oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(original title: うさぎドロップ)

Daikichi's grandfather has just died, and at the funeral, his entire family discovers that the strange child in the garden is his grandfather's illegitimate daughter, and no one knows where her mother is. No one wants to take care of Rin (the child), so Daikichi steps up to the plate, despite many misgivings.

The first two volumes are about Daikichi adjusting to having a young child in his life, and I love the manga for how it looks at parenting. Daikichi finds that he has to make quite a few sacrifices, such as going with a lower-paying job with less chances of promotion so he can make it home on time to pick Rin up from day care. I also like him reflecting back on his mother and the difficult choices she had to make, as well as how his father never had to make those same choices. It's not necessarily a feminist work, but I think it takes a real look at the inequities in parenting and how society in Japan (and I think in the US too) is not set up to help single parents and is set up so that parenting is solely the mother's responsibility.

Rin is a cute six-year-old, but she also comes with her fair share of problems, which I didn't feel as though the mangaka trivialized. Daikichi gets frustrated with her, but you always get the sense that he cares for her, and my favorite part of the manga is watching the two of them bond and watching Rin slowly learn to depend on Daikichi for the support she never really got.

So far, the art is charming but a little rough around the edges; I especially felt as though the mangaka was still figuring out how to use screentones. Sometimes the stark black-and-white art works, but more often, it feels empty and unfinished to me.

Cute, and I will keep reading it. I wish there were more stories about single fathers out there. I also like how the series hasn't been demonizing single mothers, from Rin's missing mother to other mothers Daikichi meets along the way.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(original title: 失恋チョコラティエ)

Souta has been in love with his sempai Saeko ever since he laid eyes on her in tenth grade, but she's forever interested in cooler men than him. After a five-year stint in Paris, Souta has now returned to Japan to open his own chocolate boutique in order to win chocolate-loving Saeko's heart.

The characters consist of Souta, who is a bit idealistic and frequently makes me want to whap him; the flighty Saeko, who reminds me of Komatsu Nana, but without Nana's generosity or kindness; Souta's friend Olivier from France, who always seems optimistic and teasing; Souta's sister Matsuri, whom we only get glimpses of so far; and Souta's old co-worker Kaoruko, who is gruff, practical, and brusque in order to hide her emotions. (I, of course, love Kaoruko best so far.)

The premise of this sounds very much like a more flighty work of shoujo, but so far, the series actually reminds me most of Nana or Honey and Clover in tone. First, there's the mix of two stories: Souta and his store's rise in the small world of chocolatiers comprises one, while the other focuses on the lives and loves of Souta and his fellow chocolate store workers. But what really makes me draw the comparison is the way Mizushiro sensitively depicts everyone's love lives. Almost every character in the series has an unrequited crush on someone, and it's interesting to see how different characters use that emotion. Some choose to use it as inspiration or motivation to change themselves, while others choose to ignore it, to work to win over someone else's heart, or to simply enjoy being in love, even if it is unrequited.

The manga is full of small moments and significant glances, emotional subtext and things left unsaid. Some of the characters behave in ways the reader probably won't condone, but like Yazawa and Umino, Mizushiro has a great deal of sympathy for her characters and their frequently misguided hearts without necessarily agreeing with their actions.

And although Souta is the central character, I don't feel like the weight is terribly tilted toward the male characters. I suspect Kaoruko and Matsuri in particular will get more as the story goes along, and even though the women are frequently the objects of men's affections (the story so far is very heterosexual and cisgendered), I haven't gotten the sense that the are objects in terms of the plot. Instead, it seems as though Mizushiro will be delving into everyone's psyches.

The art is also very lovely; I don't remember any particular panels as standing out, but the character designs are pleasant and easy to distinguish between, and I of course love any of the sketches with chocolate in them. I'm a little sad Mizushiro doesn't go into raptures over assorted specific chocolates in her author's notes, but that's probably just me.

Sympathetic and complicated characters with some self knowledge and a narrative about chocolate: what's not to like?

I really hope this gets licensed along with Mizushiro's Kuro Bara Alice; it's lovely and feels very adult.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Asami Shio has it all: looks, money, talent. Midorikawa Moe doesn't. Neither of the two realize that they will be rivals in the quest to become Japan's greatest opera singer.

