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This blog is a storage space for various thoughts, observations and musings centering on shōjo manga (少女漫画, Japanese comics for girls) and josei manga (女性漫画, Japanese comics for women) in the widest sense and manga written by women. Topics from other fields of relevance, such as music, art, literature and film may be discussed here as well.

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[Manga Review] Who’s got your back? Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)In the past few years, the big three manga magazines for elementary school girls have been spicing up their usual mix of romantic comedies, school dramas, idol and magical girl manga with a spine-tingling element of horror. Ribon‘s most successful title of this wave is Ishikawa Emi’s Zekkyō Gakkyū (Screaming Lessons, alternatively Scary Lessons for its French and German translations by Tokyo Pop) which was published as 20 volumes from 2009 to 2015. This collection of surprisingly shocking short stories – considering its young target readership – was turned into a live-action movie in 2013, received the Shogakukan Manga Award in the childrens’ manga sub-category in 2014 and has recently been revived for a sequel called Zekkyō Gakkyū Tensei (Rebirth), with 6 volumes published so far.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Right between the original series and its sequel, Ishikawa worked on a shorter, 2-volume series titled Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan (lit. Hikaruko-chan Behind You) which gives off a distinct Japanese horror flavor just like Ishikawa’s longer hit title but relies much less on shockingly scary scenes and replaces them with a bittersweet portray of a ghost girl who’s trying to reach back out into the world of the living.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)After an accident that should have been fatal at the young age of 14, timid Asahana Hikaruko finds herself unable to leave our world completely behind her. Her lingering attachment to her old life and Haruki, the boy she’s had a crush on for so many years but for whom she was unable to openly show her support, leads her into an arrangement with a handsome instructor of the office for vengeful spirits. From now on, if she doesn’t want her spirit to disappear completely, Hikaruko has to prove herself as an onryō, a vengeful spirit, by scaring her designated ‘targets’, making them scream or cry with fear. But instead of being all that frightening she’s much more interested in helping others, for example Hana, an elementary school girl who is bullied at school and almost driven into suicide before Hikaruko gives her the strength – a little push in the back – to confront those torturing her.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Thus, Hikaruko’s boss is starting to run into trouble because his novice isn’t able to prove herself to be much of a success by the standards of the other vengeful spirits. Hikaruko-chan however carves out her own identity as a supporter to those in need, something she herself wasn’t capable of doing during her lifetime. Sooner or later this will inevitably lead to Hikaruko and Haruki meeting again, but in a different way than Hikaruko imagined it, and Haruki will have to decide between – literally – the world of the living and the dead.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha) Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)
Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha) Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)

Ishikawa’s short but sweet series provides a peak into the lessons learned between life and death making use of the concept of miren (未練), a sort of regret or – more positively – lingering affection and attachment that let’s our protagonist ghost girl stay close to the world of her old self but also makes it hard to let go of the people she used to love. In the course of her existence as a spirit, Hikaruko learns to motivate people to move forward, to seize the day and make the most of the time that is giving to them during their lives, something that unfortunately Hikaruko no longer has the chance to do.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Both the episodes told throughout the series and the overarching plot are engaging and touching as Ishikawa has managed to create a likeable protagonist facing a task she thinks she’s completely unfit to fulfill and an interesting and diverse cast, like the handsome older ghost instructors or eccentric vengeful spirits. Each side character leaves an impact, influencing the main story around Hikaruko and her crush Haruki, propelling it forward with Hikaruko’s emotional evolution as a ghost, the dead girl watching over everyone protectively from behind.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)With its cute character design and an intriguing ghost story that’s never too complex, there remains no doubt that this series is primarily targeted towards a very young readership. But its well-balanced mélange of the spooky, the funny and the melancholy should speak to older shōjo manga readers as well. Whereas there are some pretty heavy shocking moments in Ishikawa’s long-running hit series Zekkyō Gakkyū and its Tensei sequel, Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan only as a very mild horror taste making it perfect for people who usually don’t read horror manga and also need a bit of psychological depth and development in their stories. With these two volumes you’re in for a nice treat for the Halloween season without a second of boredom. And despite the heavy topic of death looming in the background and its urgent message to support the people you like while you can, there is a lot of warmth and humour here which makes reading this series all the more satisfying!

Title: Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan (うしろの光子ちゃん)
Author: Ishikawa Emi (いしかわえみ)
Volumes: 2 (2015)
Magazine: Ribon
Label: Ribon Mascot Comics
Publisher: Shueisha
Additional information: Have a look at the first pages of volume 1 and 2 on the publisher’s site. In an author’s comment on the inside of the dust jacket of volume 2, Ishikawa mentions her eagerness to continue working on this series. No news on that for the moment though, so this should be considered a completed series for now.

On a final side note, I really like Ishikawa Emi’s non-horror short stories she’s published in Ribon and its special seasonal editions – I really hope they’ll be collected in tankōbon format soon! (Shueisha, do you hear me?!)

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Posted on Oct 31, 2017 (Tue, 12:23 am).

[Magazine Info] Mdn August 2017 featuring cross-dressing girls and women in shōjo manga

Mdn August 2017Japanese design & graphic magazine MdN is running a special feature on girls and women disguising themselves as or dressing as boys/men in their upcoming August 2017 issue out July 6th. Under the headline of “The longing for women in mens’ clothes – the design of characters leaping over the boarder” they try to view the phenomenon from a variety of angles to try and answer the question why so many women feel attracted to the mysteriousness and cool outfits of cross-dressing women. The cover features Avu-chan, the singer from the Kobe-based rock band Ziyoou-vachi (Joōbachi), with an accompanying photo spread taking up the first part of the magazine.

The producer of KIRAKIRA ☆ PRECURE A LA MODE talks about creating the character Kenjō Akira (Cure Chocolat) that’s closely linked to both a protective motherliness and boyishness. And a history of girls and women disguising themselves or simply dressing as boys or men spans the decades from Tezuka Osamu’s Princess Knight’s Princess Sapphire to Ikeda Riyoko’s Lady Oscar into the new millenium and follows in the footsteps of manga scholar Oshiyama Michiko’s research.

MdN August 2017: The characters leaping over boundaries

A large part of the special is dedicated to 15 important cross-dressing girls and women in manga and anime. Here’s the eclectic cast the editors selected for these profiles:

1. Sapphire (Ribon no Kishi/Princess Knight, Tezuka Osamu)
2. Tenjō Utena (Shōjo Kakumei Utena/Revolutionary Girl Utena, Saitō Chiho)
3. Akiko (Palace Meiji, Kuze Banko)
4. Ashiya Mizuki (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e/Hana-Kimi, Nakajō Hisaya)
5. Fujioka Haruhi (Ōran Kōkō Hosuto-kurabu/Ouran High School Host Club, Hatori Bisco)
6. Sarasa (BASARA, Tamura Yumi)
7. Tominaga Sei (Kaze Hikaru, Watanabe Taeko)
8. Aramis (Anime Sanjūshi/The Three Musketeers Anime, Alexandre Dumas/Studio Gallop)
9. Nagao Kagetora (Yukibana no Tora, Higashimura Akiko)
10. Fujinami Ryūnosuke (Urusei Yatsura, Takahashi Rumiko)
11. Hatshepsut (Aoi Horus no Hitomi, Inudō Chie)
12. Oscar François de Jarjayes (Versailles no Bara/The Rose of Versailles, Ikeda Riyoko)
13. Julius Leonhard von Ahrensmeyer (Orpheus no Mado, Ikeda Riyoko)
14. Asaka Rei (Oniisama e…, Ikeda Riyoko)
15. Orihara Kaoru (Oniisama e…, Ikeda Riyoko)

Also included are features on cross-dressing female characters in drama, theatre and musical, both Shakespearean/Western drama, as well as a look at Japanese performing arts including Noh and the Takarazuka Revue, finishing with an interview focusing on the Sailor Moon musical “-Le Mouvement Final-“ and its Sailor Guardians who are “more [attractive] than ikemen (attactive men).”

With such a comprehensive line-up this looks like another interesting issue of MdN which lately has been providing good insights into issues related to manga and anime, though often from a design perspective. (We previously talked about their issue dedicated to the design revolution in shōjo manga in our Yamakawa Aiji profile.) More information on the August issue and preview images can be accessed via the magazine’s Amazon page.

