Suppli Volumes 4 and 5 by Mari Okazaki
Wow, there has been a two year gap between volumes of Suppli. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that josei series simply don’t sell well here, so I’m happy with whatever I can get. I was worried that this series was going to be on permanent hiatus, so getting the next two books packaged together as an omnibus was a treat. Overworked Fujii continues to have problems juggling her stressful job at an advertising agency and her increasingly disastrous love live. At the start of the book Fujii is jotting down all the random observations of the day that she wants to share with her boyfriend Ogiwara. They are both so overworked that they never see each other, so she’s trying to keep track of all the things she wants to share with him. Unfortunately things are even worse than Fujii thinks as Ogiwara is about to be transferred overseas and he doesn’t like long-distance relationships. He dumps her, and her response is to smile and say “I’m fine. Goodbye.” She realizes after seeing his relieved expression after the break up that she doesn’t need him anymore.
Fujii takes refuge in shopping, buying “lucky” items, and hashing out the aftermath of her relationship by going out with her girlfriends. The next man on the horizon for Fujii is the arrogant photographer Sahara, who looks alarmingly like a manga version of Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords. I probably have more tolerance towards Sahara than I should because I kept thinking that he was about to burst into song. But it is too bad for Fujii, instead of dating a charmingly dim Kiwi she’s stuck with Sahara. Their first dates are not traditional dates as they each keep getting ill and end up nursing each other back to health. While they are attracted to each other, it seems like Fujii has not lost her knack for fixating on a spectacularly inappropriate man. Sahara is very talented at his job, but he seems to be a bit of a womanizer.
One of the things I like about Suppli is the general feeling of sadness that seems to settle over Fujii in quiet moments. This is chicklit with a dysfunctional heroine, and while some people might find Fujii annoying I felt sympathetic towards her. She’s consumed by her work to such a degree that she ends up placing emotional importance on shopping even though acquiring new things is an empty exercise. She’s so desperate for human contact that she ends up with the first man to show interest in her after she was dumped, and falls for him even though she knows she’s making a bad decision. Okazaki plays with layouts, showing some panels rotated 90 degrees. This ends up placing a different emphasis on the expressions and body language of the characters. Okazaki also continues to add little surreal touches that create an otherworldly feel to the more prosaic backgrounds of Fujii’s office. When Fujii and Sahara go to scout an outdoor location for a photo shoot, the scene is filled with an organic pattern instead of a defined background. The characters look as if they are about to dissolve.
It felt to me like there was a little more focus on the supporting cast in these two volumes of Suppli, with side stories detailing the lives of some of Fujii’s office mates who are dating. Even good guy Ishida has moved on, and Fujii’s new trainee doesn’t treat her mentor or her co-workers with any respect. I hope that Fujii eventually achieves some sort of work-life balance, although I’m predicting another painful breakup from Sahara before that happens. It looks like the next volume of Suppli is also going to be an omnibus and is scheduled to come out in February, so I hope the ending of the series is published.
Bunny Drop Volume 1 By Yumi Unita
I have to confess that I initially bought this manga mainly because I want to support publishers bringing out more josei titles in the US. I was not attracted to the premise of a bachelor unexpectedly becoming a father. I don’t think that there’s necessarily anything extra cute or special about men acting as a primary parent, so I was worried that this series would be overly sentimental. But when I picked Bunny Drop up I was happy to discover that it was much more subtle and interesting than I assumed it would be.
Daikichi travels to meet his family on the occasion of his grandfather’s death. When he arrives at the familial home he sees a strange little girl hanging around the house. It turns out that the little girl is the product of his grandfather’s secret affair. Daikichi now has a six year old aunt! Rin immediately attaches herself to Daikichi, silently following him everywhere. It turns out that he’s the spitting image of his grandfather as a young man, so he seems like a familiar person in a house suddenly filled with strangers for the funeral. Daikichi is enraged when he hears his relatives dismissing Rin as an odd child and going through the motions of talking about what to do with her when it is clear to him that they’ve already decided to put her into some sort of institution. He asks Rin if she wants to come home with him. Daikichi suddenly has to figure out what to do about his demanding job, finding childcare, and figuring out how to parent a six year old girl.
While Bunny Drop has some lighthearted moments, it doesn’t portray single parenthood as the idealistic barrel of laughs that Yotsuba&! does. Daikichi has to carefully weigh every decision – which day care will be best for Rin? Can he provide her any companionship when his job requires so much overtime? He starts to notice Rin’s habits and figures out which bunny stuffed animal she likes the most. The details of sudden parenthood seemed realistic and interesting, but Unita adds in another storyline to engage the reader. There’s a larger mystery that remains in the back of Daikichi’s mind. Where exactly is Rin’s mother, and why did Rin have so few possessions at his grandfather’s house?
