Seven Manga That Need An English Release Right Nowby Rebecca Silverman,
It's sometimes overwhelming to think about how many different books exist out there that we'll never be able to read. For bibliophiles like me, that's a sad thought, and for many manga fans, it becomes a frustrating one as we realize how many series exist that haven't been translated into English. It's far too glib to say, “Oh, just learn Japanese!” or even French or Italian, both of which have many more titles available in translation than English, because not everyone has the time or the ability to learn a foreign language. That leaves waiting and hoping for someone to realize how amazing a given series is, and then hoping that they decide to go through with the licensing and translating of it. For shoujo and josei fans, to say nothing of yuri readers and, to a lesser degree, seinen lovers, it can be particularly frustrating, since the majority of what reaches Anglophone shores is shounen, although we are seeing an increase in all of those, as well as older titles. So I thought I'd give all the important people who of course read everything I write a hand and point out seven manga series that really ought to be given a chance in English.
Gisele Alain by Sui Kasai
Running in the same magazine Kaoru Mori published Emma and A Bride's Story in, Gisele Alain is like a combination of Emma and La croisée dans un labyrinthe étranger. Set in early 20th century France, the story follows Gisele, a young teen from a wealthy family who has fled the familial estate to run an apartment building in the city. She also sets herself up as a “Girl of All Work,” willing to do anything to help anyone, from cleaning out an old house to finding a lost cat to taking a little girl to a museum. She's enlisted Éric, a tenant in his twenties who is perpetually behind on the rent, to be her somewhat unwilling assistant, and while it's very clear that he has at least a crush on her, he also worries that she's out of her depth being among the common folk of the city, and this combination basically has him wrapped around Gisele's little finger. A comment in volume one about having to wait a few years for her to get older means she's probably about fourteen or fifteen, so while it is a little creepy, it's more or less within Edwardian norms.
What makes this story so appealing, aside from the fact that Kasai's art is remarkably close to Mori's in terms of both style and period detail, is Gisele herself. She's an irrepressible bundle of energy, determined to do the most good she can while refusing to rely upon her privilege. She'll whip out her upper class upbringing when necessary, but she'd rather solve problems all on her own, thank you very much, and that gives her a charm that it's hard to deny. Each chapter, which builds slightly on the last without being a strictly linear narrative, has a focus that draws you in and holds your attention, even as nothing major is generally happening. This makes action chapters all the more striking when they do appear. Gisele Alain is what a slice-of-life series should be, with appeal for both fans of the genre and those with shorter attention spans, gorgeous historical detail, and a terrific heroine. This seems like a no-brainer for Yen Press, honestly, and it's recent enough (2009) that hopefully it is on someone's radar.
I honestly have no idea why this series has never been licensed. Not only have two other series by its author, Ai Yazawa, been brought over in both anime and manga formats – Paradise Kiss and NANA – but the film based on the series has also seen a release. At only three volumes, this stands as one of Yazawa's best and most complete titles in every sense of the word: it tells not only the whole story, but a full one with a bittersweet clarity that makes it one of the most emotional I have read. Not in the sense that it is overly symbolic or tries too hard to make you feel things, but rather in that it creeps inside of you and makes you live the story as you read it, continuing to haunt you after it's done.
Often categorized as a mystery, Kagen no Tsuki (or Last Quarter, as it is often translated) is both that and a ghost story. It has two heroines: elementary school student Hotaru and high school student named Mizuki. Both become entangled in the past in different ways, and their paths cross in an abandoned house that is intricately tied up with it all. Hotaru, grieving her missing cat, follows a similar-looking stray into an empty mansion only to find a girl playing the piano. She's apparently an amnesiac ghost, only recalling the name “Adam.” Naming the ghost Eve, Hotaru and her friends set out to learn about Adam and the family that once lived in the house, opening the door to a melancholy past that does not want to let go. It's a beautiful, sensitive story that never stoops to melodrama even though it very easily could have, and Yazawa's art style and her use of photographic backgrounds give the manga a dusky feel, as if the sun is perpetually just about to fully set, even during daylight scenes. The story is ultimately about letting go and it acknowledges how difficult that can be even as it makes you wish that the characters didn't have to. As far as shoujo titles go, this remains one of the best, even when compared to more recent series (this dates to 1998-99), and it has some of the markers of successfully translated titles, such as orange and A Silent Voice, in its handling of emotions and relationships. It has seriously been translated into nearly every language except English, and someone needs to rectify that ASAP. It's only three volumes – it could even be released as an omnibus! Just please license this. I'll beg if I have to.
