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It’s time for a special kind of retrospective of the year 2018. In the past 12 months, three of my favourite manga series of the past decade ended – titles that, to me, could be called instant classics. In the rush of new manga publications, it can always be a little hard to remember the good stuff that no longer have an on-going status. For this reason, I’m taking a loving look back at these three now finished yet unforgettable works of art: Kamatani Yuhki’s LBGTQ coming-of-age drama Shimanami Tasogare, Andō Yuki’s Machida-kun no Sekai with its one-of-a-kind protagonist, and Stand Up! by clb.org favorite Yamakawa Aiji.

→ Shimanami Tasogare by Kamatani Yuhki

   

Fiction and art can function as safe spaces in which difficult, even traumatic experiences can be narrated, relived, analyzed, discussed, dissected and brought to the attention of other people. The 4-volume series Shimanami Tasogare was created by X-gender manga artist Kamatani Yuhki for whom the series itself can be seen as such a safe space as it focuses on people who belong to different sexual and gender minorities. And at the same time, the series itself shows how discriminated and oppressed people fight to create such safe spaces for themselves.

The main cast of characters in this extraordinary series are brought together by renovation projects in Onomichi, a city located in Hiroshima prefecture in southern Honshu, facing the Seto Inland Sea (Setouchi) with its smaller islands and Shikoku to the south. In the beginning, teenage boy Tasuku fears he’s been forced to come out as gay by his classmates. The four volumes in part tell his journey of coming to terms with his own sexuality while he meets other intriguing individuals and is invited to join them in their non-profit work. These other volunteers, among them the mysterious and elusive Dareka-san, each identify as sexual and gender minorities (i.e. they are homosexual, asexual, transgender, non-binary, etc.) but are also varied in their personal backgrounds and ages. It is part of Tasuku’s and the reader’s journey through the series to learn that each individual is allowed to take their own time with coming out (or not at all) while they are confronted with society’s prejudices, discrimination and violence against them.

Their safe place is an old but cozy house in the hills of Onomichi which they’ve renovated as part of their volunteer work, offering a space where they can be themselves, relax, listen to music and discuss various matters without having to fear discrimination. This is a place they have created for themselves but it doesn’t stop here. Through their non-profit work of refurbishing traditional but derelict houses and finding new purposes for them, they try to bring renewed life – for everybody! – to an area that’s characterized by an aging population, urbanisation and younger people moving to the big metropolitan centers. Together, they are committed to keep this area they love alive. And thus, next to the memorable and diverse cast, a second lead character emerges through the manga’s beautiful art: the hilly seaside landscape of titular Shimanami itself, the city of Onomichi and its roads and bridges connecting it to the small islands, evoking a gentle nostalgia, a slowing down of events (especially in the hot summers, the seasonal background of most of Shimanami Tasogare), a dreamlike and peripheral idyll.

Despite the dramatic events of the manga, the series ultimately leads to a positive message as it promises hope for a more open, accepting society which protects its minorities and, literally, let’s them claim their own spaces. The moving and mysterious story is carried by its expressive, sometimes even surrealist art which is heavily influenced by shōjo manga without it having to proclaim to be either this or that, seinen or shōjo/josei manga – which all points back to the essence of the story itself. The manga was serialized in Hibana (until its demise in 2017), a seinen manga magazine featuring a lot of female artists known for their shōjo/josei manga publishing gender-free/cross-over works for a mature readership in it. Shimanami Tasogare finally ended with its 4th volume in 2018, a book that brought me tears of pain, anger and joy – in this order. It is now making its way around the world, offering most of all the LGBTQ+ community, but also everyone who feels a little different than the mainstream, a source of understanding and support while speaking the very global, universal language of humanism. It is currently available as Eclat(s) d’âme in French by Akata, in Italian by J-Pop as Oltre le onde, in Spanish as Sombras sobre Shimanami by Tomodomo while Seven Seas will bring Our Dreams at Dusk to English readers, with the first volume scheduled for a May 2019 release and the 4th volume to be published before the end of 2019. Without a doubt, this will be a must-read for years to come. 4 volumes, Big Comics Special Hibana, Shogakukan.

→ Machida-kun no Sekai by Andō Yuki

      

It would be no exaggeration to say that this Betsuma series quietly revolutionized what mainstream shōjo manga can be. Machida-kun no Sekai‘s male protagonist, the titular Machida Hajime, is perplexing in his selflessness and at the same time in his lack of qualities usually found in male protagonists of shōjo manga: he is clumsy, a bad student (despite his glasses giving him a scholarly look) and terrible at sports. But also self-sacrificing, completely devoted to the well-being of his – rather big – family, especially his younger siblings, but also his friends and complete strangers. For large parts of the story, the non-dialogue is not inner monologue, as would be typical for shōjo manga. Instead, a unique observing voice describes in a dry, honest, objective way how Machida sees the world, how he “turns on his antennas” and becomes receptive to the needs of the people around him. These parts read like the voice-over of a documentary, an impression that’s visually supported by thick frames around panels bringing order to the page layouts and the clean art, especially in the architecture and backgrounds. Throughout the manga, the point of view switches, and these descriptions are replaced by the inner monologue of people, strangers and friends, watching Machida, judging him, being surprised or even inspired by him. And then in the later parts, we finally get to look a little more into the inner workings, the thoughts and emotions of Machida as we approach the finale of what is ultimately the love story between Machida-kun and his classmate Inohara-san.

Inohara takes on the part that is usually reserved for the male counterparts of the female protagonists in shōjo manga. Her rough behaviour is explained as her personal background and her past sufferings are revealed bit by bit. Her healing process is propelled forward by Machida-kun but also through her friendship with Maki. Inohara may come across as ‘cool’ to the reader: you may feel sympathy for her, but she still seems distant. And the same can be said about Machida-kun who is so often observed from the outside. Yet this is exactly what makes the tone of this work so unique and such a pleasant change from the usual shōjo manga mainstream.