One of the things I liked very much about Bunny Drop was the character designs. Rin is cute, but with her silent mannerisms, curtain of hair, and neediness she seems realistic and more like her own person than a generic adorable kid. Daikichi is drawn to deliberately look not very handsome. He looks like a nebbishy salaryman in his 30s, which is exactly what he is. Unita’s drawing style is very economical. There’s just enough detail, but she doesn’t spend an excessive amount of time drawing tiny background details or adding flourishes of tone. This lets the reader focus more on chracter expression and interaction. While seeing Rin and Daikichi bond over cooking and shopping was cute, it is balanced by Daikichi’s realization that taking care of a child does represent a sacrifice. I’m always happy when something turns out better than my expectations, and Bunny Drop was a nice surprise. I’ll be on board for the second volume.
Butterflies, Flowers Volume 2 by Yuki Yoshihara
I really like this series. I thought the first volume was fun but volume two spends more time exploring the budding relationship of “lady” turned office worker Choko and servant turned sadistic boss Masayuki. At work Choko sees Masayuki calmly reject the advances of other women. But when the niece of the company CEO turns up and announces that she’s selected Masayuki for her husband he isn’t able to quickly turn her down. Choko is dismayed when she observes Masayuki hanging out with another woman. One of the things I like about the series is the sudden shifts in personality for both characters. Choko slips from being a calm office worker into chibi mode, where she’s drawn to look vaguely like an angry hippo in a suit. Masayuki is a secret otaku, making references to Initial D and talking about the differences between various Gundam theme songs.
Butterflies, Flowers easily moves from workplace comedy to more touching moments, as Masayuki takes Choko back to the place where her family’s estate used to be. He announces that he’s determined to restore her family’s land, because he’s looking for a place that feels like home again. The couple begins to officially date, but they run into issues in the bedroom. I enjoy the way Yoshihara is able to switch back and forth between a touching moment of the couple confessing their feelings to broad slapstick comedy. The manga never feels inconsistent in tone. I still enjoy Yoshihara’s “evil faces” the most. The way a shadow will fall across Masayuki’s face when he’s grimly plotting his next move is hilarious.
I hope this series sells well. This is exactly the type of manga that I’d like to see more of. It deals with sex in a funny way, being more mature than what you’d find in a typical title from the Shoujo Beat imprint but it doesn’t go into the sometimes excessive territory of something like the titles published by the Aurora Luv Luv line. Yoshihara has a wicked sense of humor and she’s created a couple that I feel like rooting for.
All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga
All the manga blogs love All My Darling Daughters, and I am no exception. This single volume would be a great first pick for anyone interested in sampling Fumi Yoshinaga’s work if they haven’t already. I sometimes have mixed feelings towards volumes of manga short stories perhaps due to the fact that for books I tend to read far more novels than short stories, and it is a rare short story collection that I keep in the house knowing that I’m going to read it again and again. Some manga anthology collections are just collections of back-up stories that are only loosely linked thematically, but this manga is extremely cohesive. All My Darling Daughters focuses on the lives of women at varying stages of their lives, and it is one of those works that I can see myself rereading for years to come.
The first story introduces Yukiko, a career woman who still lives with her mother. Yukiko’s life takes a dramatic turn when her mother Mari decides that she’s going to live her life the way she wants to after recovering from cancer. Mari marries an actor three years younger than her daughter and brings him home. Yukiko views her new “dad” with an incredible amount of suspicion, and the situation exaggerates the tension between Yukiko and Mari. Yukiko ends up moving out to live with her boyfriend and starts a new chapter in her own life. The relationship between Yukiko and Mari is sometimes sarcastic and acerbic but there is obviously a lot of caring between them. While the the next story about a teacher and the girl who coerces him into having sex was one of the weakest of the bunch, I was quite happy to see Yukiko pop up at a bar yelling “Boo Boo!” at the teacher when he was describing his romantic exploits. Yukiko ends up being the thread that sews all the stories together, even if she appears in some of them only for a few panels.
The middle story in the collection is about Sayako, a woman who takes her grandfather’s advice “not to discriminate among people” to an extreme. Sayako is unselfish to a degree that might not be normal. She decides to go on arranged marriage meetings in order to find a husband, and the person who might be perfect for her is totally unexpected. Yukiko thinks about some of her old friends from school and their agreement to go to work in order to advance the cause of women’s rights. Some of their lives didn’t turn out the way they predicted in high school. The final story in the collection returns to Yukiko and Mari, as Yukiko learns some of the ways her grandmother influenced her mother.
