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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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Viewing all posts with tag: genre: human drama



[Review] When 1 + 1 = 1: WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)Imagine finding yourself in the body of somebody else, all of a sudden able to explore another person’s life while also being cut off from the life you lead in your ‘old’ body. And finding out the previous ‘owner’ of your current body is now living in your ‘old’ body. Sounds both frightening and kind of exciting, doesn’t it? WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)
In Yamashita Tomoko’s 2-volume manga WHITE NOTE PAD, two people leading fundamentally different lives have become victims of such a body swap experience caused by supposedly cosmic circumstances: 17-year-old schoolgirl Odamaki Hana and 38-year-old automobile engineer Kine Shōgo. Now, two years later, they unexpectedly meet each other, their respective old bodies, and have to confront the fact that their old lives are no longer their own and also, that they both are no longer able to live without the other…

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)As we soon learn, it is Kine, now in the body of Hana, who seems to have adapted seamlessly to the body switch. He has become a successful model working for a young women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine. After they meet again, he-as-Hana is able to secure Hana, now in the body of Kine, a job as an assistant for the editorial department of the fashion magazine Hana models for. Hana-as-Kine, on the other hand, has had to pretend to suffer from a sudden memory loss as she was understandably unable to function in Kine’s workplace in an automobile factory. She also has to realize that Kine has been living a pretty lonely life with just a small social circle of co-workers and friends, a situation that deteriorates further after Hana-as-Kine has to quit his job. But while she still has the mind of a now 19-year-old girl who used to be rather shy in school, her shoulders always hunched forward, she’s starting to work hard in her new job with her own trademark empathy for the people around her, making friends among the magazine staff and slowly improving the career and even the outward appearance of Kine, her ‘new’ body and identity.

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)Kine has been enjoying a new-found freedom and excitement as the inhabitant of the body of a young woman. He’s become a little addicted to everyone complimenting him on his body and feels good exposing it, literally posing as Hana – in front of the camera and for the people around him. Eager to explore his sexuality as a young woman, he even starts dating a young co-worker. At the same time, he’s a little careless with the body given to him when it comes to his sexual endeavours, resulting in a change in Hana’s ‘old’ body that will have a huge impact on the way Kine and Hana are linked to each other…

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)The mastermind behind this intriguing story is Yamashita Tomoko, who enjoys immense popularity as both a Boys’ Love manga artist and a regular contributor to Shodensha’s josei-oriented manga magazine Feel Young, in which this 2-volume manga was serialized. Here, in WHITE NOTE PAD, she uses an interesting time frame: the body switch caused by (super)natural circumstances is mentioned in the beginning as the event that robbed Hana of her old life. But Yamashita leaves the causes and technicalities of that mysterious incident unexplained and her protagonists, while struggling with the body switch itself, seem to accept it as irreversible.

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)After that introduction, we are propelled forward into a present two years later when both characters have already adapted to their new bodies. We are provided with flashbacks later on in the story and only then we are confronted with body swap clichés of the very physical what-would-I-do-with-myself-if-I-were-a-young-woman (or man, respectively) kind. Yamashita subverts these expectations of the body swap genre even further, as these stereotypical scenes of familiarizing yourself with a body of the previously opposite sex are delivered in a drily comical, detached tone. They are not sexy in any way but depicted rather matter-of-factly, with its characters, especially Hana (now in the body of a 40-year-old man), coming across as clumsy but also resignatedly accepting. Visually, this is supported by Yamashita’s fantastic sensibilities for body postures and facial expressions which form an integral part of the character development and make it possible to tell this story in a subtle way and leave a lot unsaid.

