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Posted by Katherine Dacey

After Hours and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness epitomize a small but growing trend in yuri manga licensing: both focus on women in their twenties exploring their sexuality, rather than depicting middle- or high-school aged girls crushing on each other.

After Hours is the more upbeat of the two, a sympathetic portrait of twenty-three-year-old Emi, a recent college graduate who’s just quit her job and is struggling to figure out what comes next. A chance encounter with Kei, a twenty-nine-year-old deejay, is a turning point in Emi’s young adult life: not only is she drawn to Kei’s confidence, she’s also intrigued by Kei’s passion for spinning records, a passion that’s missing from Emi’s own life. As their connection deepens, Emi takes a more active role in supporting Kei’s career, joining Kei’s circle of friends and trying her hand at “veejaying,” selecting videos to complement Kei’s set lists.

One of the most striking aspects of After Hours is Yuhta Nishio’s sensitive depiction of Emi and Kei’s sexual encounters. He uses a handful of discrete signifiers — a pile of clothing on the floor, a tender embrace, a flirtatious post-coital chat — rather than explicit or provocative imagery. That’s a wise choice, I think, as it allows Nishio to recognize Emi and Kei as grown women with healthy sexual urges without reducing them to sexualized objects. Instead, Nishio shows the reader how the women’s bodily intimacy fosters trust, familiarity, and affection — a dimension of sexual experience that’s often missing from straight romance manga.

Though the first chapters are largely uneventful, future volumes promise dramatic complications. Emi has yet to disclose her relationship to her friends or her not-quite-ex-boyfriend, with whom she’s still sharing an apartment. More interestingly, Emi hasn’t really thought about what it means to be in a relationship with another woman; she’s initially surprised by her attraction to Kei, but resists labeling those feelings as lesbian, bisexual, or queer, choosing instead to savor the sense of purpose and joy that being with Kei brings to her life. The ease with which Emi embraces her new love is a refreshing development, a quiet rebuttal of the idea that sexual orientation is absolute or easily defined.

By contrast, Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a more complex story, a confessional comic documenting the author’s sexual awakening in her late twenties. Nagata narrates her odyssey with candor, acknowledging the degree to which mental illness dictated her adult life. She describes the bodily ravages of disordered eating — she vacillated between anoxeria and bulimia — and the emotional toll of disordered thinking, noting the degree to which both depression and body dysmorphia prevented her from holding down a job, maintaining friendships, or thinking about herself as a sexual person. She also ruminates on her chilly relationship with her parents, and her profound sense of shame in disappointing them by not becoming a “real” adult with a conventional office job.

After hitting rock bottom, Nagata realizes the degree to which she’s suppressed her sexuality. In an effort to reassert control over her life — a process that includes reinventing herself as a manga artist — Nagata decides to hire a female escort for her first sexual experience. Nagata documents this encounter in an almost clinical fashion, contrasting her feverish anticipation with her stiff, detached response to being touched. For all of her progress towards mental health and self-acceptance, she realizes that she cannot yet surrender to the bodily sensations of desire — a tension that remains unresolved at the end of her narrative, even though Nagata’s final panels suggest her sense of relief and pride for taking such a bold step.

That Nagata’s journey is more inspiring than depressing is a testament to her writing skills (and, I might add, Jocelyne Allen’s artfully wry translation). Though Nagata never shies away from describing uncomfortable thoughts or self-destructive behavior, she finds moments of grace and humor in even the darkest situations, especially as she begins to contemplate what it means to be a sexual person. In three sharp, economical panels, for example, she explores her profound discomfort with binary gender labels, even as she begins to recognize her sexual attraction to women:

It feels churlish to criticize such a personal work, and yet I found myself wishing that Nagata’s art felt more essential to the story she was telling. Writing for The Comics Journal, critic Katie Skelly voiced similar concerns, arguing that Nagata’s tendency to mix big blocks of text with cute drawings keeps the reader at arm’s length when Nagata discloses intimate, sometimes disturbing, details of her eating disorders and self-mutilation. “Nagata can’t find a suitable bridge to mend the gap between the story of her experience and aesthetic,” Skelly notes. “[H]er style can read as generic and her tone never quite finds its mark.” I admit to feeling the same way about Nagata’s work: I admired her raw honesty, but felt that My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness could have been a book, a movie, or a Moth Radio Hour segment just as easily as a comic; nothing about the way Nagata related her experiences felt like it was uniquely suited to manga, as her drawings were more illustrative of what she felt than genuinely revelatory about why she felt such profound self-loathing.