I keep wanting to read Ichijo Yukari's work because she's a fairly well-known mangaka, but I bounced off this hard. The volume I read reads like more old-fashioned shoujo with lots of glamour, tragedy, and overall drama. Unfortunately, with the glamour comes a ton of class issues. Shio's father ends up losing all their money, so we get her poor-little-rich-girl story, which I am actually guiltily fond of.

However, what's extremely annoying is the portrayal of Moe. She's introduced as a sweet girl, which fits right into the poor-but-hard-working-and-cheerful stereotype, but once she realizes she doesn't have half the advantages Shio does, she chooses to do whatever it takes to get to her goal. I feel this could have read as class commentary on how difficult it is to combat generations of privilege (Shio's mother was also a famous opera singer), but instead, the series paints Shio as cold and impractical but essentially trying her best in a cruel world, while Moe schemes, deliberately sabotages people, and may be driven to murderous impulses. Also, to hit all the stereotypes, Shio is drawn with light hair (blond on the cover), while Moe has dark hair.

Pass!
oyceter: (honey and clover - nomiya)
This continues to be a lovely revisit of the anime for me (even though the manga came first), although I still miss the anime's gorgeous watercolors and the music. That said, I'm really loving Umino's very sketchy art style. Sometimes her head-on faces don't work for me; her mouths occasionally feel too wide. But she does these absolutely gorgeous profiles, especially when it's one character looking at another character who is engrossed in something else. There's a lovely wistfulness to the way she captures the second person's expression and the first person's longing which I find particularly suited to the many instances of unrequited love in the series.

Spoilers )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(Original title: 愛すべき娘たち)

This is a collection of interlinked short stories, all of which have some connection to the main character, whose name I cannot remember and now cannot look up because I returned the book. I think it is Makimura Youko? Anyway, the first story is about her and her mother, who has recently battled cancer and is now marrying a man a few years younger than Youko. The second is about a high school student who sort of and sort of doesn't force herself on her high school teacher (a friend of Youko's), the third is about another friend who has been told to treat all people equally, the fourth is about two of Youko's middle school friends, and the last is about Youko and her mother again.

I cringed my way through most of the second story, although it's not quite as bad as the premise (I am very squicked out by teacher-student relationships, particularly those below college level). Even though having the student decide on the relationship instead of the teacher makes it slightly more palatable in terms of power differentials, I still find the depiction problematic, especially since the threat used ("I'll tell people you forced me!") is one so often used as an urban legend to discredit rape victims.

The third story ends on a rather odd note, which is too bad, because I liked the exploration of a relationship between two very nice people, one of whom just happened to be differently abled. I liked that it wasn't a big deal to the main characters, even though it was still discussed, particularly in terms of marriage potential. It felt fairly realistic and not heavy handed. And then there was the ending, which was... odd. The heroine takes her grandfather's advice to treat all people equally to heart, so much so that she realizes she can't truly be in love with any one person, as that would mean she values that person above other people. So she decides to... become a nun! As one does? This would have been so much more believable had the heroine actually been religious or thought about taking vows before or if there had been some sort of foreshadowing whatsoever.

The stories that contain Youko are excellent, and I now have much more faith in Yoshinaga as a feminist author. I love how she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters and how they harm and heal, how Youko's mother was hurt by her own mother constantly calling her ugly, how Youko's grandmother did so because she didn't want her daughter growing up vain like the girls she hated most when she was young, how sexism and systemic misogyny is passed down from generation to generation, always taking different forms. And I love that Yoshinaga understands that understanding does not always mean forgiveness or healing, nor does it make wrongs right. I love that Youko's mother (I think her name is Mari) has found love with a much younger man and that despite some initial awkwardness with Youko, the relationship looks like a healthy one that will continue.

I love the fourth story in particular, which has a recently-married Youko examining her attempt to be a working woman and a wife. I would have cheered just for the mention of the fact that women are expected to do the housework and that when they do, they are rarely acknowledged for it, whereas if a man does, it's a big deal, and how the amount of work men and women put into keeping house is respectively overestimated and underestimated. But no! There is more! There's the story of Youko's middle school classmates, one of whom was full of feminist zeal while the other two were not, and what happens to the three of them. It's sad and bitter and lonely and heartwarming at the same time.

