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.
PLEASE NOTE: For the most part, Japanese names appear in their original order - surname first, followed by the given name.
Japanese 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 â€œThe longing for women in mensâ€™ clothes – the design of characters leaping over the boarderâ€ 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 (JoÅbachi), with an accompanying photo spread taking up the first part of the magazine.
The producer of KIRAKIRA â˜† PRECURE A LA MODE talks about creating the character KenjÅ Akira (Cure Chocolat) thatâ€™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 Knightâ€™s Princess Sapphire to Ikeda Riyokoâ€™s Lady Oscar into the new millenium and follows in the footsteps of manga scholar Oshiyama Michiko’s research.
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. TenjÅ Utena (ShÅjo Kakumei Utena/Revolutionary Girl Utena, SaitÅ Chiho)
3. Akiko (Palace Meiji, Kuze Banko)
4. Ashiya Mizuki (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e/Hana-Kimi, NakajÅ Hisaya)
5. Fujioka Haruhi (ÅŒran KÅkÅ Hosuto-kurabu/Ouran High School Host Club, Hatori Bisco)
6. Sarasa (BASARA, Tamura Yumi)
7. Tominaga Sei (Kaze Hikaru, Watanabe Taeko)
8. Aramis (Anime SanjÅ«shi/The Three Musketeers Anime, Alexandre Dumas/Studio Gallop)
9. Nagao Kagetora (Yukibana no Tora, Higashimura Akiko)
10. Fujinami RyÅ«nosuke (Urusei Yatsura, Takahashi Rumiko)
11. Hatshepsut (Aoi Horus no Hitomi, InudÅ Chie)
12. Oscar FranÃ§ois 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 eâ€¦, Ikeda Riyoko)
15. Orihara Kaoru (Oniisama eâ€¦, 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 â€œ-Le Mouvement Final-â€œ and its Sailor Guardians who are â€œmore [attractive] than ikemen (attactive men).â€
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 shÅjo 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 shÅjo manga, I also highly recommend a look at Oshiyama Michiko’s book ShÅjo manga jendÄ hyÅshÅ-ron: ‘dansÅ no shÅjo’ no zÅkei to aidentiti [On the Representation of Gender in ShÅjo 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 shÅjo manga and closely related media!
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: NakajÅ 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 tankÅbon volumes and a 2-volume collection of spin-off short stories subtitled After School. NakajÅ 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).
The smiling girl on the cover is, of course, the mangaâ€™s heroine. Momose Momo – can a name get any peachier? – is late for her first day of high school. Of course. Sheâ€™s living with her grandparents after her parents died in an accident. We’ve heard that before. Sheâ€™s determined to lead a normal school life as your regular school girl. Again, no surprises here. And now regular readers of shÅjo 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. Sheâ€™s relieved to find that there are only so few of them hanging out on her new school grounds. Thereâ€™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.
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 ShirÅ, 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 hasnâ€™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.
Harimaru has a shocking revelation for Momo. She is the reincarnation of his master MomotarÅ (the hero of a Japanese folktale) while Harimaru used to be his sword. MomotarÅ, 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 MomotarÅ 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 Harimaruâ€™s body, helping him regain his strength.
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 MomotarÅ are around. Could it be the tsubaâ€™s doing that Momo suddenly hears a shrill sound at school when sheâ€™s surrounded by Aihara, Sumireâ€™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 NakajÅ Hisaya. Once you get to the last page, youâ€™ve encountered a ton of shÅjo manga tropes. If youâ€™re even remotely familiar with them, the plot turns here wonâ€™t be all that surprising. But there are also some very short flashbacks to events in Momoâ€™s past and her previous life as MomotarÅ, 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 seriesâ€™ fun and light atmosphere, turning it into a quick and entertaining read.
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 Momoâ€™s quest to find her group of former friends and stop the demonsâ€™ plan of revenge. And most importantly, thereâ€™s a lot of eye candy here in the form of pretty boys and the handsome man that is Harimaru, often presented in NakajÅâ€™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!
The image arsenal of traditional Japanese items but also the names and the allusion to the folktale of MomotarÅ, his three animal friends and their quest to defend an island from a group of demons are the mangaâ€™s visual and narrative backbone. Itâ€™s the mixture of these very elements and the present-day school life that lend the manga a true flavour of its own. Itâ€™s admittedly not reinventing the wheel called shÅjo 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 Harimaruâ€™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 thatâ€™s holding up the fast pace the first volume has set is its slow release rhythm caused by the fact itâ€™s being published in a monthly magazine. The next volume wonâ€™t be out until September at the earliest. I believe this series will settle at a one new tankÅbon every 8-9 months rhythm with the coming volumes which means plenty of time between releases if youâ€™re a not a magazine buyer :( But so far, this title is definitely worth the wait! Iâ€™m very curious to see where Momoâ€™s journey is headed and if the series can manage to keep its high-octane pace!
Title:Momo mo motto! (ã‚‚ã‚‚ã‚‚ã‚‚ã£ã¨!; stylized as Momomomotto!) Author: NakajÅ Hisaya (ä¸æ¡æ¯”ç´—ä¹Ÿ) 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.
If you were a manga reader around the time the world moved into the current millenium, you probably remember the birth of an unforgettable shÅjo 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 shÅjo 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 tankÅbon volumes selling millions of copies in its home country and, as translated versions, abroad.
In 2015 the publication of a 12-volume Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition (aizÅban), designed in a slightly larger format than the original tankÅbon 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 tankÅbon 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 TÅru and the members of the SÅma (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 SÅma clan universe as Furuba!
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-kÅkÅ, 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 doesnâ€™t want to cause trouble for anybody after a bad experience in elementary school which left her alone without friends. In best shÅjo 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 SÅma Mutsuki (why hello there, Furuba Yuki!). Together with another student and member of the SÅma clan, Hajime (a look-a-like of none other than KyÅ, 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.
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 KyÅ.) The SÅma 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 SÅma clan which complicates Sawa’s life at school only further. By meeting more members of the SÅma clan who either also go to Kaibara-kÅkÅ 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 SÅmas, 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 SÅma 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 TÅru changed by the SÅma clan and how does she in return change the SÅma 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 SÅma 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 SÅma family members here disappear just as quickly as theyâ€™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.
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…
[Compare these two images: Pictured above Yuki and KyÅ 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 SÅma 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 TÅru-Yuki-KyÅ 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.
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 aizÅban/collectorâ€™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 SÅma clan and their gorgeous character designs, the bickering between its two main family members (Mutsuki and Hajime here, the supposed sons of Yuki and KyÅ) 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 doesnâ€™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 (ãƒ•ãƒ«ãƒ¼ãƒ„ãƒã‚¹ã‚±ãƒƒãƒˆ another) Author: Takaya Natsuki (é«˜å±‹å¥ˆæœˆ) 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 tankÃ´bon.
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: