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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] After the Curse: Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket another

Fruits Basket another 1 by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha)If you were a manga reader around the time the world moved into the current millenium, you probably remember the birth of an unforgettable shōjo manga mega hit series featuring a lonely girl meeting a mysterious clan of people cursed to turn into animals under various circumstances. While Takaya Natsuki‘s manga Fruits Basket, published in Hakusensha’s bimonthly magazine Hana to Yume, had already started its run in 1998, it was in 2001, with the winning of the Kodansha Manga Award in the shōjo manga category and – most importantly – the airing of its TV anime adaptation, that Fruits Basket crossed age and gender barriers and captured the hearts of so many people, girls and women, boys and men alike. And it turned the series not just into a stellar success story in Japan but internationally as well where it also gained a huge fan following. The manga series itself ran until 2006, its 23 tankōbon volumes selling millions of copies in its home country and, as translated versions, abroad.

Fruits Basket Aizouban/Collector's Edition 1 by Takaya Natsuki (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha)In 2015 the publication of a 12-volume Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition (aizōban), designed in a slightly larger format than the original tankōbon version and with additional color illustrations and features like interviews and character profiles, was announced. To create some buzz and promote the sale of this edition (released monthly until August 2016), Takaya Natsuki returned to the world of Fruits Basket and began to publish chapters of a new Fruits Basket series via Hakusensha’s digital platform Hana Lala online. A year later, these chapters saw a serialization in paper form in the monthly magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume before the first volume was finally published in tankōbon format in August 2016. This new series is titled Fruits Basket another (or Furubana, similar to the abbreviated Furuba of its predecessor), which hints at an alternative universe kind of relationship with the original series about the the girl Honda Tōru and the members of the Sōma (Sohma) clan who are cursed to transform into one animal of the Chinese zodiac plus a cat respectively when they’re either in bad physical or mental states or touched by members of the opposite sex. However, the events in Furubana take place in the very same Sōma clan universe as Furuba!

Sawa from Fruits Basket another by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha)Chronologically, Fruits Basket another is set several years after the original series. A girl called Mitoma Sawa is supposed to start her first day at Kaibara-kōkō, the same senior high school the main Furuba characters used to go to back in their days. Sawa is an only child living with her cold, mostly absent mother. She doesn’t want to cause trouble for anybody after a bad experience in elementary school which left her alone without friends. In best shōjo manga fashion she wants to start fresh in high school. She might be on her way to a catastrophic beginning when she is late for her first day and gets scolded by a teacher but she is then saved by a good-looking boy called Sōma Mutsuki (why hello there, Furuba Yuki!). Together with another student and member of the Sōma clan, Hajime (a look-a-like of none other than Kyō, of course), Mutsuki wants Sawa to become a member of the student council and makes it publically known she was selected as a new member. Timid Sawa doesn’t really have a choice anymore, accepts her new position and joins president Hajime and vice president Mutsuki.

Fruits Basket another by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha)Mutsuki saves Sawa from awkward social situations more than once. He appears outwardly gentle but is a bit of a bully towards Hajime who has a very short temper. (That should ring a bell concerning the relationship of the Furuba generation protagonists, Yuki and Kyō.) The Sōma family members are hugely popular at their school and even have their own fan club led by the overzealous Kakeyama Ruriko, who hysterically guards Mutsuki’s well-being and is highly suspicious of Sawa’s closeness to the Sōma clan which complicates Sawa’s life at school only further. By meeting more members of the Sōma clan who either also go to Kaibara-kōkō or come to visit Hajime and Mutsuki in their house, Sawa gets to know the clan members’ very unique personalities. Little by little she starts to relax and make friends among the Sōmas, but will she be able to overcome her past trauma and find a place – or in this case, a family clan – she belongs to? And how will her presence in return affect the Sōma clan and their complicated relationships with each other?

