Shocking Anime Memories & Rare Ghibli Musings- Anime is a format, not a genre!

One of the main goals of my ALC conference presentation There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You)   was to reinforce the importance of recognizing comics, including manga, as a format and not a genre.

Similarly, anime is a format capable of telling any kind of story.

I’m heading out to Animethon tomorrow, and as such I’ve had several conversations with friends and coworkers recently about anime. One such friend was reminiscing with me today about favorites from childhood, and we discussed how sometimes anime surprised us with its content.

Anime: Building Solid Foundations For Childhood

And Beyond

When I was very young, before I even got into Sailor Moon or Pokemon, I was prone to watching and re-watching my favorite VHS tapes over and over and over again. I’d watch them so fervently that I could speak every word of dialogue along with the tape. One of my favorites was a particular version of Heidi which had  beautiful music and charming style. Another was a lively and unique version of Snow White. Yet another was a tape of the first 3 episodes of the action-packed extra-terrestrial fantasy cartoon, Thundercats.

Little did I know that in the might of these three VHS tapes, probably plucked from the bargain bins of convenience stores by my family, anime would begin to sink its hooks into my impressionable young mind!

By scouring the internet some years later on a hunch, I confirmed that my Heidi movie (which was dubbed in English) had ties to one of the most well known and celebrated anime studios both in Japan and internationally, Studio Ghibli. My Heidi was a condensed version of a full Japanese anime series created by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the two founding directors of Studio Ghibli.

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This was back when Studio Ghibli was not yet established- Alps No Shoujo Heidi was released under Zuiyo Eizo which later became Nippon Animation. Nippon, I also learned with some digging, created the Grimms Fairy Tale Classics series, including my aforementioned favorite version of Snow White!

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Oh, and Thundercats? It was animated by a Japanese studio called Pacific Animation Corporation.

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Snyarf, Lion-O!

I Didn’t See That Coming (and Neither Did He)

I have a vivid memory from when I was quite young of sitting in the living-room with my Dad watching an anime that he randomly found while browsing tv channels. Two people are battling in some sort of combat ring, the sort of setting where a competition like martial arts would take place. The fighting is bloody and intense, and keeps amping up in its recklessness.

Suddenly one of the fighters takes the pointer and middle fingers of both of his hands and thrusts them into the temples of the competitor, making a calculated strike-and-pull. A close up is shown of the victim’s retinal arteries (?) being ripped open, and blood gushes out of both sides of his head.

Everything goes black. Now he can’t see and must continue the fight completely blind.

My Mom’s spidey sense must have tingled in worry about her pre-pubescent daughter because she walked into the room at the peak of the action, raised her eyebrows to the roof with a sidelong glance, and said something like:

“Doug, what in the hell are you two watching?!”

Dad was just as shocked as I was –

“Well, it’s a cartoon! I didn’t…”

We sat transfixed and watched the rest of the show. I have no idea what the name of it was, and to this day I can’t remember anything about it besides that scene, but this experience was my first big glimpse of anime’s capabilities beyond friendly magical girls and elemental monster battles, and certainly far beyond any western animation I’d ever laid eyes on.

Please Sir, I want Some More (Ghibli)

Outside of my heavily edited VHS version of Heidi, the first Ghibli movie I remember watching was Princess Mononoke. I was still quite young, and, once again, this was something my Dad stumbled upon while browsing channels. We both realized it was a bit more bloody than we were expecting (which is funny, because it’s to my knowledge the only Ghibli movie with that level of gory imagery- not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Dad… what is wrong with the boar, dad…?

Years later, Dad finally decided it was time to invest in a BluRay player and brought home a PS3, along with our first ever BluRay: a copy of Ghibli’s award winning Spirited Away. 

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While he seemed to have bought it mainly as a means of testing out the assuredly Beautifully Clear HD Quality Image and Unsurpassed Sound of a BluRay on his TV, I was immediately smitten with the intricate backdrops, the strange characters, and otherworldly happenings in the movie.

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I waited until the newness of the BluRay fever had died off a bit and asked if I could keep the film and add it to my small but growing anime collection. Dad acquiesced with a fake sigh and a “should have known you’d like this one, kiddo”.

