Saturday, April 23, 2022

Even Though We're Adults Volume 4 (manga review)

A young adult woman with shoulder length medium brown hair, stares at the reader by looking over her left shoulder while her body faces to the left.
    I'm going to say it...so far I like "Even Though We're Adults" by Takako Shimura. I'll get to why in a moment. But Volume 4 continues the series about a married female school teacher who (emotionally) falls for another woman she meets, and is forced to confront new feelings as well as old problems in her marriage to a man.
    For a quick summary of volume 4, keep reading. If you don't want SPOILERS, then proceed to the wrap-up/discussion below. 

SPOILERS
In summary, with volume 4, Ayano just can't keep away from Akari. She sees her living across the street now, runs into her at a local event, and just generally can't quit her. It ultimately culminates in her decision to move out of her home and return to her parents house while she sorts things out. Her mother-in-law prompts Ayano's husband to keep reaching out even with Ayano gone. But even after she moves out, Ayano keeps running into Akari who also decided to move away to try and give Ayano space. 
    
SPOILERS OVER
   
 So I started by saying that I like this series. And it needs to be discussed because Takako Shimura, for all the plaudits she receives, also gets a fair amount of criticism, particularly of her two prior big series "Sweet Blue Flowers" and "Wandering Son." For both of those series, a lot of the criticism has centered around whether or not Shimura-sensei is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and whether she should be telling these stories. It's also looked at what people view as unrealistic and somewhat naïve forms of representation in both series (and how both criticisms might intersect).
    I'm here to argue against those criticisms and my argument will also support why I like this new series so far. As a trans lesbian myself, I am not blind to what could be perceived as particularly problematic aspects to both prior series (particularly "Wandering Son") and yet I can say that both are profoundly important to me, but also that what others view as flaws, I actually see as important qualities in her work. And namely, that her stories are messy, her characters are messy, that these series don't fit into neat narratives about what the LGBTQ+ community wants as representation. 
    That messy-ness, that lack of perfect representation, is exactly what makes these interesting to me. They aren't predictable. In both the prior series we don't get the perfect happily-ever-after. Although "Sweet Blue Flowers" ending could be seen as a happy ending, it isn't for certain what their future holds in the long-run, or exactly what they are committing to. Also, the central love stories in "Wandering Son" don't come to the easy fruition they might have with other authors, to say nothing of the impact of puberty on our main characters. 
    But further, the individual characters in her stories are all imperfect people. They are complex, they don't fit into tropes or stock characterizations. Look at Akira ("Sweet Blue Flowers"), who could be the simple, happy-go-lucky, spunky character in a lesser mangaka's hands. But instead she takes risks (theater and moving schools), she is possibly aromatic/asexual, she pushes back multiple times on Fumi (our main character), she learns from her experiences and makes tough choices, etc... 
    Or take Ikumi (also "Sweet Blue Flowers"), one of my favorite characters, who is oft criticized as not being a "real" lesbian in this yuri work. She is viewed as someone infatuated with a girl, but who ultimately choses to marry her childhood male friend. But that's such a simple reading on her. She is passionate, she is complex, she makes mistakes, maybe she's bi?, maybe she's pan?, maybe she doesn't even really love Ko the way he loves her and she choses a different path for adult life and marriage than the fairy tale of passionate love that we expect in works of fiction. Or maybe she really was just infatuated with Sugimoto and not really in love with her, and really does fall in love with Ko. That's okay too!
    And what about Yoshino ("Wandering Son"), are they (and I'm using they/them pronouns for a variety of reasons) actually transgender or non-binary? Are they processing through other feelings instead and it's not really a gender thing? In any other story, they and Suichi would absolutely get together and be a couple in the end, a trans girl and a trans boy - what a perfect story to tell. But that's not happening here, we don't get perfect stories from Shimura-sensei. Yoshino is not necessarily even going to continue on the gender path that they start with as the series began. That has been one of many criticisms of this series, that this is a person who starts out clearly seeming to be a transgender boy but then doesn't fulfill our expectations of what representation of a transgender boy should be. We don't know where Yoshino's journey will go, but it doesn't seem to be the same, somewhat linear path of Suichi. 
    And I could go on and on and on about all the characters in both those series who are also equally complex and equally fail to fit into what we "want" in simple storytelling (Like how Makoto isn't attractive - cause not all trans women have to be super gorgeous you know!). But here's my point: These aren't stock characters, or stock stories with a direct path from initial angst to final love. 
    The "lead" in both series, Fumi ("Sweet Blue Flowers")and Suichi ("Wandering Son"), are actually the most straight-forward and predictable characters in these series if we look at their arcs. Fumi is clearly and simply a lesbian and is a beautiful representation that has been meaningful to me. Suichi is clearly a transgender woman, and equally important representation to me. But they are like the "straight men" in a comedy movie, they are who the funny people need to make the jokes land. But in these cases, they are the straight-forward LGBTQ+ representation that the love interests and side characters play off against to show just how messy real people in the real world are. 
    And that's why I like/love both series, and that's why I like "Even Though We're Adults." The series are messy. That's the word I keep using, and that's the word that keeps sticking in my mind. The characters aren't perfect, you can't always root for them, they don't always live up to what we "want." They are imperfect, fallible, and that to me is more rewarding as a reader than anything. 
    In many ways, Akari, is our straight-forward character in "Even Though We're Adults." She's the out lesbian, and she's fairly under-developed compared to the clearly LGBTQ+ characters Fumi and Suichi in the other series. Instead, it's Ayano, our seemingly straight married woman, who is now wrestling with feelings for a woman, as well as longstanding unrelated issues in her marriage, that is center stage and the lead in this series. A character that would be secondary, or the love-interest in the other series, is now our lead character here. Our messy character is our "heroine" and yet, it's hard to know what we want for her at the end, just as much as it's hard for her to know what she wants too. 
    And that's what has me excited by this series. It's hard to imagine it wrapping up in a nice little bow. I can think of so many wonderfully melancholy (that's not really the word I'm looking for, but I've been drawing a blank this whole time) endings that could come from this series. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Ayano divorced but also not with Akari at the end. I like that I don't know where Shimura-sensei's stories are going, I like that I can't predict what the characters will discover about themselves. That takes her works from being the straight-forward shoujo/josei/yuri to (dare I say it) literature! So I will most definitely keep reading "Even Though We're Adults." It hasn't gripped me quite as much as her prior series, and yet, Shimura-sensei is doing the messy thing again, and that's worth seeing through.