Machida-kun no Sekai stresses the importance of friendships by showing how to build and maintain them, of caring for others across all boundaries of age, gender, sex and social class; of family – siblings, parents, parents’ siblings. And this family is one that is always open to outsiders – older neighbours and, of course, the girl Machida likes. The ending might seem conservative yet it stresses the value of family itself and of this openness toward accepting outsiders. When you take that into consideration, the ending ties everything together beautifully. The light here always shines brighter here than the darkness. Weaknesses can be overcome or accepted, as strength can be found through the help of others. The series, Andō’s first longer work, is so calm and mature in its tone and message that it can be recommended to readers who usually prefer manga for older audiences (both josei manga for female readers as well as seinen manga for male readers!). 7 volumes, Margaret Comics, Shueisha. A live-action movie adaptation is opening in Japan in June 2019.

→ Stand Up! by Yamakawa Aiji

   

Like Machida-kun no Sekai, Yamakawa Aiji’s Stand Up! started its journey in Shueisha’s monthly shōjo manga magazine Betsuma, but was later relegated to its sister magazine The Margaret until it reached its finale in spring 2018 after a 3-year hiatus. (You can find more about Yamakawa Aiji and her career in our artist profile.) These magazines are mainly aimed at senior high school-aged girls and manga running in them have to operate within a certain framework. In Betsuma‘s case, the majority of titles features realistic stories while focusing on romance of the ‘pure’ kind (i.e. no sexual depictions of any kind, unlike shōjo manga magazines from other publishers), friendship and family. The Japanese school year, and more broadly, the 3 years at senior high, set the timeframe within which these stories are usually told. This is no different for both Andō’s Machida-kun and Yamakawa’s Stand Up!. But both have in their own ways widened the possibilities of Betsuma‘s tight set of rules.

So it is in this hermetic world of a Japanese senior high school and its daily afterschool activities which last well into the afternoon that Stand Up!‘s two protagonists meet. Utako and Naoyuki are classmates and they couldn’t be more different. Utako always stands out with her current height of 172 centimeters when in fact she’d rather just be invisible to everybody because she is painfully shy and on top of it, feels embarrassed because of her big ears. Naoyuki is very popular and easily makes friends because he can make everybody feel comfortable. But then he starts teasing Utako for her ‘monkey ears’ – and Utako for once feels strangely glad to be noticed. It doesn’t take too long until the two fall in love and become a couple. Which adds to Utako’s stress because with Naoyuki at her side, there’s absolutely no way now she can make herself not be noticed anymore. Through the typical events of the Japanese school year and the couple’s dates during their private time, the two figure out the other’s weaknesses while also growing stronger as individuals and as a couple. These scenes perfectly convey the sense of embarrassment and confusion that’s so typical of that stage in life. Growth here comes gently and without the over-the-top drama that would be used by other artists.

What really stands out in this series is how well the dynamics of the group of friends with the Utako/Naoyuki couple in the center are described. On the side of the female characters, it’s encouraging to read how both Utako and her best friend manage to overcome past toxic relationships and move forward. Naoyuki, on the male side, is an incredibly fascinating character. Like Machida-kun’s family in Andō’s manga (see above), Naoyuki has a strong family background. His family owns a small restaurant and he’s been taught to be open, friendly and supportive. Just like with his group of friends which here isn’t an impenetrable entity. It is always open to outsiders, it doesn’t close itself off. The most obvious example for this is a boy named Inui, a hikikomori who no longer comes to school. The classmates decide to visit him and offer him their help. When he rejects them, Naoyuki doesn’t let up as he genuinely cares about those around him – and one day, Inui starts explaining his background to Naoyuki which ultimately leads to his healing. Interestingly enough, unlike the genre conventions, this is not a plot device to make Naoyuki seem like the perfect, knight-like partner to Utako. Naoyuki genuinely treats every person around him with respect and listens to them. His motivation isn’t to make himself more attractive to his girlfriend or to impress her, which is a nice vision of how men can be without losing a bit of their masculinity.

Through caring and nurturing friendships and relationships, these characters create an accepting and understanding environment. The atmosphere here is always warm and positive, never superficial or even hostile. Even the most painful experiences or desperate-seeming situations can be overcome here with hope, healing and forgiveness. If these young people were real and kept this attitude, imagine what empathetic and caring adults they could become, what a great society they could help build…! In this way, through the vehicle of school romance shōjo manga, Yamakawa tells a humanistic story that’s positive without being too loud, without being violent. This gentleness is reflected in the art, in the warm palette of beiges and browns of the hardly there watercolour illustrations which seem almost like faded but fond memories.

It is really impressive that despite her struggles with her work as a manga artist, Yamakawa Aiji finished Stand Up! by picking up the pre-hiatus strands perfectly and seamlessly. The art of the newer material is just as fluid and full of motion and life-like gestures as it used to be and convincingly concludes the story. As airy and light Yamakawa’s art is, as complex is the psychological fleshing out of her characters. Like I wrote in Yamakawa’s artist profile and in the post concerning her 2018 comeback, I’m still convinced she is an extremely gifted talent, even if her professional career is riddled with periods of absence & hiatus. Now that there seem to be dark clouds on the horizon again (her latest series 2.43 Seiin Kōkō Danshi Barē-bu in collaboration with Kabei Yukako in Cocohana is on indefinite hiatus again), I wish to see more from her in 2019 and hope that circumstances will allow her to release her work again soon! 4 volumes, Margaret Comics, Shueisha.

