My Solo Exchange Diary / Hitori Koukan Nikki by Nagata Kabi

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My library (which is magical) had My Solo Exchange Diary / Hitori Koukan Nikki, the sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (which I haven’t read yet, but which I’m in the queue for at the library.)  I’ve been wanting to read My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness since it first came out, but I decided to go ahead and read My Solo Exchange Diary first since I literally had it in hand.  I figured I knew enough, generally, about the first book that I could just pick it up and go. It’s an autobiography, at any rate.

I’m not sure I was right about that, however.

SPOILERS

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The schtick of this book is that it’s an exchange diary that she writes from her past self to her future self.

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This, to me, as an American, is just called “a diary,” but exchange diaries are a thing I’ve seen before in manga. There’s a heartbreaking use of one in Wandering Son by Shimura Takako. But, the idea is simple: a group of friends writes a journal together, which is passed between participants.

What I didn’t know until I read the Wikipedia article I linked to, exchange diaries are SUPPOSED to be idealized. You’re supposed to write about who you wish you were, rather than who you are.

Which very much is one of the themes in My Solo Exchange Diary.

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Because this is autobiographical, the publication of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and its reception and how Nagata-sensei deals with her parents (whom she lives with on-and-off) reading it, etc., is part of the story. So, a big amount of the journal entries deal with how, really in polite Japanese society, Nagata-sensei really shouldn’t be talking LIKE THAT (aka honestly) about her family.

Well, I can tell you right now that they’re REALLY not gonna like this book, then.

And, you know, I can relate, as an author. It’s weird when your family reads your stuff. The first time my mom read my sex scenes… uh…. yeah.

Of course, Nagata-sensei’s experience with this is even more complicated because her family is really not very good at the whole family thing. In fact, they seem like pretty awful people, who don’t even know how to say ‘wow, congratulations on publishing a book!’ Instead, they keep asking her when she’s going to get a real job.

I mean… also relatable.

But….

Okay, so, a friend of mine and I were talking the other day about the types of memoirs that are out there. There are memoirs that could be broadly categorized as “I had a more interesting life than you!” or “My job is super weird” or, a big favorite, “I decided to do a thing for year that seemed reasonable, but was crazy AF.” Another huge category seems to be: “I had a terrible childhood.”

I’ve read memoirs of this last variety and enjoyed them, and I didn’t hate My Solo Exchange Diary in the least… no, no, see above, I found a lot to love. BUT. I think that the thing a lot more people will be able to relate to in Nagata-sensei’s latest book–her social anxiety and depression–was stuff I found to be the… least interesting?

No, that’s not fair.

I totally root for Nagata throughout this book, but I think maybe I’ve been ruined by the friends I have IRL who suffer all of these things but have found a way to be genuinely funny about it?  Also, as another reviewer pointed out, there’s no neat ending that shows that Nagata-sensei has fully overcome any of it. I mean, with slice-of-life, I don’t really expect that, but it does mean that without the gimmick the the first book had (i.e., hiring a sex worker) this book feels a little… aimless? Depressing?

I was hopeful when Nagata-sensei got a girlfriend.

But, this is based on REAL life, so….

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Okay then!

Did I like this enough that I still want to read the first one: yes, absolutely. But, don’t pick this sequel up and expect a feel-good story… or really much of a story at all. It really is much more like reading someone’s diary, illustrated.

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Totsukuni no Shoujo / Girl From the Other Side by Nagabe (Vol. 5)

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I was excited to see volume 5 of Girl From the Other Side at my library. In fact, I read the entire thing while “working” on the automatic check-in machine. I reviewed the earlier bits of this manga here: https://mangakast.wordpress.com/tag/the-girl-from-the-other-side/

STRENGTHS

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Previously, I had worried that there was a bit of “Eren’s Basement” going on. This volume actually goes a bit deeper into the mystery of what’s going on with Shiva and Sensei.  We learn more about what the human king and the White Father think they will gain by possessing Shiva’s soul (a cure to the plague, basically.)

There’s a lot of action in this volume, including a fight with a soldier who’s been turned into a crow.

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The art continues to be creepy, amazing, and dark.

I was particularly impressed with the strange water creature that seems to be partly a…whale? Or has a whale skull the way that Sensei has a ram skull for a head. It all adds to the very dream-like quality of this entire manga.

I continue to recommend this one.

In other news, I picked up the first three volumes of two new series, plus the sequel to a manga I’ve been trying to get my hands on for months. Reviews will follow shortly!

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction by Inio Asano (Vols. 1- 3)

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Text: “Love is so lame!! The only choice for young people is to fearlessly masturbate to death!”

When a friend asked me what Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction was about, I described it thusly: “Oh, boy. Well, it follows some high school girls in a strange post-alien invasion world where the aliens are just hovering over Tokyo and, so, life is kind of normal?”