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Daytime Shooting Star volume 9 (manga review)

A high school girl and boy look uncomfortable standing net to each other, but make sideways glances at the other indicating that they are actually romantically interested in each other
     This will be a short and sweet one. "Daytime Shooting Star" volume 9 (Shojo Beat) finally turns the tide from uncomfortable (immoral perhaps) almost relationship between a male teacher and a high-school student to being a more typical high-school romance between two high schoolers. 
    See my past reviews of this series to see why I was so skeeved out by it, but I had heard from others that the series would resolve in a much better way than it started. And at approximately the 2/3rds point, I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    SPOILERS AHEAD:
    Summary, Suzume moves to live with her uncle, bumps into a cute guy who turns out to be her homeroom teacher and her uncle's friend. They fall for each other, and the ADULT just barely avoids starting an actual romantic relationship with her. Gross. Anyway, along the way, Suzume meets Mamura, a high-school boy who confesses to her, but while she's drawn to him as a friend, she is so stuck on her teacher, that she turns Mamura down. In volume 9, following on the promise of volume 8, Suzume and Mamura actually takes some steps forward as a potential couple, while Suzume continues trying to move on from her teacher. 
    END SPOILERS
    So thankfully, this series seems to be turning the corner and heading into more acceptable high-school romance territory. I'm going to stick it out to the end and I'll let you know. 
    As for the art, it really is above average. While it isn't quite up to the level of my favorites (I'm a sucker for 90s shoujo style, think Hana Kimi, Ouran High School Host Club, Clover by Clamp, etc... as well as mangaka's such as Io Sakisaka and Natsuki Takaya amongst others) it is certainly better than most of what's out there now which tends to have too cartoony and cutesy a style and less realistic. The art here bends towards realism without quite embracing the overly lanky and exaggerated shoujo style of the past that I love. I do love that the style of the faces is unique to this mangaka and I am quite drawn (pun?) to that face style. Even if the overall art isn't quite as beautiful as Io Sakisaka's art, it still is a plus for the series. (also, it does make pretty good use of screen tones which so many modern shoujo series seem to skimp on! >_<  And I LOVE screentones!!!!!)
    Should you read it? If you haven't started the series, maybe wait until I finish it to see if it's worth it. But if you have started and were as bothered by the initial adult/student relationship dynamic as I was, then things are going in a better direction and so it's probably worth seeing through to the end.