Ghibli movies have continued to blow me away with their devotion to truly understanding and amusing children and childlike minds, their attention to even the minutest and most seemingly insignificant details, and insightful depictions of the true good and bad faces of humanity. Their works are often fantastical, sometimes sentimental, occasionally tragic (don’t watch Grave of the Fireflies without some tissues handy) but always beautiful.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service

Last year I had the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream of visiting the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka with my husband while on our trip to Japan. It was an experience I’ll never forget and will hold in my heart forever.

 

Again for the People in the Back: Anime is a Format,

Not A Genre

In my early teens, when I first began working part-time, I began to purchase anime of my own accord. There was no rhyme or reason to what I bought- usually it was whatever overpriced “Volume 2, Part 1” randomness my local CD Plus had in stock. Some were wonderful, and some were underwhelming, but as I learned more and more about anime and manga, I fell more and more in love with both.

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Chibi Vampire Karin, one of the first anime I purchased with my meager grocery store earnings…

In time I began to understand the vastness of the possibilities of this uniquely Japanese format. To anyone who looks at an anime and immediately thinks “I’m not into that stuff”, I challenge you to do a little investigating online or talk to staff at your local library and see what’s out there that might be relevant to your interests.

Curiously, it seems that there aren’t many non-fiction anime produced from what I can tell- I’ve come across a few, but biographical and NF anime (and manga) seem to be rare. I’m not sure why that is, as it’s just as valid a format as any. If anyone has any insight on this I’d love a comment or DM!

Aside from an apparent dearth of non-fiction anime, here are just a few anime that pop into my head as some examples of the versatility of the format, but they are only a few drops in an ocean of worthwhile anime.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Cosplay?

Yesturday I came across this post by TheGamersJourney which is a response to a challenge by TheCosplayingBrooke and it inspired me to share my own thoughts on cosplay and why I enjoy it!

Cosplay is a total mystery to some people- why do we dress up as these characters, painstakingly crafting elaborate costumes, weapons and accessories? It’s expensive, it’s a lot of work, and some people look down upon it as being childish or cringey.

What’s with cosplay?

A little on my cosplay history…

My first time cosplaying was at Edmonton Expo in 2015. It was my first con ever, and I went as InuYasha. While my costume was designed by the amazing SkyCreation on Etsy, everything else was of my own making- the Tetsusaiga sword was my first weapon build, and it got tons of stares and photos- it was almost too long to fit in our truck!


A lot of my blood and sweat went into that Tetsusaiga… cutting glued industrial foam with an xacto knife is a dangerous business o.o

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InuYasha’s long haired wig was a pain in the butt, but luckily the ears I made worked well when sewn into it. I tried creating my own Beads of Subjugation with clay but they ended up being ridiculously heavy, so strung together some store-bought beads instead. I learned the trick of making realistic fangs out of acrylic nails and I’ve never looked back!


After cosplaying as InuYasha I was hooked, and I have since cosplayed Rin Matsuoka, Laito Sakamaki, Tsukimi Kurashita, and soon Krul Tepes (in progress)!


What inspires you to cosplay?

Usually I choose a cosplay project because I absolutely love the character- whether that’s a character that I am attracted to (my initial cross-plays of InuYasha, Rin, Laito) or a character that I admire or feel an affinity towards, like Tsukimi from Princess Jellyfish.


I have also started looking more at the aesthetics and style of a character- it’s especially fun to portray a character that has a unique and eye-grabbing style. For example, I cosplayed as Laito because he is my favorite character from Diabolik Lovers, but I almost chose to cosplay Kanato because he has awesome purple hair, his plushie Teddy, dark facial features that would be fun to replicate with makeup, and a really cool outfit.

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On the flipside of this, after having lots of struggles with long wigs, I might reconsider any future cosplay choices if they have crazy long hair!

I also consider the feasability of creating the costume- i’m still a beginner at sewing and crafting, and although in the beginning I purchased some of my pieces from online sellers, my goal is to create all of my costumes and accessories myself going forward.

What got you interested in cosplay?

Cosplay was on my radar ever since I was a young kid, I think. I’m sure I didn’t know “cosplay” was a word back then, but I used to dream about dressing up as the blue Power Ranger or Sailor Mercury. I used to pretend to be these characters when I was playing with my friends, but there was always this yearning to wear the costumes and take on the role of someone else.

Halloween was thrilling for me, and I’ve loved getting into costume for school plays and things like that- cosplay was a natural progression, I guess.


What does cosplay mean to you and what does it bring to your life?