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Imagine finding yourself in the body of somebody else, all of a sudden able to explore another person’s life while also being cut off from the life you lead in your ‘old’ body. And finding out the previous ‘owner’ of your current body is now living in your ‘old’ body. Sounds both frightening and kind of exciting, doesn’t it?
In Yamashita Tomoko’s 2-volume manga WHITE NOTE PAD, two people leading fundamentally different lives have become victims of such a body swap experience caused by supposedly cosmic circumstances: 17-year-old schoolgirl Odamaki Hana and 38-year-old automobile engineer Kine Shōgo. Now, two years later, they unexpectedly meet each other, their respective old bodies, and have to confront the fact that their old lives are no longer their own and also, that they both are no longer able to live without the other…

As we soon learn, it is Kine, now in the body of Hana, who seems to have adapted seamlessly to the body switch. He has become a successful model working for a young women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine. After they meet again, he-as-Hana is able to secure Hana, now in the body of Kine, a job as an assistant for the editorial department of the fashion magazine Hana models for. Hana-as-Kine, on the other hand, has had to pretend to suffer from a sudden memory loss as she was understandably unable to function in Kine’s workplace in an automobile factory. She also has to realize that Kine has been living a pretty lonely life with just a small social circle of co-workers and friends, a situation that deteriorates further after Hana-as-Kine has to quit his job. But while she still has the mind of a now 19-year-old girl who used to be rather shy in school, her shoulders always hunched forward, she’s starting to work hard in her new job with her own trademark empathy for the people around her, making friends among the magazine staff and slowly improving the career and even the outward appearance of Kine, her ‘new’ body and identity.

Kine has been enjoying a new-found freedom and excitement as the inhabitant of the body of a young woman. He’s become a little addicted to everyone complimenting him on his body and feels good exposing it, literally posing as Hana – in front of the camera and for the people around him. Eager to explore his sexuality as a young woman, he even starts dating a young co-worker. At the same time, he’s a little careless with the body given to him when it comes to his sexual endeavours, resulting in a change in Hana’s ‘old’ body that will have a huge impact on the way Kine and Hana are linked to each other…

The mastermind behind this intriguing story is Yamashita Tomoko, who enjoys immense popularity as both a Boys’ Love manga artist and a regular contributor to Shodensha’s josei-oriented manga magazine Feel Young, in which this 2-volume manga was serialized. Here, in WHITE NOTE PAD, she uses an interesting time frame: the body switch caused by (super)natural circumstances is mentioned in the beginning as the event that robbed Hana of her old life. But Yamashita leaves the causes and technicalities of that mysterious incident unexplained and her protagonists, while struggling with the body switch itself, seem to accept it as irreversible.

After that introduction, we are propelled forward into a present two years later when both characters have already adapted to their new bodies. We are provided with flashbacks later on in the story and only then we are confronted with body swap clichés of the very physical what-would-I-do-with-myself-if-I-were-a-young-woman (or man, respectively) kind. Yamashita subverts these expectations of the body swap genre even further, as these stereotypical scenes of familiarizing yourself with a body of the previously opposite sex are delivered in a drily comical, detached tone. They are not sexy in any way but depicted rather matter-of-factly, with its characters, especially Hana (now in the body of a 40-year-old man), coming across as clumsy but also resignatedly accepting. Visually, this is supported by Yamashita’s fantastic sensibilities for body postures and facial expressions which form an integral part of the character development and make it possible to tell this story in a subtle way and leave a lot unsaid.

Yamashita’s clean, realistic art which uses lots of white and contrasting black spaces supports the often matter-of-fact tone and the stream of consciousness style monologues which are constantly reflecting on the question of the two protagonists’ completely new identities. That visual style counters the heaviness of the story which often just hints with a few lines at what drives or even torments the two main characters, just like the quiet scenes of everyday life balance out the heavier topics of identity, gender expectations, sex and social life including family. Throughout the manga, Yamashita reuses the imagery of water, the sea, the coastal landscape and the wind – the scenery in which that fateful body switch happened to Hana and Kine. Clean and tidy page layouts during quiet slice-of-life scenes often dissolve to make room for aquatic imagery and a fluid, sketch-like style. The color images for the cover artworks in their very light watercolors and pencil outlines might seem like sketches, too. The cover of the first volume, for example, shows an almost ghostly Hana wearing a semi-transparent dress, showing off her body while we have to acknowledge the fact that we’re unable to truly look inside her, to see the mind inside her body. So we’re left wondering: is it the ‘original’ Hana, or is it Kine’s mind insider her body?

The aquatic imagery is repeatedly used here as a metaphor to express how both protagonists become entangled with each other, physically and mentally. They are on a journey to create meaningful futures for themselves and, given the chance to literally be somebody else, to fulfill their own expectations of what a meaningful life should look like. They are now formed and defined as people both by their previous memories and experiences in their ‘old’ bodies AND the way people react to them now in their ‘new’ bodies, the expectations people have of them now. So their minds are in a sort of middle position were the old and the new, the internal (their own points of view) and the external (the expectations and reactions other people have in relation to them) are starting to become intertwined. After mentally growing into a body of the opposite sex and its specific environment while retaining their original personalities, that specific body and environment has been making them act in certain ways, giving them new possibilities and ambitions, which in turn change them and their personalities. So they have to realize they’re turning into completely new people they wouldn’t have become without that body switch experience. They also have to come to terms with the fact that they will be linked for the rest of their lives and that the process of becoming ‘mixed’, which is constantly alluded to in the internal monologues, is still ongoing, an internal process visually reflected through waves and similar water-related symbols.

After they meet again, things get even more complicated as they’re now intergral parts of each other’s lives. They are no longer isolated and one person alone, but a pair, two inseparable people forever bound together as at the end of the manga, they’re gearing toward a huge change in Hana’s life which will seal the pair’s fate forever. This gives them the strong advantage of no longer feeling the kind of existential loneliness other ‘normal’ people feel which is ultimately one of those unexpected, eye-opening moments the reader experiences throughout this intriguing story.

The body swap in WHITE NOTE PAD functions as the starting point of a journey for both the characters and the reader. It is an interesting fantasy grounded in magical realism (with the emphasis on realism) and, after all, an experience only fiction can provide. While the series is pretty short, it is still packed with surprising twists and turns, impressive character development, and thought-provoking gender politics. This being a josei-oriented series aimed at (young) women it is not surprising that there’s not an overwhelming amount of fast-paced action – except maybe toward the end which comes a little abrupt, making it almost difficult to already say goodbye to these two people who, in the course of the story, have so curiously become hard to separate.

