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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), josei-oriented manga (Japanese comics for women) and manga created by women (in the widest sense). Topics from other fields of relevance, such as music, art, literature and film may be discussed here as well.

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For the most part, Japanese names appear in their original order - surname first, followed by the given name.

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Viewing all posts with tag: keyword: death



[Artist Profile/Manga Review] 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 Kioku no gihō (highly recommended if you want to buy one 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These last works, previously unpublished in comic book form, were lovingly compiled by the editors at flowers and turned into a beautifully designed single volume called Itsuka midori no hanataba (A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 Sakuhinshū – 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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Categories: Manga Review, Mangaka Profile.
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Posted on Apr 20, 2017 (Thu, 11:57 pm). .

[Manga Review] More Than Family: Yajirobē by Yamakawa Aiji

Yajirobee 1 by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)One of the most horrible things that can happen to a young child is to lose its mother. This is exactly what happened to 5-year old Haru. Now, 10 years later, Haru looks back on her life with Seiji, her stepfather. Both are the only family they have for each other as Seiji has been keeping his distance from his own blood relatives since his strict grandmother never liked Haru’s mother. Haru realizes that Seiji still misses her mother and feels sad about the empty space she left behind both in his and in Haru’s life. Haru on the other hand also notices small changes in her feelings toward Seiji which leads her to confront the question what Seiji’s role has been so far and will be from now on in Haru’s life.

colour illustration for Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)Just like with a yajirobē, a T-shaped balancing toy with two little balls or weights hanging on the opposite sides of a thin strip of metal or other materials that spins around on a wood handle, the characters of the same-titled short manga series by Yamakawa Aiji (see our mangaka profile for her here) find themselves always at a distance from each other, a distance they reluctantly try to overcome. In a way, Haru can be seen as the wooden stick of the toy, the center around which different pairs of people circle. She observes their relationships to each other and to herself. When Seiji and Haru have to move out of their soon-to-be demolished apartment, she meets her childhood friend Bonta who she hasn’t seen in more than a year after he and his parents had moved out of the apartment next door. He’s a year older than Haru and classic shōjo manga love interest material – cool and aloof on the outside but also clumsily caring and attentive towards Haru. Haru cannot help but slowly realize there is now more than pure friendship between them. After she successfully manages to get into the same high school as Bonta, they see each other more regularly at school, a perfect chance to get a little closer to each other.

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

Another pair Haru watches is Seiji and his friend Kawabata-san who squats at their apartment whenever he feels like it. And with a mixture of curiousity and jealousy Haru observes his stepfathers platonic relationship with Chie, a now divorced single mother and a stunningly beautiful woman who Seiji meets again at a flea market. Haru finds out that Seiji rejected Chie’s advancements years ago when they were university students. Chie is a person who wants to make everybody like her so Seiji’s resistance to her charms is a puzzle to Chie, Kawabata and Haru alike. Even more confusing to Haru is Towa, Chie’s son who is one year younger than Haru. He seems a little mysterious and excentric but also tries to reach out to Haru whenever they meet. Then there’s Seiji and Chie who can’t seem to get closer to each other because Seiji always sees Haru as the priority in his life.

While in her monologues Haru often ponders the people and things she has lost so far in her life, the manga as a whole feels both mellow and light-hearted a lot of the time. Haru was lucky enough to have Seiji by her side after her mother died so her death wasn’t quite as traumatic as it could have been to other less fortunate children. Seiji fully takes on the roles of a father and a mother. He almost turns into a housewife for Haru, showing her how to cook (and letting her do things her way even when she fails) and how to grow vegetables in his small garden. When he brings home some young tomato plants one day, Haru realizes after a while that Seiji raised her not from the seed but from the time she was already a small plant. And with Seiji’s care, love and attention she managed to grow and turn into something beautiful just like the tomatoes that are now ripening in their garden.

Yajirobee 2 by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)But the main theme in this manga remains the question of how to communicate your feelings and intentions to somebody else without being too imposing on the other person. How do you overcome your fear of being rejected when you feel attracted to somebody and want to tell them how you feel? These questions aren’t just raised in a romantic context. Haru learns how to be more open about her feelings from Towa’s mother Chie, a kind of ersatz mother. She also teaches Haru how to use makeup which Seiji as a man wouldn’t have been able to do. Something Haru still wants to achieve is help Seiji get closer to his seemingly cold and disapproving grandmother again. The possibility of her and Seiji gaining a bigger family is just around the corner…

chapter cover illustration for Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)A young girl and her stepfather, a teenage boy whose parents got divorced, remarried and are expecting a baby again, another boy who was raised by a divorced single mother, a young man who suddenly had to become a father to a girl who isn’t his relative by blood and who has lost contact with his own family because of that, another young man who – lacking a family of his own – finds company in the household of his old friend and his stepdaughter. These are the unconventional forms of family Yamakawa portrays through Haru’s observing eyes. There is a multitude of options for living together as human beings. And Haru realizes one important thing: she has to tell Seiji how she feels. In a long birthday letter that will not leave even the most stonehearted of readers untouched, she expresses her gratitude toward him for being exactly what a father is supposed to be to her. And yet until the very end of the story, a certain kind of ambiguity between her and Seiji will remain, because Haru finds out that Seiji and her mother’s relationship was about to change just before her death, making it also possible for Haru to take her mother’s place and to let Seiji become hers, something else than family…

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

And thus the story ends on an ambiguous note. On the inside cover of the second volume, Yajirobē is listed as an ongoing work but Yamakawa started another longer series, Stand Up!, after this so one might as well see this as a finished work. Finished and accomplished. Yamakawa has managed to fully make use of the shōjo manga genre to tell a multi-facetted story with complex characters. There is an air of nostalgia surrounding Haru as she’s standing right between childhood and adulthood, something that makes it easy to identify with her whether you’re her age or an adult because it’ll make you recognize or remember your own feelings between longing for a childhood that’s now gone and the insecurities and uncertainties of becoming an adult. This is also mirrored in the art and the designs used for the cover with their nostalgic water colors, the soft retro color schemes with their white outlines contrasting with the chic and modern fonts used for the title.

