“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

oishinbo

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

 

neighborseki

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!

Why do libraries matter today?

When I recently announced joyously that I had finally been accepted into the Master of Library and Information Science program, I got a variety of responses. Mainly “woohoo!”s and things like that, but also the occasional question about why I chose this career, or even something as refreshingly candid as this comment from an online friend in a Kakao group chat:

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Oof.

There is a certain nostalgia associated with libraries. Many people (and this included me to an extent before I began working in a library 7 years ago) have an idea in their heads of what a library is. Perhaps they are even rather fond of this very concept of a library, and they romanticize it lovingly in their heads. Theirs is a quiet, austere place filled with rows and rows of books. Their library might resemble one they frequented as a child, or saw in a movie. In their memory, the library is a place that you turn to when you are in need of a book, or a quiet place to study. In their library, bespectacled, cardigan wearing women “shhh” you for turning the pages too loud.

This idea of a library endures, supported by some popular media and the notions of those who maybe haven’t visited their public library in recent memory.

However, this library is not my library.

Certainly, some of the above aspects are present in some parts of some libraries some of the time.  But, the libraries of today offer so much more than that outdated model.

Libraries offer services in line with the times and are constantly updating to best serve their patrons in this age of rapidly changing technologies and emerging means of information sharing. In the libraries of today, you may access multiple services in a visit without so much as seeing a book.

People of all ages and all walks of life are welcome in the library, where they are treated with respect and dignity, and able to access information, technologies, entertainment and services that they might not be able to access otherwise. The library is a space where you aren’t expected to buy anything, there’s no catch.

I know I am not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, (check out this legendary twitter smackdown if you haven’t already: https://twitter.com/i/moments/922965302761025536?lang=en ) but this is a message that needs to be reinforced again and again, as clearly there is a need to defend libraries from the detrimental actions of those who don’t understand them.

I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to:  Libraries are for everyone to access information, education, entertainment and services that enrich their lives and foster lifelong learning. 

Here are just some of the kinds of things you might be able to do at your public library today at little or no cost:

  • check out an ipad or ereader on loan
  • use a free wifi connection
  • get one on one homework or reading help
  • access full-text, peer-reviewed articles for assignments and research
  • borrow the latest video games, movies, magazines, and music (FOR FREEEEEE)
  • utilize a community makerspace with tools and technology
  • attend a resume building workshop so you can get that job!
  • 3D print whatever your mind can fathom
  • practice yoga, zumba, tai chi, meditation, etc.- namaSLAY!!!
  • meet up for a weekly parenting or breastfeeding support group
  • reserve a study or meeting room
  • attend a movie night and enjoy popcorn and the big screen
  • participate in a writers circle
  • access resources for preparing for a Citizenship exam or other exam
  • receive cuddles from a therapy animal program
  • create crafts or learn how to paint a masterpiece step by step, maybe with some wine and cheese- like paint night, but cheaper!
  • participate in a cosplay competition or learn how to create cosplay looks
  • get help accessing genealogical records and researching your family ancestry
  • peruse board games and card games to take home, or to play at the library (Cards Against Humanity anyone?)
  • print and scan important documents
  • share at a seed-swap or learn about beekeeping
  • learn a new language in a conversation group
  • download audiobooks, ebooks, videos, music, and more from home or on the go with your library card
  • “borrow” a human through a Human Library project
  • visit (or add to) a community art display
  • get referrals to a variety of social services
  • find help fact-checking that dubious looking article your aunt sent you on Facebook
  • dress up with some razzle-dazzle for a seniors social dinner and dance

oh yeah, and you can also check out books!!!

My library is a vibrant, busy, exciting place, full of possibilities. My library is for everyone.

Truly, libraries are vital community hubs. I can’t imagine a world without libraries. It hurts to try imagining.