For further information on the topic of cross-dressing girls in shōjo manga, I also highly recommend a look at Oshiyama Michiko’s book Shōjo manga jendā hyōshō-ron: ‘dansō no shōjo’ no zōkei to aidentiti [On the Representation of Gender in Shōjo Manga: The Shaping and Identity of ‘Cross-Dressing Girls’] which can be found on Amazon Japan among other places. Both this and the August issue of MdN are surely not to be missed for anyone interested in the gender politics of shōjo manga and closely related media!

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Posted on Jul 3, 2017 (Mon, 10:54 pm).

[Manga Review] Of Peaches & Hedgehogs: Nakajō Hisaya returns with Momomomotto!

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)Our last review discussed the return of a widely loved Hana to Yume series featuring a clan and a curse forcing them to transform into animals when touched or stressed. Today this theme gets turned on its head as we witness the comeback of another Hana to Yume veteran, with a series featuring a hedgehog turning into a handsome young man! Following Takaya Natsuki and her Fruits Basket revival with Fruits Basket another, another big name formerly associated with Hakusensha’s semi-monthly Hana to Yume has moved to its monthly sister magazine, Bessatsu Hana to Yume (BetsuHana) with a new series: Nakajō Hisaya who enjoyed immense popularity with her Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (Hana-Kimi – For You in Full Blossom) series which ran from 1996 to 2004, its start and end preceding Fruits Basket by 2 years respectively. Both series were long-running mega hits, the latter (Furuba) also receiving a TV anime series while the former (Hana-Kimi) was adapted into a successful TV drama series (2 seasons, 2007, 2011; a Chinese TV adaptation aired before them in 2006), a Korean drama version titled To The Beautiful You (Areumdaun Geudaeege) in 2012 and finally a dating game app in 2017.

Hana-Kimi, a manga following the girl Mizuki who disguises herself as a boy to attend an all-boys school practically bursting with handsome, charismatic young men (ikemen), was collected into 23 tankōbon volumes and a 2-volume collection of spin-off short stories subtitled After School. Nakajō was unable to repeat the series’ million-selling success, though. Her short and sweet Sugar Princess (2 volumes) had difficulties during its run in Hana to Yume from 2005-2007, including being put on hiatus due to the artist’s health-related issues. One can only try to imagine how much more attention this series centering on a school girl’s passion for ice skating would have received if it had been released a decade later with the Yuri on Ice craze in full bloom (pun not entirely unintended).

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)With the only slightly less trying schedule of being published in a monthly magazine, Nakajō returned to the manga world with a new series titled Momomomotto! (alternatively Momo mo motto!) last year and its first manga volume in January 2017. A closer look at its cover artwork in fresh, spring themed colors reveals a lot of traditional Japanese imagery, including peach and sakura blossoms and a handsome man wearing elegant tradidional garments and an eboshi on his head. Next to him we see an enthusiastically smiling girl and when you turn the book to its backcover, there’s a cute hedgehog giving readers a pretty good idea of what’s to come in Momomomotto! With the combination of an ikemen, a school girl and an animal, things are bound to go down the stereotypical fantasy shōjo manga route but – spoiler alert! – Nakajō-sensei turns these clichés into something really enjoyable!

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)The smiling girl on the cover is, of course, the manga’s heroine. Momose Momo – can a name get any peachier? – is late for her first day of high school. Of course. She’s living with her grandparents after her parents died in an accident. We’ve heard that before. She’s determined to lead a normal school life as your regular school girl. Again, no surprises here. And now regular readers of shōjo manga know to expect some kind of twist: In this case, Momo has been able to see mononoke, spirits in the form of animals and human-like entities, everywhere ever since an incident in her early childhood. She’s relieved to find that there are only so few of them hanging out on her new school grounds. There’s something else she finds, however: a living being, an animal in distress – a small hedgehog who looks like it might need some good care and food, so Momo takes it back home after school.

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)Momo is quickly able to make friends at school. Nishina Sumire, a pretty but down to earth girl, becomes her best friend. The whole school seems to admire her older brother, the star of the archery team. Then there’s Aihara Shirō, A boy from her class, who often spends his lunch breaks talking to Momo, and elps her in several situations, knows about her hedgehog after she secretly (and in one case, unknowingly) takes it to school with her. But Momo hasn’t been able to tell Aihara-kun something quite mysterious about the hedghehog yet. The small animal can turn into a human being, a handsome young man dressed in the elegant clothes and hat of a Heian-period nobleman called Harimaru. Only Momo can see his human form, which is quite practical considering he often pops up suddenly at school.

