Recently, I’ve been on the vtuber train and saw the release of a new Hololive vtuber named Pavolia Reine. Something in her 2D anime-inspired design was exceedingly familiar but I didn’t quite remember until she revealed the artist who made her look was IIDA Pochi. This particular mangaka has a specific style that I knew well from her manga series Ara Naru Mono or The Demon Who Became My Sister, and it reminded me that I hadn’t talked about this series before on here. So why not now?
While Ara Naru Mono is a slice of life, it definitely has an undercurrent that makes it feel much darker. The series follows Yuu, a 14-year-old boy who grows up orphaned from his parents who passed away while he was young, and being constantly tossed from one relative to the next, as his family despises him as an outsider. Yuu finally finds himself being taken care of by his unsociable but generally amiable uncle before said uncle mysteriously falls into a coma and is hospitalized. Upon checking his uncle’s things, Yuu finds a summoning circle and accidentally releases an eldritch demon who grants him a wish in return. Never knowing a loving family, Yuu wishes for the demon to be his older sister and thus begins their life together.
I’ve always enjoyed the idea behind a childhood friendship that turns into something more. I’ve felt I could relate to the idea of being friends but then feeling the boundaries and limits of that relationship lengthen into something else. It’s scary, too, which I think is part of the fun of reading them. There’s a fear that something changing may cause that something to break or be hurt, or the people involved equally hurt. It can be annoying when two characters play this constant pull back and forth and the reader is basically screaming at them to just finally make that last step. However, even when I’m pulling my hair out, I still feel a sense of empathy for that fear.
She is the Rokurokubi is definitely one of those stories. Set in a world where Youkai live in an unfortunate “separate but equal” place from humans, a human boy, Itsuki, and a Youkai girl, Natsuki, have been friends since childhood and go to school together on the Youkai side. A Rokurokubi is a type of Youkai that can stretch its neck indefinitely. And while that could make the boy and girl very different from each other, they couldn’t possibly be closer. Both of them love a lot of the same things, they hang out and do the same things, and constantly fight with each other like siblings. However, both of them are starting to realize their feelings are changing. As the series goes on, Natsuki’s friends try to help, but inevitably, it’s Natsuki and Itsuki who have to take that final step.
I’m a bit of a newcomer to the scarier elements in Japanese culture, only recently seeing both adaptations of The Ring as well as getting started on the collected works of Junji Ito. However, I think because of my initial hesitation into scarier media, I found myself in a perfect spot for something horror-light – a series that can give you chills without endless nightmares if read right before bed. And so, in a strange mix of genre, I stumbled across an indie manga from Pixiv called Mieruko-chan or, its English title, The Girl Who Can See It.
We all know the trope. A character wakes up in a hospital bed and doesn’t remember anything. Next to them is someone claiming to be their lover. However, instead of lamenting the loss of a relationship with this person, what if this amnesiac is so stoked to be in a relationship that they dive headfirst into loving this new person?
That’s the premise for Cheerful Amnesia, in which a character not only finds that in the three years they’ve lost they were able to find love, but that they’re gay and hella into it. Arisa wakes up to find a slightly older Mari by her bedside, who explains the situation. Arisa is overjoyed and immediately falls back in love with her. They then begin a journey together helping Arisa regain her old life and romance, with plenty of hijinks from the lack of memory. For instance, like when Arisa who only remembers being a kid in high school who seemingly never dated, finds herself sleeping in the same bed as another woman.
Some of my favorite stories involve elements of what made classic fables so enthralling to me. Some aspects are easy to see, like the fantasy setting, but I also enjoy the darker world that’s mixed with a child-like innocence which tinges each story, allowing us to take in the horror aspects a little easier. Fairies and other creatures of myth are no joke, and the original stories attest to how devious they can be. However, we always see their pranks rather than their murderous rampages when we read those stories of old. Fables historically were made to teach a lesson and help to educate children on the dangers of life. So the palatability of a darker world that we only catch a glimpse of has always intrigued me.