While the manga is very introspective, emotional and literary (also in the sense that this is a manga that can easily be enjoyed by people who usually read literature only), the conflicts depicted in it are never overdramatized. Through the protagonists’ strong will to make the best of their situations a resolution is always on the horizon as these two characters really try to evolve. So despite the roughness and complexity of the manga’s topics, Yamashita Tomoko provides us here with a warm, positive view of what human beings are capable of which makes WHITE NOTE PAD an absolutely satisfying and even inspiring read.

Title: WHITE NOTE PAD
Author: Yamashita Tomoko (ヤマシタトモコ)
Volumes: 2 (2015-2016; completed)
Magazine: Feel Young
Label: Feel Comics FC SWING
Publisher: Shodensha
Additional information: Preview the first pages of volume 1 here.

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If you’re a dedicated follower of a manga artist, nothing feels more troubling than when their current series goes on hiatus, especially for health reasons. From a completely selfish perspective, it might mean you’ll never be able to read the end of that series. But of course it also makes you worry for the mangaka, the person who’s been working hard to deliver new chapters of their work. Accidents, illnesses, the inability to continue working due to high levels of stress, they aren’t that rare when it comes to interfering with a manga arist’s life and bringing their career to a halt. To the avid shōjo/josei-oriented manga reader, artists like Okazaki Kyōko or Yazawa Ai might come to mind. Another manga artist that disappeared with an unfinished series was Yamakawa Aiji, someone we’re very fond of here at coinlockerbaby.org.

In our artist profile, we mentioned how her series Stand Up! went through one magazine change, from monthly Bessatsu Margaret, the magazine Yamakawa Aiji had been strongly attached to since her debut, to its bi-monthly sister magazine The Margaret (both Shueisha). And then, with 3 tankōbon published, Stand Up! went on a long hiatus in early 2015. Things got very very quiet until in early 2017, Yamakawa Aiji was finally back in Betsuma, but only as the illustrator of the color artworks for two furoku manga volumes. And no word on a continuation of Stand Up!…

It took until late 2017 for good news to be announced: Stand Up! would be back in the April issue of The Margaret which went on sale on February 24th, 2018. Also gracing the magazine’s cover, Yamakawa’s longest-running series so far was back after 3 years with a 100-page installment and the announcement that it would end in the next issue (June 2018) of The Margaret. This means Stand Up! will now end with its 4th comic volume – an end not rushed but planned in advance by the artist – to be published on July 25, 2018.

Unfortunately, parts of the two new and final chapters in The Margaret looked similarly as hurriedly put together as the ones before the hiatus. Characters which seem hardly more than sketches appear in a white sea of nothingness where there should be backgrounds or slightly more defined panels. But it can be expected that the tankōbon version of the 4th and final volume of Stand Up! will include revised or more detailed page layouts so fans can hope for a satisfying end to this series!

   

More good news for people following Yamakawa Aiji’s career came at the end of June! Her new series will debut in Shueisha’s monthly josei-oriented manga magazine Cocohana, with its September issue on sale July 27. Even better yet, she’s also getting to contribute the magazine’s cover artwork (see left). The series itself, titled 2.43 Seiin Kōkō Danshi Barē-bu (2.43 – Seiin High School Boys’ Volleyball Club), isn’t all that new, though. It’s the manga adaptation of a young entertainment novel series about the rise of a boys’ volleyball team in a small provincial high school, created by Kabei Yukako and illustrated by none other than Yamakawa Aiji. Its first story arc (appropriately called ‘season’) was first published in 2013, the second followed in 2015 and the third season has been running since August 2017. (See below for the covers of the novels published so far.)

 

  

Yamakawa will provide only the art for the manga, neither the story nor the dialogue/script will be hers. This sounds like a little less freedom than Yamaguchi Izumi is enjoying with her manga version of the novel series Omoide no toki shūri shimasu by Tani Mizue, also running in Cocohana. (Yamaguchi debuted in Betsuma around the same time as Yamakawa and they belonged to a small group of super popular young mangaka with stylish artworks. See the first paragraphs of our profile on Yamakawa Aiji.) Nevertheless, as fans we’re super happy Yamakawa Aiji is back and we hope this is just one step toward a new original series by her! With great titles like the wonderful Yajirobē she’s already proved she’s absolutely capable of creating a memorable stand-alone manga. (Are we allowed to dream of just one new original one-shot by her at this point?) We’ll see what the future brings and for now, we’ll be cheering on her volleyball boys team :)

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From mid-2015 to late 2016, a strange candy-coloured jewel sparkled brightly in Shueisha’s Gekkan YOU, a monthly josei manga magazine which has a target demographic from youngish female office workers to women in their 50s who all have been reading shoujo manga for a long time, and which usually offers a line-up of mostly romance, comedy and slice of life josei manga by shoujo manga veterans. Yet sometimes it is in the most unexpected places you can find the most unusual, charming little gems, in this case a short series called Kokage-kun wa Majo (subtitled Kokage-kun Bewitched, but more literally translated Kokage-kun is a Witch), published separately in 3 comic volumes.

Its young artist, Komori Yōko, is a very recent graduate of Bunsei University of Art and neither a former Betsuma author now graduated to YOU nor a veteran like Hagio Moto, who are all more typical for the latter magazine’s roster. But Komori’s unique art style and inventive story-telling definitely deserve a closer look if you’re interested in exciting new talents. She only has two previous 2-volume series under her belt, one astronomically themed, the other one taking place in a maritime setting, which were also serialized in YOU. In these two works, she has already been able to impress readers with her quiet but entrancing stories and her stunning yet clean art relying heavily on natural motifs. Here, in Kokage-kun wa Majo it’s the plants-growing-out-of-cute-boys-and-girls, slightly pagan aesthetics so popular among professional and amateur artists right now which are combined with pastel secondary colors, playful gothic lolita accessories and fairy tale elements in a suburban and later on more fantastic setting providing a backdrop for a surprisingly dark love story.