I enjoyed the ways Yoshinaga portrayed her characters’ lives. While there is humor present, her women firmly live in the real world. Endings aren’t always happy and there is sometimes a sense of loss that lingers even when to all outward appearances everything looks fine. I always like Yoshinaga’s art because she has a such a distinct style. She uses a line in her drawings that is deceptively lose, giving some of her illustrations the immediacy of a sketchbook. The art in All My Darling Daughters seems a little more polished and worked over than some of her other works, with more tone and details used in the backgrounds of the panels.
By far the one moment out of the whole collection that will stick in my memory is when Sayako is caring for her sick niece. Her niece throws up in Sayako’s hands, and Sayako is remarkably unconcerned about being covered with vomit. I think holding out your hands so your kid can vomit in them is a universal parenting experience. I remember when one of my kids vomited in my hands I started thinking “Well, I really am a Mom if I am catching puke. I hope he isn’t coming down with a stomach virus. Where is a napkin?” Sayako’s relatively serene reaction to caring for her sick niece illuminates her personality and serves to illustrate why she arrives at a momentous decision about how to lead her life. Yoshinaga’s illustration of a trial that most parents go through allowed me to feel an immediate connection to what Sayako was experiencing. I think portraying moments that forge a connection between reader and fictional character is what great writers do when they are at the peak of their skills.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Butterflies, Flowers Volume 1 by Yuki Yoshihara
It can be rough if you are a female manga fan of a certain age. While reading shoujo romance about high school students does appeal to my inner 14 year old, my inner 23-29 year old remains unsatisfied since there are so few stories about women out of high school that are translated over here. After being deprived of a new josei series for so long, I was exited that the Yuki Yoshihara title Butterflies, Flowers was being published under Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint. Right away you know that you’re going to get something slightly racier than the typical Shojo Beat title, as the heroine Choko is sexually harassed during a job interview. The interviewer asks if she’s a virgin and demands to know the answer. She admits that she is and vows not to work at the company. Unfortunately Benten Real Estate is the only place to offer her a job. Choko comes from a formerly wealthy family and she has to work to help out. Her parents now run a mediocre soba restaurant and her younger brother has the mannerisms and speaking patterns of a feudal lord. She remembers one of her constant companions from childhood was the son of the chauffer, a boy she called Cha-chan.
On her first day Choko finds out that she’s assigned to the administration section where her sexually harassing interviewer Masayuki Domoto works. He yells at her for being late and points out that a stray hair on her sleeve is an indication that she needs to take better care of her appearance. Domoto assigns points values to her behavior, makes her stay late to finish reports, and then fines her for not previously requesting overtime. When Choko is menaced by a deranged ex-subcontractor Masayuki rushes to her rescue, calling her “Milady.” Choko realizes that her new boss is her long-lost childhood companion and former servant. The duo end up working together at the real estate company and helping out Choko’s family after work hours.
I’ve read a few reviews that point to the gender dynamics in Butterflies, Flowers as being problematic. I wasn’t bothered by this at all. The contrast between sexually harassing boss Masayuki and loyal servant Cha-chan is so stark that it is hard not to see his behavior and reactions as being a satirical comment about gender roles. Choko’s ability to snap into “Milady” mode and issue commands gives her the ability instantly turn the domineering Masayuki into the subservient Cha-Chan. Butterflies, Flowers has an engaging combination of humor and warmth as the relationship between Choko and Masayuki begins to develop again. While Masayuki has more power in the workplace than Choko the situations they are thrown into end up showing the couple relying on each other. Their bickering has a familiar quality to it that shows how comfortable they are with each other in once sense since they’ve known each other for years. But their new roles as adults cause confusion as they aren’t quite sure to relate to each other.
I enjoyed the supporting cast, especially Choko’s younger brother Mikihiko who is given to grandiose pronouncements lamenting his current fate like “Lo, our honor has been cast aside, we now must endure serving soba to commoners as we live in frugality!” I’m not quite sure why Masayuki’s best friend Suou needs to be an occasional transvestite, but he provides some outside commentary on the budding relationship that Choko uses to test her resolve and new feelings. Yoshihara does a good job portraying the varied moods and reactions of her lead characters. At times the dictatorial Masayuki looks as if he has been possessed by an unholy spirit. Choko switches from demurely blushing to issuing commands like an empress. Both characters switch into chibi mode with unhinged jaws when they start yelling at each other.
At the end of volume one I’m left to wonder if the couple will be able to overcome the burden of their past and come together as equals. Choko loves Masayuki, but she realizes that a relationship won’t work if he continues to see her as the child he used to indulge or as the doormat he orders around at work. Choko’s awareness of their relationship dynamic does a lot to command reader respect, even if she does find herself acting oddly due to Masayuki. I hope this series does well, I’d love it if a few more josei series get translated here.
