Manga

What Did You Eat Yesterday? (5) by Yoshinaga Fumi

kinonanitabeta5One day, I swear I will get my own copies of this series, I love it so much.* In the meantime, I’m reading the copies I bought for my friend Jun. (Yes, he knows I read the books before passing them on.) Anyway, I think it was in my review for the fourth volume that I mentioned how Jun wasn’t as satisfied with the lack of growth in the characters’ relationship, having more stories about their life outside of the relationship instead. And I had said that this is what I liked about this series, that it shows a calm, no-drama (or minimal drama) couple in a long-term relationship, with each of them having their own life outside. And the food, of course. We must not forget the food.

Jun will probably be appeased by Volume 5, which does not only show how Kakei and Kenji’s relationship going on to another level, but also explores what it is like being gay in Japan – which isn’t really something that is usually depicted in a realistic manner in most manga I’ve read. In this volume, Kakei makes his first gay friend. This itself may not seem like a big deal, except that it is, because Kakei is so conscious about passing as straight that he doesn’t normally interact with gay men he wasn’t dating. The story about now he met his friend is hilarious and relatable: a straight acquaintance that knows one gay guy decides that “you’re both gay, I’m sure you’ll hit it off!” and forces these two strangers to interact. Luckily for Kakei, he finds Kohinata a little strange and somewhat irritating but easy to talk to, especially about things he can’t discuss with Kenji. So the two would sometimes meet to share stories, but being aware of Kenji’s jealousy, Kakei doesn’t tell him. At first I was afraid that this will lead to an arc where Kenji finds out and all hell breaks loose, but what happens instead is Kenji being happy that Kakei made a friend, the two of them learning to set boundaries when it comes to friendships and meeting other people (two people meeting – no; 3 or more people, yes), and Kakei learning to loosen up just a little about his reluctance to show affection to Kenji in public.

Kakei’s friendship with Kohinata and the dinners the two couples have also bring up another issue that I think is also relevant in the Malaysian queer community – the rigid stereotypes that we internalize. Kakei have always been “straight-acting”, while Kenji is the typical flamboyant type. After being questioned repeatedly if he’s really bisexual (he isn’t) he wonders if it’s natural, or a result of him always being conscious about how he’s seen by others, to the point where he truly likes the idols and fashions that straight men prefer, and likes things that are traditionally masculine. Kenji, on the other hand, reveals an interest in Johnny’s which I find surprising (because I’m always reading articles about how gay men don’t like Johnny’s, and Jun have said that he finds Arashi rather meh looks-wise, so when I read that Kenji stays home to watch Kohaku and Johnny’s Countdown at New Year’s I was like, “Kenji, I need you as my new best friend, stat.” I need someone to gossip about idols with too, okay. Don’t mind me.) so I guess I’m guilty of stereotyping, too. But yeah, Volume 5 discusses stereotypes and how constraining they are. There’s this part where Kakei admits that he had considered acting the part of the flamboyant gay just for his own homosexuality to be validated, which is something that I guess anyone who knows about how passing sometimes feel more like erasure will understand.

Other developments in Volume 5 – Kakei and Kenji get couple rings, in a chapter that is both cute and unsentimental in a way that makes me want to go “aww” and laugh at the same time. Also, Kakei’s parents ask – no, demand – that he brings Kenji to see them in one of my favourite scenes in this series so far. (Most of my favourites are of Kakei dealing with people that don’t know how to deal with his homosexuality.) I laughed so much when Kakei’s mother get all angry and telling him to get serious about his love life when he tries to avoid a meet-the-parents situation by saying he and Kenji aren’t married. Kakei is the type to compartmentalise his life and relationships, and I guess this volume chips away at that, both by having a more public life with Kenji (by making mutual friends and doing things together outside the house for once) and now introducing Kenji to his family. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

* I’ve been buying & reading the Japanese versions for myself and buying the English versions for Jun; but after the third volume I stopped buying my own copies, and started reading his.