Yumeko, our female protagonist, is a cute but lazy and self-indulgent girl who likes rolling around on the floor of her room in just a pair of panties and her school uniform top. Together with her mother, she lives in a decrepit community apartment building, a fact she’s been trying to hide from the girls in her class – and often from herself as she dreams herself away, imagining herself to be a princess swimming in cute clothes, candy and cakes. (We’re back to an old danchi as the childhood home of a shoujo manga heroine here; see Yamakawa Aiji’s previously reviewed Yajirobee for another example.) But that creepy old apartment building appears to have been hiding one secret from her too, as Yumeko finds out one day: there’s a boy living deep in the mysterious forest located on the roof of the building. The two argue a lot from their first meeting on, but there is something special about him that draws Yumeko back to his green oasis on top of the house. When Yumeko finds herself in a dangerous situation, it turns out that Kokage-kun, while biologically a boy, possesses helpful magical powers linked to nature which he inherited from his mother, making him a male witch!

 

Kokage-kun was supposed to take part in an “orgia” with a demon (akuma) to gain his full magical powers. He didn’t want to, though – for hidden reasons closely connected to Yumeko. The demon, however, never accepted Kokage-kun’s rejection and can’t let go of his desire for the witch boy and his right to an orgy with him. (And yes, that orgy is exactly what it sounds like ;) His plan is to get closer to Kokage-kun by using Yumeko who is flattered by the sudden attention of the demon in the disguise of a rather good-looking schoolboy. Of course, Yumeko is doomed to get hurt once she finds out the demon’s true intentions and is shocked when she hears about that orgia business.

Things get even more complicated when Yumeko realizes that her own feelings for the witch boy are slowly changing when her best friend Nanao falls in love with him. But there is a mysterious strong bond between Yumeko and Kokage: they seem to have a shared past Yumeko doesn’t remember, the proof being a photograph she finds of her and him smiling happily in a field of sunflowers… This is just the beginning of Yumeko’s and Kokage-kun’s dangerous journey to the bottom of darkness which is lightened up by hope, friendship and wonders, more witches, demons and a puppet master, a journey to recover Yumeko’s lost memories of a forgotten love – and to overcome death.

Like mentioned in the beginning, Komori Yōko’s artwork is absolutely delightful! From the beautiful color illustrations for the book covers, sweetly pastel-hued like Yumeko’s beloved candy, to the retro but sparkle-free character designs, which convey emotions expertly through lively facial expressions, to the atmospheric settings – there’s just so much that pleases the eye without ever being overwhelming. The page designs throughout are mostly clean, with the action often put into tidy panels, but also feature pretty details and natural ornaments, like insects, flowers, or even leaves growing out of bodies. But the pages never appear overwrought or overloaded, just as the story is not convoluted but – despite its growing complexity – easy to follow throughout the three volumes. And what is important to stress is that the art of a wildly growing nature is not just a visual gimmick here, as the life force of nature is crucial to the bitter but ultimately sweet story. Komori is also a master of creating memorable scenes just by putting her whimsical characters, fully fleshed out with their own weaknesses and quirky habits, into charming sceneries and settings: the run-down yet retro-cute community housing complex, a haunted forest, a day at the beach that envelopes the reader in its atmosphere so successfully you’ll find yourself able to smell the salty air and hear the cries of the seagulls!

Komori Yōko is not just a wizard of ink and colours: her series is brimming with small inventive ideas which are delivered both through the art and the story itself. Her talent for plotting and story-telling is just as outstanding as her art, as she presents us with a narrative full of twists and turns. Our starting point is witnessing the antics of our lazy heroine, her hilarious lack of self-discipline and her little quarrels with the witch boy, the tone being light and fun with a slight hint of melancholia. As the story unravels it turns surprisingly complex and deeply emotional, combining elements of comedy, fantasy, romance, adventure and even boys’ love. It sometimes even ventures into the surreal which again provides the reader with some unusual art to go along with it.

The cast is growing too as Yumeko and Kokage later on are joined by more and more magical companions. And it’s the deepening bonds with Yumeko’s friend from school, Nanao, and another witch girl called Moe that are really nice to watch, as this manga is not just a fantasy romance manga but also depicts friendships among girls in a realistic, multi-layered way. However, the heart of the manga remains Yumeko’s and Kokage-kun’s dangerous journey, as the question of whether the two will be able to save their future together is what will keep readers devouring the pages, desperately hoping for a happy end…

It’s been a while since Kokage-kun wa Majo ended its run and there has been no word on a new work by Komori Yōko, neither short nor long. But now that the artist has finished her art school education, we have to keep our fingers crossed she’ll be able to continue her career as a manga artist and find a lot of support in the future as both her quirky art and story-telling abilities truly stand out in the often rather homogenous sea of mainstream shoujo/josei manga.

Title: Kokage-kun wa Majo – Kokage-kun Bewitched (木陰くんは魔女。)
Author: Komori Yōko (小森羊仔)
Volumes: 3 (2016; completed)
Magazine: Gekkan YOU
Label: Margaret Comics YOU
Publisher: Shueisha
Additional information: Have a look at the first pages of volumes 1, 2 and 3 on the publisher’s site.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

 
 

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.

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.

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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Japanese design & graphic magazine MdN is running a special feature on girls and women disguising themselves as or dressing as boys/men in their upcoming August 2017 issue out July 6th. Under the headline of “The longing for women in mens’ clothes – the design of characters leaping over the boarder” they try to view the phenomenon from a variety of angles to try and answer the question why so many women feel attracted to the mysteriousness and cool outfits of cross-dressing women. The cover features Avu-chan, the singer from the Kobe-based rock band Ziyoou-vachi (Joōbachi), with an accompanying photo spread taking up the first part of the magazine.

The producer of KIRAKIRA ☆ PRECURE A LA MODE talks about creating the character Kenjō Akira (Cure Chocolat) that’s closely linked to both a protective motherliness and boyishness. And a history of girls and women disguising themselves or simply dressing as boys or men spans the decades from Tezuka Osamu’s Princess Knight’s Princess Sapphire to Ikeda Riyoko’s Lady Oscar into the new millenium and follows in the footsteps of manga scholar Oshiyama Michiko’s research.

