MJ: Heeeeey, look at this, it’s been less than two months and we’re already back again. That’s a huge improvement on our recent record, no?
MICHELLE: Considering that there was a two-year gap before our last column, I’d certainly say so!
MJ: Heard any good jokes lately?
MICHELLE: Hmm.. Here’s one! Why did the old lady fall in the well?
MJ: Wow, I don’t know! Why did the old lady fall in the well?
MICHELLE: She didn’t see that well.
MJ: Hey, that was actually pretty funny!
MICHELLE: Your reaction was unanticipated!
MJ: Speaking of “unanticipated”… no, wait, this is totally anticipated. Wanna talk about some manga?
MICHELLE: Sure! I’ve just finished the third volume of Hiroaki Samura’s Wave, Listen to Me!, a Kodansha digital exclusive.
It’s the story of Minare Koda, a waitress with a gift of fluency that catches the attention of a local radio producer, Mato. After secretly recording her drunken rant about her thieving ex and playing it over the air, he eventually takes the chance of giving her her own weekly show in a late-night time spot where she has the freedom to do some really kooky things. The first episode, for example, is a surreal audio drama about murdering said ex, Mitsuo. The next week, it’s time to bury the body on Mt. Fuji!
In this volume, Koda finds that going through those crazy plotlines has actually helped her set aside her bitterness about how Mitsuo done her wrong, and she must think about what she wants the show to be going forward. I really like the scenes wherein Mato mentors her about radio and the relationship between host and linstener. “TV viewers are guests. Radio listeners are participants,” he says at one point. This proves to be true when one of her listeners sends a fax that leads ultimately to the discovery of… well, perhaps I’ll play coy about its exact nature, but it definitely proves that reality is sometimes stranger than the occult.
Minare is a fascinating character. Full of energy and charisma, capable of selfish acts that she’s later thoroughly horrified by… She finally found a goal in life and she’s going for it, but doesn’t exactly know what she’s doing. I like her very much.
MJ: Okay, I gotta admit this sounds fantastic. It reminds me a little of a time when I played a lot of Quake so that I could imagine I was repeatedly blowing up my ex, only much more creative and generally productive. Is this series as delightful as it sounds?
MICHELLE: It’s delightful, but it’s also really a genius concept, since letting Minare do many things in many genres allows Samura the same liberty. So, on top of watching Minare’s skills and career progress, there are also wacky happenings to enjoy, too. I very heartily recommend it.
MJ: It’s hard for me to resist a Michelle recommendation, especially when it is something so obviously up my alley. You especially got me at “reality is sometimes stranger than the occult.” I mean… I have to know more. I just have to.
MICHELLE: Oh, that reminds me of another fun aspect… because Samura has already drawn out a couple of the audio dramas as if they’re actually happening, when strange things start to happen, it made me question whether he might have started another one without telling us. This is the sort of manga that would totally do that.
Anyway! What have you been reading lately?
MJ: I’ve been reading the first volume of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband, just released by Pantheon Books. If, like me, you’re primarily familiar with Tagame’s work as a bara artist, this slice-of-life seinen manga is certainly a departure, but it feels so natural in his hands, you’d never know that it wasn’t a genre he’s always drawn.
Yaichi is a single dad, earnestly raising his young daughter, Kana, whose life is upended by the arrival of Canadian visitor, Mike, husband to Yaichi’s estranged twin brother, Ryoji, who has just passed away. Yaichi greets Mike with awkwardness and not just a little homophobia, but is forced to invite him to stay after Kana, blissfully unaware of her father’s discomfort, insists that he must be welcomed into their home. Mike, stricken with grief, but anxious to connect with Ryoji’s family and childhood, gratefully accepts Yaichi’s grudging hospitality and settles into Ryoji’s old room.
As the manga continues, we watch Yaichi confront his preconceptions about Mike (and gay people in general), with considerable nudging from Kana, who adores their new houseguest. It’s rough going at first, but as Yaichi gets to know the man who so deeply loved his brother, he is increasingly able to see past his prejudices, to the point that, by the end of the volume, he’s defending Mike’s snoring problem to Kana and fighting the desire to rage at a neighbor who declines to let her child visit Kana’s house, fearing “negative influence.”
True to expectation, this is a pretty moving manga, made all the more poignant by its quiet, slice-of-life atmosphere, The artwork and visual storytelling are downright adorable, as somehow Tagame has managed to create something that wouldn’t look out of place on the shelf alongside, say, Yotsuba&!, without sacrificing his own artistic sensibility. But, of course, it’s not the artwork that makes this book so important.
