How to Write People of Color

Writing People of Color by MariNaomi

The talented MariNaomi has posted a thought-provoking piece titled “Writing People of Color“. Not only does she address some key questions from those who haven’t thought through the implications before, she’s assembled comics and advice from other cartoonists on the subject, including Yumi Sakugawa, Keith Knight, Whit Taylor, Elisha Lim, Jennifer Camper, Maré Odomo, and Frederick Noland. A very insightful and useful read.

Yukarism Book 1

Chika Shiomi’s previous manga in English, Rasetsu and Yurara, provide a hint of what you’ll get here. They’re both supernaturally tinged romances involving well-meaning young women involved in forces beyond their control.

Yukarism starts with an explanation of Yukari’s unique situation. He “was born without forgetting his previous life”, so he’s become quite popular for writing novels about the Edo Period that feel incredibly realistic. He’s able to do so without research because he previously lived then, in the Pleasure District, and he remembers bits of his life there, including his death.

When he encounters Mahoro, a fan of his writing, he feels as though he instantly knows her. That’s because she’s the reincarnation of his best friend and assistant back then. Her presence leads him to recognize more about his memories, at which point we see incidents from the past (often portrayed humorously, as Yukari doesn’t have all the knowledge he needs to fully become who he was back then). And I liked her statement of why she’s such a huge fan of his work:

His writing style and characters are so elegant! I don’t know why, but they warm me deep inside. He creates this world that feels so nostalgic and irresistible.

That could be seen as a statement about the intent of this shojo manga. The series has lovely-looking people, a languorous pace, and moody hints of revelations to come. They may not be particularly surprising — soon, it seems, everyone Yukari knows will turn out to have been hanging out together back in history — but they’re enjoyable. The pacing, focused on the moment, is a nice change from comic series over-stuffed with revelations. I’m curious to see where Shiomi takes events, since her cast are now living two stories (present-day and past) and her historical images are attractive portraits of a far-away time.

As a side note, Shiomi puts in occasional short strips about creating the series. I thought the one where she reveals she doesn’t know much about history because she “always drew manga in class!” particularly cute. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

The Question of the Missing Head

Calling The Question of the Missing Head “an Asperger’s Mystery” might seem trendy, but the approach works very well. I loved reading it.

Samuel has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s not embarrassed by it; he considers it a “personality trait” instead of a disorder. He has opened a storefront called Questions Answered in the hope of being challenged by unusual questions, which suits his talents. There he meets former newspaper photographer Mrs. Washburn, who quickly falls into a useful role as his assistant and sort-of interpreter. Due to some teacher training, she recognizes his need for a routine and can bridge over the way his directness strikes others as odd.

The two are enmeshed in an unusual investigation when the Garden State Cryonics Institute comes to Samuel to help them find a missing head. A frozen head of one of their “guests” has disappeared, but the case deepens when a new body is found in one of the storage labs.

Samuel’s narration provides fascinating insight into how the mind of someone with this condition thinks. E.J. Copperman has previously written mysteries, and co-author Jeff Cohen has published two books on parenting children on the autism spectrum, providing expert knowledge. (Weirdly, they’re the same person.)

I particularly liked how Samuel “diagnoses” people’s personalities based on how they answer the question, “What’s your favorite Beatles song?” Or his “rules” for operating with other people, such as this one:

“It’s very nice,” I said of the photograph, because that’s what I’ve learned one should say when offered pictures of a person or that person’s child.

His approach can be almost Holmesian, but with a much different cause. His observation skills are exceptional because he’s learned he needs to analyze what most people normally understand, particularly facial expressions. And Samuel has a good range of characters to deal with: the self-important security chief, a pushy “citizen journalist” (blogger), a well-meaning police detective who knows he’s in over his head (ha), and the annoying and rich family of the dead woman whose head is missing. The mystery is complex and twisty, too.

I hope there are more books to come in this series, because I really liked Samuel and Mrs. Washburn, and I’d like to read more about them.

How’s the Digital Manga Tezuka Kickstarter Doing?