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

My Wandering Warrior Existence (Manga review)

    
This is an impossibly hard review to write. What is the proper balance between writing an honest personal review of a work of art, respecting both the person and the effort they took at creating the work, and any attempt to critique a work that is also a memoir and not pure fiction? Those are easy questions to answer when the reviewer unequivocally enjoys the work. However, it can feel icky when the reviewer doesn't enjoy the memoir as much. I don't ever want to judge another person. But should I comment on the craft behind telling the story? 
    Today, the memoir in question is "My Wandering Warrior Existence" by Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas), the fifth memoir manga in her series that began with her seminal, brilliant, heart-breaking, affecting manga "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness."
    Essentially, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" suffers in relation to the extraordinary "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness." In fact, I've felt that each volume since that first one has been one of diminishing returns. That doesn't mean they haven't been good, or powerful, but with each one maybe a little bit less so. Maybe it's that the freshness and uniqueness of "My Lesbian Experience" simply couldn't be recreated now that it was in the world - after all it was so unlike anything before it, but all her works after invariably must contain reflections of it. Or maybe it really is that the subsequent volumes simply aren't quite as excellent. But for whatever reason, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" feels like the slightest of the five volumes so far. 
    It is, of course, quite good actually. Her rough art has amazing charms. And her writing about herself is brutally honest. But on the whole, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" isn't necessarily as memorable or profound as the prior works. And yet of course, every reader is bound to connect with different things differently, so maybe for some, this will be your favorite so far. However, it began to feel less important to me as her story shifts from some of the more desperate, dark, and harrowing places in the previous volumes. This volume mostly focuses on Kabi's attempts to begin dating, or thinks about beginning to date, and for the most part doesn't mine the levels of desperation, illness, and pain of the prior volumes that gave them their gravitas and import as literature. 
    That being said, there is one very complex and personal thing that Kabi brings up in this volume. I won't spoil it, but it could also be quite tough for some readers and she does provide a trigger warning and the page numbers to skip through. Purely as a reader, I felt it quite difficult how Kabi reveals this truly horrific and major personal information but then also moves on from it very quickly and never returns to it. This is her truth and her life and her processing laid bare before us, so maybe this is really what it felt like to her and she was able to just move on. But at the same time, I wished she had either explored the implications of this in her life more thoroughly and what the healing process was like (or wasn't like)...or maybe hadn't brought it up at all. In some ways, this event could be seen as making everything in the prior four volumes make sense. And Kabi starts to talk about it with that level of significance but just as suddenly as this revelation is made, she moves on saying maybe it really isn't the cause of all her challenges after all. Huh? 
    I certainly don't expect anyone to expose themselves so openly and personally if they don't want to, but then why bring it up at all just to deny that it has any role in the larger life story she's telling through this manga series? I suspect because it does have a bigger role than she is ready to explore publicly right now (or maybe even admit to herself). 
    As a reader though it left me feeling badly. An analog for the feelings that this approach evoked in me might be similar to when your partner says they cheated on you years ago but felt horrible keeping the secret - they unburden themselves at your expense (BTW this has never actually happened to me, my [very few] ex's are all good people). Like, what are you supposed to do with this information now? You were happy a minute ago, thinking everything is fine. But after sharing, they get to feel better (no more guilt) and now you feel worse. I know that that is not at all a fair comparison to make. Kabi has no need to justify how much or what she does with anything she reveals in her work. But it was my honest emotional reaction to how this event is handled so briefly in this work, for better or worse. It left me feeling burdened with its enormity with no recourse.
    Other than this brief section, which occurs roughly halfway through the volume over the course of a couple pages, there are episodes about wedding photos, dating apps, grandchildren, and a lot of research about relationships. These are fine, occasionally humorous, sometimes a bit didactic, but often feeling more like filler. Which makes the volume feel like filler, i.e. just not up to par with some of the prior volumes. But let's say hypothetically there were to be a few more stunning volumes after this one, then if one were to read all of them together, the stories here might work in that larger arc. But as a self-contained volume about her thoughts on dating, it just didn't quite come together as cohesively (or as importantly) as the prior volumes.
    Is it good? Should you buy it? Did you like her other stuff and want to keep supporting her as a creator? It was okay and I will certainly keep buying new volumes from her as they come out. As I said in the beginning, I feel very icky trying to write a review of a memoir, because that is that person's life. And who am I to judge another person's life? But as a reviewer, I can look at the art of putting that story on the page, and in this case, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" didn't work as well for me as her prior volumes. The explosive freshness of "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" may simply not be a fair comparison for any other works by her. Yet it exists and can't be ignored. 

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.