For all the things that go unsaid in My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, however, there’s much wisdom in Nagata’s story, especially for people struggling with what it means to be healthy, whole, and sexual. Nagata’s gradual journey to wellness is a testament to the human capacity for resilience, and her willingness to share her most vulnerable moments with strangers an act of genuine courage. Here’s hoping that she continues to document her journey of self-discovery.

VIZ Media provided a complimentary review copy of After Hours.

AFTER HOURS • STORY AND ART BY YUHTA NISHIO • TRANSLATION BY ABBY LEHRKE • 160 pp. • RATED TEEN+ (for older teens)

MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE WITH LONELINESS • STORY AND ART BY NAGATA KABI • TRANSLATED BY JOCELYNE ALLEN • SEVEN SEAS • 152 pp. • RATED OT (for older teens)

Baccano!: 2001 The Children of Bottle

Sep. 22nd, 2017 07:59 am
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Posted by Sean Gaffney

By Ryohgo Narita and Katsumi Enami. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

This must have been quite startling to readers at the time, and it’s still pretty startling. The first four books in this series all took place around the same two year period, and there was no reason to expect anything else. Thus suddenly jumping forward to 2001 is jarring, even if you do know intellectually that a large number of the cast are Immortals. Furthermore, Isaac and Miria, bar a cameo at the start (which ended up being used in the anime) and the end, are absent from this book. But that’s OK, because we are introduced in this book to Elmer C. Albatross, a man with so much sheer force of personality that he tends to overwhelm the narrative when he’s in it. Having him interact with Isaac and Miria would be like eating something too sweet. Best to have moderation. That said, this is still an excellent volume of Baccano!.

The girl on the cover is Fil, and she is essentially the heart of this book. (To avoid too many spoilers, I will try not to refer to her as Fil and the Filtones.) The basic premise has Maiza and Czeslaw, who we’re familiar with from previous books, searching the world for the remaining immortals from the 1711 ship journey where they gained said immortality. The goal is to tell said immortals they can stop hiding, as Szilard is now dead. They pick up two more for this journey: Sylvie, a gorgeous women who was hell-bent on nothing but revenge on Szilard and has to figure out what to do now that someone else got there first; and Nile, a large North African man who has spent his immortality fighting in wars and wears a mask because his face no longer shows emotions when doing things like killing people. They are now all arriving at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in Europe, where Maiza has been told he may find Elmer. He does find Elmer, but also finds what Elmer’s been doing for the last few years: trying to make everyone smile.

Elmer is one of the most awaited introductions for longtime Baccano! fans, and he doesn’t disappoint. As I said earlier, on the surface he might seem a bit like Isaac and Miria, but that’s just the surface. Elmer is a bit broken, and his quest for smiles at any cost, no matter how inappropriate the time, no matter if he’s talking about a killer, no matter if it involves selling everyone’s soul – it’s just disturbing when you dig down into it. He’s doing the right thing here, but it’s not really for the right reason, and yet in the end you can’t help but love Elmer, even as you find him vaguely disquieting – I suspect if I met him in real life he’d be unbearable. (I suspect that about a lot of Baccano! characters.) The rest of the cast also get stuff to do – Czes shows that years and years of physical, mental and emotional abuse can still affect you even almost a hundred years later, Sylvie gets to be sympathetic and sweet (mostly; she’s noticeably different when only around the other immortals), and Nile at first seems to be comic relief till an absolutely stunning speech that rips into a character’s desire to end their life with beautiful precision.