Cosplay does lots of things for me. It gives me a new way to be creative and learn new skills- I’ve designed my own accessories and weapons, learned how to use a sewing machine, dabbled with costume and sfx makeup, and improvised materials and costume fixes.


It also gives me an immediate sense of community. As soon as I stepped into the expo hall as InuYasha, strangers began approaching and complimenting my handicraft, expressing their love of the series, and so on. I call conventions “being with my people” because it’s so fun to feel completely free to dork out and celebrate that dorkiness with others.


I love seeing diverse people of all different backgrounds and abilities, from all walks of life, young and old, coming together in celebration and shenanigans because of their shared geekiness. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of!


Who do you cosplay for?

I cosplay for myself, because I truly enjoy it, and also for the geeky community that I meet at things like conventions. Just as I feel excitement approaching someone who is playing one of my favorite characters, I love it when I see and hear excitement from others about my cosplay. When people ask to get a picture with me, it makes my day. There is something so special and magical about being tapped on the back by Miroku when I am browsing anime dvds at a giant nerdy tradeshow, and getting a picture together!

Is cosplaying freeing for you, either to be more yourself or explore different parts of yourself?

Being around like-minded people certainly does make me feel freer to be my squeeful fangirl self without restraint. Since starting my cosplay journey I feel more confident being bold and sharing my individuality even when i’m not surrounded by other geeks. It’s empowering!

Cosplay also allows me to bring a bit of the theatrical into my life. On the one hand, I get a chance to play with my own look and take on aspects of characters I find similar to myself. On the other hand, cosplaying a character like Laito, who has a personality much stronger than mine, is a lot of fun.


Participating in cosplay competitions is very rewarding even when you don’t win anything, and I am planning to continue signing up for them in the future! It’s not often I get to be on stage with hundreds of people watching me. It’s a crazy experience.

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^Awkward Tsukimi shuffle off the staaaggeeee! (Picture rights belong to Edmonton Expo)

Nerd Out With Your Bookmark Out: Geeky Non-Fiction For Everyone!

I was compiling a list of nerdy titles for a library display today and thought I should share some of them here!

They are listed alphabetically by last name of author. Enjoy!

 

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st Century Families by Natania Barron et al. (2012)

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Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Friends, and Knitting Nerds by Toni Carr (2015)

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Fandom: Fic writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers By Francesca Davis DiPiazza (2018)

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Superfandom: How Our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy by Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron Glazer (2017)

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Epic Cosplay Costumes: a Step-By-Step Guide to Making and Sewing Your Own Costume Designs by Kristie Good (2016)

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1000 Incredible Costume & Cosplay Ideas: a Showcase of Creative Characters from Anime, Manga, Video Games, Movies, Comics, and More! By Yaya Han et al. (2013)

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The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (2016)

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I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture by A.D. Jameson (2018)

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Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison et al. (2013)

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And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth by Carljoe Javier (2011)

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100 First Words for Little Geeks by Kyle Kershner (2018)

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The Geek’s Cookbook by Lecomte (2018)

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The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Geek Girls by Sam Maggs (2015)

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Geek Tattoo: Pop Culture in the Flesh by Issa Maoihibou (2017)

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The Secret Loves of Geek Girls edited by Hope Nicholson (Anthology, 2015)

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Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino (2015)

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The Geeky Chef Cookbook: Real-Life Recipes for Your Favorite Fantasy Foods by Cassandra Reeder (2015)

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Comic-con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment… by Rob Salkowitz (2012)

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Geek Parenting: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us About Raising a Family by Stephen H. Segal and Valya Dudyca Lypescu (2016)…- 649.1 SEG

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Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture by Stephen H. Segal et al. (2011)

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Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols More- The Ultimate Guide to Japan’s Otaku Culture by Gianni Simone (2017)

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Cosplay Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Costume Play by Yuki Takasou (2015)

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A Geek in ___ series by Tuttle Publishing (Various Authors)

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Getting a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture by Benjamin Woo (2018)

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Spoiler-Free Review/Squeefest: Black Butler- A Book of the Atlantic

I finally got around to watching the new Black Butler film, A Book of the Atlantic. It’s been a little while since I watched anything Black Butler, and this movie reminded me why I love the series so much. I’ve enjoyed all previous installments, and this one has all the bits I love about Kuroshitsuji: dark and mysterious plot, bloody and dramatic fight scenes with witty repartee, and understated but impactful sprinklings of humour and fanservice.