This isn't my favorite Yoshinaga (Ooku takes that spot easily), but I enjoyed it a lot. Also, it's so rare to find manga centering on female relationships, much less overtly feminist manga, that I desperately wish someone would translate this into English so I could make people talk about it with me.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is a collection of short stories. The main one is about Natsu, a working woman who walks in on her husband having an affair. That day, an angel moves in (which Natsu is not cognizant of), and soon after, Emi, the Other Woman, does too (which Natsu is most definitely cognizant of). Natsu's a career woman, and Emi doesn't quite know who she is or who she wants to be. To both of their surprises, they end up comforting each other and getting along. I like the focus on the everyday, and I very much like that it has two women talking to each other and getting to know each other outside of their romantic rivalry, something that is sadly missing from much of the josei I've read. I do like josei for having career women heroines and having heroines who deal with things like choices between romance and work, sexism in the workplace, and people thinking you're a spinster for not being married by 30. But instead of going off into feminists rants on why the system should change, a lot of what I've read simply shows how the heroines cope or fail to cope without ever quite going so far to critique the entire system. Alas, neither does Angel Nest, but I'll take what I can get!

The other three short stories are less memorable—one is about a gay man and a straight man as friends, one on yet another woman whose salaryman husband is cheating on her, and the last on a car theft turned fantasy.

I'm not sure if I was in ithe right mood to read these pieces. I appreciated them, but didn't fall in love, and though I wouldn't buy Sakurazawa's books, if I see them in the library, I'll definitely try her again.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I first heard about this when it won a special prize from the Japanese Sense of Gender award (awards SFF works that examine gender); the people behind the SoG have been going to Wiscon regularly, which is how I heard of the award. Ooku (pretend there's a macron over the first "o") is an alternate history of Japan where a strange pox ends up killing three quarters of the men in the early 1600s. Because of that, the role of the shogun, like many other roles in Japanese society, ended up being matrilineal. The ooku was a harem formed for the shogun; with a female shogun, it was converted to hold about three thousand some men.

The story begins with Mizuno Yuunoshin's entrance into the ooku, but it also jumps back and forth in time to tell the story of how the role of the shogun ended up being female, along with how the disease affected Japanese history. When I first picked it up, I was afraid it wouldn't meet my expectations, as I've found Yoshinaga's work to be excellent but also uneven in terms of power differentials. I think Ooku is an excellent work of fiction so far; Yoshinaga carries off the broad scope and many time periods and characters with aplomb. As a work examining gender, I think it is awesome.

Why is this not licensed? Why why why?

At first, I was put off by the fact that we're following Mizuno's story. It's the same problem I have with Y: The Last Man; in a world where men are scarce, I still have to read something that's all about the guys? (I like Y and the women in Y, but it still irks me.) I was further put off by Mizuno taking on the more aggressive role with his childhood crush Onobu, as indicated by him kissing her and by the body language: he grabs her and pulls her in, she's slightly bent over backwards during the kiss, and he pushes her away to end it. I also wanted to know why all the women were still dressed in tightly wrapped kimono and obi when they were the ones running errands and doing business. While I love kimono, I think switching over to hakama might have been more practical! Similarly, the male dress in the first few pages is much less flowery than female dress; it looks like Edo in our history, with no hints of the changed male and female roles.

But! Yoshinaga is much, much better than that. Questions of clothing haven't entirely been resolved, but they've been brought up in the ooku already. And while we start with Mizuno, Yoshinaga does something very interesting: she switches between several POV characters, almost all male, and only has minor POV female characters. Yet the effect of this is to remind us how unstable the men's lives are; the shogun's favorites in the ooku may rise and fall, but the shogun and the women in power remain constant and dependable. There's a wonderfully claustrophobic feel to the ooku, a sense of limitation and constriction. I may have evilly cackled to myself and thought, "Bwahaha! See how it feels?"

Yoshinaga is also doing very interesting things with Japanese history; if I had known more about the Tokugawa shoguns, I would have picked up much earlier that she's following the exact same history as our own, only with female shoguns starting from Tokugawa Iemitsu. I particularly love that one of the greatest Tokugawa shoguns, Yoshimune, is a main character (and female). There's a wonderful scene in which Yoshimune meets with a Dutch captain: the pox hasn't spread to the rest of the world, and Yoshimune wants to know why only men are allowed on the Dutch merchant ships, which I read as a critique on how people will sometimes use feminism to justify nationalism or racism (I am not sure if it is, but whatever). And I particularly love what Yoshinaga's doing with Iemitsu, who began Japan's period of isolation, so disparaged by history books.