I was curious to know how the smaller, more affordable Kickstarter launched by Digital Manga at the end of last month to publish Ludwig B was doing, since they picked a rotten time of year to ask for money (although licensing needs and the desire to stay in people’s minds may have been factors in wanting to get back out there quickly).

Currently, with a little over half way done, they’ve reached a bit over half their goal (55%). But after the first couple of days, Kicktraq shows that pledges have dropped dramatically.

Ludwig B daily Kickstarter pledges

However, that site is also predicting, at the time of this writing. that the goal will be met. Many projects follow a similar U-shaped curve, with the most activity near launch and just before completion, but the problem here is that Digital Manga scheduled their project to end on December 26, so I suspect not a lot of people are going to be online in the last few days.

I suggest Digital Manga do more updating — there’s been only one update, a survey link posted last week — and work harder to get people talking on social media. If more people knew that these books are likely to NOT be easily available once the Kickstarter is done, their rates might go up. I’ll do more reporting as we get closer to the end, in two weeks.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness Goes Inside Studio Ghibli

I know a number of my readers will be interested in this. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a documentary about the workings of the famous animation studio that made such movies as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and The Secret World of Arrietty, Studio Ghibli.

It will be out on DVD on January 27 (list price $29.95), but digital download purchases are available now. Here’s a synopsis, followed by the trailer:

Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, director Mami Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli — the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential “other director” Isao Takahata — over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. The result is a rare “fly on the wall” glimpse of the inner workings of one of the world’s most celebrated animation studios — creators of successful films including Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time — and an insight into the dreams, passion, and singular dedication of these remarkable creators.

The DVD bonus material will include The Kingdom According to Ushiko featurette, trailers, and English subtitles. Here’s a review of the film from when it played in festivals earlier this year.

Spell of Desire Book 2

What felt sympathetic and accomplished to me in Spell of Desire Book 1 here reeked too strongly of cliche and stereotype. Perhaps it’s that I wanted the story to move along more quickly, and this felt too much like treading water to pad page count. Perhaps it’s that I recently read a much better done romance. Perhaps it’s just that the supernatural genre isn’t my cup of tea. Regardless, I found my patience strained.

The book is driven by an incredibly thinly disguised metaphor. Kaoruko has unexpected magical power within her that drives men crazy to the point of sexually attacking her. They can’t control themselves because she’s “too appealing”. She is treated as an object, someone for whom decisions are made by others around her. Her mother deserted her for her own good, supposedly; her grandmother lied by omission to her for her entire life; and her legacy means she must do what the witches tell her.

Her “knight” Kaname can control her by kissing her, which subdues her at the same time it awakens her previously unexpected passions. She acts out so he’ll discipline her and restrain her power. She doesn’t ever ask for what she wants, instead manipulating him into fulfilling her needs, while he gets jealous whenever she’s around another man — under the guise of needing to protect her.

The two are clearly made for each other at the same time we see them — by every typical fictional sign — falling in love. Yet they won’t say or do anything about it because they think the other is there only because they have to be. This is a dumb convention that leads to me mentally yelling at them to just talk to each other. Also annoying is how he is overprotective of her — but leaves her alone for the sole purpose of twisting the plot. That gives her plenty of space to engage in increasingly tiresome monologues while staring meaningfully at nothing.

I also had little patience for the increasing space dedicated to the witches’ coven and the various political maneuverings among them. I’m not sure it’s fair for me to be so hard on this book for being formulaic, though. For those who enjoy teeth-gnashingly tortured romance with an air of the supernatural, this might be immensely satisfying.

*My Love Story!! Book 2 — Recommended

Now that the massively masculine Takeo and the delightfully delicate Yamato have realized they like each other, as we saw in Book 1, we settle down to the confusion of dating.

The writer, Kazune Kawahara, has good ideas for short moments that convey how the characters are perceived by others. For instance, when they come across a woman struggling with a baby stroller on a flight of steps, Takeo immediately grabs the stroller and easily heads to the other end of the stairs. From the woman’s perspective, though, an overly large guy has loomed over her (and Aruko does a great job with the looming from a worm’s eye perspective and shading to increase Takeo’s monster look) and seized her child. Thankfully, the attractive Sunakawa is there to put her at ease and explain Takeo’s intentions.