From this short summary alone it should be obvious that just like its predecessor, Fruits Basket another belongs to the healing (iyashi-kei) manga genre. The premise of the original – how is Tōru changed by the Sōma clan and how does she in return change the Sōma clan dynamics – is kept and applied to the protagonist Sawa. Unfortunately for the reader, Sawa so far seems like a rather plain and uninteresting heroine by comparison and is mainly used as a tool to build a stage for the new generation of Sōma clan members who make their appearances one by one. Furubana is planned as a 3-volume series so there clearly isn’t enough space to draw out the story as elaborately as Furuba did which means some Sōma family members here disappear just as quickly as they’ve entered the stage. In the first volume we do get some dark foreshadowing when Mutsuki repeatedly calls a mysterious person called Shiki who avoids meeting Sawa face to face, a hint that the series might hide some darker secrets below its surface, just like the original series did.

Fruits Basket another by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha)Throughout the manga long-time followers of the series will be able to play guessing games trying to match Furubana children with their supposed Furuba parents by their looks, behavior and character traits. The Furubana offspring are missing the key characteristic of the Fruits Basket generation though (as a result of the ending of the original series, which I’m not going to spoil here), which is exactly what made Fruits Basket so special, plot-wise and visually: the transformation into animals and the problems this caused. It might seem like an extremely lazy analogy but try to imagine a Sailor Moon another as a high school comedy of the children of the Sailor Senshi without their magical planet powers and transformations and ask yourself if you’re enough of a die-hard fan to find entertainment in that…

Yuki and Kyō from Fruits Basket volume 3 by Takaya Natsuki (Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha, 1999)

Hajime and Mutsuki from Fruits Basket another volume 1 by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha, 2016)

[Compare these two images: Pictured above Yuki and Kyō from Fruits Basket volume 3, published in 1999 and pictured below Hajime and Mutsuki from Fruits Basket another volume 1 published in 2016. Not that much seems to have changed between these two and the next generation. The character designs remain simple but cute, though.]

Fruits Basket was always character-driven with lots of back story and psychological development provided through the dialogue. The story here is paper-thin however, with depth and darkness as of yet only hinted at. While the character designs are solid and very similar to those of the later volumes of the original series, the main setting of the school itself makes for some boring and repetitive page layouts. So far there have been only very few scenes set outside, at the Sōma house for example. After reading the first volume one cannot shake the feeling that everything here is just a taste of past glory. Even the main character constellation – Sawa, Mutsuki, Hajime – is all too similar to the Tōru-Yuki-Kyō triangle. Owing to the planned shortness of the series, the chances of it going as dark as the original or putting its readers on an engaging emotional rollercoaster in the future are admittedly low. This is a real weakness of this sequel, as fans of the original who followed it in ‘real time’ back in the early 2000s are all adults now, doubtlessly possessing the mental capabilities to process a slightly more complex story.

Fruits Basket another by Takaya Natsuki (HC online, Hakusensha)The characters, in their visual appearances and behaviors but also in their dialogues, provide recurring hints and references to the original Fruits Basket series which are only comprehensible to those who know and remember (!) the original series. In this way, Fruits Basket another can be seen as a present to long-time fans and was clearly not made to win people new to the series over. The author constantly plugs the aizōban/collector’s edition that was released with the start of Furubana, encouraging people to (re)buy and (re)read the original. However, I have my doubts if people with no prior knowledge of Fruits Basket who start with Furubana find the latter fascinating enough to start the original series, especially because it lacks everything that made Fruits Basket so entertaining and fascinating.

The unique characters of the second generation of the Sōma clan and their gorgeous character designs, the bickering between its two main family members (Mutsuki and Hajime here, the supposed sons of Yuki and Kyō) and the sometimes over-the-top humor here are reminders of key elements of the original. Hints at darker motives of characters are given throughout the first volume and especially at the end, providing a cliffhanger to buy the next volume which should be out by late summer/early fall 2017. In its current form, I have to admit this spin-off doesn’t leave much of a lingering impression. Maybe it will be more satisfying once the series has ended and it can be enjoyed in full. It did however make me want to revisit the original which I find has aged perfectly, with its soft and kind gentleness winning over cruelty and isolation.