And there's so much more I'm not even touching on! The looks backward in history are even more fascinating, as they show a country struggling with changing gender roles. I would so suggest an Ooku book club panel for Wiscon, only given the lack of an English translation, I think it would be in vain.

To conclude on a completely random note, aside from being made of win, this manga also contains rodent death (traumatic only to me) and, more importantly, cat flinging as a form of affection.

(Please license this, someone!)
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Possibly I have been bingeing on manga this weekend...

Fujii Minami is a 27-year-old women in the advertising industry. She's basically completely dedicated to work and has no social life to speak of, which may be why her boyfriend of seven years ends up dumping her.

I think reading this alongside some other shoujo series may have lowered my tolerance for shoujo; it's so nice being able to read about protagonists who have to work, manage bills, and are my age. That said, much like Tramps Like Us, I like how this series has been reflecting what women actually have to deal with, but I also wish that it would go into a critique of the culture, instead of having the heroine trying to figure out how to succeed within the constraints of the system.

I suspect this may end up disappointing me like TLU did, but we'll see!

So far, the love polygon seems to be Fujii; her slightly younger co-worker Ishida, who likes her; same-year co-worker Ogiwara, who is getting over a breakup of his own; and Watanabe, who is now interested in Ishida after learning about his interest in Fujii.

Then there's Yugi, who's someone's "the other woman."

That said, the two volumes actually spend more time than I had expected on Fujii's work life. Her co-worker Hirano is a forty-year-old woman who is pitied by most, but Fujii finds that Hirano is more than she looks.

I'm disturbed by calling women working hard and by implication acting like men "drag queens," though the translation note in the back says that it's "okama" (lit. "pot," slang for gay or effeminate men*). While I can handwave politics more in shoujo, given the already surreal surroundings -- no high school actually works like that -- it's much harder in realistic josei, especially since it's so close to home.

So, I think I will end up disappointed in terms of politics, but it's still nice to be reading about working women dealing with the glass ceiling and sexism.

(Also, whee, now I need a "josei"** tag!)


* Thus, "okoge" (lit. the burnt rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, slang for straight women who hang out or like gay men).

** I debated making it "josei" or "ladies," since it's actually "ladies" in Japan, but as I went with "shounen ai" instead of "BL," I guess I am following the American version.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
So, I read vol. 13 a few months ago and have unsurprisingly forgotten everything that happened in it. This made reading vol. 14 very odd, as vol. 14 reads more like an epilogue and less like a conclusion.

Quickly re-skimming vol. 13 makes things make more sense...

Spoilers for both volumes )

In conclusion: though I like this series, I don't quite love it, and the same applies to the ending. I love that it addresses a lot of issues most series don't, but this is also its drawback, as I keep wanting it to go farther than it does, and it's frustrating seeing that.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
Heh, and you all thought you wouldn't have to read me babbling on even more about Honey and Clover when I finished watching the anime.

But no! I managed to get my hands on some of the manga in Chinese while I was in Taiwan, and I have been laboriously making my way through them.

The plot so far has been nearly identical, with the exception of the meat-guy story actually being in vol. 1 instead of being in one of the anime specials. For anyone who doesn't know, the series is about five art students sort of getting through college, getting jobs, worrying about what they're going to do with the rest of their lives. It's a lovely, quiet little series, and it reminds me a great deal of Nana, which is high praise indeed.

Also, I am totally biased because the anime is one of my favorite things ever. I finished watching it a couple of months ago, and I have already rewatched bits of it, and I've actually rewatched certain episodes at least five times. And this doesn't count my pimping it out to others.

Anyway, it took me a while to warm up to the manga, just because I love the voicework and the animation and the music of the anime so much. But the anime gets pretty much all of its brilliant moments right from the manga and just adds voicework and animation and music; aka, the core of why I love the series is right there in the manga. The art's very sketchy and loose, unlike most manga art that I tend to like, which runs toward clean and strong lines (think xxxHolic and Saiyuki and Nana). But I really like it, and it works with the story.

