Wednesday, January 28, 2004


About a week ago I went up to Chicago. There are a couple of stores that sell Japanese-language manga, one new and one used, and I bought a bunch of manga, though not as much as I have on past trips. I thought I'd describe them for anyone who might be interested, even though I haven't read them yet (with one exception).

My big find was the remaining volumes of the Japanese-language Fruits Basket that I didn't yet own. I've already said something about the anime, which follows the manga very closely, and you'll be able to see the manga in translation soon, so I won't say any more about these. Otherwise, the only manga I bought new were two items on sale. One was Survival in the Office vol. 2 by Risu Akizuki, one of the series of bilingual manga published by Kodansha, which I got for half price (six bucks). This is a series of four-panel strips (a popular form in Japan, as here, though Azumanga Daioh is the only example that's been published here, as far as I know) dealing with the problems of "OLs": that is, "office ladies," or female office workers. It was written in Japanese, but in this bilingual edition, the strips are translated into English with the original Japanese text in the margins. A number of other manga have been published in similar bilingual editions, including Card Captor Sakura. While they're intended for Japanese speakers learning English, they can be helpful to English speakers learning Japanese, in that they provide examples of real Japanese (not the simplified sentences in Japanese textbooks) with translations. And the strips here are actually pretty funny. But it's probably not worth paying the full price of twelve dollars, since there are only 128 strips.

The other item I got on sale was an issue of an anthology magazine called You. (Again, that's the title, in English and romaji.) This is a biweekly, and contains 380 pages for 340 yen. Judging by its contents and the ads, it seems to be a magazine for josei, or young woman. Going by the art alone, most of the series in it seem pretty routine, with two exceptions. The first series, "KANNAsa-n" (using their romanization) by Fukaya Kaoru, unusually for manga, has a fat heroine, though aside from that the art seems routine. Later there's a series called "Kodomo nanka daikirai!" (For some reason I hate the child) by Inoue Kimidori. This is a comedy series with un-"manga"-like art about a mother (apparently the artist herself) and her child; this installment seems to be about toilet training. The series seems to be fairly popular: it's been collected into fourteen volumes so far, though I don't recall ever seeing any of them.

At the used bookstore I bought five items. Four were vols. 1-4 of a series called "Monokage ni ashibyoushi," by Uchida Shungiku. (It looks like the series continues past the fourth volume, but without reading it I'm not sure.) The translation given on the covers in "Stepping in My Shelter"; a more literal though less euphonious translation would be "beating time with my foot from in hiding." Uchida is a woman, and this may be one of the Japanese "ladies' sex comics" you read about: the heroine has a fair amount of sex with different partners (not at the same time), and this sex is shown explicitly (though no genitals are shown, even masked). Uchida's line is very loose and flexible. I already owned two manga by Uchida. One, entitled Fandamentaru (Fundamental), is a collection of short stories, mostly erotic. The other, Minami kun no koibito (Minami's girlfriend), is about a guy whose girlfriend is six inches tall. Really.

[Update: I've reviewed Minami kun no koibito here (scroll down to Mar. 23), and Monokage ni ashibyoushi (which is far from being a sex comic) here (scroll down to Mar. 24).]

In fact, what first caught my eye about these books was not the author, whose name I didn't recognize, but the fact that each of them has on the front cover a sort of prose poem in grammatical though not always idiomatic English, even though there's no English text in the book itself. For vol. 4, it reads:

"Let my hands sneek [sic] behind the words. My fingers will surely touch the lump with veins all through it. That's all I want, but you never let me touch it, why?


"The 'I', who can say so but cannot carry it out, and another 'I', who could never say so, but can do that. Both are me, and neither is me. So, be patient a little while until I can say good-bye, and keep giving me a blood transfusion. It may be a little painful, but it'll never take long. I'm sure, real sure it'll be as short as if I were to cry."

I'm actually not sure how to write the title of the final manga I bought. The first two kanji (characters) can be read in several different ways, and I can't tell from the context which is correct. I'll go with the first reading in my kanji dictionary, and write it as Kobitotachi ga sawagu no de, which would mean "Because the dwarfs make a fuss." In any case it's by Izumi Kawahara. The main character appears to be a manga artist, and the book consists of one-to-four page gag strips alternating with a longer story in which the main character and her friend seem to enter a video game. Apart from this, I have no idea what's going on. The main character is again un-"manga"-like in appearance, and looks a little bit like the Rugrats characters.

Update: James Moar sent me an email pointing out that other Japanese four-panel strips have been published in the U.S.: Heartbroken Angels, The Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses, and "Palepoli" in Secret Comics Japan. (I actually knew about Heartbroken Angels and "Palepoli," but they had slipped my mind.)

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