As a westerner, I’m always wary of imposing my own cultural expectations on books like this, and I’m very much aware that queer culture in Japan is as different from what I’m accustomed to here as is Japanese culture in general. And with that in mind, it’s pretty great to know that a series like this was run in Monthly Action, which, despite its “indie” aspirations, is clearly aimed mainly towards straight men (so many boobs, my friends, so many). Perhaps because of that, it was difficult for me to warm to Yaichi, who is obviously intended as the stand-in for the reader, in all his discomfort over the concept of gay people and how he’s supposed to interact with one. Watching Yaichi’s progress is painful and, yes, eventually heartwarming, but what is most striking to me, as a reader, is Mike’s patience, kindness, and general agreeability throughout. Watching this sweet, hulking man smile with gratitude in every moment, even when he’s being treated with barely-concealed suspicion, is just… heart-wrenching. I can only imagine how this must read for someone who has experienced the same.
MICHELLE: Oh, man. I knew the general premise of this but not that Yaichi would be quite so awful at the outset. And it’s bad enough that Mike’s being treated this way, but when he’s grieving and so desperate for any scrap of his beloved that he’ll take it. From how you describe him, it doesn’t sound as if Mike tries to stand up for himself at any point.
MJ: I feel like I should rephrase, perhaps… I mean, yes, from my perspective Yaichi is being awful, but that’s where my western perception is failing me, I think. I think we can all agree, however, that what’s astonishing and awesome about Mike (also a westerner) is that he seems to be naturally accounting for differences in culture, and is just ceaselessly kind and giving. And when Yaichi becomes moved by that, it is what really changes his perspective, perhaps even more than Kana’s influence.
There’s obviously a lot more here, too, than just Yaichi overcoming homophobia. We find out a little about his estrangement from his twin brother and also about how his own marriage broke down, and I think in the end he and Mike are going to be strong healing influences for each other, and probably also for Kana, who didn’t even know she had an uncle!
MICHELLE: That does sound reassuring. I’m about to begin reading My Brother’s Husband this evening, in fact, so I’ll do my best not to get too riled up. Especially since I’m so very grateful that Pantheon has brought it to us!
MJ: Oh, go ahead and get riled up! But I really think you’ll love it in the end. It’s one of my favorite manga I’ve read so far this year.
So, we also have a mutual read this week… do you want to do the honors?
From Rei Toma, whose Dawn of the Arcana I liked and also featured a protagonist whose unusual red hair is viewed with suspicion, comes The Water Dragon’s Bride.
Asahi is spending a pleasant afternoon with her parents and she’s just about to go in and have some cookies when the backyard pond reaches out and ensares her, transporting her to another world. There, she meets a friendly boy named Subaru who unfortunately has some very ruthless parents, who immediately decide to offer Asahi to the water dragon god to obtain prosperity.
Asahi meets the dragon god who is, of course, a bishounen. He decides she’ll do for entertainment and shows off various tricks, but she’s unimpressed and protests so much that he steals her voice, promising to return it when she becomes his bride. Subaru mounts a valiant rescue, but the villagers prove to be just as crappy the second time around and the god decides to intervene.
MJ: That’s about the size of it! So. Okay. Honestly, I’m having a hard time coming up with a lot to say about this series so far. It’s definitely kind of adorable. Asahi is a spunky, likable heroine. Subaru, the obvious love interest, is sweetly earnest, and the bishounen water dragon god is pleasantly crusty. But man… haven’t we read this book before? Like a thousand times? Am I too much of a bitter, old schoolgirl-in-another-land fogey to enjoy this… again?
MICHELLE: It was certainly a very lightweight volume! I do think there’s potential, especially in the character of the water god. He’s cold, distant, and uncaring. At one point he simply watches as she wastes away in starvation. And he only intervenes at the end to preserve his entertainment. I’m sure he’ll feel love eventually, since that sort of thing always happens, but he’s definitely the most interesting character so far. Too, at least with the fish imagery and the pond, I had a little bit of Moon Child feels, and that’s always welcome.
MJ: I hadn’t thought about Moon Child, but I can see where you’re coming from, though the artwork isn’t nearly as beautiful as Shimizu’s, nor does it hold up well to what was the obvious comparison for me, Yun Mi-kyung’s Bride of the Water God, which, whatever you think of the series in general, I think is objectively visually stunning. Of course Bride of the Water God is a much more serious take on the sacrificial maiden theme, and Moon Child is weird and darkly whimsical like no other manga I’ve ever read. So it’s not really fair to hold this sweet little volume to either of those standards.
That said, I agree that the bishounen god has some possibilities (even if the long hair and excessive lounging just made me wish we were getting a new volume of Loveless anytime soon), and I expect there will be more substance as we go forward. But I kinda hope it hurries.
MICHELLE: Me, too! I did think of Bride of the Water God, but I although I did collect the volumes for a while, I never actually read them.