A large part of the special is dedicated to 15 important cross-dressing girls and women in manga and anime. Here’s the eclectic cast the editors selected for these profiles:

1. Sapphire (Ribon no Kishi/Princess Knight, Tezuka Osamu)
2. Tenjō Utena (Shōjo Kakumei Utena/Revolutionary Girl Utena, Saitō Chiho)
3. Akiko (Palace Meiji, Kuze Banko)
4. Ashiya Mizuki (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e/Hana-Kimi, Nakajō Hisaya)
5. Fujioka Haruhi (Ōran Kōkō Hosuto-kurabu/Ouran High School Host Club, Hatori Bisco)
6. Sarasa (BASARA, Tamura Yumi)
7. Tominaga Sei (Kaze Hikaru, Watanabe Taeko)
8. Aramis (Anime Sanjūshi/The Three Musketeers Anime, Alexandre Dumas/Studio Gallop)
9. Nagao Kagetora (Yukibana no Tora, Higashimura Akiko)
10. Fujinami Ryūnosuke (Urusei Yatsura, Takahashi Rumiko)
11. Hatshepsut (Aoi Horus no Hitomi, Inudō Chie)
12. Oscar François de Jarjayes (Versailles no Bara/The Rose of Versailles, Ikeda Riyoko)
13. Julius Leonhard von Ahrensmeyer (Orpheus no Mado, Ikeda Riyoko)
14. Asaka Rei (Oniisama e…, Ikeda Riyoko)
15. Orihara Kaoru (Oniisama e…, Ikeda Riyoko)

Also included are features on cross-dressing female characters in drama, theatre and musical, both Shakespearean/Western drama, as well as a look at Japanese performing arts including Noh and the Takarazuka Revue, finishing with an interview focusing on the Sailor Moon musical “-Le Mouvement Final-“ and its Sailor Guardians who are “more [attractive] than ikemen (attactive men).”

With such a comprehensive line-up this looks like another interesting issue of MdN which lately has been providing good insights into issues related to manga and anime, though often from a design perspective. (We previously talked about their issue dedicated to the design revolution in shōjo manga in our Yamakawa Aiji profile.) More information on the August issue and preview images can be accessed via the magazine’s Amazon page.

For further information on the topic of cross-dressing girls in shōjo manga, I also highly recommend a look at Oshiyama Michiko’s book Shōjo manga jendā hyōshō-ron: ‘dansō no shōjo’ no zōkei to aidentiti [On the Representation of Gender in Shōjo Manga: The Shaping and Identity of ‘Cross-Dressing Girls’] which can be found on Amazon Japan among other places. Both this and the August issue of MdN are surely not to be missed for anyone interested in the gender politics of shōjo manga and closely related media!

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Our last review discussed the return of a widely loved Hana to Yume series featuring a clan and a curse forcing them to transform into animals when touched or stressed. Today this theme gets turned on its head as we witness the comeback of another Hana to Yume veteran, with a series featuring a hedgehog turning into a handsome young man! Following Takaya Natsuki and her Fruits Basket revival with Fruits Basket another, another big name formerly associated with Hakusensha’s semi-monthly Hana to Yume has moved to its monthly sister magazine, Bessatsu Hana to Yume (BetsuHana) with a new series: Nakajō Hisaya who enjoyed immense popularity with her Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (Hana-Kimi – For You in Full Blossom) series which ran from 1996 to 2004, its start and end preceding Fruits Basket by 2 years respectively. Both series were long-running mega hits, the latter (Furuba) also receiving a TV anime series while the former (Hana-Kimi) was adapted into a successful TV drama series (2 seasons, 2007, 2011; a Chinese TV adaptation aired before them in 2006), a Korean drama version titled To The Beautiful You (Areumdaun Geudaeege) in 2012 and finally a dating game app in 2017.

Hana-Kimi, a manga following the girl Mizuki who disguises herself as a boy to attend an all-boys school practically bursting with handsome, charismatic young men (ikemen), was collected into 23 tankōbon volumes and a 2-volume collection of spin-off short stories subtitled After School. Nakajō was unable to repeat the series’ million-selling success, though. Her short and sweet Sugar Princess (2 volumes) had difficulties during its run in Hana to Yume from 2005-2007, including being put on hiatus due to the artist’s health-related issues. One can only try to imagine how much more attention this series centering on a school girl’s passion for ice skating would have received if it had been released a decade later with the Yuri on Ice craze in full bloom (pun not entirely unintended).

With the only slightly less trying schedule of being published in a monthly magazine, Nakajō returned to the manga world with a new series titled Momomomotto! (alternatively Momo mo motto!) last year and its first manga volume in January 2017. A closer look at its cover artwork in fresh, spring themed colors reveals a lot of traditional Japanese imagery, including peach and sakura blossoms and a handsome man wearing elegant tradidional garments and an eboshi on his head. Next to him we see an enthusiastically smiling girl and when you turn the book to its backcover, there’s a cute hedgehog giving readers a pretty good idea of what’s to come in Momomomotto! With the combination of an ikemen, a school girl and an animal, things are bound to go down the stereotypical fantasy shōjo manga route but – spoiler alert! – Nakajō-sensei turns these clichés into something really enjoyable!

Momo is quickly able to make friends at school. Nishina Sumire, a pretty but down to earth girl, becomes her best friend. The whole school seems to admire her older brother, the star of the archery team. Then there’s Aihara Shirō, A boy from her class, who often spends his lunch breaks talking to Momo, and elps her in several situations, knows about her hedgehog after she secretly (and in one case, unknowingly) takes it to school with her. But Momo hasn’t been able to tell Aihara-kun something quite mysterious about the hedghehog yet. The small animal can turn into a human being, a handsome young man dressed in the elegant clothes and hat of a Heian-period nobleman called Harimaru. Only Momo can see his human form, which is quite practical considering he often pops up suddenly at school.

