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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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[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).

[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).


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