Girls' Stuff, June (?) '95
Seems like it's been months, doesn't it? (Or has it been months?) Three months
after the devastating earthquake of January 17, life here in southern Hyogo
Prefecture is gradually returning to an (unconvincing) semblance of normalcy,
though tens of thousands are still homeless, many thousands left unemployed,
and the deaths of 5,502 people still weigh on our hearts.
Like a lot of others here, I'm tired of talking about the earthquake, but
before I move on I want to say thank you to the many readers of this column
and my translations who sent e-mail and letters inquiring after my well-being.
I wasn't able to answer them all adequately, but I want you to know that your
concern meant a lot to me.
Now down to business...
A few weeks ago I went out to visit the owners of the Wonderland, an Osaka-based
mini-chain of manga shops, at their beautiful new shop in otherwise desolate
Nakamozu. Toshiharu and Yohko Minamihata (they're a couple) started Wonderland
in 1980, and have since become not only successful entrepeneurs, but also important
and beloved members of the manga community.
They've started a new corner in their Nakamozu shop which features manga and non-manga books recommended by one or another "notable" person working in or close to the manga industry. Apparently they were short on notable people when I stopped by, because they asked me to do the next one. Here's what I offered them. (Keep in mind that these are recommendations; not necessarily what I objectively think are the best or most important manga ever published, and not even necessarily my favorites.)
- Yumiko Ohshima's Banana Bread Pudding
- A masterpiece. A very strange, funny, and moving story of one girl's fear of physical maturity. As I recall, the word that came to mind after finishing this story for the first time was, "Wow."
- Moto Hagio's The Heart of Thomas
- I think I discussed this one at length in this space last year. Arguably the first (and, in my opinion, still the best) example of the now firmly established "boy-meets-boy" genre of shojo manga.
- Moto Hagio's Marginal
- Simply the best shojo sci-fi manga ever. (I'm sure to get plenty of dissenting letters for saying that.) In fact, one of the few truly perfect manga I have ever read.
- Sakumi Yoshino's Adorable Eyes
- This series of short stories is like a string of pearls. Quirky and thought-provoking. (You can tell by how often I use the word that I like stories that are thought-provoking.)
- Moto Hagio's "Hanshin"
- If there is a more powerful 16-page manga in existence, I've never read it. This surreal little story of a pair of Siamese twins starts off inoccently enough, but the last two pages hit the reader like an iron frying pan.
- Mikio Igarashi's Bonobono
- And you thought I read only shojo manga. The first time I read this four-panel humor strip was on a plane from Tokyo to Osaka, and I couldn't help laughing out loud. My fellow passengers probably thought I was deranged. Funny and philosophical. The anime movie is excellent, too.
- Ryohko Yamagishi's Heaven's Son in the Land of the Rising Sun
- Oooh. This is very, very good. Very devilish. Yamagishi turns historical common sense on its head. Like most of her work, erotic and spooky.
- Taku Tsumugi's Hot Road
- Tsumugi is a master of... what to call it? Sensualism? Stream of consciousness? Impressionism? Just plain understatement? I don't know what it is, but I like it. She has a thing for juvenile delinquents and younger boys.
- Kyohko Okazaki's PINK
- The PR blurb on the cover of the edition I bought described this as "A Postmodern Capitalist Love Story," and I guess that's as good a description as any. Like most of Okazaki's works, it's funny and sad, and captures the mix of naivete and decadence that characterizes much of Japan's new urban youth. The alligator is great, too, though he ends up as a suitcase.
- Osamu Tezuka's Firebird
- Many people forget that this classic started as a shojo manga, way back in 1956. Tezuka wrote this in an on-again off-again way over a span of many years, so it's not the smoothest read, but he manages throughout to touch on the most profound aspects of existence. Truly cosmic.
- Keiko Nishi's Yoshihito Takeno series
- This character is too good. In fact, he's so good Nishi says she can't draw him anymore: it's too draining. Fate treats this boy like an emotional punching bag. Nishi says she hopes to bring him back someday. My favorite is "Come Here."
- Practically all of Yumiko Ohshima's short stories
- Didn't I once compare Ohshima to Mozart in this space? She's an eccentric (mad?) genius who tosses off mini-masterpieces that are both ridiculous and devestatingly true. I have yet to read an Ohshima story that didn't leave me with goosebumps (or in tears... or both).
- Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness
- Not a manga, but it should be. I've often fantasized about a Hagio version of this story, and the other day, while talking with Hagio on the phone about A - A', I asked her about the possibility. She said she loves the book, and would love to see a manga version, but never considered doing one herself. (She suggested Shio Satoh, creator of Changeling, who is apparently crazy about LeGuin.)
- Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
- The most brilliant analysis of comics as an art form that I have read in either English or Japanese. A must-read for anyone who's ever given any thought to comics or manga as a medium (though I can do without the hints of Mystical Orientalism in the section on manga).
©Matt Thorn 2004
Matt Thorn ()