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Manga · Review

四月は君の嘘 (1-6) by 新川直司 / Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso Vols 1-6 by Arakawa Naoshi

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I don’t remember the first time I “met” our piano, but I do remember having a love/hate relationship with it, growing up. I adored it as a kid, hated practising on it, hated lessons, loved hearing my brothers play, and these days, it soothes me to even just practise scales on it. But I do know that despite growing up with it, I didn’t know how much I liked classical piano until Nodame Cantabile. I saw the drama when it came out, and when I was working part-time as a library page for Japan Foundation Library, I ended up reading through the manga during my breaks. Loved it. Loved the music. One of my best memories is walking aimlessly around Yurakucho with nothing but Mozart piano concertos on my mp3 player, and then walking into this building and taking an earbud off to find that the same music was playing in it – it was an exhibition inspired by Nodame Cantabile! (I’m still sad that I was too broke, and had left my dorm with only enough money for lunch, to get some sort of souvenir from that day.)  I want to go back, thinking about it now. I also want all my music back – I don’t know where and why, but I’ve lost most of my music library over the years. And I’m going off-topic again.

Nodame was a starting point of sorts, to me, and when I saw Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) being described as “Nodame Cantabile in middle school” it made me think, this is something I should check out. And then Wei Teck, my colleague and fellow geek, recommended it to me, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of his recommendations before. So this weekend I watched the first five episodes. And was frustrated that I had to wait for the sixth. I went to get the manga, but could only get up to the sixth volume, surpassing the anime, sure, but I know there’s at least ten volumes published so far, with the next one due next May.

Unlike Nodame, it’s more of a drama than a comedy, which I both prefer (Nodame’s cute but sometimes too cute) and dread (because there were many hints that things will end in tragedy in future volumes). The main character is Kousei, a middle schooler with no distinguishable qualities. He was the quiet type that liked to be alone, but he was best friends with two jocks – Tsubaki, his childhood friend who was  in the school’s softball team, and Watari, who was the cheerful playboy sort, and captain of the soccer team. Compared to their “colourful” youth, Kousei appeared to be colourless, or in his words, “monotone.” The thing about Kousei, though, was that he used to be a prodigy. At a young age, he had won so many competitions and awards that the other Japanese musicians of his generation knew his name. But when his mother passed away, he just stopped. He found that he could no longer hear his own piano playing, although he could hear everything else just fine. This may be psychological, of course, but because of the relationship he had with his mother (she was strict to the point of being abusive, when it came to his training) he was convinced that it was a sort of curse or punishment from her.

Continue reading “四月は君の嘘 (1-6) by 新川直司 / Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso Vols 1-6 by Arakawa Naoshi”

Manga · Review

What Did You Eat Yesterday? (4) by Yoshinaga Fumi

kinonanitabetaI was talking to my friend Jun about the second volume of this series, and he said that he was a bit disappointed that it didn’t highlight the relationship between Shiro and Kenji as much. That may be so, since volume two focused on each of their individual lives – Shiro’s relationship with his parents, and Kenji and his customers. (Or am I confusing volume two with volume three?) But I did think that these separate stories give a larger picture to Shiro and Kenji’s life together. And I appreciated that in another level, the depiction that even those in long-term, committed relationships having lives and relationships separate from each other. I had really liked that.

In this volume, the focus is definitely back on their relationship. It opens with Shiro and Kenji having dinner with another gay couple, Kenji’s friends Yoshi and Tetsuro. Shiro was obviously uneasy, being quiet throughout dinner as the (straight) couple at the next table speculated if the four men are gay. When home, Kenji apologised for asking Shiro to come out for dinner. Shiro seemed more mad at himself, though, because he still couldn’t afford to be outed, as it was something that might affect his career badly. The next morning, Kenji asked Shiro to cook him hamburgers for dinner, causing Shiro to reflect on how cooking Kenji’s favourite foods have become the way for them to make up after fights or misunderstandings. Continue reading “What Did You Eat Yesterday? (4) by Yoshinaga Fumi”

Manga · Review

ハイキュー!! by 古舘 春一 (Haikyuu!! by Furudaite Haruichi), Vol 1-12

PictureLately, I’ve been into sports manga again. My love for them started with Slam Dunk, which I read back in 2001 (in Malay; my first time reading it in Japanese would be in 2007). Even now I tell people that it’s Slam Dunk‘s fault that I read so much manga in the first place; I kept looking for that same high of reading it for the first time. I’ve read many amazing works along the way, but it’s never the same, not just because Slam Dunk was the FIRST, but also because I hadn’t found a sports series that came close. Works in other genre, sure – even Hikaru no Go, which does follow the sports manga formula, I suppose. But I didn’t quite like Dear Boys, or I’ll, or the other basketball manga I tried.