118369^ Hey look, it’s Inspector Gadget! I mean, Ronald Knox…

All aboard the Campania! The Campania is essentially the Titanic, but with 3 smokestacks instead of 4. It’s a luxury liner on which Ciel, Sebastian, and a smattering of other favorites, embark on yet another mystery- this time involving a secret society and medical mishaps involving reanimation of the dead! (Read: Zombies.)

Although Ciel leaves his loyal house-servants (minus Sebastian, of course) at the docks, many other fan-favorites make an appearance in the movie, including Elizabeth and her family, Grell Sutcliff, Ronald Knox, Undertaker, Snake, and a few other surprises.

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Snake always cracks me up (anyone who is familiar with the series will know why). I especially loved the character development of Elizabeth- let’s just say I’m much more fond of her now! Undertaker also really surprised and delighted with his newest development.

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The movie also gives viewers an intimate look into some unseen moments from the very beginnings of Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship, starting with the fateful deal that forms the basis of the entire series. As such, this movie is a treat for fans of Black Butler, but would also be enjoyable for people who have never seen previous episodes or spin-offs.

Highly recommended!

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“Japanese comics are very explicit”

The following is an email I received recently from a co-worker (shared with permission):

Hello,

I had a patron make a comment about a new manga series we received, called Trinity Seven. The patron told me that most Japanese manga are quite explicit and that these items should not be out for children to see. The items in question do have warning labels on them, however the covers are very suggestive and they were displayed on one of the panels facing the stairs…

The manga in question were on our New Titles Display on the second floor of the library, which is a quiet floor and houses our teen and adult collections.

The series, Trinity Seven, does indeed feature titillating cover art:

However, I very strongly disagree with the sentiment that “most Japanese manga are quite explicit”.  Certainly some are explicit, very much so. There are tons of explicit manga out there. But there are also tons of manga that aren’t explicit- manga on a wide range of themes and topics. My library has manga titles for all ages.

Just as with other comics and graphic novels (or books, or audiobooks, or DVDs!) , manga are a format, not a genre. Manga are generally quite heavily influenced by Japanese style and culture, but within the world of manga there are titles in any genre imaginable.

Family friendly, romance, horror, action, mystery, informational, slice-of-life, humour, fantasy, I could go on and on.

When we visited Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, YO), I saw manga comics and characters everywhere- in advertisements, as mascots, in cafe and restaurant themes, informational signage, decor, art installations, convenience stores, and in the hands of people young and old.

Here are just a few manga series that I have enjoyed that might challenge what many people think of when they think of manga:

 

Tokyo Tarareba Girls 

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The sharp new comedy from Akiko Higashimura, creator of Princess Jellyfish!

I spent all my time wondering “What if?” Then one day I woke up and I was 33.”

Rinko doesn’t think she’s that bad-looking, but before she knew it, she was thirtysomething and single. Now she wants to get married by the time the Tokyo Olympics rolls around in six years, but that might be easier said than done! 

By Akiko Higashimura.

 
Akiko Higashimura is one of my favorite mangaka. If you haven’t read Princess Jellyfish yet, you should- it’s hillarious. Similarly, this newer series is also just as hilarious and is filled with a cast of interesting, mainly female, characters. It’s refreshing to see main characters who are in their 30’s, as many manga focus on the high school demographic.
 

A Silent Voice

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Years ago, Shoya Ishida led his peers in tormenting a hearing-impaired classmate, Shoko Nishimiya. When she transfers schools, Shoya finds he has gone from bully to bullied, and is left completely alone. Now Shoya struggles to redeem himself in Shoko’s eyes and to face the classmates who turned on him.

This emotional drama is one of the most critically-acclaimed manga of the decade, earning an Eisner nomination and accolades from teachers and the American Library Association. An animated film adaptation from Kyoto Animation has swept the globe, arriving in US theaters in October 2017.

“A very powerful story about being different and the consequences of childhood bullying … Read it.” —Anime News Network

“The word heartwarming was made for manga like this.” —Manga Bookshelf

By Yoshitoki Oima

The unique plot of this manga drew me in. It’s certainly different than the types of stories I usually read, but it touches on important themes of bullying, isolation, shame, and wanting to make things right.