MJ: Well, perhaps this little manga will fare better on your shelves! I guess time will tell!
MICHELLE: I will least give it a few volumes to see how it fares. But it won’t assuage my sorrow that volume four of Wave, Listen to Me! is not even out in Japan yet.
MJ: That is a tragedy, indeed.
Travis saysMay 12, 2017 at 2:55 am
Yeah, it’s very clearly written for a straight audience, but I really enjoyed it. So far there are three volumes available in Japan and it looks from the author’s comments at the end of volume three that four might be the last one, which is sad! I really want more manga like this and What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Melinda Beasi saysMay 12, 2017 at 7:46 am
Same here! Also, on the upside, we’re getting these in two-volume omnibus format here, so that means this volume I was reading includes both volumes one and two of the Japanese editions. I’m hoping that a compact two-omnibus complete series will be a compelling buy for the American audience.
Anna saysMay 16, 2017 at 2:32 pm
“But it won’t assuage my sorrow that volume four of Wave, Listen to Me! is not even out in Japan yet.”
But but but! Kodansha is simulpubbing (is that a word? I hope not) the more recent chapters in English. Which is a really cool thing, although I haven‘t done the math to find out if it is financially smart to buy the individual chapters instead of the complete volumes (when they finally come out). It‘s a shame there is no print version in English. I’m reading it in French, which is why I’m still at volume 2… but I don’t mind waiting a few days extra if it means having a proper book made of paper.)
“I mean, yes, from my perspective Yaichi is being awful, but that’s where my western perception is failing me, I think.”
Can you explain why you think that‘s a „western“ thing? Surely there are people with very different levels of sensitivity in any culture, be it Japanese or … well, whatever you mean by „western“. Even if you just mean „American“, there are probably plenty of Americans who aren‘t automatically put off by a main character with internalized homophobia – even if they do consider it a character flaw. Especially when the point of the story seems to be that the character learns to recognize and overcome it.
Michelle Smith saysMay 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm
Ah! I had missed the press release about the simulpub. Thanks for calling it to my attention!
Anna saysMay 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm
Glad I could help! I have no idea how common simulpubs are, but I somehow always thought they were a thing for the big, talked-about titles … I hope it will prove successful for titles like this, too. (Sorry, I didn’t see your comment at first.)
Melinda Beasi saysMay 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm
My comments about my perception being “western” largely come out of discussion I have seen often regarding gay culture in Japan and how it differs from what I’m accustomed to here in the US. This may be changing, and certainly I do not want to be that western person saying “This is what it’s like in Japan” when actually Japanese people are far more qualified to make real statements about this, however, my understanding is that being an “out” gay person in Japan is still not a particularly common thing, and that people’s private lives tend to remain private. It follows that there would be a lot of straight people in a culture like this who would not have (to their knowledge) experience interacting with someone gay, or necessarily even really understand what that means. That is entirely foreign to my experience here in the US, especially in New England, and I know my own perception is influenced by that. So when I’m reading about someone like Yaichi, who seems truly lost as to how to interact with his gay brother-in-law, I need to keep in mind that my perspective is not a Japanese one, and that my value judgements aren’t necessarily appropriate when I’m reading something like this that is intended for Japanese audience. Even something like Mike’s attempt to embrace Yaichi at the beginning is more complicated than just “homophobia” in Japan, where hugging a stranger would (to my understanding) be received much, much differently than in our culture. Keeping my western perspective in mind (and by “western,” I mean western Europe and the United States, which are relatively similar in culture compared to Japan) is important to my understanding of the work.
Anna saysMay 16, 2017 at 3:51 pm
Thanks for elaborating. I’m still kind of wary of the idea that the USA and western Europe (which are a lot of countries with distinct cultures and histories) are one cultural unit called “west” when it comes to LGBT issues. There are all sorts of differences (different laws, different milestones, different role models etc.) and I don’t see the value in glossing over that. I wish people would just say “American” or “Spanish” or “Swedish” if that’s what they actually meant.
I mean, of course it is important to keep in mind that a manga is created in a culture not my own, and meant for an audience I am not part of, so there’s a lot of nuances I might be missing. But the same thing is true when I watch US-American TV shows, for example, even though I’m also from “the west”.
Melinda Beasi saysMay 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm
I take your point, but I also think it is important to acknowledge that American culture as it exists today largely grew out of western European cultures, so overall it still has a lot more in common with Europe than it does with anywhere in Asia, in terms of cultural norms. When I was spending a lot more time as a comics journalist, meeting Japanese artists and publishers, the detail in which instructions were given to me in terms of simple things like greeting a stranger or accepting a business card was pretty intense. Knowing what I know, I would never, ever greet someone in Japan (or a Japanese person visiting the US, especially an older person) with a hug, or even a handshake (unless they initiated), as Mike does in the beginning of this book.
