Couples, cute and otherwise

August 5, 2010

In celebration of the overturning of Proposition 8, I thought I’d throw out a question: what are some of your favorite same-sex couples in comics? I’ll start.

The thing that I love best about straight-laced Kento and sly, cynical Akira in Future Lovers, beyond their opposites-attract charm, is the fact that their romance doesn’t exist in a void. They deal with work and family as a part of the nuts and bolts of their relationship. They’re adorable together, but they also feel very real thanks to the rounded lives creator Saika Kunieda has given them.

There really isn’t anything I don’t like about bubbly Rica and worldly Miho in Rica Takashima’s Rica ‘tte Kanji!? It’s an unabashedly happy story of young love and emerging identity, which still seems all too rare a specimen in any medium.

So, which pairings make you happy?

Fond farewells from 2009

December 21, 2009

The words “final volume” are always a bit bittersweet. While one can eagerly anticipate emotional closure and the tying up of narrative threads, there’s the misty-eyed knowledge that you won’t be paying any new visits to favorite characters and absorbing scenarios. I already mentioned two concluded series yesterday (Kaoru Mori’s Emma and Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket), but here are some other admirable titles that bid farewell in 2009.

Astral Project, written by marginal, illustrated by Syuji Takeya, four volumes published by CMX. This series was always difficult to summarize, and that’s almost always a sign of a series I’ll enjoy. Part mystery, part science fiction, part scathing satire, part romance, part family drama, part primer on obscure jazz appreciation, and so on, Astral Project managed to juggle its many different aims with nothing quite so showy as aplomb. There’s nothing self-congratulatory about the book’s density of ideas; they’re never underlined or followed with exclamation points. They’re just there, emerging and recurring when they can do the most good or spark the most interest. A great and under-appreciated title.

Flower of Life, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga, four volumes published by Digital Manga. You know what’s weird about Yoshinaga? The bittersweet knowledge that a series will inevitably conclude starts when the license for said series is announced. The certainty of how lovely her comics will be is accompanied by the knowledge that they won’t be nearly long enough. Flower of Life, which follows a group of high-school students through that titular phase, is as funny as it is touching. Every time I post something close to a “Best of” list, I realize that I’ve forgotten something essential, and since the final volume of this series was released in 2009, I hasten to add it to my list of suggested nominees for the Best Publication for Teens Eisner.

Future Lovers, written and illustrated by Saika Kunieda, two volumes published by Deux Press. You wouldn’t think that two volumes were enough to make one particularly mournful of a title’s conclusion, but yaoi series tend to run shorter than those in other categories, and Future Lovers is just that good. It has the distinction of being one of the best comics about gay people I’ve ever read, which is remarkable for a category that doesn’t routinely concern itself with the realities of sexual orientation. It’s also a splendid romance with terrific characters that inhabit a richly realized context of work, family, friends, and personal history.

Kitchen Princess, written by Natsumi Ando, illustrated by Miyuki Kobayashi, ten volumes published by Del Rey. I have a well-documented lack of resistance for cooking manga, along with equally well-documented weaknesses for sparkly shôjo and desserts of almost every variety. So I was a natural audience member for this title. What surprised me was how emotionally lacerating it would become. It took Ando and Kobayashi a while to really start putting their characters through the ringer, but when they did, it elevated the title from sweet and diverting to something really absorbing and memorable. And it’s hard to go wrong with a comic that offers recipes.

Parasyte, written and illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaaki, eight volumes published by Del Rey. Manga as a category offers a rich vein of substantial, thought-provoking science fiction, and Parasyte is an excellent example. Lots of titles ask what it means to be human, and many ask that question in interesting ways. Parasyte certainly does, and it doesn’t skimp on the blood-soaked, pulse-pounding action in the process. It also doesn’t ignore the pulpy absurdity of its premise, sprinkling rueful humor throughout. And it pays keen attention to the emotional evolution of its characters, whether they’re a human teen-ager or a carnivorous parasite trying to figure out its place in the world.

Now, for two series which both debuted and concluded in 2009 but are worthy of mention all the same:

A Distant Neighborhood, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, two volumes published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Does the notion of exploring the middle-aged malaise of a straight man trigger one of your reader defense mechanisms? That’s a perfectly reasonable response, but there are always exceptions to these aversions. It’s about a salaryman who finds himself replaying a critical phase of his own adolescence, and, as Kate Dacey notes, it’s “one of the most emotional, most intimate stories Taniguchi’s ever told.”

The Lapis Lazuli Crown, written and illustrated by Natsuna Kawase, two volumes published by CMX. As I’ve noted previously, someone at CMX has a real knack for finding sweet (but not cloying), cute (but not pandering), quirky (but not outlandish) shôjo titles for its catalog. This year saw the arrival and departure of Kawase’s endearing fantasy about a young girl who wants to learn how to use her rather random magical powers and finds an ally in the prince of her Epcot-ian kingdom. Kawase’s polished art enhances this entirely pleasant romantic fantasy.