It’s this conflict between appearance — Takeo looks like a gangster tough guy from an old movie in his suit — and intention that make up the light-hearted comedy that is so appealing in this series. After one of his (frequent) good deeds, sometimes people end up thanking Sunakawa, confusing beauty for good action. People can be shallow, in other words, and it’s that reminder that keeps the series from being sticky-sweet.

Takeo also tends to act without explanation or delay. Thankfully, he’s always doing the right thing, even if he does get misunderstood. That’s seen in one of the chapters here, as Yamato’s friends and Takeo’s friends have a social mixer. Yamato has been talking about how great her boyfriend is, but the other girls are shocked that Takeo is so much outside the norm. Sunakawa, jaded by how superficially others treat him, tells the truth: “Just because she’s nice doesn’t mean her friends are too. They might be friends because she’s so nice.” When a disaster threatens, though (with some dynamic action cartooning), Takeo saves the day, showing Yamato’s friends just how cool he can be. It’s an exaggerated series of events, but with emotional authenticity behind them.

In other chapters, Takeo and Yamato have to deal with temporary separation as Takeo helps out the judo team for a tournament and Takeo struggles to give Yamato a perfect birthday. That’s complicated by his desire to be there for his friend Sunakawa during a difficult time. Sunakawa has a valuable role in the couple’s relationship — he states explicitly what each is thinking to the other, nicely shortcutting the stereotypical kinds of misunderstandings that fuel a lot of other shojo manga.

Takeo and Yamato’s relationship can be laughable in its good-hearted simplicity, but the authors bring through an honesty of feeling that makes me want to cherish their naiveté instead of snarking or snickering at it. Everything is new to them because they’re in love. This kind of pure emotion is why I read romance comics, because in the real world, it would quickly be shot down and trampled. Here, though, I can enjoy how it felt to be that young. They’re adorable!

I don’t recall if these were a feature of the first volume, but between story chapters are recipes for the treats Yamato makes. They seem delicious, even if they’d need some tweaking to be workable for US ingredients.

Second Round of Shonen Jump Start Stories

Earlier this year, I wrote about Jump Start, Viz’s program of debuting new series in Weekly Shonen Jump the same day they launch in Japan. Beyond the first three titles, which I wrote about at that link, the following series have appeared in English:

The September 29 issue had the first (extended-length, it felt like) chapter of elDLIVE by Akira Amano, a space exploration story starring an oddball. He hears a voice in his head that always says negative things, but it turns out to be an artificial alien lifeform, as he finds out after being kidnapped by a cute imp to join the space police. The story, appearing in color, has a neat watercolor look to it, although I thought there were a few too many things going on.

Weekly Shonen Jump December 1

The next issue issue, October 6, introduced “Jump Back!”, rerunning the first chapter of the famous Death Note. October 27 added Hi-Fi Cluster (from the first round of Jump Start launches) to the regular lineup. The November 3 issue switched to the first chapter of Naruto as the Jump Back! feature.

Jump Starts began again on November 17 with Takujo no Ageha, a table tennis competition manga by Itsuki Furuya. In keeping with the dreams of the male audience, the series also features a gorgeous, popular girl named Ririka who’s determined to make the hero fall for her because she can’t believe he likes the sport more than her. (She lives at a table tennis center with her pervy grandfather.)

Ryohei Yamamoto’s E-Robot started November 24, featuring an erotic robot who uses her “boob barricade” to save the hero. She was created to bring about world peace and break the cycle of killing by “providing proof of the power of the erotic!” (I was oddly reminded of Wonder Woman here.)

December 1 brought Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgment, which is exciting because it has art by Takeshi Obata (Bakuman, Death Note, Hikaru no Go). The story is by Nobuaki Enoki and is about a grade school court, where 12-year-old students judge each other. There’s a surprising amount of legal information in this first chapter, about a classroom pet fish that’s been killed, while the case concludes in the December 8 issue.

It’s awfully neat seeing such new series, although it’s tricky. You can’t get too attached to them because you’ll likely only see three chapters. I hope to see more of Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgment, though.




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