OISHINBO

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The best selling and most beloved food manga of all time!

Created by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki 

As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tōzai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shirō, an inveterate cynic who possesses no initiative—but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.

 

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Oishinbo is one of the first manga that I read which challenged my own preconcieved notions of what manga could be. It is funny, informative, and well written. For those who want to learn about Japanese food and culture, this manga is highly recommended. Fans of films like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Birth of Sake will love Oishinbo.

 

Happiness

 

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The latest foray into the darkest corridors of adolescent dread—with vampires—from manga master Shuzo Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil).

Nothing interesting in happening in Makoto Ozaki’s first year of high school. HIs life is a series of quiet humiliations: low-grade bullies, unreliable friends, and the constant frustration of his adolescent lust. But one night, a pale, thin girl knocks him to the ground in an alley and offers him a choice. Now everything is different. Daylight is searingly bright. Food tastes awful. And worse than anything is the terrible, consuming thirst. The tiny shames of his old life have been replaced by two towering horrors: the truth of what will slake his awful craving and high school itself.

By Shuzo Oshimi

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I absolutely adore vampire stories, and Happiness was certainly a happy find for me. I love the unique art style of Shuzo Oshimi, and this vampire tale feels more realistic than many I’ve read.

Fans of horror should also definitely check out the works of Junji Ito!

 

Neko Ramen 

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Saved from a hard life on the streets by a caring ramen shop owner, former kitten model Taishou now takes pride in his noodles and shows little tolerance for dissatisfied customers. Original.

by Kenji Sonishi

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This is a manga I happened upon in a bookstore and simply had to read. It has a special kind of absurd humour- I especially love how Taishou’s main customer, Tanaka, breaks the fourth wall from time to time because he realizes how completely absurd Taishou’s various shop-improvement ideas are (not to mention the fact that he is a cat… running a ramen shop… something that Taishou doesn’t seem to notice or care about!)

Neko ramen features lots of small story arcs and yonkoma (4-square panels), so it is a convenient manga to read if you want something you can put down and pick up again easily on work breaks, between bus rides, etc, but if you’re like me you’ll devour each volume in one sitting!

Yotsuba&!, 

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Hello! This is Koiwai Yotsuba, Yotsuba Koiwai…um, YOTSUBA! Yotsuba moved with Daddy to a new house from our old house waaaaaaay over there! And moving’s fun ‘cos people wave! (Ohhhh!!) And Yotsuba met these nice people next door and made friends to play with (one of ’em acted like one of those bad strangers Daddy told Yotsuba not to go with, but it was okay in the end). I hope we get to play a lot. And eat ice cream! And-and-and…oh yeah! You should come play with Yotsuba too!

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Yotsuba took me by surprise. I read it because I wanted a quick read and my library had multiple volumes. I got hooked on the stories of her antics, especially because they gave me real, true belly laughs. Yotsuba feels more like a real kid than any child I’ve read in print. Kids truly say and do the darnedest and most unexpected things.

 

My Brother’s Husband 

 

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ABOUT MY BROTHER’S HUSBAND, VOLUME 1

Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.

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This is a sweet, sad, and thought provoking story. Curious young Kana, asking questions without a filter as children do, acts as a provoking force for Yaichi in addressing topics that might be considered uncomfortable to discuss in Japanese culture today.

 

My Neighbor Seki

 

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Toshinari Seki takes goofing off to new heights. Every day, on or around his school desk, he masterfully creates his own little worlds of wonder, often hidden to most of his classmates. Unfortunately for Rumi Yokoi, his neighbor at the back of their homeroom, his many games, dioramas, and projects are often way too interesting to ignore; even when they are hurting her grades.

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My Neighbor Seki is one of those manga I bought on a whim, and I’m glad I did. I definitely identify with Rumi, the student who just wants to pay attention in class but keeps being distracted by her classmate’s Rube-Goldberg type creations. The humour is magnified by Rumi’s incredulous inner dialogue, the obliviousness of the teachers, and the silent but ever-escalating antics of Toshinari.

 

The session I am holding at the Alberta Library Conference on Friday is called There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!), and covers Manga in several parts, but I could also easily imagine creating a There’s a Manga for Everyone (Yes, Even You!)– maybe something I can consider submitting for next year’s conference!

I love learning about new series, especially ones that are unique or unconventional, so please leave me a comment if you have any recommendations, dear readers!