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

Yamakawa’s beautiful art throughout the manga always makes it easy to become completely absorbed into Haru’s (and at times Seiji’s) thoughts and the way she observes her surroundings. Yamakawa’s story-telling is subtle, almost restrained yet deeply exploring, questioning without coming up with definite answers. (It’s actually very rewarding to read the manga a second and even a third time to fully grasp each character’s motivations, to get the full picture of what drives them, what sources of pain and hurt are buried in their pasts.) Her visual effects go along with that as her artwork is often light, airy, almost sketchy. When the story moves into heavier territory she often relies on completely black backgrounds on which the white text of the internal monologue – or as in one of the most moving scenes, Haru’s written words to Seiji – are almost etched into the readers’ eyes. Those sparse words leave an impact on the characters’ as well as the readers’ minds. The slender figures of the characters, the stream of consciousness-like floating monologue layered over tender scenes of the everyday, the subtle gestures between two characters fighting to overcome their distance without words – they all lend this manga a sense of fragility and vulnerability that never becomes too painful because Yamakawa’s main philosophy is that of a humane gentleness in social interactions.

Verdict: In a perfect world, this would have become a bestselling instant classic. But since it hasn’t, at least for the time being, it’s now up to us, the readers, to spread the word about this fantastic, moving, deeply human work. This a true gem not to be missed!

Title: Yajirobē (やじろべえ)
Author: Yamakawa Aiji (山川あいじ)
Volumes: 2 (complete; 2011-2012)
Magazine: Bessatsu Margaret, Bessatsu Margaret sister (2010-2011)
Label: Margaret Comics
Publisher: Shueisha

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Categories: Manga Review.
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Posted on Apr 6, 2017 (Thu, 1:38 am). .

Writers on Screen

Well look, another summer’s almost over and I’ve still not fully recovered from my bad case of blogging fatigue caused by writing too much in other places. But today I come here with something slightly more substantial than nothing, something which doesn’t even require that many words.
Of course I can’t stray too far from the area that has pretty much taken over my real life – literature. Hence this post shall be a TV pop culture meets literature sort of collection:

1. American Writers on Gossip Girl: A Deadly Adventure?

Last September, Gossip Girl came back with its second season in which Dan Humphrey landed himself an internship with a famous writer played by none other than Jay McInerney. How fitting for all parties involved!

Jay McInerney on Gossip Girl

But then a few months later, I started to have doubts about what exactly fate might have in store for writers who appear on that show, even just indirectly. Because in “You’ve Got Yale!”, episode 16 of season 2, our budding writer Dan Humphrey could be spooted reading an old paperback of John Updike‘s Rabbit Redux in a trendy coffee house.

Dan Humphrey and his reading material

Product placement of John Updike's Rabbit Redux

Now, in any other case I would have said ‘Congratulations, great product placement!’ or rolled my eyes and thought ‘OK, Humphrey’s the quiet, intellectual guy of the show, I get it (only he’s not)!’. But this whole thing seemed completely bizarre because this very episode was aired on January 19, 2009 and only a little more than a week later, on January 27, John Updike died…! When I heard the news of Updike’s death, that image of Humphrey holding Updike’s novel in his hands flashed up in my mind and I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s really safe for a writer to be featured on Gossip Girl… (Insert thoughtful silence here.)

2. Murakami, Murakami everywhere

Look who was scheduled for an operation at Seattle Grace in episode 18 of season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy (airing date March 19, 2009):

The Schedule at Seattle Grace Hospital - click for larger version.

Murakami Haruki up for operation?

Richard Powers? And Murakami Haruki? Seems like the set designers were getting a little too carried away with their love for certain writers… Or maybe there is no such thing? Anyway, I sincerely hope the operation was a success and they sewed up Haruki properly again!

Shinkai Makoto's Kumo no mukou, yakusoku no bashoSpeaking of my favourite portrayer of the Sheep Man:
I saw the anime movie Kumo no mukou, yakusoku no basho (The Place Promised in our Early Days) the other day and while I was watching it I couldn’t help but notice certain similarities to Murakami Haruki’s works – the atmosphere, the parallel reality issue, the tower, the way the protagonist expressed himself in the monologues etc. Afterwards I saw the interview with the director Shinkai Makoto that was included on the DVD, which was shot in a place that looked like his work office. There were two screens in the background which showed important scenes and background designs for the film and then yes, I noticed in stack of two books drawn for the film one book I actually own:

Interview with Shinkai Makoto

Two not so mysterious books.

The blue book at the bottom is the Japanese hardcover edition of the first volume of Murakami Haruki’s Umibe no Kafuka/Kafka on the Shore complete with its obi and everything. I’m not sure if the image of the two books was used directly in the movie itself at some point because I’ve watched it only once so far and saw the interview afterwards, but expressing your love for literature and your favourite authors in every possible way, across all media, is simply admirable and obviously a pleasure for everyone involved ;)

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Categories: Anime, Books/Literature/Writing, European & American Literature, Film/TV, Japanese Literature, Various.
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Posted on Aug 5, 2009 (Wed, 2:23 am). .




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