With the support of Aihara Momo is able to fight a demon at school and another one possessing one of their teachers which means two needles for Harimaru. He tells her about the ancient objects her mother did research on before she died, a netsuke shaped like a small hedgehog (a kind of toggle traditionally used by men to fasten small containers or pouches to their belts) and a tsuba, a round carved sword guard which Harimaru instructs Momo to keep close to her body because it will tell her when her three comrades from her previous life as Momotarō are around. Could it be the tsuba’s doing that Momo suddenly hears a shrill sound at school when she’s surrounded by Aihara, Sumire’s older brother and a mysterious cat-loving boy Momo found sleeping in the school gym?

The dynamic and often prettily decorated page layouts offer a mix of scenes of school and domestic life, shots of pretty boys and quick-fire dialogues providing comic relief from the suspense of Momo’s quest to find her group of former friends and stop the demons’ plan of revenge. And most importantly, there’s a lot of eye candy here in the form of pretty boys and the handsome man that is Harimaru, often presented in Nakajō’s trademark profiles. To balance that out, we have the slightly klutzy but passionate and relatable protagonist Momo and Harimaru’s cute animal form. Also notable is the depiction of the friendship between the two girls Momo and Sumire which I hope to see more of in future chapters!

The image arsenal of traditional Japanese items but also the names and the allusion to the folktale of Momotarō, his three animal friends and their quest to defend an island from a group of demons are the manga’s visual and narrative backbone. It’s the mixture of these very elements and the present-day school life that lend the manga a true flavour of its own. It’s admittedly not reinventing the wheel called shōjo manga. But it features such a great cast of likeable and mysterious characters, a lot of readers will find themselves become attached to them very quickly to follow Momo’s and Harimaru’s quest. This mix of fantasy, school life, action and comedy also leaves room for quieter moments and the development of friendships. It is always entertaining and very reminiscent of the old school Hana to Yume magic, leaving readers wanting more! The only thing that’s holding up the fast pace the first volume has set is its slow release rhythm caused by the fact it’s being published in a monthly magazine. The next volume won’t be out until September at the earliest. I believe this series will settle at a one new tankōbon every 8-9 months rhythm with the coming volumes which means plenty of time between releases if you’re a not a magazine buyer :( But so far, this title is definitely worth the wait! I’m very curious to see where Momo’s journey is headed and if the series can manage to keep its high-octane pace!

Title: Momo mo motto! (ももももっと!; stylized as Momomomotto!)
Author: Nakajō Hisaya (中条比紗也)
Volumes: 1 (ongoing; 2017-)
Magazine: Bessatsu Hana to Yume
Label: Hana to Yume Comics
Publisher: Hakusensha
Additional information: Sample the first chapter of the first volume on Hakusensha’s info page via the tameshiyomi link.

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If you were a manga reader around the time the world moved into the current millenium, you probably remember the birth of an unforgettable shōjo manga mega hit series featuring a lonely girl meeting a mysterious clan of people cursed to turn into animals under various circumstances. While Takaya Natsuki‘s manga Fruits Basket, published in Hakusensha’s bimonthly magazine Hana to Yume, had already started its run in 1998, it was in 2001, with the winning of the Kodansha Manga Award in the shōjo manga category and – most importantly – the airing of its TV anime adaptation, that Fruits Basket crossed age and gender barriers and captured the hearts of so many people, girls and women, boys and men alike. And it turned the series not just into a stellar success story in Japan but internationally as well where it also gained a huge fan following. The manga series itself ran until 2006, its 23 tankōbon volumes selling millions of copies in its home country and, as translated versions, abroad.

In 2015 the publication of a 12-volume Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition (aizōban), designed in a slightly larger format than the original tankōbon version and with additional color illustrations and features like interviews and character profiles, was announced. To create some buzz and promote the sale of this edition (released monthly until August 2016), Takaya Natsuki returned to the world of Fruits Basket and began to publish chapters of a new Fruits Basket series via Hakusensha’s digital platform Hana Lala online. A year later, these chapters saw a serialization in paper form in the monthly magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume before the first volume was finally published in tankōbon format in August 2016. This new series is titled Fruits Basket another (or Furubana, similar to the abbreviated Furuba of its predecessor), which hints at an alternative universe kind of relationship with the original series about the the girl Honda Tōru and the members of the Sōma (Sohma) clan who are cursed to transform into one animal of the Chinese zodiac plus a cat respectively when they’re either in bad physical or mental states or touched by members of the opposite sex. However, the events in Furubana take place in the very same Sōma clan universe as Furuba!

Chronologically, Fruits Basket another is set several years after the original series. A girl called Mitoma Sawa is supposed to start her first day at Kaibara-kōkō, the same senior high school the main Furuba characters used to go to back in their days. Sawa is an only child living with her cold, mostly absent mother. She doesn’t want to cause trouble for anybody after a bad experience in elementary school which left her alone without friends. In best shōjo manga fashion she wants to start fresh in high school. She might be on her way to a catastrophic beginning when she is late for her first day and gets scolded by a teacher but she is then saved by a good-looking boy called Sōma Mutsuki (why hello there, Furuba Yuki!). Together with another student and member of the Sōma clan, Hajime (a look-a-like of none other than Kyō, of course), Mutsuki wants Sawa to become a member of the student council and makes it publically known she was selected as a new member. Timid Sawa doesn’t really have a choice anymore, accepts her new position and joins president Hajime and vice president Mutsuki.

From this short summary alone it should be obvious that just like its predecessor, Fruits Basket another belongs to the healing (iyashi-kei) manga genre. The premise of the original – how is Tōru changed by the Sōma clan and how does she in return change the Sōma clan dynamics – is kept and applied to the protagonist Sawa. Unfortunately for the reader, Sawa so far seems like a rather plain and uninteresting heroine by comparison and is mainly used as a tool to build a stage for the new generation of Sōma clan members who make their appearances one by one. Furubana is planned as a 3-volume series so there clearly isn’t enough space to draw out the story as elaborately as Furuba did which means some Sōma family members here disappear just as quickly as they’ve entered the stage. In the first volume we do get some dark foreshadowing when Mutsuki repeatedly calls a mysterious person called Shiki who avoids meeting Sawa face to face, a hint that the series might hide some darker secrets below its surface, just like the original series did.