Candy by Yufuko Suzuki
We've definitely seen an increase in yuri manga releases recently, and that hopefully won't be slowing down any time soon. And in order to keep that mini-boom going, I offer up Yufuko Suzuki's two volume Candy, which is not only a charming love story but also one of the few in the homoerotic subgenres to acknowledge life in the real world. Naturally the story takes place in a girls' high school, and Kanon is the typical school princess, with Chiaki taking more of the prince role, both visually and in terms of their personalities. Kanon is surprised by Chiaki's advances, but they begin a relationship that quickly becomes serious…and the story doesn't end there. As the plot advances, we see Kanon and Chiaki embark on an unhealthy phase of mutual co-dependence, which I can't recall any other romance in any genre touching on. They worry over being discovered, and then when they are, they have to deal with people around them saying, “Oh, it's just a phase. These things happen in girls' schools; you'll grow out of it when you meet a man.” While this attitude is often lurking in the background of yuri series, Kanon and Chiaki have to deal with it being said to their faces, which is not only incredibly disrespectful, but also hurtful and a message to them that no matter how much they love each other, the world will not accept them. That they weather all of these storms and go on to forge a life together after high school, another unusual feature of this series, is part of what makes this such a memorable romance.
Yufuko Suzuki comments that this is the first time she's ever written yuri. You'd never know it from the sensitive way she handles the story of two women in love and afraid to let people know it. One (French) publisher compares this series to Girl Friends, and that stands, though I like this one better. At only two volumes this is the perfect length for Seven Seas to release in their yuri line or for some other publisher to test the waters with. Beautiful in both art and story, Candy is worth paying attention to.
Kiken Mania by Kana Nanajima
No list like this would be complete for me without at least one gooey shoujo romance, and Kiken Mania is my favorite in a long time. Largely this is because the story avoids that plague of shoujo, the destructive, abusive, and generally evil boyfriend. Heroine Nono is still fairly naïve, but she's also not an emotional moron: she understands her feelings and acknowledges them, along with what she does and does not like. She's desperate to find her true love, and she's willing to date just about any guy who asks her, but when things go bad, she's not afraid to admit it. Her best friends Yuiko and Kazuma know her weaknesses and look out for her, but not to the point where she's infantilized. When Nono gets taken in by an older guy who just wants one thing, they warn her about it, and when she finds out they're right, she breaks up with him. When her next boyfriend turns out to be a stalker, she doesn't flutter about it being romantic and agree to his demand that she never talk to her male friends again, she tells him he's being unreasonable and leaves him. And, best of all, when Kazuma (who clearly is in love with her) tries to force a kiss on her, she kicks him. Hard. Nono understands her worth and that no one gets to do things to her in the name of “love” if she doesn't want them to, and her friends don't vilify her for it, they congratulate her.
This healthier heroine and background makes Kiken Mania really stand out in the shoujo romance field. It's still plenty romantic in that young adult novel way that makes the genre so appealing, and Kana Nanajima has a deft hand at making all of her characters attractive and different looking. Nono comes from a poor family, but that barely factors in to the story – it's just where she's from and explains a couple of her quirks, rather than becoming a badge of shame or something she's desperate to escape from. When she finally falls for Kazuma, it's because she's had time to realize her feelings, not because he kissed her and now she's obligated or something, and their friendship, as it turns out, is a large part of their romance. There's a lot going on in only two volumes, making this feel like a satisfying read in a way some short series don't, and again, the length would make this an easy little story to release. Not that I don't love LDK and Say "I love you"., but sometimes it's nice to have something short and sweet to read when you want a romance, and this fills that need.
There's a trend, or whatever you want to call it, where one or two series out of a mangaka's works will be licensed while the rest languish in obscurity. Whether that's because the second chosen series doesn't do as well as the first or for some other reason, it often, as in the case of the aforementioned Kagen no Tsuki, results in some of the best titles never making it to our shelves. Tomu Ohmi's Anata no Hana o Sasagemasho is one such case, and it's much closer to Midnight Secretary in terms of its heroine's strength than Spell of Desire. The story is about Seri, a no-nonsense and generally happy young woman who is really not keen on the whole arranged marriage thing that her parents have arranged. Her fiancé, Yuzuki, always seems to rub her the wrong way, but she never expected that he was being haunted by a vengeful curse until one day she spots something odd behind him. It turns out that all of the men in his family have died young since the Heian era and that he's the next in line to die. The ghosts of his ancestors do their best to protect him, but being incorporeal makes that something of a challenge. When it turns out that Seri can see those ghosts as well as talk to them, she begins to realize that she may be able to break the curse. Of course it means she'll have to marry Yuzuki, but that's beginning to sound less repellant as she gets to know what's really going on with him.