Anna saysMay 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm
I am sorry , I didn’t understand at first that you were talking about the differences in acceptable greeting gestures and intimacy. I thought you were talking about Yaichi’s internalized homophobia in general. I didn’t realize you were focusing entirely on that one scene.
Still, I wouldn’t greet a stranger, especially an older person, with a hug either. If a total stranger suddenly hugged me on my doorstep, I might punch him and call for help. XD International greeting etiquette is incredibly complex, even within “the west”, which is why it’s weird to single out Japan as “different”, while pretending that all those other cultural differences don’t exist or don’t matter …
(Anyway, in fandom, and especially in just about any discussion of social issues, it’s really common for Americans to assume they can speak with authority about Europe, which I find very alienating. Sure, there’s shared origins, but it’s not like our cultures haven’t been evolving in unique ways for a couple of hundred of years. Sorry, but it’s a pet peeve.)
Melinda Beasi saysMay 17, 2017 at 11:49 pm
I certainly can’t speak for all Americans, but I know that when I lump the US together with Europe as the “west” it’s not because I think I speak with authority about Europe. It’s because I live in a country where, culturally, we haven’t been around long enough to evolve our own identity in the ways it really counts. The US is a little baby country that utterly lacks the long cultural heritage that exists in the places we emigrated from. In so many ways, we’re still beholden to our European heritage. A couple of hundred years as a country is nothing when you’re comparing it to cultures that have existed for hundreds of years more. I look forward to the day (coming soon!) when those of us of European heritage (so relatively recent, most of us can still follow our family trees clearly back to the moment of arrival) are no longer a majority in this country, which might give us some hope of really becoming something of our own. But when you ask Americans about their ethnic heritage, it’s pretty rare to find someone who will answer “American.” When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, nobody did. We said “Oh, mostly German and a little Swedish and Irish” or whatever we’d carefully learned from our parents. If we still over-identify with Europe, it’s not because we think we have some kind of authority to speak on its countries’ behalf… it’s because we haven’t yet really forged our own identity.
The reason I keep saying the US has more in common with Europe than Japan, is because we started out as European colonies, at a time when Japan was deliberately isolated from westerners (by its own choice). Western influence in Japan is (in the scope we’re talking about here, where we’re talking centuries) really *very* recent. Yes, of course there are many cultural differences between the young US and the various (way older) European countries, but those differences are minor in comparison to cultural differences between the East and West simply because of geography and time and how slowly cultures mix and conquer and evolve. How slowly ships travel. How languages stand as barriers. Europe is different from the US, but Asia is just… more different. There’s a reason why things like western music, for instance, are called “western.” It’s because that is a relatively monolithic thing that exists, separate from musical traditions in other parts of the world, so much so that the “west” as a whole shares a common language for notating music and musical “rules” that *still to this day* determine what sounds “right” to our ears, yet does not include tiny intervals between notes that people from non-western cultures can discern. The “west” is a thing, whether any of us like it or not. Yes, we can divide “western music” into a zillion little subcategories and all of those (and the differences between them) are real. But the larger category still exists as something that is solid, separate, and easily distinguishable from other musical traditions, even when it spreads into other cultures (which it has… and pretty aggressively so, but only really since the late 19th century).
In terms of this series… honestly even the homophobia is different. The US, like our western European forbears, comes from a majority-Christian perspective, which influences our homophobia but is barely even a factor in Japan, where almost nobody is Christian and the majority identify with no religion at all (and those who do are overwhelmingly Buddhist or Shinto). That makes a difference. Yeah, here in the US we have our very special Puritan-influenced brand of fiery hell-preaching homophobia, but differences between Christian views on homosexuality all still revolve on the question of “sin” which just isn’t where they’re coming from in Japan.
Am I sorry that I didn’t just say “American” instead of “western” in this column? Yes, definitely. And I’m sorry to have offended you. There’s really no point in changing it at this point, but I’d write it differently if I could go back in time. But only because it’s upset you, not because it isn’t valid… as I’ve been told many times by people in fandom whose pet peeve is westerners (and when they say it, they definitely mean all of us) not understanding Japanese culture. From their perspective, none of us really get it. And I believe them.
Anna saysMay 18, 2017 at 5:13 pm
Well … I don’t think we should continue this conversation, not in this direction at least. I know (many, not all) Americans believe that they have no “real” culture of their own and weirdly fixate on Europe, but I don’t think 250-ish years is THAT young, and considering how omnipresent US culture and US influence is all over the world, it’s just really hard for me to “get” this inferiority complex.
But let’s drop that. It’s not really relevant and I’m sorry to have brought it up.