Speaking of Nile, let’s talk translation. Baccano! has a large fan community who translated many of the books before they were officially licensed. That hasn’t been an issue before this, as the first four books had fan translations ranging from adequate to awful. 2001, though, had a really good translation, so I was concerned fans would be wedded to that and object to anything different. That said, having finished the book, I think we’re good. The main concern is Nile’s way of speaking. He has a habit of prefacing his sentences with “Let me just say this:” and variations, which emphasizes his declamatory language and also shows a bit that he’s constantly asking permission to speak, something Maiza calls him out on. The fan translation had “I say this:” which is more literal but not as smooth. I think Taylor Engel does a very good job of making each character’s speech pattern distinct, which is important, as not everyone’s dialogue is as eccentric as Nile’s.

I haven’t talked much about the actual plot of the book, but that’s because it’s one of those books where I don’t want to give away the surprises too much. Suffice it to say I found it very enjoyable, and think you will as well. And if you’re annoyed that we don’t get more of Firo, or Isaac and Miria, or Jacuzzi and Nice, well, we’re back to the 1930s with the next five books.

Oh yes, and ‘Children of Bodom’ is the title reference, a Finnish metal band.

Manga the Week of 9/27/17

Sep. 21st, 2017 09:46 pm
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Posted by Sean Gaffney

SEAN: Another final week of the month with far more than we’d come to expect for a final week of the month. Mainly thanks to our friends at Kodansha (yeah, sorry Ash, it’s all digital again).

ASH: They may be digital, but at least there’s some really great manga being released!

ANNA: It is true, but it also makes me a little wary, having seen plenty of digital manga efforts go under in the past.

SEAN: Starting with their weekly Del Rey rescue, Princess Resurrection 18.

The first digital debut this week is All-Out!, which is a rugby manga. I’ll repeat that: a rugby manga has been licensed for North America. It runs in Kodansha’s experimental seinen magazine Morning Two, and is, I’ll repeat once more, a RUGBY MANGA. Must buy.

MICHELLE: Ooooooh. I have really appreciated the seinen difference in Giant Killing, so I’m obviously all over this one.

ASH: Yup. This one has caught my eye, too.

ANNA: This sounds interesting.

SEAN: Altair: A Record of Battles has a 4th volume digitally.

And there’s a 2nd Black Panther and Sweet 16, for shoujo fans. Also digital.

DAYS 5 reminds you that it’s not just rugby manga out there this week.

MICHELLE: Woot.

SEAN: DEATHTOPIA has a 4th volume as well.

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life has a 2nd volume of, my guess is, yokai living in apartments. Elegantly. (Though not as elegantly as Michiru Kaioh.)

MICHELLE: No one could ever be as elegant.

MELINDA: I am intrigued by the title alone.

SEAN: Print at last, and the debut of Frau Faust, a josei (ish) title that runs in Itan, from the creator of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. It’s a genderbent take on the classic tale, and I greatly enjoyed the first volume.

MICHELLE: I’m looking forward to this one!

ASH: I’m very excited for this release, too! I’m really enjoying The Ancient Magus’ Bride and, well, Faust is another tale I’m quite familiar with.

MELINDA: This sounds great!

ANNA: I didn’t totally connect with The Ancient Magus’ Bride but I am intrigued.

SEAN: Genshiken 2nd Season has its 11th volume – we’re almost near the end, but not quite there yet. Expect more Madarame stuff.

ASH: I happen to like Madarame, but I wasn’t expecting the series to end up focusing on him as much as it does.

SEAN: Giant Killing says that it too is a digital sports manga with its 6th volume.

MICHELLE: And this!

SEAN: In/Spectre comes to an end with its 6th volume. I will miss its heroine especially. and hope things end well.

Princess Jellyfish has a 6th omnibus, and it too is apparently nearing its climax. Will the apartments be saved?

MICHELLE: I love this series so much. I love the realism as they come to appreciate the enormity of what they’re attempting, but gosh darnit, I want them to succeed!

ASH: I’m so happy this series is being released! The anime adaptation was delightful, but I’m glad to finally be able to get the entire story.

ANNA: Me too! I need to go on a Jellyfish binge.

