Bête noire text – Tramps Like Us

26 09 2008

Despite the popularity of this title (Amazon.com reader reviews) and its positive critical reception this series is generally not included in public library collections.

Sumire Iwaya, the protagonist of Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa (licensed in North America by TokyoPop), is an ambitious and attractive journalist who has found herself isolated by her success. She returns home at the end of a particularly bad day to find a young man sleeping in a box near her doorstep. Exhausted and lonely she invites him to live in her apartment on the condition that he assumes the role of being her pet. Sumire even going so far as to “name” him Momo after the dog she had as a child. (The original Japanese title is Kimi wa Petto, literally, You Are My Pet.)

The premise seems potentially risqué and, indeed, much visual and textual tension is generated by the odd proximity this living arrangement creates but this manga is not particularly explicit and the adult themes are handled with a lot of nuance and humour.

Tramp Like Us has all of the narrative tropes that make josei so enjoyable and relatable. The complexities of office relationships and the tensions between personal expression and social expectation endlessly vex Sumire. Romantic relationships and her ability to negotiate them are far from idealized.

The manga-ka of the series, Yayoi Ogawa, is talented and prolific and her work continues to gain popularity in North America. Her art work is very distinctive. The line work in particular is an extraordinary balance of elegant fluidity, expression and simplicity and Ogawa’s page designs are effective without being distractingly over-executed.

This manga is an illustration of how public libraries could expand their collections to include titles that would appeal to older female readers while also enhancing quality and diversity. When purchasing for public libraries a bit of extra time taken to read a few online reviews would clarify the quality and content of what might initially seem merely a lascivious amusement. There is a lot of bluntly pornographic manga available and public libraries have to act judiciously in selecting more adult material. Increased knowledge of josei and awareness that the genre has a lot of merit should help to insure that josei titles are not dismissed along with other more shallowly explicit titles. Tramps Like Us is a series for adult readers but, particularly when the quality of the story as art and entertainment are considered, it seems a good candidate for public library collections.

aside: Why was Tramps Like Us chosen as the title for the licensed translation in North America? It makes this series sound really questionable and is also, well, lame. Is it a reference to the Bruce Springsteen song that also comes up when Googling this manga? Double lame.

another aside: Ogawa does seem to have a unique ability for choosing subject matter that looks really incendiary at first glance. (The links in this section are all over the place…) Some of the plots of her josei titles are a bit eyebrow-raising; Baby Pop “cool and gorgeous Nagisa paired with her perverted and stupid step-father Ryunosuke”(!), Candy Life “39 year-old man or the hot 19 year-old guy which is the 39 year-old’s sort of adopted son?”(!), Extra Heavy Syrup “Yuki and Emiri are staff at Syrup Cleaning Service, but they actually only have one true goal… and that is to find their long-lost boyfriend, Akira.”(!?). (I’m really hoping that this is a gonzo-josei riff on Katsushiro Otomo’s Akira.) Needless to say, it may be a while before Ogawa creates another series as amenable to public library collections as Tramps Like Us.

Images: panel from Tramps Like Us, Extra Heavy Syrup (cover image) by Yayoi Ogawa,





Exemplary text – Nodame Cantabile

26 09 2008

Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya (licensed in North America by Del Ray) is a josei title that has gained wide acceptance in North America (it ranks number 110 in popularity on the One Manga site) and is well represented in public library collections.

The plot unfolds at a music college in Tokyo and focuses on the relationship between the handsome and talented but arrogant Shinichi Chiaki and his fellow student Megumi Noda, nicknamed Nodame.

Nodame is extremely unconventional. She is unfashionable and inelegant, unapologetically covetous of other peoples’ food, shockingly slovenly and unwashed and often expresses herself through loud and unintelligible outbursts of noise. She would be considered unfeminine and even a bit repellent by most cultural standards but behaves in exceedingly sharp contrast to what would be considered ideal in a Japanese woman. Despite this Nodame is an intensely likable character. Her joie de vivre, non judgmental nature and her talent and sense of reverence for music are celebrated throughout the series. Nodame is an artist who neglects everything for the love of her art and the pursuit of its fullest realization. Creative and generous, she does not manifest the tyrannical and perfectionist qualities embodied by the more conventionally talented but self-entitled Chiaki.

When Chiaki first overhears Nodame’s piano playing he is struck by its intuitive and unique quality. Much of their early relationship revolves around his attempts to reconcile his fascination with Nodame’s technique and ability with his revulsion and frustration at her lifestyle and mannerisms. Upon discovering they live in the same apartment building Nodame unselfconsciously imposes herself on Chiaki. When Chiaki insists on cleaning Nodame’s filthy apartment he overhears her playing a song that she has spontaneously composed on her piano. They collaborate in re-constructing the piece and in the process Nodame recognizes the extent of Chiaki’s talent. In a rapture of artistic respect she falls into an earnest infatuation. Much to his own chagrin, Chiaki begins regularly cleaning Nodame’s apartment and cooking dinner for her. On one occasion he even washes her hair which has become so dirty it stinks.

As Nodame and Chiaki begin to spend more time together he helps to focus her skill and energy and she helps him to cultivate a more intuitive and creative love of music.

Ninomiya’s drawings are light and energetic and the page design effectively negotiates the problem of representing the auditory in a visual medium. The frequent illustrations people playing assorted musical instruments never seem redundant or stilted.

Images: character art from Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya








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