and not about romantic feelings. Either is fine. But by not being clear which of those two paths the series will take, everything feels like baiting without sincerity. I don't have specific examples for that, it's just the general feeling I'm left with in each and every interaction in the three volumes, and volume 3 seems to really be that confused. I just feel like I'm being teased by this series. And not in a good way.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto saved my life (Book Review)

A woman in a white dress stands in front of a picture of a large bowl turned upside down
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto - 8/10

This was hardly the book where I expected to come in contact with the story of a transgender woman. Written in the 1980s, set in Japan, I picked "Kitchen" up because I heard Banana Yoshimoto was a great author and I try to read as many books by women as I can, and I am trying to broaden the number of Japanese authors I read as well. I had absolutely no idea what the book was about.

"Kitchen" tells the story of Mikage, a young woman whose parents passed away when she was young and who grew up in the care of her grandmother who passes away just as the book opens, leaving her without family or connections or money. Mikage is just a normal young adult, working a job, who is now alone. She will face a choice, a silly little moment one night, where either choice she makes is equally fine, but each choice will lead down a very different path for her and another person. That she recognizes this moment for its significance is the beauty of this novel and the ultimate takeaway for our own lives.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Éclair Blanche: a predictably mixed batch of yuri stories (Manga Review)

Two high school girls staring deep into each others eyes
Éclair Blanche - 6/10

I'm not a huge fan of one-shot manga, so anthology collections like Éclair Blanche (Yen Press) aren't meant for me. So before reading my review, feel free to read Erika's over on Okazu since she both can talk about the important history of anthologies in women's literature in Japan as well as being a fan of anthologies in yuri manga. Since I know I'm biased against one-shots, Erika's review serves as a nice counter-point to mine.

Éclair Blanche is the second in the series of Éclair anthologies to be released in English. Like most anthologies, it is many individual stories by many mangakas. Some are cute, some are bittersweet, some are sad. But more to my main point, some are well done, and some...not so much. I enjoyed it none-the-less, but not because it was a consistently high quality collection. I enjoyed it because of the ones I liked and in spite of the ones that were either middling or outright problematic.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Missed it Monday: Wake Up Sleeping Beauty volume 6 - series conclusion (Manga Review)

A teen boy and girl hug while smiling with flowers between them
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review manga/anime that I didn't get to read/watch when they first came out.

Wake Up Sleeping Beauty vol. 6 - 8/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

This will be a simple and short review. Wake Up Sleeping Beauty (Kodansha Comics) came to its conclusion with volume 6. It was every bit the satisfying conclusion I'd hoped for in a series that gradually won me over with its sweetness, earnestness, and complete sincerity. It really was a very well done final volume to a wonderful series.

Series summary: Shizu, a young teen, is inhabited by several ghosts. Each one has time where they are in control of her body. They often communicate using a journal to write to one another. Her father and mother think she has multiple personality disorder and her father forces her to stay at home, in the outbuilding on their large property. One day, a new housekeeper, Tetsu, begins working there to prove to his father that he doesn't need to go to college. He believes he can't go to school because his mom is in a coma and her medical bills are hurting the family. By earning a wage, he can help keep her on life support longer.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Perfect World volume 1 strikes a great balance between characters and exploring the reality of living with a physical disability (Manga Review)

A young woman sits in a chair next to a young man in a wheelchair
Perfect World vol. 1 - 7.5/10 (*see scoring rubric below)

Perfect World vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics) by Rie Aruga is a josei manga about a paraplegic man and a young woman who knew each other in high school and reconnect as adults. First, I am so glad to have another josei series released in English. As much as I love my high-school romances, I really do like reading about adults and want a lot more josei to be translated. But, perhaps most importantly, Perfect World seems to do a tremendous job balancing depicting the hard realities of significant physical disability with the romantic genre.

Tsugumi is working to become an interior designer after art school. At a company get together, she is reunited with a former crush from high school, Itsuki, who is now a junior architect at a good firm. They have fun catching up and enjoy their time at the party, but when Itsuki leaves, she notes that he can't get up and that's when he asks the waiter to bring his wheelchair over.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Scientist and the Forger by Jehane Ragai (Book Review)

The Scientist and the Forger - 6/10

If you've been reading this blog for a long time (and I hope you have!) you may remember that one of the things I enjoy reading about the most is art forgery. I love art in general (late 19th century realism and post-impressionism), and I love forgery (Catch Me If You Can is one of my favorite movies, and I have a great personal forgery story from middle school for some other time too). So putting those two things together means art forgery is one of my favorite topics. I love the technical skill, I love the intrigue, I love the ultimate detective work that uncovers the truth, I love the psychology of the forgers. It's the complete package. So when I heard about this book, The Scientist and the Forger, about the intersection of modern analysis techniques with art forgery, I was super excited.

However, in practice, the book doesn't quite achieve what I had hoped. Published in 2015, it's a still pretty current look at state of the art scientific analysis of paintings. Each chapter is devoted to a particular analytic technique and some of the works it's been used on to confirm (or not) their legitimacy. The author tries to strike a balance between a rigorous explanation of the science behind each technique and the increasingly complex machinery needed for that analysis, and descriptions of the stories surrounding the forgeries, or the uncovering of previously unknown masterpieces.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Nameless Asterism volume 5 takes the cheap way out (Manga Review)

three middle school girls and two boys sit on a couch
Nameless Asterism vol. 5 - 7/10 (*see full scoring rubric below).

Nameless Asterism has been both a good and problematic series in turns, and with volume 5 it comes to a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. There was a lot to like in this volume, but the final resolution to the central love triangle was disappointing. It's going to be hard to talk about this volume without spoilers, so you've been warned. This is a SPOILER HEAVY review of volume 5.

Series summary: Washio likes Kotooka, Kotooka likes Tsukasa, and Tsukasa likes Washio. That's been the dynamic from day one in this series. It follows these middle school girls as they develop their own romantic and (perhaps) sexual awakenings. Each is at a pretty different point of development as well as self-acceptance. But not only are they a love triangle, they are the closest of friends. There's also Asakura who likes Tsukasa and is friends with her brother, Subaru who dresses up like Tsukasa at times. Volume 5 is the final volume in the series and has to bring it all to a close. Sadly, it just can't quite pull it off, it's a slightly flippant ending especially given the angst of this volume.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Convenience Store Woman - liberating views of what is and is not valued by society (book Review)

An onigiri decorated like a young woman sits on a plate, on a pretty fabric napkin on a solid background
Convenience Store Woman - 8/10

I finally got a chance to read Sayaka Murata's "Convenience Store Woman," a quick and quirky novella about a 36 year old woman who has worked in a convenience store in Japan ever since she graduated high school. This book is by turns charming and revealing and was a very fast read.

Keiko, now 36, recounts how she never understood why people thought she was strange. Her actions always seemed logical to her, even in childhood. One amazing example was from elementary school. Two boys were fighting and everyone else was screaming "stop them stop them." So she does the logical thing, gets  a shovel, and beats one on the head. That got him to stop instantly. Problems solved. She can't understand why she was the one in trouble afterwards. So quickly enough she learns that the easiest way to get through the day was to mimic the social conventions of other people even if she didn't understand or care about the conventions (or the people) at all. As a result, she graduated high-school quietly and went on to start university.