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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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Viewing all posts with tag: publisher: shueisha



[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). .

[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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Posted on Apr 6, 2017 (Thu, 1:38 am). .

[Mangaka Profile] Yamakawa Aiji (山川あいじ)

Namakemono to Haru by Yamakawa AijiAround the beginning of the current millenium, a number of young manga artists debuted through Shueisha’s monthly shōjo manga magazine Bessatsu Margaret (Betsuma) and its now defunct bimonthly sister magazine Deluxe Margaret (Derama), immediately grabbing their readers’ attention with eye-catching illustrations that relied heavily on cute details and ornaments, bright and often bold color combinations and intricate fashion designs. Their stories’ heroines were school girls whose lives and thoughts orbitted around school, friendship and, just as importantly, boys which isn’t all that surprising considering the target readership and the tradition of their ‘mothership’ magazine. But these girls went about their daily routines in style. They tried to find freedom in their restricted day to day life inside their own microcosm of female friends and boys while mirroring contemporary fashion trends with their pop punk or gyaru-style clothes. And just as prominent were their big eyes originally reserved for characters from Ribon, Betsuma‘s younger sister magazine mostly read by elementary school girls. It is definitely not wrong to assume that these young artists were heavily influenced by one of the most popular mangaka published through Ribon in the early 1990s, Yazawa Ai and her fashionable yet assertive girls.

It was always up to the respective artists how much they wanted to rely on style over substance or the other way around, going deeper than just that pretty surface and showing the insecurities, challenges, mistakes but also happiness and freedom their characters experienced on their way to (more or less) owning their future. The artists who were the most successful at combining light-hearted, fun aesthetics and tone with an underlying melancholy and seriousness were, to me, Aruko whose collaboration with Kawahara Kazune, Ore Monogatari!! (My Love Story!!) became a bestselling series read by both girls and boys, women and men alike, Takano Ichigo (who ironically rose to fame with orange only after Betsuma/Shueisha basically dropped her and Futabasha had the good sense to take her in instead) and also, to a lesser extend, Yamaguchi Izumi, but especially Yamakawa Aiji.

Renren by Yamakawa AijiYamakawa Aiji (山川あいじ) started her career like most shōjo mangaka with a string of short stories and shorter series published in Betsuma and Derama with a steady output of one annual volume of collected short stories from 2002 to 2006. What kept readers coming back for more were her beautiful color artworks, her stories and heroines that emanated youth and freshness, boldness but also vulnerability and uncertainty. Then the string of new works was somehow broken and while I kept waiting for her name to appear in Betsuma again there was nothing, nothing but silence.

Chocolate Underground by Yamakawa AijiThe next time I spotted her name in Betsuma again, I did a double take: in 2008, she published a mini-series called Chocolate Underground, an adaptation of an Alan Shearer novel for children called Bootleg about an underground youth resistance movement formed after chocolate had been banned by the government. The story was more shōnen material than anything but what was even more surprising was Yamakawa’s refined new character design and artistic style. Gone were the overly huge eyes, the girly designs of the color illustrations, the focus on school uniforms brought to life with the latest fashion items and accessories!

About two years before Aruko did the same, Yamakawa collaborated with Kawahara Kazune, a hugely popular but more mainstream Betsuma artist, for a one-volume short series called Tomodachi no Hanashi (plus an additional one shot) in 2009-2010. Yamakawa contributed the visuals, i.e. the manga itself, while Kawahara penned the story. This was more in vein of what Yamakawa had published previously. But her artistic evolution made one wonder what direction her stories would take now, if she would write her own stories again. And she did so immediately after her collab, with a new shorter series called Yajirobē which was collected in two volumes in 2011 and 2012 respectively. It can’t be stressed enough how absolutely stunning this manga is – the artwork and story are both subtle, restrained yet go beyond and much deeper than the average shōjo manga fare her peers create. Yajirobē deserves all the attention it can get and I will post a full review of it here very soon!

Yamakawa Aiji’s style after her comeback had changed so much that Shueisha gave her the chance to republish her first two collections of short stories, Chōcho ni naru (originally published in 2002) and Futaribocchi (2003) with new cover designs in 2011, coinciding with the release of the first volume of Yajirobē. See the images below for a comparison of the old vs. the new cover designs.

The original cover designs for Yamakawa Aiji's Choucho ni naru and Futaribocchi  The new cover designs for the re-releases of Yamakawa's two early short story collections

Cover illustration by Yamakawa Aiji for MdN magazineIn early 2014, the design magazine MdN devoted one of their issues to the “shōjo manga design revolution” brought about by the fact that the big publishing companies gradually stopped using uniform cover designs for each of their comic labels. Graphic design companies are now hired to collaborate with the mangaka for the comic book covers and a serie’s “graphic identity.” The cover of MdN featured an illustration by none other than Yamakawa Aiji who represented more than anyone else the new freedom found in the art and design of mainstream shōjo manga.

But back to Yamakawa’s work as a mangaka. Even though the second volume of Yajirobē promised a continuation of the story, the series pretty much ended after that volume with an open end but in a quite conclusive and satisfying way for the reader. Yamakawa’s next series, Stand Up!, marked the move from Betsuma to its bimonthly sister magazine The Margaret. So far, three volumes have been released but Yamakawa had to stop working on the series and then vanished almost completely from the professional manga world in late 2014/early 2015. In April 2015 the editors of The Margaret had to let their readers know that Stand Up! would go on an indefinite hiatus because of the artist’s health issues.

Cover illustration by Yamakawa Aiji for the Betsuma 2/2017 furoku One can only speculate about the reasons for her disappearance as a mangaka. A possible explanation could be the huge stress put upon the shoulders of manga artists who have to meet magazine deadlines for the latest chapter of their works. Stand Up! wasn’t even running regularly in The Margaret which comes out every 2 months and it was Yamakawa’s only running series so her workload must have been relatively low compared to that of other, busier artists. But then there’s also the need to conform to the genre conventions of the magazine your work is running in which you are more or less gently reminded of by your editor who knows what readers want and expect from your work through the “enquette” postcards sent in. Add a little bit of pressure and doubts you give yourself as an artist and storyteller, the financial insecurities of a freelance artist, the toll that the pressure and committment to your work can take on your own health but also your social relationships… Reasons to stop working as a professional mangaka exist in abundance but I hope Yamakawa Aiji makes it through somehow!

Cover illustration by Yamakawa Aiji for the Betsuma 4/2017 furoku manga Yamakawa has been publishing a bit of idol-related work as a doujinshi author under a different pen name but apart from that, it’s become relatively quiet as far as a continuation of Stand Up! or a new story are concerned, unfortunately. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though! Yamakawa Aiji contributed the cover artwork for the furoku manga volume which came with Betsuma 2/2017 (released January 13; see the cover above). And she did another (super cute!!) cover illustration for the furoku manga volume titled Kiss Collection coming with Betsuma 4/2017 (released a few days ago, on March 13; see right for the cover). For now one can only hope that Yamakawa Aiji makes a full recovery and resurfaces in the professionally published manga world very soon because her unique style and engaging stories from her very memorable characters’ points of view are such a vital contribution to the world of shōjo manga!

Please stay tuned for a review of one of Yamakawa Aiji’s longer works, the 2-volume Yajirobē coming very very soon!

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Posted on Mar 17, 2017 (Fri, 2:01 am). .




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