I enjoyed The Prince of Tennis a lot, but that, too, was a different kind of enjoyment. This year, somehow, things are changing. I finally cracked and started following the Kuroko no Basket anime, and I quite liked it, even if it’s no Slam Dunk. Wei Teck, a colleague whose impeccable taste in drama series, anime and manga had led me to a lot of my favourites, got me hooked on three new series – Yowamushi Pedal (reading and watching), Baby Steps (I’m just watching for now, but may read later), and Haikyu!! (reading and watching).

The series follows Hinata Shouyou, who became passionate about volleyball after watching a high school championship match of TV. In the game, a short player nicknamed the “small giant” seemed to soar higher than his blockers; entranced by the image, Hinata was determined to follow in the Small Giant’s footsteps.

However, his middle school didn’t have a boys volleyball team, and although he managed to gather enough newcomers (and his friends from the soccer and basketball team) to join a tournament in his last year. They suffered a crushing defeat on their first game, fighting against a team led by Kageyama Tobio, a naturally talented setter nicknamed “the King of the Court”. Despite that, Hinata vowed to Kageyama that he’d defeat him one day.From then on I had assumed the manga would go on like a normal sports manga, showing Hinata learning new tricks and evolving to defeat Kageyama. What happened instead was Hinata and Kageyama finding themselves in the same high school, and having to learn to be a team. Not only that, their abilities seem to complement each other so well that they’re used as a pair – these two would grow together, as rivals and teammates.Today, I finished reading the 12th volume of Haikyuu!!. The 13th volume is coming out in October – although I’ve read or skimmed through most of the chapters in JUMP magazine at work, so I’m basically up-to-date with the series, even if I read it slightly off chronological order. I keep finding myself describing it to friends as “like Slam Dunk, or rather what Slam Dunk might have been like if Sakuragi and Rukawa learned to work together early on.” Maybe that’s not quite right, because the team dynamics would be different, but that was the feeling Haikyuu!! gave off at first.

I really loved volumes 8 to 10 especially, because it showed the points of views of teams that lost (the anime episode made me cry a little), as well as Karasuno’s girl’s team (which made me think I’d really love a spin-off manga on them!), and, just lots of really good character development. In fact, this whole series is full of good foreshadowing and character development. I don’t really want to include spoilers, but events in the latter volumes would push the members of Karasuno to think about their strengths and limitations, and learn to do things differently. Seeing how each of their individual growth changes the team, and seeing them evolve as a whole, that was great, too.

I liked the use of names in the series – Hinata (“towards the sun”) and Kageyama (the “kage” in his name means “shadow”),  showing how they’re like light and dark (which also describes their personalities); and Hinata (sun) and Tsukishima (the “tsuki” in his name means “moon”) as rivals; and the imagery of Karasuno (the “karasu” in their name means “crow”) as fledgling crow chicks learning to fly. There are also animal motifs with the rival teams and their members. While this is a pretty common trope in manga, I don’t think I’ve appreciated it as much as I did in Haikyuu!!.

I’d go on and on about the things that I like, but the truth is this: if you enjoy sports manga, you would love Haikyuu!!. I’m a sucker for sports manga, and for now, this is one of the best I’ve read.

Manga · Review

Review: In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno

moyocoannoConfession: this is my first time reading Moyoco Anno. I have seen (and lusted for) her Sakuran, and I remember Hataraki Man being very popular when I spent a semester in Japan back in 2007, but I didn’t really pay attention to her name until In Clothes Called Fat came out. I don’t read josei very often – which perhaps should change – but I discovered Okazaki Kyoko in college, and was completely into her short work, “River’s Edge”. I was drawn to In Clothes Called Fat because the description made me think of Okazaki Kyoko’s Helter Skelter, another of my favourites. Sure enough, a quick look at this title on GoodReads showed other reviews calling Moyoco Anno a “spiritual successor” of Okazaki Kyoko.

Like Okazaki’s Helter Skelter, this manga is bleak, and harsh. There is no happy or hopeful ending. Noko, the main character, loses weight, but she never does stand up for herself or learn to see beyond her body as a source of happiness. At the beginning of the manga the hurtful, casual comments from Noko’s colleagues keeps battering her self-esteem. It isn’t just the other women – portrayed as slender and beautiful – but also the male co-workers that call her “pig”, and the boss that assumes every mistake at work must be hers, while the beautiful Mayumi is treated like “a superior human being”. Noko does have a boyfriend of eight years, and when her colleagues find out, Mayumi promptly seduces him, and the bullying Noko experiences at work escalates. While Noko started out not seeming to mind the fact that she’s fat, the bullying she encounters at work, added to the fact that her boyfriend is cheating on her, makes her think that her life would be better – and happier – if she were thin. Despite the treatment she gets due to her weight, no one else wants her to get thin, however: Mayumi, her colleague, needs Noko to remain fat and an outlet for her power trips; Saito, her boyfriend, only likes Fat!Noko because he can only be with girls that no other guys would desire; Mr. Fujimoto, an old man Noko sleeps with in a moment of desperation, fetishes her fat body.

Continue reading “Review: In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno”

Contemporary · Fantasy · Manga

Mini Reviews: What Did You Eat Yesterday? (1), The Goblin Emperor, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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This was actually one of the books I wanted to use for anniversary – I’ve had my eye on this since mid last year, and had been interested in reading Jenny Han longer than that. It’s just that her previous books were parts of trilogies or duos, and were marketed as one of those “summer girls” books, like the Hailey Abbott titles my sister loves so much but didn’t do much for me. They did give me a “good feminist YA” vibe, though, so I was still curious.

I bought a copy almost immediately after it came in, and I’m glad I did. Because it’s marketed as fluffy chick lit about a teen girl’s romantic problems (what with her secret love letters suddenly getting mailed to the boys) but then, SURPRISE, it’s really a book about SISTERS. And BEST FRIENDSHIP. And FRIENDSHIPS IN GENERAL. Yes, there’s a lot of romantic drama, and Lara Jean does get into all these complicated entanglements due to the letters being sent out, but at the core of this book is how this changes her relationships with those around her, about the things we keep secret when we shouldn’t have, and the things we blurt out when we probably shouldn’t. And SISTERS. Okay, between this and Fangirl, I’m just all for books about sisters and BFFs.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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Honestly, I have no idea how to talk about this book. I adore it to the point of being extremely and absolutely biased, but that’s because this book is just really that good. I loved Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series – the worldbuilding and systems of magic are just incredible, and Felix and Mildmay are among the best characters I’ve read in fantasy novels. Then there’s The Bone Key and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, the two short story collections. It usually takes me YEARS to finish even half a collection of short stories, and yet I gulped these books down in just a couple of sittings. So. I love Sarah Monette’s work. And this latest by her (published under the name Katherine Addison) might be even better.

Maia is the fourth son of the Emperor of Elflands, cast aside due to the fact that he’s half-goblin. But when his father and brothers die in an airship crash, he’s whisked to the capital to be the new Emperor. Rather than an epic fantasy, this novel is more of a bildungsroman, following a naïve, scared kid trying to survive to his nineteenth birthday. Maia is such a likable character, one that is inherently kind, which I hear is a rare thing in fantasy heroes. I adore him for that, and other reasons. It’s interesting and uncomfortable to me how his (cruel) guardian Setheris is so much in his mind throughout the book – even when Setheris isn’t present, his voice is constantly in Maia’s head. The thing about Setheris is that he reminds me so much of my great-aunt, who was in charge of my siblings and I in my childhood.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding, and the use of language in particular. I always loved the different pronouns used in Japanese, and how which pronoun one chooses conveys a lot about the relationship between the speakers. I’ve wondered how one might convey that kind of nuanced speech in English conversation, and Katherine Addison achieved that with this book. The names and elvish words used were also interesting, because Addison doesn’t include info-dumps to explain them, but I never needed the glossary at the end of the book because by the time I was a few chapters in, I’ve managed to connect the dots and understand the elvish names and suffixes; what magic is this? I don’t know, but Katherine Addison has it.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? (1) by Yoshinaga Fumi

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I read this in English, except for a couple of pages where I referred to the Japanese edition. I had read it in Japanese awhile back, but even though I remember liking it, I had forgotten how incredibly FUNNY it is. It’s a slice-of-life manga depicting a middle-aged gay couple. Kakei is a lawyer who takes vanity and thriftiness to another level. Yabuki, his boyfriend, is an easygoing hairdresser. The English translation gets a little jarring in a couple of places (hence me having to pick up my Japanese copy to check on wordings), but it’s still good and something I’d recommend to anyone who’d like the kind of manga that delights you with its humor and delicious, delicious food.

~ originally posted individually on Weebly

Manga

Review: Shitsuren Chocolatier (1) by Mizushiro Setona

This “review” will be on the rambly side, so I apologize in advance.