What I didn’t know going into Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction is that Asano Inio has been described as “…one of the voices of his generation,” which, given that he was born the year I started high school (1980), makes him Japan’s version of a Millennial, I guess?

In a lot of ways, the writing of Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction reminds me of “Gilmore Girls,” a show that I loved a lot, but which sometimes left me wondering if it was possible to get tired of all the quirky edginess and out-there characters.  Since I watched all six seasons and the reboot, I’m going to go with “probably not…?” Though it was always a show where I was very AWARE that it was Being Very Clever.

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Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction is like that, but with an extra dose of surreal, panty shots, and a weirdly compelling alien culture that might be quietly infiltrating our own.

I have no idea what to make of this series, honestly. I find myself charmed by the characters, particularly the two main girls: Kadode Koyama and Ouran “Outan” Nakagawa (of the opening masturbation quote). Despite Outan’s absolute bonkerness, there’s a kind of wholesomeness to their friendship that I found very comforting.  There’s a heavy amount of ‘feels’ between them, even as Outan breaks into a random rant about the collapse of the capitalist state.

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Also, with the introduction of the alien character, I have to admit I was hooked.  The art is insanely compelling, too.

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Should you read it? I’m not sure.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction is really quirky and probably the sort of thing you have to be in the mood for. I will admit that something about volume 2 put me in a severe depressive funk for about two hours, but by the end of volume 3 I was wondering when the library was going to get the next one.

And, then I went looking for something else by this author and read all of Reiraku, which I’ll probably review next.

So, there’s that.

It’s like how my former agent used to describe my work: “weird, but compelling.”

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Motokare ga Fudanshi ni Natteorimashite by Mugi Imo

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When a friend of mine pointed me to this article: “Yakuza House-Husband Manga Gokushufudo Wins Pixiv Comic Ranking 2018” , I noticed there were a number of other manga that made the list. Why not check all of those out, too?

The second one on the list was this: Motokare ga Fudanshi ni Natteorimashite . Alas, there’s not a lot of it available online at the moment. In fact, as of this review, there is only one chapter that has been scanlated.

I will say, I like the premise, which is basically that a fujoshi (a “rotten girl,” a woman who is into Boys’ Love/Yaoi) runs into her ex-boyfriend in the BL section of her favorite manga shop and discovers that he’s… *gasp*… a fundashi (a “rotten boy,” the male equivalent.)

I’m really not sure what’s going on in Japan right now that otaku are such hot property.

But, apparently, we are the source of all things hilarious right now. I recently watched and reviewed Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san/Skull-faced Bookseller, Honda, and was similarly baffled and vaguely offended by the fact that what I consider fairly run-of-the-mill nerd behavior is considered COMEDY GOLD by mundanes (aka ‘normal people,’ ‘muggles.’)

The concept of this manga seems quite similar to another popular title that I recently reviewed, Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii/ Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku, which has the basic premise: isn’t it cute when nerds try to fall in love? Also, hilarity at the chance of being exposed as a total geek at your 9 to 5 job! Oooh! The drama.

I just… I literally don’t get it. I mean, I do find nerds cute. That’s why I married one, but we’re really NOT this funny.

We’re really not.

Nerds are awkward. We’re a bit weird. We really, really get excited by stuff that other people find baffling, but STOP ASKING ME TO LAUGH AT MY PEOPLE, PLEASE. That was what high school was for me, okay? People pointing and laughing and shouting “NERD!” at me everywhere I went. Do I really need manga after manga after manga that basically does the same thing, only expects me to buy into my own self-loathing?

Like, if I were the heroine of this particular manga, I’d be over the moon to find someone who shares my passion–actually I always am. This is why I go to conventions, so I can meet people like me who are into the same things.

I don’t know.

I mean, probably it’s very romantic? I like romances! And, this is only chapter one, after all. It is nice to see a bit of representation of a presumably straight guy who is totally into m/m romances, so I guess I’m happy about that?

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Would I recommend it? Sure. I mean, it’s shaping up to be a cute (straight) romance, so if that’s your thing, go for it. Am I going to go out of my way to follow this?  Nah, I already read two volumes of Wotakai: Love is Hard for Otaku.  I feel like this ground has been covered in a lot of ways. I guess I somehow doubt that Motokare ga Fudanshi ni natte orimashite is going to give me a deep insight into the psychology of what might be appealing to a straight guy about m/m romances, which, frankly, I would totally read, so yeah… I will leave this to the heterosexuals out there who crave more representation of their kind (or just want to laugh at nerds, I guess?)

 

Happy New Year

Many apologies to my subscribers and readers for my long absence, but I have been dealing with a dying cat.  (If people ever want to follow my personal life, I joined the ranks of the great Tumblr migration and am now blogging the old-fashioned way again about life, the universe, and everything over on dreamwidth.org.)

