MJ: I’m having an unusually domestic morning here on this gloomy New England Saturday—laundry, dishes, pet care, and general de-cluttering. It’s a little depressing, frankly, and I’d much rather be talking about manga.
MICHELLE: Pretty much the first thing I do every day is scoop the kitty litter. It’s an unglamorous life, to be sure.
MJ: It is, indeed. So, shall we glam things up a bit?
MICHELLE: I don’t know about glam, but I’ll do my best.
One notable read for me this week was volume 20 of Taeko Watanabe’s Kaze Hikaru, a series that began its run in the shoujo pages of Betsucomi in 1997 before transferring to Flowers when that josei mag came into existence. It’s the story of Tominaga Sei, daughter of a former bushi, who joins the Shinsengumi disguised as a boy to avenge her father and brother. Under the name Kamiya Seizaburo, she has been with the troop for several years now and fallen in love with her captain, Okita Soji, who is the only one who knows her secret.
This series is really a charmer, and I’m so grateful that VIZ is continuing to release it, even if at the rate of one volume per year. Watanabe breathes life and warmth into these historical figures, developing a cast of men who are simultaneously endearing and uncouth. I’m particularly fond of their flawed and idealistic leader, Kondo, who inspires intense devotion from Okita in particular. There are comedic elements aplenty (and plenty of guys who find themselves attracted to “Kamiya”), but there are also tragic ones. (I was seriously so affected by the events of volume eleven that I stayed away from the series for, like, two years.) Historical events are portrayed with admirable accuracy, but the focus is always on how this affects the characters.
In this particular volume, there are things happening in the wider world—Kondo has gone off with the member of the troop most likely to sow dissent—but the main plot revolves around Kamiya “disguising” herself as a girl in order to spy on a fellow believed to be an assassin. All this time, Okita has been staunch in his resolve never to fall in love, wishing to devote his life to Kondo, but this mission causes him to simultaneously worry about Kamiya and become even more conscious of her femininity. I love that Watanabe has taken her time in getting him to this point; it’ll only heighten the tearful squee when and if he finally admits he loves her. Seriously, I just got geekbumps typing that.
What makes this even more potentially awesome, of course, is that the vast majority of the Shinsengumi does not meet a happy end. With the series still running in Japan, and US readers so far behind now, I have to wonder whether we’ll actually see that here. But I most earnestly hope that we do.
I also most earnestly hope that you are one day able to read this series, MJ, for I think you would adore it.
MJ: I think I would, too, Michelle! And I’m especially anxious to pick it up, because though I’ve tired a bit of the whole “girl disguised as a boy” trope, I suspect that I’d love its execution in this particular series. Also, it sounds like there is some genuinely awesome heart-poundy squee to be had, which sends my romance-loving heart into spasms of true longing.
MICHELLE: If I recall rightly, I was a little dubious about the series at first because of its premise, and because Sei starts off as a bit of a hothead, but I’m glad I stuck with it. If VIZ ever transitions any series to digital-only status, I suspect Kaze Hikaru might be a prime candidate. So maybe that’ll be a way for you to catch up on it.
What’ve you been reading this week?
MJ: Well, fortunately, I’m in a position to bring on the glam!
This week, I allowed myself the pleasure of reading the first volume of Vertical’s new omnibus release of Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, which of course is a long-time favorite for both of us.
For the uninitiated, Paradise Kiss tells the story of Yukari, a pretty, long-limbed senior at a prestigious high school. Yukari is dutifully studying for college entrance exams in order to fulfill her parents’ expectations, though she herself has no real love for academics. While “pretty” and “long-limbed” are not adjectives I’d normally use when introducing a book’s heroine, they are extremely relevant in this case, as Yukari’s journey begins with a sudden request from a group of fashion design students who scout her as a model for their final senior project. Though Yukari initially refuses, she is slowly drawn in by both the students’ radically different approach to their imminent adulthood and their charismatic leader, George. As her career interests shift and her relationship with George intensifies over the course of the first two volumes (included here in Vertical’s initial omnibus), tension mounts quickly in Yukari’s school and family lives, making some kind of breaking point pretty inevitable.
Since we’ve discussed this series here pretty extensively in the past, I’ll get right to the nitty-gritty of Vertical’s release. When it comes to manga trim size, bigger is nearly always better, and Vertical’s edition benefits heavily from its luxurious page size. The whole production feels elegant, from the silky cover texture to the book’s smooth paper. And though my scanner isn’t high-quality enough to offer any value in terms of demonstrating print quality, you can see from this set of contrasting scans that the trim size also allows us to see a bit more of the artwork in the margins of each page.
Vertical’s editions also include a brand new translation, which already demonstrates that it intends to be more up-front about things like George’s sexual kinks (even using the term “kink” regularly, rather than having Arashi repeatedly refer to him as a “pervert”). These are all good things. I’ve chosen these particular pages, however, to bring attention to some of the translation differences that work slightly *less* well for me than the TOKYOPOP editions did.
Though I don’t own the Japanese editions of this series (and wouldn’t be able to read them if I did), given what I know about the two publishers in question (and even just the aesthetic of the manga industry then versus now), I’m going to to out on a limb and guess that the TOKYOPOP translation is more liberally adapted than Vertical’s—by which I mean to say that there may be more license taken with the adaptation in favor of reaching an English-speaking audience. Many consider this type of heavy adaptation to be a negative thing, but I’ll admit that I often disagree.
Let’s take this scene, for example. Again, I’m guessing that the TOKYOPOP edition is more liberal with its wording here—choosing “friendly” over “good” for their flirty banter, and so on. But as the scene goes on, I have to admit that the Vertical translation simply doesn’t have the same punch. When I first read this series, Yukari’s final external/internal rant here pretty much blew my romantic heart to bits.