Shadow House is very much a story like this. The story follows Emilyko, a “living doll” in a very dark and mysterious mansion, who serves Kate, a member of the Shadow Family, who owns the property. Emilyko spends most of her time taking care of Kate but also ponders on the behavior of the Shadows. The Shadows are creatures seemingly made up of some dark material that creates soot, as everything they touch is dirtied with it, along with their negative emotions causing them to release a black smoke that can cover the room in the same material. Added to this is the odd behavior that they have some physical control over the soot they produce and leave behind.
Starting the year off right with two of my favorite types of stories: Romance and Representation! I’m a sucker for a fun, no major bummers or big drama, kinda romance where two people can comfortably get to know each other. This is also the perfect way to positively represent various issues and types of lives while being respectful to both, so it becomes a great way to experience another person’s perspective while also getting all those warm feelings about people in love. Love and empathy! Great combo.
Back when Ryan Lewis and Macklemore were writing the songs for their album The Heist, Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) was having a hard time coming up with the lyrics for “Same Love.” He finally decided on an idea of telling the story from a gay individual’s perspective. However, when he showed this to Ryan Lewis, Ryan shot it down immediately. He stated to Ben that there was no authenticity behind these words, and that if he really wanted to make an impact, he should tell it from his perspective. Ben rewrote the song with this in mind, taking his own perspective and feelings of support for the gay community and translating them musically. The song went on to be an anthem for the gay community and a banner for allies to rally under as they pushed harder to finally enact legal gay marriage in the United States.
As someone who likes to write in his free time, I always suffer trying to find how to write characters that aren’t the same background as me, whether it’s a different ethnicity or a different sexuality. To be honest, it genuinely is an impossible thing to try and do this by myself. I can’t understand the struggle or the abuse people have gone through for being gay because I’m just not. That is why I always talk to those around me from these backgrounds in order to help me understand on some scale, and then constantly keep the conversation going as I write. Any writer who is gay would far better be able to detail how that feels than me, and we should encourage them to write those feelings. However, for those of us that are allies, I feel that if we want to express these types of characters in the stories we tell, we have to make damn sure we do it right.
That is why I love My Brother’s Husband as a series. This short but endearingly sweet manga very much acts as an instructional guide for the ways allies can help and make the best of being the support class in the Equality Squad. Gengoroh Tagame in this manga shows people, such as myself, how to be that ally that the gay community needs, how to accept them and work with them to make a better place.
This manga is this perfect little cap off to the day for me. Mado Kara Madoka-chan is a cute little series about a office worker who walks the same path to work every day outside of a woman’s house, who loves to play games and roleplay with him as he passes by. Every time that our protagonist comes by, Madoka-chan begins a different kind of game with him to keep both of their lives fun, dramatically changing the layout and look of her home.
Each chapter is a different strange experience with the eccentric Madoka-chan as she performs something within her four walls either for the salaryman passing by, or seemingly to entertain herself. However, her eccentric nature and the dramatic transformations of her place, sometimes in a matter of minutes, makes me feel as if there’s a hint of Magical Realism in this series. Like, there are some chapters where she closes her shutters and not five seconds later, they slam back open to reveal a restaurant. It’s insane but also always fun, especially because as magical as she may seem, Madoka-chan doesn’t always get everything right and so interactions between the two characters can become dynamic and sometimes downright hilarious.
I feel Gokushufudou works for the same reason of why I love Leslie Nelson’s brand of comedic movies. It’s a very serious character in a completely out of tone situation. Our main character, Tatsu, is an ex-yakuza who left all of the gang violence behind to completely support his wife in her work by taking care of their house. However, even with the smallest chores of cleaning the bath or doing the dishes, he treats it with the same horrifying and meticulous seriousness of a gang-sanctioned killing.
Satoko & Nada is a simple series about two young women finding themselves as roommates in University and exploring each other’s cultures. Satoko is a Japanese exchange student to America who finds her expectations for her roommate are very unlike what she initially thought when she meets Nada, another exchange student who comes from Saudi Arabia. However, the two find themselves as incredibly fast friends and, for the benefit of this manga, very open and accepting about sharing their cultures with each other.