Throughout the manga long-time followers of the series will be able to play guessing games trying to match Furubana children with their supposed Furuba parents by their looks, behavior and character traits. The Furubana offspring are missing the key characteristic of the Fruits Basket generation though (as a result of the ending of the original series, which I’m not going to spoil here), which is exactly what made Fruits Basket so special, plot-wise and visually: the transformation into animals and the problems this caused. It might seem like an extremely lazy analogy but try to imagine a Sailor Moon another as a high school comedy of the children of the Sailor Senshi without their magical planet powers and transformations and ask yourself if you’re enough of a die-hard fan to find entertainment in that…

[Compare these two images: Pictured above Yuki and Kyō from Fruits Basket volume 3, published in 1999 and pictured below Hajime and Mutsuki from Fruits Basket another volume 1 published in 2016. Not that much seems to have changed between these two and the next generation. The character designs remain simple but cute, though.]

The unique characters of the second generation of the Sōma clan and their gorgeous character designs, the bickering between its two main family members (Mutsuki and Hajime here, the supposed sons of Yuki and Kyō) and the sometimes over-the-top humor here are reminders of key elements of the original. Hints at darker motives of characters are given throughout the first volume and especially at the end, providing a cliffhanger to buy the next volume which should be out by late summer/early fall 2017. In its current form, I have to admit this spin-off doesn’t leave much of a lingering impression. Maybe it will be more satisfying once the series has ended and it can be enjoyed in full. It did however make me want to revisit the original which I find has aged perfectly, with its soft and kind gentleness winning over cruelty and isolation.

Title: Fruits Basket another (フルーツバスケット another)
Author: Takaya Natsuki (高屋奈月)
Volumes: 1 (on-going; 2016-)
ISBN: 9784592218517
Format: B6
Prize: 580 Yen (excluding tax)
Magazine: Hana LaLa online (digital), Bessatsu Hana to Yume (printed version)
Label: HC online
Publisher: Hakusensha
Additional information: The series originally started its run in September 2015 at Hana Lala online. Following the digital release, it is published in printed form in BetsuHana first, before about 4 chapters are collectively published in one comic tankôbon.
Chapters for volume one are offline; a preview the first chapter is located here. The chapters to be published in volume 2 have also been taken offline because the series re-started its 4-month run in the current issue of BetsuHana (number 7/2017, out since May 26th). Volume 2 is slated for a late summer/early fall publication. Chapters for future printed publication (volume 3 onwards) are still online, read them for free while you can :)

And I can’t end this Fruits Basket post without the wonderfully soothing opening song of the anime series by Okazaki Ritsuko:

Forフルーツバスケット - YouTube

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Today marks the first anniversary of mangaka Yoshino Sakumi’s death on April 20, 2016. The sad news came as a tremendous shock to many of us as it was so sudden and unexpected. Yoshino Sakumi, born in 1959, debuted in 1980 in Shueisha’s now folded Bouquet magazine and made a name for herself with works featuring memorably quirky characters, often twins, just as often going through a serious identity crisis, and exploring the depths of the human mind and soul. Shōnen wa kōya wo mezasu (1985-1987), Juliette no tamago (1988-1989) or the long-running period, published in Shogakukan’s defunct seinen magazine IKKI from 2004 to 2014, are among her most beloved and well-known works. Yoshino was also a respected film and literary critic and essayist.

The works of her late period are closely linked with Shogakukan’s Gekkan flowers magazine. One of her strongest manga, the psychological thriller and human drama Kioku no gihō (highly recommended if you want to buy one single bunko volume to sample the authors work, be prepared for some emotional shocks though!), was published in the very first issue of the magazine in 2002 and a colour illustration for it was used on the cover. Through the first and second decade of the new millenium, she kept coming back to the magazine for more one-shots and visually intriguing two-tone comics.

These last works, previously unpublished in comic book form, were lovingly compiled by the editors at flowers and turned into a beautifully designed single volume called Itsuka midori no hanataba (A Green Bouquet For You). The large A5 format book comes with a transparent dust jacket printed with flowers and contains several short and super short stories showcasing the range of this extremely talented author who had to leave this earth much too soon.

The title story is a romantic and touching ghost story while in the others included, readers will chance upon a dream dragon, a watermelon bringing possible death by doppelgänger, a princess with a bat as her earring, a green cat reminding a young woman of her guilty conscience, a woman obsessed with her fortune teller and an undertaker being the only one left after the powerhungry kings of the world have killed each other. Like many of Yoshino’s works, these stories depict the nature of us humans with a sharp sense for our dark side, but also with gentleness, poignancy and tongue-in-cheek humour.

The largest part of the book is reserved for her second-to-last published short story, MOTHER, which was supposed to be continued soon in flowers until death ended this fantastic artist’s career. The unfinished 100-page rough script (called nēmu/name in Japanese) composed of dialogues and pencil-drawn sketches for the manga layout is also included in the book. It’s surprisingly readable and, as a look behind the scenes, interesting from a manga fan’s point of view, the story itself being a post-apocalyptic sci-fi vision of the future, in tone and subject very similar to some of Hagio Moto‘s works.

As much as I miss Yoshino-sensei and would have loved to see her work on something longer again after finishing period, this wonderful book provides something like closure, as chlichéd as it might sound. She’ll always be in the top ten of my favourite mangaka and I hope her unique, sometimes shocking, always moving works will continue to fascinate readers for many years to come!

Title: Yoshino Sakumi Sakuhinshū – Itsuka midori no hanataba (吉野朔実作品集 いつか緑の花束に)
Author: Yoshino Sakumi (吉野朔実)
ISBN: 9784091670748
Publisher: Shogakukan
Format: A5, 248 pages
Year: 2016
Additional information: Last collection of short stories, published in December 2016 after the artist’s death on April 20, 2016. Contains works previously published in Gekkan flowers from 2004 to 2016: MOTHER and the unpublished follow-up in raw script form (name), the title story plus 3 other very short one-shots and 4 two-tone one-shots (black & red, black & green), plus a gallery of colour artworks, author comments and an interview recorded shortly before her death. More info at Shogakukan Comic.

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