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)

Harimaru has a shocking revelation for Momo. She is the reincarnation of his master Momotarō (the hero of a Japanese folktale) while Harimaru used to be his sword. Momotarō, along with three friends, fought off demons (oni) who attacked his village but the demons swore revenge and now want to hunt down his current incarnation, none other than Momo. Momo must gather the reincarnations of those three friends around her and fight against those demons, as her life is in danger if she doesn’t slay them until she turns 16. In her past life, after Momotarō had slain the last demon, Harimaru broke and all that remained was the blade inside the hilt of the sword. Every time Momo has successfully fought a demon, pieces of the blade appear in the shape of a needle (hari) which then can reunite with Harimaru’s body, helping him regain his strength.

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)With the support of Aihara Momo is able to fight a demon at school and another one possessing one of their teachers which means two needles for Harimaru. He tells her about the ancient objects her mother did research on before she died, a netsuke shaped like a small hedgehog (a kind of toggle traditionally used by men to fasten small containers or pouches to their belts) and a tsuba, a round carved sword guard which Harimaru instructs Momo to keep close to her body because it will tell her when her three comrades from her previous life as Momotarō are around. Could it be the tsuba’s doing that Momo suddenly hears a shrill sound at school when she’s surrounded by Aihara, Sumire’s older brother and a mysterious cat-loving boy Momo found sleeping in the school gym?

Thus ends the first volume of this promising return of Nakajō Hisaya. Once you get to the last page, you’ve encountered a ton of shōjo manga tropes. If you’re even remotely familiar with them, the plot turns here won’t be all that surprising. But there are also some very short flashbacks to events in Momo’s past and her previous life as Momotarō, like images of a young boy crying at the seashore for example, which keep the story mysterious and engaging. However, they do not really complicate the story which is pretty straight forward and easy to follow, favoring action, comedy and pretty boys over introspection and the depiction of psychological depth. But in the end, this serves the series’ fun and light atmosphere, turning it into a quick and entertaining read.

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)The dynamic and often prettily decorated page layouts offer a mix of scenes of school and domestic life, shots of pretty boys and quick-fire dialogues providing comic relief from the suspense of Momo’s quest to find her group of former friends and stop the demons’ plan of revenge. And most importantly, there’s a lot of eye candy here in the form of pretty boys and the handsome man that is Harimaru, often presented in Nakajō’s trademark profiles. To balance that out, we have the slightly klutzy but passionate and relatable protagonist Momo and Harimaru’s cute animal form. Also notable is the depiction of the friendship between the two girls Momo and Sumire which I hope to see more of in future chapters!

Momomomotto! by Nakajō Hisaya (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)The image arsenal of traditional Japanese items but also the names and the allusion to the folktale of Momotarō, his three animal friends and their quest to defend an island from a group of demons are the manga’s visual and narrative backbone. It’s the mixture of these very elements and the present-day school life that lend the manga a true flavour of its own. It’s admittedly not reinventing the wheel called shōjo manga. But it features such a great cast of likeable and mysterious characters, a lot of readers will find themselves become attached to them very quickly to follow Momo’s and Harimaru’s quest. This mix of fantasy, school life, action and comedy also leaves room for quieter moments and the development of friendships. It is always entertaining and very reminiscent of the old school Hana to Yume magic, leaving readers wanting more! The only thing that’s holding up the fast pace the first volume has set is its slow release rhythm caused by the fact it’s being published in a monthly magazine. The next volume won’t be out until September at the earliest. I believe this series will settle at a one new tankōbon every 8-9 months rhythm with the coming volumes which means plenty of time between releases if you’re a not a magazine buyer :( But so far, this title is definitely worth the wait! I’m very curious to see where Momo’s journey is headed and if the series can manage to keep its high-octane pace!

Title: Momo mo motto! (ももももっと!; stylized as Momomomotto!)
Author: Nakajō Hisaya (中条比紗也)
Volumes: 1 (ongoing; 2017-)
Magazine: Bessatsu Hana to Yume
Label: Hana to Yume Comics
Publisher: Hakusensha
Additional information: Sample the first chapter of the first volume on Hakusensha’s info page via the tameshiyomi link.

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Posted on Jun 29, 2017 (Thu, 11:35 pm).


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