I'd be raving about this more, except I've seen the anime, which I've already raved about plenty, for nearly the same reasons. So I will just say that the manga is just like the anime, I still love all the characters, and this series makes me so very, very happy.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Reading five volumes in a row may have been a mistake, as nothing much happens and the interaction does get a little repetitive at times. On the other hand, I still love the Momo-Sumire relationship so much.

I'm also sad that this can't be my Rocking Feminist Manga, given the gender-role-reversal with Momo and Sumire and given that the series really looks at Sumire in the workplace and how she has to deal with being a Harvard and Tokyo University grad who is smart and competent and obviously threatening to both the men and the women at work. I wish Ogawa had a more nuanced portrayal of the women Sumire works with; instead, almost all of them seem to be jealous of Sumire because of her boyfriend, her intelligence, her school pedigree, and her competence.

I'm not saying that they shouldn't be, but it would be nice if there were a larger range of reactions and an exploration of why some of them might feel this way and the societal values and gender role expectations that feed into this. Instead, almost all the women in the series, with the exception of Sumire's housewife friend Yuri, are portrayed as jealous of Sumire, while the men tend to play off as understanding (Hasumi and Momo) or as complete horndogs (everyone else). I wouldn't be arguing as much about the gender portrayal, since pretty much everyone except Sumire, Yuri, Hasumi and Momo seems pretty evil, but the series spends much more time on the Momo-Sumire and Hasumi-Sumire relationship, and aside from a few chapters, the Sumire-Yuri relationship isn't given nearly as much weight.

Still, I am embarrassingly happy to have this anyway, just because at least there is some acknowledgement of the difficulties of breaking out of gender roles, even though the difficulty is positioned more as an individual problem, rather than a societal one.

Also, while I feel like I should have more a problem with the passivity of Sumire in her romantic relationships and how both Hasumi and Momo are more aggressive sexually, I think at least Ogawa somewhat examines it and looks at it critically, unlike most manga I've read. It's not set in the context of gender roles, which would make it much more interesting, but at least it's a "this is a personal problem for Sumire that she is attempting to overcome and something that really influences her relationships."

And I hope I'm not putting readers off the series by saying it's anti-feminist. I don't think it is anti-feminist per se, but it's also not feminist. But then, it still examines gender roles and expectations and how they play into relationships much more than most manga series I've read, and I suppose it could be read as a very accurate portrayal of what happens to people who break out of their traditional gender roles when they aren't doing it on purpose and don't have the tools to deal.

Spoilers start here )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Upon reading the first three pages at [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija's house, I decided to close the manga and buy it for myself based on the following:

  • A heroine who is a working woman, not a middle-school, high-school, or college student

  • The ugliness of the glass ceiling in the workplace

  • Double standards for women and men re: education and aggressive behavior

  • Workplaces that vaguely resemble the real world


Also, it has really unique and neat art, and I am a total sucker for that.

Sumire is said working woman (NOT an OL). She went to the prestigious Tokyo University, and then to Harvard, and holds a fairly good position at her newspaper. Her fiance recently broke up with her because he felt intimidated by her and ended up getting together with a woman who made him feel "more comfortable" (read: "less challenged"). On her way home, she finds a young man in a cardboard box and ends up taking him home and cleaning him up. Eventually, he moves in, but as a pet instead of a boyfriend. She names him Momo after the pet dog she had as a kid.

Sumire cooks for Momo, feeds him, shampoos his hair, pets him while she reads or watches TV at night, and has found that she's somehow come to rely on Momo's presence. I really love their relationship. It's not romantic (though it seems like Momo might want it to be). It's Sumire's very strange way of relaxing from all the expectations on her in the workplace, trying to let down her guard and etc. I'm not sure if this is a feminist manga, but it's definitely closer to it than most, and I especially enjoy how Sumire works and lives in a world that isn't too removed from my own, as opposed to most shoujo heroines.

I also adore Momo, who is a dancer. We don't know much about him yet, and I suspect that'll be part of the arcs to come, but I really like how young he feels, how carefree, and the way he absolutely adores Sumire. There are some twinges of UST in a few scenes, but it's not a romance yet, and I like that odd, delicate place between romance and friendship (petship?) that it inhabits.

Very interested to see how the series keeps going.

Also, I love the art.

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