Title: Fruits Basket another (フルーツバスケット another)
Author: Takaya Natsuki (高屋奈月)
Volumes: 1 (on-going; 2016-)
ISBN: 9784592218517
Format: B6
Prize: 580 Yen (excluding tax)
Magazine: Hana LaLa online (digital), Bessatsu Hana to Yume (printed version)
Label: HC online
Publisher: Hakusensha
Additional information: The series originally started its run in September 2015 at Hana Lala online. Following the digital release, it is published in printed form in BetsuHana first, before about 4 chapters are collectively published in one comic tankôbon.
Chapters for volume one are offline; a preview the first chapter is located here. The chapters to be published in volume 2 have also been taken offline because the series re-started its 4-month run in the current issue of BetsuHana (number 7/2017, out since May 26th). Volume 2 is slated for a late summer/early fall publication. Chapters for future printed publication (volume 3 onwards) are still online, read them for free while you can :)

And I can’t end this Fruits Basket post without the wonderfully soothing opening song of the anime series by Okazaki Ritsuko:

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Posted on Jun 9, 2017 (Fri, 12:27 am).

[Manga Review] Two drifters, off to see the world? Moon River by Hongō Chika

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Impulse-buying a book, especially a comic, solely based on its cover isn’t all that unusual. In fact, there’s an expression in the Japanese language that describes just that: jakettogai or, in its short form, jakegai. But buying a book mainly because of its title admittedly might be an even rarer thing. Moon River… You read the title and instantly hear the same-titled song in your head as an air of bittersweet nostalgia brings back memories of the lovely Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s… A closer look at the cover illustration of Hongō Chika’s one-volume manga Moon River might give you a hint that the story told on its pages will be a little different than the one about the materialistic and naïve Holly Golightly in the aforementioned classic Hollywood movie. The eyes of Kurea (クレア, possible romanizations are Clair, Claire or Clare), one of the protagonists of the manga, are glowing ominously red, suggesting he might be something else than a mere mortal. And yes, this is the story of a vampire and his relationship with his human companion of 20 years, the second protagonist Roka.

The neighbourhood of Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Utsumi Roka is a young man who works as an editor in the picture book department of a publishing house. His endeavours to become a published picture book writer himself haven’t been successful yet but he doesn’t want to let go of that dream. He’s living in a small apartment by himself when one Halloween night, he is more or less forced to take in an old acquaintance: an American called Kurea whom he met back when Roka was a small lonely Japanese boy after his father’s work-related transfer to the USA. It doesn’t take long until we learn that Kurea is a special kind of vampire via a genetic mutation which makes him an outsider among his dominantly “pure-blood”, “turned by being bitten or having had blood contact” kind. He has “lived” a long long time and has to take special types of medicine to help him live a seemingly normal live, unharmed by the sun and contaminated water. But those pills come with side effects and Kurea is still sick once a month.

Roka's apartment in Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Quiet scenes of the two men’s everyday lives are presented to us: Roka working hard at the office, the shy man getting closer to one of his co-workers, giving him career advice; his difficulties of living together with Kurea in the apartment as the open river flows gently right behind the house. Roka putting up a telescope, watching the stars. Kurea resting after taking his pills. Roka’s obsession with Japanese sweets and desserts that makes him go to different parts of Tokyo. Kurea’s constant smoking by the window. It’s almost as if they’ve achieved a kind of timelessness for themselves through their routines, a fake sense of eternal repetition.

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)But then a third person breaks that fragile balance of their humble, almost ordinary lives: Lucian, a man in an elegant old-fashioned suit and hat, with a fixation with quality Japanese household appliances (don’t ask!), like Kurea a heavy smoker and like Kurea a vampire, but of the “pure-blood” kind in his case. Lucian has taken on the role of Kurea’s guardian, checking in on him and his health – and making sure that Kurea is keeping his life with the very human Roka on the downlow because other, more powerful vampires don’t like it much if their kind mixes with mortals. Short flashbacks and nothing but hinted words serve as reminders of the extraordinariness of Kurea’s existence and tell of the tragic past of Kurea’s and Roka’s life in America, their feelings for each other and the measures Roka was willing to take to become a vampire himself, until he tragically failed. What fate awaits them when one of them is destined to live forever, unlike the other one who is faced with his own mortality and the desperation of not being able to stay with his companion until eternity?