So what are some of your favorite concluding series of 2009?

Updated: After School Nightmare, written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, ten volumes published by Go! Comi. Maybe it’s a sign of how strong this year was overall, or maybe I’m just an airhead. Whatever the cause, I can’t believe I forgot After School Nightmare on this list, seeing as it’s one of my favorite series of all time. A complex psychological drama, this follows a group of teenagers into a dreamscape where they battle for identity, not to mention the drama this imposes on their waking hours. Excellent in so many ways, this series is worth the price of admission for cute-on-the-outside Kureha’s fascinating character arc and gradual empowerment.

From the stack: Future Lovers

May 18, 2009

futurelovers2Saika Kunieda’s two-volume Future Lovers (Deux) is an unexpected treat. It’s a title in the yaoi category, which is focused on romantic relationships between men but doesn’t customarily concern itself with nuances of sexual orientation. There are some fine examples that do (and some fine works that don’t), but none incorporate the layers of a gay relationship – family, politics, work – as seamlessly as Future Lovers.

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume over at The Comics Reporter, it’s about an unlikely couple. Conservative Kento was a late bloomer in terms of sexual orientation, not even considering the possibility that he was gay until he met cynical, campy Akira, who probably twigged to his gayness in the womb. By the end of the first volume, chemistry teacher Kento and art teacher Akira were reasonably settled in a steady relationship (after some roadblocks, obviously.)

The second is dedicated to solidifying that relationship. Roadblocks persist, but they’re very down-to-earth. Kento’s doting grandparents still don’t like Akira. Akira’s trust issues, the disparity in the couple’s levels of experience and the simple awkwardness of being out as a couple all thread through the chapters of the story. Fortunately, their chemistry is enduring, and Kunieda has done such a fine job of establishing the characters’ individual identities that the relationship never feels like a documentary or case study.

I’m of the opinion that it’s easier to dramatize the build-up to a relationship than the day-to-day realities, so Kunieda’s accomplishment here is particularly impressive. They’re a sexy couple, but they also deal with relatable, everyday issues. And I don’t think I can recall ever reading a comic about a couple talking about being recognized as a couple, not just emotionally by their families and colleagues, but legally.

I’m one of those people who tend to bitch when GLAAD announces its annual Media Award nominees for comics that require you to squint to actually spot the gay content. I’m fairly certain that GLAAD will probably ignore Future Lovers, in spite of the fact that it incorporates as good a portrayal of the value of legal recognition for gay relationships as you’re likely to find. And beyond that, it’s wonderfully entertaining – sexy, funny, dramatic, smart. It’s even triumphant by the end – a little ridiculous, but even that feels intentional, and it supports the moment.

Seriously, Future Lovers may not have been designed that way, but it ends up being one of the best gay comics I’ve ever read.

Upcoming 4/22/2009

April 22, 2009

Not a huge quantity of new arrivals on this week’s ComicList, so I’ll pad things out with a poll.

  • Chocolate Surprise, by Lily Hoshino (Deux): I swear someone told me that Hoshino created the kind of yaoi that I like – character-driven and emotionally grounded. Am I remembering incorrectly?
  • 20th Century Boys vol. 2 by Naoki Urasawa (Viz): See below.
  • Real vol. 4, by Takehiko Inoue (Viz): Inoue’s tremendously good comic about wheelchair basketball continues.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry vol. 2, by Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi (Yen Press): I read the first volume over the weekend, and I’m intrigued enough to see where it goes for at least another volume. I wish the characters were as involving as the creepy plot twists.
  • As you know, Viz is rolling out two series from Naoki (Monster) Urasawa at the same time, the aforementioned 20th Century Boys and Pluto. I like 20th Century Boys fine, but I suspect I’d like it a lot better if I weren’t reading it side by side with Pluto, which I think is superior. So I thought I’d throw out the question as to which book readers prefer.

    Upcoming March 18, 2009

    March 17, 2009

    I love a Wednesday that makes it rough to select a pick of the week. This week’s ComicList is a cornucopia of crack.

    I thought Saika Kunieda’s Future Lovers (Deux Press) was a one-shot, which was pretty much the book’s only disappointing aspect. I was happily mistaken, and a second volume about a mismatched but devoted couple is due out Wednesday. I love comics about grown-up gay men in actual relationships.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Anything Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases in English is automatically a contender for the week’s best release, and My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, by Jean Regnaud & Émille Bravo, will likely do nothing to buck that trend.