This whole thing has been stressful and draining, so I haven’t had many leftover spoons for reading or reviewing.

However.

I did end up watching a Netflix Original, live-action Japanese soap opera miniseries called: “Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light.”

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It’s pretty adorable.

Over nine episodes, we follow a young salaryman, Inaba Aiko, as he attempts to find out why his stoic, workaholic father, Hirotaro, seemingly randomly quit a high-powered job one day. Aiko rekindles their relationship by buying his dad the latest version of Final Fantasy, the only thing that they ever bonded over, many years ago (when it was only Final Fantasy III).  They meet in-game and talk in a way that they never could in Real Life(tm), even though they’re living under the same roof.

According to TV Tropes, it’s based on a true story: “Set in their tear-jerkingly popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, and based on a true story from a blog titled, Ichigeki Kakusatsu SS Nikki, under the sub-category, Project: Dad of Light, chronicled by a real FFXIV player named ‘Maidy Maidy;’ whose project garnered a grand readership following through his 9-month journey documenting his attempts to reconnect with his father through FFXIV, and whose user account was used in recreating the drama.”

The live-action miniseries adds a lot of soap opera elements, including office politics and an attempted romance. (I was weirdly pleased to see Aiko cluelessly dodge all overtures.)

There were times when I felt that there was a little too much EMOTING on the part of the actor who played Aiko, but this is a feel good story that delivers everything  you want from something like that, a.k.a ‘happy tears.’

I highly recommend it. I managed to binge it in day, but see above about the current trauma in my life. Normally, I couldn’t consume that much media in a single sitting. However, I think most people can? So, if that’s the case, 9 episodes isn’t that much of a commitment.

Also, because fans are like this, someone is translating the original blog that the movie is based on. I have to admit that I’m curious enough that I’ll probably read a few entries.

At any rate, Happy New Year!  I hope to be back to posting here a lot more regularly soon.

Omamorishimasu, Dokomademo by Junko

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Omamorishimasu, Dokomademo is a BL from the author of Watashi ga Motete Dousunda / Kiss Him, Not Me.  (I feel the need to point out that this Junko is no relation to me, alas, even though she, like me, goes by only ‘Junko’ and no surname.)

I picked this one to read because I found it under ‘pen pals’ in Baka-Updates, and I was curious about Japanese pen pals.

SPOILERS

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Akira is a mountain village boy who arrives in Tokyo only to discover that the company that hired him has gone belly-up.  Not only that, but the dorm they were providing is also closed.  Just when he’s at his wit’s end, an old childhood friend Chihira, texts asking to meet up.

Chihira is kind of a weird guy. He’s ultra rich and very much a loner. When Akira explains his situation to Chihira and begs a favor, Chihira invites Akira to live with him as a “bodyguard.”

Which all seems like a sham, until we discover there’s a reason Chihira might need a bodyguard. Turns out, Chihira is the second son of a powerful mafia family. We find out that Chihira and Aikira became friends due to some rather unusual circumstances.

Chihira never fit very well in this super-driven, yakuza family (for reasons, it is implied, of being gay,) and so one of the staff suggested he send off a ballon message (like a note in a bottle) and see who writes back.

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Akira finds it in a tree near his home and writes back.  They exchange letters all throughout childhood and Chihiro even comes to visit Akira’s village at one point when they’re both 10.

I found that part of the story very charming, honestly, but this is about all of it that you see.

The rest of the story is very action-oriented, though with a comedic bent. There’s a lot of attempted kidnappings of Chihiro because his older brother, who is the successor to the mafia throne, as it were, seems to have run off–only later we discover he was just on vacation.

The romance is fairly one-sided and is almost incidental.  Junko is a decent enough writer that I tolerated this, but, I’m going to be honest, I don’t normally go to yaoi titles to read plot.

So, would I recommend this one? Eh. I mean, it’s a good story, but there’s not a lot of it–it’s only one volume (about 4 chapters or so.) I guess I tend to feel like if I’m going to invest in plot, I want a multi-volume thing, like Blue Exorcist or Shimanami Tasogare.  For a quickie read, I prefer smut… or romance-heavy stories.

But, milage varies. If it sounds interesting, by all means. I will warn you that Akira is pretty straight and even though he agrees to live with Chihiro the sex comes only when he’s been drugged without his knowledge (not, at least, by Chihiro, but one of Chihiro’s henchmen, but still…)  It’s played for laughs, but it’s one of those things that could be problematic or triggering for some.

Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san / Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san by Honda

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.Gifs of this kept floating past my Tumblr feed and another friend recommended the anime of Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-San / Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san to me the other day, and, so, that seemed like the saturation point. Time to give it a try.