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Avoiding so many stereotypes established by previous works of the genre and delivering interesting twists and unusual details, Moon River can be called an almost realistic vampire story that can definitely be enjoyed by people who usually don’t read vampire stories. And it’s a Boys’ Love story, even for people who aren’t that much into BL – but also (and naturally), for BL fans. Hongō Chika can be considered a BL author; her only other comic volume published to date was published under the BExBOY Comics Deluxe label, for example. But since Moon River originally ran in Wings magazine (Shinshokan), the nature of Roka’s and Kurea’s relationship is only hinted at and never gets explicit or graphic. This story relies on few words and explanations in general which means a lot of reading between the lines is required from the reader. Emotional outbursts are almost nonexistent here. It is more concerned with everyday life, one’s daily habits and being present in the moment, with hints of the past and – in the end – of the future. Almost until the end, it preserves its quiet atmosphere that keeps feelings under the blanket of routine and the seemingly ordinary.

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)And Moon River is presented with a lot of restraint on more than one level, not just the narrative one. One of its most striking elements is the setting, the location of Roka’s apartment in a house with the river flowing openly behind it. (The author has identified the river as the Kandagawa and the location as Yayoi-chou in Nakano-ku, Tokyo, in one of her tweets.) The depiction of the quiet neighbourhood and the small, sometimes stifling apartment really draw you in as a comfortable place you want to be in with the characters. Angular architecture is paralleled by clean page layouts and panels dominated by rectangular, bold lines. The backgrounds are not too ornately detailed which serves and increases the low-key atmosphere of the entire work. The character designs are somehow reminiscent of the 1990s Wings style, with more emphasis on realism than on classic shōjo manga-style super pretty characters with sparkles in their eyes or roses decorating their hair. We do get a lot of interesting perspectives and a variety of facial expressions despite the simplicity. Emotions are expressed very well graphically in mostly subtle ways that mirror the characters’ inner restraint.

Moon River by Hongō Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)Even with all that holding back of deeper emotions, Moon River isn’t a heavy, depressing read. It manages to keep a balance between the sadder, sometimes shocking moments and calming scenes of daily routines and also scenes of comic relief. As quietly meandering as the story may seem throughout the first part of the book, it is unstoppably speeding toward its climax, set in motion by Roka and Kurea leaving the apartment by the riverside when they travel to Northern Japan. That journey gives a nod to Miyazawa Kenji and the snowy landscape of Northern Japan which dissolves the more rigid page designs from earlier on as the story races towards its dramatic ending. Yet until the last page, Moon River stays beautiful and calm.

Moon River by Hongo Chika (Wings Comics, Shinshokan)

Maybe every shōjo/BL work that’s telling a vampire story with more or less evident homoerotic elements must be prepared for comparisons with Hagio Moto’s classic Poe no Ichizoku. Moon River seems almost like its antithesis with its emphasis on everyday life, a small cast of characters that aren’t too complex (which by no means is meant as a bad thing here), foregoing the lavishly decorated, the grand and the epic. But it does hold at its core a theme central to the whole vampire sub-genre: the lingering within the stream of time, as humans die while vampires endure and have to witness the humans’ passing away. An important idea here is that of a piece of art, more specifically a picture book, but also literature and culture in general that preserve the essence of a human being long after its death. Through Roka’s & Kurea’s story, Hongō Chika tells her readers about the human desire to leave something behind that endures longer than our own life, that is of use to other people longer than our stay on earth. And here it’s being creative, more specifically creating something beautiful through its meaningfulness to others, that emerges as the essence of being human and that allows us to be connected with other minds, transcending time and space. Ultimately, it is a story about death and how to transcend it – the essence of the lyrics of Moon River, the song, and Moon River, the beautiful, simple but touching manga volume by Hongō Chika.

Title: Moon River (also stylized as moon river)
Author: Hongō Chika (本郷地下)
Volumes: 1 (complete; 2016)
ISBN: 978-4-403-62227-4
Format: B6
Prize: 590 Yen (excluding tax)
Magazine: Gekkan Wings
Label: Wings Comics
Publisher: Shinshokan
Additional information: Visit its info page on the Shinshokan website and click on the blue tameshiyomi button for a preview of the first 32 pages of the comic.

And now have a cookie for reading all the way down here: Hongō Chika herself posted the original illustration used for the final cover artwork through her Twitter account ↓

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Posted on May 19, 2017 (Fri, 1:34 am).

Remembering Yoshino Sakumi

Itsuka midori no hanataba by Yoshino Sakumi (Shogakukan)Today marks the first anniversary of mangaka Yoshino Sakumi’s death on April 20, 2016. The sad news came as a tremendous shock to many of us as it was so sudden and unexpected. Yoshino Sakumi, born in 1959, debuted in 1980 in Shueisha’s now folded Bouquet magazine and made a name for herself with works featuring memorably quirky characters, often twins, just as often going through a serious identity crisis, and exploring the depths of the human mind and soul. Shōnen wa kōya wo mezasu (1985-1987), Juliette no tamago (1988-1989) or the long-running period, published in Shogakukan’s defunct seinen magazine IKKI from 2004 to 2014, are among her most beloved and well-known works. Yoshino was also a respected film and literary critic and essayist.

Kioku no gihou by Yoshino Sakumi (Shogakukan)The works of her late period are closely linked with Shogakukan’s Gekkan flowers magazine. One of her strongest manga, the psychological thriller and human drama Kikoku no gihō (highly recommended if you want to buy a single bunko volume to sample the authors work, be prepared for some emotional shocks though!), was published in the very first issue of the magazine in 2002 and a colour illustration for it was used on the cover. Through the first and second decade of the new millenium, she kept coming back to the magazine for more one-shots and visually intriguing two-tone comics.

These last works, previously unpublished in comic book form, were lovingly compiled by the editors at flowers and turned into a beautifully designed single volume called Itsuka midori no hanataba (A Green Bouquet For You). The large A5 format book comes with a transparent dust jacket printed with flowers and contains several short and super short stories showcasing the range of this extremely talented author who had to leave this earth much too soon.

Cover design of Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

The title story is a romantic and touching ghost story while in the others included, readers will chance upon a dream dragon, a watermelon bringing possible death by doppelgänger, a princess with a bat as her earring, a green cat reminding a young woman of her guilty conscience, a woman obsessed with her fortune teller and an undertaker being the only one left after the powerhungry kings of the world have killed each other. Like many of Yoshino’s works, these stories depict the nature of us humans with a sharp sense for our dark side, but also with gentleness, poignancy and tongue-in-cheek humour.

Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

The largest part of the book is reserved for her second-to-last published short story, MOTHER, which was supposed to be continued soon in flowers until death ended this fantastic artist’s career. The unfinished 100-page rough script (called nēmu/name in Japanese) composed of dialogues and pencil-drawn sketches for the manga layout is also included in the book. It’s surprisingly readable and, as a look behind the scenes, interesting from a manga fan’s point of view, the story itself being a post-apocalyptic sci-fi vision of the future, in tone and subject very similar to some of Hagio Moto‘s works.

Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

Yoshino Sakumi's Itsuka midori no hanataba (Shogakukan)

As much as I miss Yoshino-sensei and would have loved to see her work on something longer again after finishing period, this wonderful book provides something like closure, as chlichéd as it might sound. She’ll always be in the top ten of my favourite mangaka and I hope her unique, sometimes shocking, always moving works will continue to fascinate readers for many years to come!

Title: Yoshino Sakumi Sakuhinshû – Itsuka midori no hanataba (吉野朔実作品集 いつか緑の花束に)
Author: Yoshino Sakumi (吉野朔実)
ISBN: 9784091670748
Publisher: Shogakukan
Format: A5, 248 pages
Year: 2016
Additional information: Last collection of short stories, published in December 2016 after the artist’s death on April 20, 2016. Contains works previously published in Gekkan flowers from 2004 to 2016: MOTHER and the unpublished follow-up in raw script form (name), the title story plus 3 other very short one-shots and 4 two-tone one-shots (black & red, black & green), plus a gallery of colour artworks, author comments and an interview recorded shortly before her death. More info at Shogakukan Comic.

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Posted on Apr 20, 2017 (Thu, 11:57 pm).


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