Apart from the fact that this is both a pretty good ghost story and a much more balanced romance than either of Ohmi's series previously released in English, Seri herself is awesome. She considers her every move, thinks over her options but acknowledges that she has feelings too and that she's allowed to feel them rather than becoming an emotionless crusader, and she's fully in charge of herself at all times. The main couple may have been arranged, but they take time to know each other better before fully committing to their relationship, and Yuzuki thinks about how Seri might feel about things, not just himself. (That's a quality seriously lacking in a lot of josei and shoujo romance heroes.) Ohmi's art also really lends itself to a ghost story – her delicate lines and flowing hair make the dead men of Yuzuki's family ethereal, and she uses more light grays in the art than usual. The series is only four volumes long, so again, not a huge commitment for someone to put out, and it's much more likely to appeal to fans of Midnight Secretary than Spell of Desire was. Plus there's not a schoolgirl in sight – and don't us grown-up ladies deserve some more manga?
Most people think of City Hunter or Cat's Eye when you mention Tsukasa Hojo, but he's actually a lot more than that as an author. While I can't actually think of any of his series I haven't liked, one that stands out to me as being a good possibility for English translation is Rash!!, a two-volume series from 1994. That publication date makes it a little outdated today, but the action-comedy genre does a lot to mitigate that. The story is set in a prison. The doctor has just resigned and her granddaughter Yuki is taking over for her. Apart from the obvious comedy of a gorgeous female doctor in a male prison, Yuki also has a reputation as something of a disaster that is slowly being unleashed on those around her. Her childhood friend, Tatsumi, has grown up to be a police officer, so he has a front row seat to the havoc Yuki unwittingly unleashes…as well as the very real dangers that come with being a prison doctor. It's a fun combination of serious action, silly comedy, and light romance, and once again at only two volumes, it's nicely compact. In some ways it feels like a more contained Cat's Eye, using some of the same character dynamics, just without that sort of endlessness that plagues the other series.
Another good choice from Hojo – and I really couldn't decide between the two – is F. COMPO, a fourteen volume series from 1997 that held up well enough (and was popular enough) to get an eleven volume re-release in 2011. The story is one of the first to handle its LGBTQ subject matter seriously in the mainstream: just before starting college, Masahiko loses his dad in a car accident. Since his mom died when he was little, that leaves him all alone…except for his mother's brother, whom he's never met. The brother does show up to help sad and penniless Masahiko, and he quickly finds out why they've been estranged: his uncle is transgender and actually his aunt. She's married to a transgender man, and they've raised their child, Shion, who is a few years younger than Masahiko, to be gender fluid. Thrown into a world he only knows bad stereotypes about, Masahiko has to learn to both accept and understand the LBGTQ community, a lesson that does not come easily, although it is never intentionally mean. It's no Wandering Son, but F. COMPO still is a really interesting series, and while it could still be a risky release, it could start some interesting conversations. If someone were willing to take the chance, publishing this in English could be a good thing…and if not, there's always Rash!!. Tsukasa Hojo's too good an author not to get a real chance in English.
We've been getting more older shounen releases courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly, Vertical, and DMP, as well as Viz's release of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but early shoujo is much less likely to come out. There have been a few, and The Rose of Versailles is coming (hooray!), but this really feels like an area where there's room for improvement. So why not release a series by Yumiko Igarashi? Of course Candy Candy is the go-to, but I think Georgie is the better tale. Set in the 19th century, it begins in Australia with young Georgie being found abandoned and being taken in by a local farmer who has two sons, Abel and Arthur. The three grow up together until a chance meeting with a British noble upends their world – Georgie seems to have some distinguished roots. The three head for England (the boys unwilling to be parted from Georgie) and thus begins a story of melodrama, full of incurable illnesses, sticky social situations, more yearning glances than you can shake a stick at, and a love story that is guaranteed to not just tug at your heartstrings, but to give them a firm yank. It's 1980s shoujo at its finest: dewy eyed characters in gorgeous gowns against elaborate backdrops play out the kind of story cheap 19th century paperbacks were made of. Even better, it absolutely pulls you in and makes you live in its world, even as a rational part of you recognizes the ludicrous nature of the events.
On a more serious note, Georgie also opens a window into contemporary shoujo manga, showing us one of the steps the genre took to get to where it is today. Early 1980s shoujo was a sugary delight with a poisonous aftertaste, and it's easier to appreciate the stories we get now in 2016 if you can trace things back. Much like you can look at Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro and see where stories like Natsume's Book of Friends came from, you can read Georgie and understand where Stepping on Roses originated. Not every manga reader is as keen on studying these things as I am, but from an academic perspective, Georgie makes a lot of sense. Plus Igurashi's art is chock-full of the kind of gorgeous detail we don't see very often anymore – some of those gowns are enough to make a cosplayer weep. The series is only five volumes, although I promise it will feel longer in a good way as you read it, and if someone were willing to take a chance on it and perhaps release it in an edition with some of Igurashi's color artwork as well, it could be a very nice collector's item.
As I was writing this it occurred to me that had I written it just last summer, I would have had several titles that have since been licensed; The Rose of Versailles and Princess Jellyfish, to name two specifically. While these good manga times can't necessarily last, we can keep dreaming that someday all of our reading wishes will come true. Stop by the forums and tell us yours.
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