As  I was telling a friend this morning, I found this one somewhat impenetrable.  I know a lot about the American publishing industry (at least in terms of the back end, how novels get published) and I think that may have worked to my disadvantage here. To be fair, I have never worked in a book or comic bookstore, though my wife has. Perhaps this would be highly relatable content to her. There is, for instance, a lot of freaking out whenever stock is delivered. Which, I guess, makes sense, though I don’t exactly find it… hilarious, and I get the impression that I should.

 

SPOILERS

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There is not a lot of the manga scanlated.  If you go to the link I provided at the top, you will only find about two chapters at this point. This is a shame because the scanlators do that thing that they do, where they provide translation notes and explanations of Japanese culture to help the jokes and references that would be obvious to a Japanese audience make more sense.

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So, the schtick is that we follow Honda, who is a bookstore employee. Everyone at this bookstore has some kind of mask over their face, presumably because they are loosely based on real people that the mangaka knows/has worked with. Honda, himself, however, is fully skeletonized, for reasons that are unclear–perhaps he is overworked?

There is a lot in this anime and manga that depend on a much deeper understanding of Japanese culture than I currently posses. I mean, as an American I find myself baffled by the things that Honda-san gets “sweaty”/freaked out over. And maybe it’s more that I’m an extrovert? Almost every single customer interaction seems to send him into a panic. I mean, I’ve worked with archivists that were more outgoing! But, I think this is an office culture thing, too–a fear of screwing up. (We really see that particular fear playing out in the anime episode where Honda is forced to go to job training and faces the horrors of role-playing, etc., which I CAN actually relate to, though I found it more accurate than hilarious, you know?)

I think the reason that it kept popping up in .gif form on my Tumblr dash, however, is because the mangaka skewers foreign otaku and, particularly, foreign fujoshi.  There is an entire episode/chapter under the banner of:

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Reads: “Yaoi Girls From Overseas!!!”

Which, you know, I feel like I need that screenshot from the Facebook complaint box with the option checked, “I see myself in this picture and I don’t like it.”

I mean, if I’m honest, that might be a lot of what I find “meh” about this. I felt the same way with the first several seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.” I don’t find my life particularly hilarious. I mean, it’s not that I can’t laugh at myself, but there is an entire set of panels in this chapter that is devoted to a woman finding a particular mangaka’s work that she loves and screaming about it for joy.

Um.

That’s literally me

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Kind of even looks like me, ya know?

So… am I laughing? Because a fat lady got excited over something she loves in public? I mean, I realize this is the sort of behavior that is not seen as particularly “Japanese,” but even in the manga, as Honda has written it, none of the customers reacted badly. They just ignored the lady, LIKE YOU DO.

This is funny, how?

This is 9/10ths of the humor, so it falls flat for me. I mean, I know Americans/Europeans are weird (believe me, I see it every day), but I don’t generally find cultural differences knee-snappingly comedic?

To be fair, I had this problem with Princess Jellyfish, too, which just makes me an outlier and probably “too sensitive.”  Or maybe I’m just SO ACHINGLY nerdy that I fail to find jokes that point out extreme geekiness as odd because it is LITERALLY my life.

I suspect a healthy combination of both of those is true, actually.

But, it is interesting for the insights into bookselling. One of the things I always enjoy about slice-of-life is exactly this: seeing how people do what they do in daily life.  So, even though I don’t understand the humor in the panicking over re-ordering particular manga because I’m at a loss about the cultural references, I do get the IDEA of it all. I can still appreciate learning that certain things cause books to sell out–like being mentioned on a popular game show or when an author dies.

Those things are true here, too, even if I don’t know WHICH shows or authors are being referenced.

What’s funny to me is that Tumblr has clearly taken the .gif I kept seeing out of context.  Honda meets a “handsome” American looking for what amounts to tentacle porn.

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The .gif and the Tumblr comments make it seem as though Honda’s discomfort is because he finds this guy attractive, but, if you watch/read the whole scene, Honda’s freak-out is actually over the fact that this clueless dad is trying to find R-rated material for his tween-age daughter.

The confusion is over the fact that Honda does seem to find him handsome, but I think it’s meant to be in a more ‘admiring’ way. I mean, I’m all for adding queer content where there is none, but I was suitably disappointed when I watched this because it was NOT nearly as gay as I hoped. Though, they do talk in a later episode (and presumably chapter) about how little true GLBT content there is in manga as opposed to all the BL/yaoi, when a foreign gay couple come in asking after ‘gay’ content and are shown (much like in US bookstores) the tiniest section of a tiny shelf.

Anyway, it was definitely worth checking out.  If you’re interested in this one, at the moment, I would recommend watching it, since you can get 9 episodes at least. It doesn’t even look like you can legally buy the manga yet, and, as I noted, there are only a couple of chapters scanned/pirated.