Anticipated text – Usagi Drop

2 10 2008

Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita (links to Japanese website) is about Daikichi a thirty year old bachelor with a successful career. When Daikichi’s grandfather dies his family is shocked to learn that his grandfather had an illegitimate daughter. Rin, who is six years old, is now fatherless and alone. Embarrassed and annoyed the older family members are slow to respond to the situation and show little consideration the feelings of the little girl. Angry at his family’s behaviour and affected by Rin’s quiet manner and obvious isolation Daikichi offers to look after her himself.

Daikichi struggles to be a good parent to Rin despite the steep learning curve. He panics in the childrens’ section of the clothing store and agonizes over finding a daycare. These scenarios will seem very familiar to anyone who has cared for a child and the pragmatic and humorous narrative is both realistic and revelatory. The story also conveys how quickly social and family communities around Daikichi shift in response to his new role as a parent. By taking the act of becoming a parent out of its conventional context Unita draws attention to often undocumented aspects of parenting and it’s confluence as both a complex societal role and an internalized process of self-definition.

Unita seems to be able to convey inner turmoil through line weight alone. There is a lot of effective restraint shown in her panels and page design and the draftsmanship of her interiors and street scenes is excellent.

I hope I can find more information on her other titles – they all look really interesting – and a number of them seem to perfectly fit the josei/slice of life genres I’m advocating. This is a josei title that I would love to see licensed and translated in North America.

Images: cover and character art from Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita

The future

2 10 2008

There are some legitimate reasons for public libraries to be hesitant to consider josei for their collections. Concerns about content aside, young women who currently read manga might abandon the medium as they mature. The possibility also exists that non-Japanese readers, confronted with Japanese texts that represent more realistic and specifically Japanese norms, will be unable or unwilling to negotiate cultural degrees of separation.

An equally likely outcome is that young women will continue to read manga. Manga readers in general, as they become more acclimatized to Japanese texts, will accept and perhaps demand more realistic and diverse texts then the manga currently being translated in North American. Initially, North American manga publishers offered readers series that conformed with North American comic consumption expectations. The titles were targeted to boys and young men and were usually variations on super heroes, science fiction and fantasy themes. With the success of manga for girls and young women the market has been completely redefined.

This series of articles creates an interesting chronology:

Girl Power Fuels Manga Boom in U.S. New York Times (December 28, 2004)

Girls’ Manga Goes Stateside, Manga for Girls Catches On in America Web Japan (March 28, 2006) *um, I don’t know about the “caused a sensation on par with that of the release of the latest Harry Potter title” part

Librarians Harvest New Manga Titles At Comic-Con NPR (July 18, 2008)

There is more popular demand for genres like josei and more realistic “slice of life” comedy. These genres have diverse representation in the Japanese manga market. More readers who have never considered reading manga may be attracted to these more mature and humorous titles. There are a lot of excellent Japanese titles available to be translated and offered to this growing and diversifying North American market.

There has recently been a reevaluation on the part of some of the larger North American manga publishers (and three-part interview on with Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher at Dey Ray Manga, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading documented and commented on the changes at TokyoPop) and this has left room for some very new publishers to step forward with small, carefully selected catalogues. Some of these publishers are focusing on josei or including josei in their roster of titles. New imprints Yen Press and Aurora Publishing both have josei titles represented in the’s “Best New Josei of 2007” readers poll as does vanity press/comic and graphic novel imprint Last Gasp. Last Gasp’s licensing and translation of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms represents a modest indication that publishers are becoming willing to risk bringing more complex and adult manga titles to North American audiences.

Another small press licensing interesting work is Fanfare/Ponent Mon. This imprint has a mandate to license alternative comics from Japan. Josei titles like Blue by Kiriko Nananan and Kinderbook by Kan Takahama are part of their catalogue. (Brigid Alverson from MangaBlog interviews Fanfare/Ponent Mon editor Stephen Robson.)

The average manga consumer might hesitate at the higher price point of this imprint’s books and this is a good opportunity for public libraries to provide access by purchasing these more expensive but good quality titles on behalf of their patrons. Again, the quality and aesthetic of these titles has potential to appeal to readers who wouldn’t generally consider reading manga.

Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading has posted a few very good articles about the future of josei that have generated thoughtful comments:

The State of Josei Manga

Josei Manga in the US

Images: panel from With the Light by Keiko Tobe, character art from Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki, panel from Blue by Kiriko Nananan