I probably wouldn’t have even heard of this manga if it wasn’t for the fact that it was going to be made into a Getsu9 (Fuji TV’s Monday prime time) drama starring Matsumoto Jun (first episode airing today!). I tend to enjoy the adaptations of manga that MatsuJun starred in – he had got me reading Hana Yori Dango and Gokusen and Bambino, and helped me discover new favourites that way. That, and the fact that this drama is about a chocolatier (and I love manga and dramas about food), made me curious. So I started reading reviews, and saw it compared toNana and Honey & Clover. That sold me, and I immediately got the first three volumes to try out. (This would be one of those moments when I despair the fact that there are no Book Offs in this country… well, okay. I always despair the fact that there are no Book Offs in this country.)

Shitsuren Chocolatier, or Heartbroken Chocolatier, is at its heart a love story, I guess. The protagonist is an overly naive, masochistic young man named Sota who had been in love with the same girl all through high school. She had never really paid him any attention, until he asked her out before Christmas, and she accepted. The thing about the girl, Saeko, is that she’s really passionate about chocolate. She doesn’t just like any chocolate – she’s rather picky and only likes the best. Sota’s family owns a cake shop and he began training to learn to make chocolates just for her. So when she dumped him right before Valentines day, he was understandably devastated.

So devastated, in fact, that he took off to Paris. Yup. I’m still hazy on how this was even possible, but I’m too used to these things in manga to even question it, really. In Paris, he visits Saeko’s favourite chocolatier to beg to be made an apprentice, and of course one of their staff is an otaku, who helped Sota out in exchange for magazines and manga. End suspension of disbelief, here. The story picks up again five years later when Sota had become a chocolatier in his own right, and returned to Japan to take over his father’s store. He met with Saeko again, only to hear that she was getting married, and wanted him to cater for her wedding. Ah, the stuff that dramas are made on, definitely. I wonder how the story would be treated in live action format (I hope that Sota would be less of a pushover when it comes to Saeko, really), but back to the book.

I think right now I have a love/hate relationship with this manga. It happens a lot, when I read josei manga. On the one hand, I love reading about the shop and the descriptions of the chocolates are lovely, and there are really good side characters. I’m completely into Kaoruko, the girl who worked at Sota’s father’s shop, and now worked for him. (I heard that Ishihara Satomi, whom I absolutely adore, will be in the drama. I was hoping she’d be Kaoruko, but apparently that role is being played by Mizukawa Asami, and I love her even more, so much yay for me!) Even Olivier, though annoying when in full-out otaku mode, had his moments. I find myself wanting to know more about them, which I hope to do in future volumes.

Saeko, though, is utterly clueless, and selfish. It’s hard to believe that she had no clue as to how she was affecting Sato, and while I don’t hate her for it – she does remind me a little of Nana Komatsu from Yazawa Ai’s Nana – it gets hard to read, at times. And Sato. I’m torn as to how I feel about his character. On the one hand, I understand his desire to devote himself to his love for Saeko, even when he knew nothing might come of it. On the other hand, I hope that this series wouldn’t be volume after volume of him pining after her, because seriously, that’s boring. And really a little too masochistic for my taste. I think there’s hope, though – in the last chapter he talked with Kaoruko, who questioned his “stalkerish” habit of keeping track of what Saeko buys every time she visits the shop. He had answered that it wasn’t out of mere desire to know everything about Saeko, but because he knew that Saeko had a strict and distinctive taste for good chocolate. Even if it was her friend’s shop, she would not purchase something she didn’t like twice. So he was keeping track of her purchases because she tried his new products, and he wanted to know which worked, and which didn’t.

While the fact that he records her purchases still come across as a tad creepy, I was glad to see this side of Sato for once, the one that thought of his chocolate first and his love second, the one that was determined to make only the best. It tied in nicely with what Olivier said to Kaoruko towards the end, that even if the shop was born out of something like unrequited love, the fact that that love made it possible for such a shop, and the chocolates that came from it, to exist, meant that that love had value, and wasn’t something that’s “wasted”, which is what a lot of people would say of unrequited love.

The sentiment does seem to carry tinges of Honey and Clover, and those two scenes made me raise this manga from three to four stars on GoodReads. It isn’t as epic as either of the two series that it had been compared with, but it certainly had something that made me want to continue reading. Here’s hoping for more character development in the next installment!