MangaCast points out two josei titles that have been licensed by Aurora. I enjoy their book Walkin’ Butterfly, but I haven’t picked up many other titles from them that I see myself collecting. Nephilim was a hot mess (which might be ok for those who are into that kind of thing), and I’ve skimmed through some of their other titles like Make Love and Peace and Love for Dessert but I was a little underwhelmed. Aurora seems to be getting the most financial success from their yaoi line Deux, but I was really hoping for more josei when they started publishing here.
So I’m definitely going to check out these two titles (Queen of Ragtonia and Tengu-jin) since they are coming from the same publishing house in Japan that put out Suppli and Paradise Kiss. I like fantasy series and josei, so these sound like series I’ll enjoy. Queen of Ragtonia is by Chika Shiomi, and I’ve liked reading her previous series Night of the Beasts and Yurara. Usually publishers tend to lock up works by one author, so I find it amusing that Shiomi now has works out from 4 different publishers in the US – Canon (CMX), Night of the Beasts (GoComi), Yurara (Viz), and now Queen of Ragtonia from Aurora.
Forest of Gray City Volumes 1 and 2 by Jung-hyun Uhm (amazon)
Forest of Gray City has been on my “to read” list for a while. Since reading so much manga about kids in high school can sometimes get a little old, I try to keep an eye out for stories featuring characters in other stages of life. It is of course a big change to read books about twentysomething women with messed up love lives instead of reading manga about high school girls with messed up love lives. This was a nice josei series that is complete in two volumes.
Yun-Ook is a freelance graphic designer. She has a hard time making ends meet, so she decides to rent out a room in her apartment. She’s so desperate for extra cash, she’s willing to accept a male roommate. She’s sometimes distracted when she looks out the window and sees a solitary man on the bridge outside her house. She wonders what he’s doing.
Yun-Ook goes out drinking with her friends and is carded by a young waiter. Later when she’s drowning her sorrows alone, that same waiter ends up on her doorstep looking for a place to stay. His name is Bum-Moo. At first they lead entirely separate lives, only running into each other for a few minutes each morning. But they begin to share the mundane routine of daily life, watching tv, fixing dinner, and bringing umbrellas to the subway stop for each other when its raining. Bum-Moo asks Yun-Ook if it is ok if he has a crush on her. She simply says “No.” and starts to avoid him.
Yun-Ook learns that Bum-Moo’s only 17 years old, with some complicated family drama that has lead to him being on his own. He also has a habit of standing on bridges, looking at the morning break. When his long-lost stepsister shows up, Yun-Ook and Bum-Moo’s relationship starts to get even more complicated. Bum-Moo has to help out his step-sister, while Yun-Ook struggles with her feelings for him.
I enjoyed this series. My main criticism of it is that the ending felt a little rushed. I would have happily read a third volume, learning more about the characters before Yun-Ook and Bum-Moo’s relationship was resolved. There are so few manga series out there featuring working women, this manhwa is definitely worth a read if you are looking for some good josei.
Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki
Walkin’ Butterfly is one of the first books from Aurora Publishing. As someone who’s wished for more josei manga to read, I figured I had to check it out.
Michiko has cripplingly low self esteem because she’s freakishly tall. Her main hobbies are working on motorcycles and occasionally indulging in a little bit of juvenile delinquency. She has a crush on her friend and main source of support, a truck driver named Nishikino, but he sees her as a little sister. One day when she’s delivering pizzas for yet another dead-end job she’s mistaken for a model in the backstage area of a fashion show. Before she can correct the mistake she’s decked out in glamorous clothing and make-up. She’s shocked that women as tall as her have a job like this, and assumes that it is simple to put on clothes and walk down a runway.
The fashion designer Mihara glances at her and knows immediately that she doesn’t belong because a real model would be nervous before a big show. He tells her that she’s just “an ordinary amazon” and he feels sorry for his clothes seeing them on her. Michiko takes this as a challenge and lunges for the catwalk, determined to prove him wrong. But she freezes up when everyone stares at her, ruining the fashion show. She runs away feeling humiliated.
Michiko is determined to change her life, and she fixates on the fashion show and designer Mihara as a way to prove to herself that she’s worth something. Knowing next to nothing about the fashion industry, she’s determined to be in another of Mihara’s shows.
I enjoyed the art in Walkin’ Butterfly, which reminded me of a bit of a mash-up between Yayoi Ogawa and Erica Sakurazawa. The volume is printed on higher quality paper stock than most manga, and includes an extensive interview with the author, but I wish that it included some translation notes. There’s some scenes involving drug use and nudity that would probably put Walkin’ Butterfly in an adult collection in most public libraries. I’m curious to see how Michiko will handle becoming a model, and I wonder if she’ll find out more about the enigmatic fashion designer she’s determined to prove wrong.