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)Yamashita’s clean, realistic art which uses lots of white and contrasting black spaces supports the often matter-of-fact tone and the stream of consciousness style monologues which are constantly reflecting on the question of the two protagonists’ completely new identities. That visual style counters the heaviness of the story which often just hints with a few lines at what drives or even torments the two main characters, just like the quiet scenes of everyday life balance out the heavier topics of identity, gender expectations, sex and social life including family. Throughout the manga, Yamashita reuses the imagery of water, the sea, the coastal landscape and the wind – the scenery in which that fateful body switch happened to Hana and Kine. Clean and tidy page layouts during quiet slice-of-life scenes often dissolve to make room for aquatic imagery and a fluid, sketch-like style. The color images for the cover artworks in their very light watercolors and pencil outlines might seem like sketches, too. The cover of the first volume, for example, shows an almost ghostly Hana wearing a semi-transparent dress, showing off her body while we have to acknowledge the fact that we’re unable to truly look inside her, to see the mind inside her body. So we’re left wondering: is it the ‘original’ Hana, or is it Kine’s mind insider her body?

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)The aquatic imagery is repeatedly used here as a metaphor to express how both protagonists become entangled with each other, physically and mentally. They are on a journey to create meaningful futures for themselves and, given the chance to literally be somebody else, to fulfill their own expectations of what a meaningful life should look like. They are now formed and defined as people both by their previous memories and experiences in their ‘old’ bodies AND the way people react to them now in their ‘new’ bodies, the expectations people have of them now. So their minds are in a sort of middle position were the old and the new, the internal (their own points of view) and the external (the expectations and reactions other people have in relation to them) are starting to become intertwined. After mentally growing into a body of the opposite sex and its specific environment while retaining their original personalities, that specific body and environment has been making them act in certain ways, giving them new possibilities and ambitions, which in turn change them and their personalities. So they have to realize they’re turning into completely new people they wouldn’t have become without that body switch experience. They also have to come to terms with the fact that they will be linked for the rest of their lives and that the process of becoming ‘mixed’, which is constantly alluded to in the internal monologues, is still ongoing, an internal process visually reflected through waves and similar water-related symbols.

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)After they meet again, things get even more complicated as they’re now intergral parts of each other’s lives. They are no longer isolated and one person alone, but a pair, two inseparable people forever bound together as at the end of the manga, they’re gearing toward a huge change in Hana’s life which will seal the pair’s fate forever. This gives them the strong advantage of no longer feeling the kind of existential loneliness other ‘normal’ people feel which is ultimately one of those unexpected, eye-opening moments the reader experiences throughout this intriguing story.

WHITE NOTE PAD by Yamashita Tomoko (Feel Comics FC SWING, Shodensha)The body swap in WHITE NOTE PAD functions as the starting point of a journey for both the characters and the reader. It is an interesting fantasy grounded in magical realism (with the emphasis on realism) and, after all, an experience only fiction can provide. While the series is pretty short, it is still packed with surprising twists and turns, impressive character development, and thought-provoking gender politics. This being a josei-oriented series aimed at (young) women it is not surprising that there’s not an overwhelming amount of fast-paced action – except maybe toward the end which comes a little abrupt, making it almost difficult to already say goodbye to these two people who, in the course of the story, have so curiously become hard to separate.

While the manga is very introspective, emotional and literary (also in the sense that this is a manga that can easily be enjoyed by people who usually read literature only), the conflicts depicted in it are never overdramatized. Through the protagonists’ strong will to make the best of their situations a resolution is always on the horizon as these two characters really try to evolve. So despite the roughness and complexity of the manga’s topics, Yamashita Tomoko provides us here with a warm, positive view of what human beings are capable of which makes WHITE NOTE PAD an absolutely satisfying and even inspiring read.

Title: WHITE NOTE PAD
Author: Yamashita Tomoko (ヤマシタトモコ)
Volumes: 2 (2015-2016; completed)
Magazine: Feel Young
Label: Feel Comics FC SWING
Publisher: Shodensha
Additional information: Preview the first pages of volume 1 here.

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Posted on Dec 14, 2018 (Fri, 8:34 pm). .

[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). .

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




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