MJ: Something that’s been on my mind, lately, thanks to a yet-to-be-released podcast David and I recently participated in as well as the relative shortage of adventurous new readers for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast, is how difficult it can be to successfully sell manga intended for female readers, especially adult women. So, given the somewhat lackluster selection this week at Midtown Comics, I asked my fellow critics of the battle robot to join me in recommending a few series for women that tend to get overlooked.
I’ll begin with a recommendation for one of my favorite romantic comedies, Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile, originally published in Kodansha’s Kiss magazine, and partially released in English by Del Rey Manga. Though the series was very popular in Japan, it never really took off here, leaving its run perilously stalled at 16 volumes (out of a possible 25). The story follows a group of music students through graduate school and into the beginnings of their careers, particularly eccentric pianist Megumi “Nodame” Noda and aspiring conductor Shinichi Chiaki. Though complaints can (and have) been made about the conservative nature of the students’ musical repertoire, the series’ music school setting rings stunningly true to my own experience, and its exploration of ability vs. ambition is pretty hard to beat. More than that, though, it’s terrific romantic comedy that just gets better and better as the series goes on. Though there’s been no inkling at all that Kodansha Comics might pick up here where Del Rey left off, I’d personally walk around in a Nodame sandwich board if I thought that would help make it happen. Give us more Nodame Cantabile! Please?
DAVID: Okay, Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles (Viz) is technically shôjo, having run in Shogakukan’s Betsucomi, but I believe the estimable Ed Chavez of Vertical once described it as something along the lines of “stealth josei,” so I feel recommending it in this context. I also feel comfortable doing so because it’s flat-out excellent, following its heroine from early adolescence to womanhood, dividing its time pretty much equally among high school, college, and working life, which makes it something quite unique in serial comics, at least in my experience. The scope of the story gives Ashihara so many opportunities to really dig into Ann’s psyche, her milestones, and her choices, good and bad, and Ashihara makes the most of those opportunities. Does Sand Chronicles occasionally indulge in melodrama? Yes, it certainly does, but that melodrama is characterized by sincerity and urgency rather than cheapness and manipulation. The eight-volume core story is supplemented by two additional collections of shorts that give insights into supporting characters and really enhance the whole tapestry.
KATE: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my recommendation is Mari Okazaki’s Suppli, one of many casualties of Tokyopop’s demise. I’d call it “working girl manga,” but that has an unsavory connotation, so instead I’ll call it “career woman manga.” The story focuses on a twenty-something college grad whose dedication to her job tanks a long-standing relationship. Not surprisingly, Minami turns to work to fill the void left by her boyfriend, pulling all-nighters, pitching her own ideas, and becoming more involved with her co-workers’ personal lives. She soon discovers that the office is teeming with romantic prospects, and plunges into a steamy affair with a co-worker while carrying on an aggressive flirtation with another. Though the sudsy story is a big draw, the art is the real star of Suppli: it’s crazy-gorgeous, filled with some of the most sensual imagery I’ve seen in a licensed manga. (No one does floral imagery quite like Okazaki.) Don’t let Suppli‘s unfinished state deter you from trying it; it’s smart and sexy, and makes an awesome bathtub read.
MICHELLE: I don’t think Fumi Yoshinaga is in danger of being overlooked, but when it comes to manga for adult women, one simply can’t say enough about All My Darling Daughters. The short stories in this collection revolve around Yukiko Kisaragi, a woman whose still-beautiful mother embraces life after a cancer scare and impulsively marries a much younger man. As Yukiko struggles to accept that the relationship is genuine, the other stories flesh out the lives of her friends, acquaintances, and relatives, showing how words and actions can have unintended consequences and that sometimes dreams just don’t come true. That makes it sound like a downer, but really the message is an uplifting one, as Yukiko comes to realize not only that her mother’s new husband is good for her, but that her own life is pretty damned good, as well. Sniffles will ensue, but they’ll be the good kind.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Readers, what titles would you like to add?