    Tokyopop can’t be entirely sanguine about the release of the final penultimate volume of Natsuki Takaya’s uber-shôjo masterpiece, Fruits Basket. I can’t say I’m thrilled either, but I know that we’ll all get through this together. As to content, I would hazard a guess that, in this volume, all of the characters find their lives becoming less alienating and difficult to varying degrees. I would also hazard a guess that I will sob.

    Viz picks up the baton of miserable adolescence with the launch of the VizBig edition of Miki Aihara’s Hot Gimmick. This book is emphatically not for everyone, and I don’t say that in a condescending “Your tastes might not be refined enough to enjoy this” kind of way. I say it in a “Really horrible, anti-feminist things happen in this book from beginning to end, and you will likely want to scrub your brain clean after reading it, but it’s addictively crafted” way.

    On the Signature front, the second volume of Pluto, Naoiki Urasawa’s homage to Osamu Tezuka, arrives.

    Stuff wisely

    February 18, 2009

    So the Harvey Awards nomination process is underway, and creative types can make a bid to recognize their favorite peers and works in a wide variety of categories. You may remember me keening and gnashing my teeth over some of last year’s nominations.

    For a change of pace, I thought I’d go the Force Works/Extreme Justice proactive route this year. Instead of recoiling in horror at the prospect of ever seeing the phrase “Harvey Award winner Witchblade Manga,” I’ve decided to take a stab at prevention. Toward that end, here are some books from 2008 that you might consider for the Best American Edition of Foreign Material category:

  • Aya of Yop City, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, published by Drawn & Quarterly
  • Disappearance Diary, written and illustrated by Hideo Azuma, published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon
  • Dororo, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, published by Vertical
  • Fluffy, written and illustrated by Simone Lia, published by Dark Horse
  • Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim, published by NBM
  • Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip – Book Three, written and illustrated by Jansson, published by Drawn & Quarterly
  • Real, written and illustrated by Takehiko Inou, published by Viz
  • Seduce Me after the Show, written and illustrated by est em, published by Deux Press
  • Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, written and illustrated by Satoko Kiyuduki, published by Yen Press
  • solanin, written and illustrated by , published by Viz
  • There. Ten perfectly respectable potential nominations for your consideration. (And everyone should feel free to contribute their own suggestions in the comments.) I should also note that several of these books are also eligible for other awards.

    Coming attractions

    December 29, 2008

    Some highlights from the January 2009 issue of Diamond’s Previews catalog:

    It’s been quite some time since the second volume came out, so it’s good to see the third volume of Mi-Kyung Yun’s beautifully drawn Bride of the Water God listed by Dark Horse (page 60). Soapy doings among the gods, which was really the point of mythological pantheons in the first place, if you ask me.

    I can’t remember for the life of me who it was, but someone was really excited that Deux Press had licensed Tetsuzo Okadaya’s The Man of the Tango (or Tango, I guess). It’s listed on page 230, promising hunky men “drawn into the seductive beat of a Latin dance,” etc. Why not?

    This month’s “fascinating coss-cultural experiment that could actually tear the internet in half” would have to be Del Rey’s two manga-fied takes on Marvel’s mutants: Wolverine: Prodigal Son, by Anthony Johnston and Wilson Tortosa, and X-Men: Misfits, by Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman and AnZu. Wait, Telgemeier and Roman are collaborating on the X-Men book? How did I miss that? (Page 267.)

    Fanfare/Ponent Mon takes a break from Japanese comics to release Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo’s My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. It’s received serious Angoulême love in 2008. Here’s my Comics Reporter neighbor Bart Beaty’s take on the book. (Page 281.)

    Three from Deux

    November 17, 2008

    A while back, I asked for recommendations on yaoi titles that meet my impossibly picky standards. In this week’s Flipped, I talk about three books from Deux that I really liked, so thanks for all the feedback, and special thanks to Deb Aoki for passing along some yaoi bounty.

    Upcoming 8/8

    August 7, 2007

    It’s a somewhat lean but interesting week of deliveries to comic shops, so let’s get right down to it.

    Aurora’s Deux imprint launches with the first volume of Hate to Love You by Makoto Tateno. The manga-ka is already well known for series like Yellow and Hero Heel, but this was apparently her boys’-love debut.

    The second issue of Otaku USA arrives in comic shops (though I’d imagine it’s already hit regular bookstores). I liked the first issue and found it quite readable, even the non-manga sections.

    Black Metal arrives courtesy of Rick Spears, Chuck BB and Oni Press. I just reviewed this yesterday, so take a look and see if it sounds like the book will speak to you. Short version: energetic silliness about twin metal-heads with a demonic destiny.

    Experience the under-construction allure

    April 19, 2007

    New manga publisher Aurora has the bones of a web site up and running. So far, it’s hot pink and fairly rudimentary, but they’re young yet. The starter Deux web site is in place as well, inviting readers to… okay, this kind of hurts… “Just Deux it!”