SEAN: Real Girl has a 3rd volume, and I keep meaning to catch up with it but haven’t yet.

Shojo Fight is the other big digital debut that I can’t quite believe is out over here. Women’s volleyball! It runs in Evening magazine, and is filled with kickass women. Buy this AND the rugby manga. Splurge.

MICHELLE: I literally have geekbumps right now.

ANNA: Sounds good! Crimson Hero was not enough volleyball manga!

MICHELLE: And those final six volumes will probably never be released here. :(

SEAN: Lastly for Kodansha, we have a 3rd Tsuredure Children, whose anime just wrapped up.

SEAN: One Peace has an 11th volume of Maria Holic, which I still dislike but its fans are happy.

Seven Seas has several titles, starting with a 5th 12 Beast.

Otome Mania!! has its 2nd and final volume, as we see if this game can get released.

Re: Monster has a 3rd volume of male power fantasy.

And Species Domain has a 3rd volume of quirky fantasy slice-of-life school manga.

Lastly, just when you thought the fanservice was gone, it’s back bigger than ever: The Testament of Sister New Devil STORM! debuts.

ASH: Hmmm, usually there’s at least one Seven Seas release I’m reading, but haven’t been following any of these.

SEAN: Udon has a debut as well with Infini-T Force, a Shogakukan title from Hero’s magazine (yes, that’s how they spell it) that’s essentially a giant superhero crossover.

Vertical has a 3rd Flying Witch, which continued to be cute and weird, in that order.

MICHELLE: It’s a low-key charmer.

SEAN: And we have some Yen runoff, starting with their digital titles, new 12th volumes for Aphorism, Crimson Prince and Sekirei.

In print, we have the 7th How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend.

And the 8th Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, which will no doubt entertain and confuse me, not in that order.

ASH: I need to catch up on this series, but I’ve been liking it!

SEAN: It’s a digital world, folks. Sorry again, Ash. What are you getting this week?

ASH: It’s okay, at least there’s some great print releases, too!

Beasts of Abigaile, Vol. 1

Sep. 21st, 2017 07:25 pm
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Posted by Anna N

Beasts of Abigaile Volume 1

I make no secret of the fact that I’m generally a shoujo enthusiast, and I also enjoy reverse harem manga. Though the plots may be thin, and the characters may never vary from their highly specific and formalized roles, I still find manga of the genre trashy fun to read, even if there might not be much depth to the stories. As I started reading Beasts of Abigaile I was struck with a strong sense of deja vu, because something about the aesthetics reminded me of some of the older series that were published by Go! Comi. Sure enough this is an Akita Shoten title, so maybe that’s why I felt a bit of pleasant nostalgia as I was reading Beasts of Abigaile.

The set up for the story in this volume is so fast-paced, I got the sense that the author wanted to rush through any logical explanations and world building, and just get to the gorgeous wolf boys. Nina is the predictably outspoken but likeable heroine of the story, and she finds herself on the mysterious country of Ruberia, which is famous for its beautiful roses. There is also a mysterious prison school where it turns out adolescent werewolves live! Nina is bitten and starts exhibiting some werewolf traits, and she’s promptly sent to Abigaile to live among her own kind, except she has to keep her human origins secret.

Nina has a headstrong tendency to stick up for the little guy with little regard for her own self-preservation and this causes her to have multiple run-ins with fellow students and school administrators. She falls in with a pack (literally, ha ha) of art kid werewolves instead of joining in with the popular kids or school rebels. As far as handsome werewolf boys, there’s Roy, the surly leader whose bite originally turned Nina wolfish, Giles the nice guy who appears to be under the thrall of the mean female student council president, and the list goes on and on. I suspect that Roy, Giles, and Nina will be the main triangle explored in the rest of the manga.

With lackluster art, this series would be much less enjoyable, but Aoki’s illustrations are expressive, and there’s a dark gothic vibe about the art that also make the title stand out a bit from the other shoujo series coming out currently. Nina’s continued refusal to allow herself to be intimidated by hulking wolf boys is entertaining. If you enjoy paranormal romance shoujo that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, Beasts of Abigaile seems like a promising series.

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