As I’ve written previously, what defines an audience for a manga is what magazine a series originally ran in, and this week, I’m taking a look at three series that ran in magazines for women. I’ve actually covered several very good women’s (or josei) series on here already – Utsubora and Ooku, as recent examples (though Ooku ran in a men’s magazine, it’s drawn by a well-loved josei artist, so it mostly counts). Subject matter can vary widely. There are stories about the ever-popular Office Lady, career-seeking college students, young women who have lost their way in life, sci-fi themed stories about life, some noir-ish thrillers, or straight-up smutty romance (in your choice of sexuality). Not many have been translated into English, but these works always have a mature flavor, and can usually appeal to a very broad audience.
Honey and Clover – Chica Umino (10 volumes)
A beautiful story about a group of friends going through art school together, and one of the must-reads in terms of josei in English. Takemoto is a young man who enrolls in art school and moves to the big city. He lives with two other guys named Morita and Mayama in a broken-down house. As the series continues, Takemoto and Morita fall head-over-heels in love with a classmate named Hagu, a quiet girl who has trouble talking to people and making friends. Takemoto keeps his feelings mostly bottled up through the course of the series, whereas Morita is a true eccentric whose extrovert attempts at winning Hagu only alienate her more. The series is about character relationships, the art of friendship, what the characters do to make a living through college, their family expectations, how skilled they are at their craft, growing apart through the years, and basically just living life. I have a soft spot for it since I also went to art school, and it mirrors what college life is like exactly. Like most other manga, there are romantic triangles and one-way crushes that are kept alive through the length of the series. Unlike other series, almost none of them end well. It’s got its poignant and bittersweet moments, but it’s also a hilarious comedy. Morita in particular is an amusing character whenever he appears. The work and reactions that students and teachers have for projects and classes is very funny, and one of my favorite side stories was one about how one of Mayama’s co-workers at an architectural firm could wear the ugliest shirts in the world and look like a smooth stud in them. Umino’s art is unique, with scribbly linework and odd character designs, but she lends the art a spareness that serves it well in emotional scenes, and she’s also an ace at drawing the funny stuff. It lends the series a particular beauty. It’s funny, sweet, and at ten volumes, the perfect length for a story about the college years. All volumes apper to be in print and available.
Helter Skelter – Kyoko Okazaki (1 volume)
One of the pioneers of comics for women, Okazaki was only recently translated into English. Helter Skelter, one of her most famous works, was released last week from Vertical. Named for the Beatles song (and possibly the spiral slide the song is named after), Helter Skelter is a story about a famous model named Liliko. She appears in print and television ads, movies, TV specials, and is constantly being interviewed. The people can’t get enough of her, and it’s said that she’s one of the most beautiful women of all time. Behind the scenes, Liliko has a rotten personality and is spoiled by her manager and the head of her agency. But it’s soon revealed that Liliko’s beauty is completely manufactured. Only a few body parts like her skeleton and ears are hers, and the rest was created with extensive plastic surgery. Without exotic, expensive, and questionably legal regular treatments, the skin literally begins to rot off her body. More and more, Liliko begins finding bruises and scabs, and she begins to question what will happen to her when the clock expires on her beauty. On one hand, it’s a story about the lengths people will go to for beauty, and how much fleeting celebrity is based entirely on looks. On the other, Liliko is a product of a nasty system, and her slow and extreme breakdown is an ugly thing to watch. She’s such a terrible person that it’s difficult to sympathize with her, but the story is still compelling. The moral of the story is basically that memory is short, but desire is forever, and the way Okazaki gets there is fascinating, despite the semi-outrageous plot of the story itself. Her art is a very spartan proto-josei style, with spare lines, big eyes and faces, and extreme minimalism. One of the high points of Okazaki’s art that makes Helter Skelter’s particularly haunting is how well she can draw ugly facial expressions. Vertical has taken a chance with several josei series this year (including Utsubora, Okazaki’s Pink, and Sakuran), but with allegedly low preorders, more licenses, or even reprints of these books, seem unlikely, so it’s important to support these kinds of books while support is still worthwhile.
Object of Desire – Story and Art by Tomoko Noguchi (1 volume)
In 2008, a publisher named Aurora had an imprint dedicated exclusively to ledicomi, a subgenre that consists of smutty women’s comics. About 8 volumes were released before it went under with the rest of Aurora Publishing, but this is almost the only example of this genre we have in English. Viz and DMP/eManga have been dabbling in the genre again, but their recent work aren’t really the one-shots and story anthologies that make up the core genre. The stories are always romances, and can be good, and emotionally complex, but they are just as likely to be an excuse for a sex scene. Object of Desire was the best of the 8 volumes of LuvLuv manga I read. A short story anthology, there was plenty of smut, but also some interesting stories. The story Object of Desire is about a young woman who finds the dating scene to be a sham, and can’t get past dinner and a movie as an investment to get into her pants. When a young man comes right out and asks her if she wants to have sex one day, she agrees, then slowly begins to form a relationship and fall in love with him. Another story has an emotionally awkward woman who has difficulty expressing how she feels towards her boyfriend, and tries desperately to make her feelings known through silent, random sexual encounters. Many of the stories here have male characters who tend towards the terrible, but the stories are often about how to work around or deal with personality flaws, both on the male and female side. I found it to be quite charming volume overall, and it’s fairly impressive given the shallow expectations one may have for the genre. It’s been out of print for years, but used copies can be had for five bucks.