“You call that friendly? That’s not nearly enough to satisfy me. Don’t think the world revolves around you. I’ll make you so in love with me, that every time our lips touch, you’ll die a little death.”
I mean, that’s pretty awesomely dramatic. It’s strong. It’s… GAH. Yeah. That. The last line in particular is a romantic kick in the gut. In contrast, Vertical’s wording here, “I’ll make you so entranced you won’t be able to keep playing it so cool” just feels kinda… well… namby-pamby. And, frankly, kind of a mouthful. Even though I suspect it’s closer to the original meaning (folks in the know can tell me if I’m wrong), it’s just much weaker English prose.
Obviously, there’s a lot of trade-off, and overall I think Vertical’s adaptation may come out ahead. But these differences make me glad to own both versions of the series, so that I have the chance to experience both takes on it.
MICHELLE: I vastly prefer the TOKYOPOP interpretation of that scene, myself.
And, wow! Thank you for comparing these editions this way! I had been wondering whether I ought to keep my mismatched TOKYOPOP set, and now it is clear that I should. There’s room in my heart for both, I find.
MJ: Yes, well said! There is room in my heart for both as well. I highly recommend buying the lovely, new editions and also hanging on to the old ones. For a series this good, it’s worth the extra shelf space!
So, we also partook in a mutual read this week—another Vertical title, in fact. Would you like to introduce it?
The debut volume of Limit—a shoujo manga by Keiko Suenobu, also of TOKYOPOP’s Life—introduces readers to several female high school students. There are the cool ones—Sakura, the beautiful ringleader who despises “fugly” people, and her devotees—and the uncool ones, including Kamiya, a bookish and sensible girl, and Morishige, who’s rather weird. In between these groups floats Mizuki Konno, who is ostensibly part of Sakura’s group, but who is really just adept at going with the flow. She’s determined that being friends with the popular crowd will make her own high-school experience easier, so that’s what she’s doing, even though she secretly admires Kamiya’s kindness. When a bus accident on a school trip leaves Sakura dead and Morishige in charge, Konno’s capability for adapting is tested, as the girls face at least several days before rescue can be expected.
MJ: Well done, Michelle!
The series is being marketed as a mix of Lord of the Flies and Heathers, which is appropriate I suppose, but in a way I think it diminishes both its strengths and weaknesses. Despite its dark tone and heavy subject matter, Limit is in no way as thematically ambitious as Lord of the Flies, nor is it as sharply satirical as Heathers—and to be fair, I don’t think it’s attempting to be either. It does, however, have plenty of strengths of its own.
Limit‘s biggest asset at this point, in my opinion, is Konno, its difficult protagonist. I call her “difficult” because I think it’s really tricky to get an audience invested in a main character whose motives are so morally weak and self-serving, but when done well, this can be really freaking effective. As I say that, I realize this is actually one of the traits Limit indeed shares with Heathers, whose protagonist spends so much of her time participating in things she knows are shitty but keep her in the Heathers’ good graces. Author Keiko Suenobu is even more brutal with Konno, however, as she actively initiates cruelty (such as turning Kamiya’s kindness towards a collapsed man on the street into fodder for bullying) when she feels her position in the group weakening. Suenobu pulls it off, though, and as the end of the first volume comes to a close, I found myself secretly rooting for Konno, despite her questionable moral backbone.
MICHELLE: One of the things that got me to sympathize with Konno was that Suenobu immediately dives into her motivations, so that we know that she’s not unredeemably mean, but just trying to make it through school/life/etc. without getting hurt. Not everyone can manage that, but she can, so she’s taking advantage of the path that presents itself to her and not feeling too bad about it. I can’t really blame her for that, though of course some of the things this compels her to do are, as you say, shitty.
I also liked that Suenobu immediately assigns some imagery to Konno’s philosophy: the swimming goldfish and the crosswalk sign. The green light of the latter becomes a symbol for Konno going with the flow, reappearing when she’s participating in teasing Kamiya, for example. When she later realizes that Morishige is insane and that the trauma of this experience, even if she survives it, will forever prevent her life from being easy, the light reappears, this time stuck on red. That perfect little world is gone forever.
MJ: I’m glad you brought that up, Michelle, because that kind of imagery is one of the things that makes this book work so well. Actually, the artwork overall is wonderfully expressive and bold when it needs to be. I was impressed throughout by how powerful the visual storytelling is, and this was definitely a major factor in my enjoyment of the book.
MICHELLE: The swirling fishes at the beginning reminded me of Moon Child, actually, and I thought, “I bet MJwill like this art!”
MJ: You know me so well! Though it isn’t the artwork alone that sells me on this series, it definitely does a lot of the heavy lifting.
This is definitely an unusual shoujo release—at least here in North America—and it’s easy to see why Vertical picked it up since it fits in better with their catalogue than it would anywhere else, I think. I’m grateful they did pick it up, too. Though it’s the kind of premise I’d more often expect to see published in a shounen or seinen magazine (even with its all-female cast) it’s nice to see this story being told specifically for a female audience. This gives me hope, too, that we’ll see more nuance later on in characters like Morishige who, as the perpetually-bullied party, should be ultimately more sympathetic than she seems right now.
MICHELLE: I’m definitely curious to see how it plays out. Looks like it’s finished in Japan, too, with six volumes, so chances are good we’ll know the outcome by next summer. Maybe that’ll help soothe the woe over Life disappearing even before TOKYOPOP itself did.