I promised myself not to get involved in another manga series and yet here I am at the start of a trek through ‘Black Butler’ by Yana Toboso. Of course, I could step off the track before the end or even refuse to take the next step but, having read the first volume, it seems I am hooked!
As ever with my hinterland, I was on the search for something else when I came across the character of Ciel Phantomhive and this led to the discovery that there is a ‘Black Butler’ manga, musical, film and anime.
This first manga introduces us to Ciel Phantomhive and his butler who has extraordinary gifts when serving his master. Ciel is orphaned so is head of the Phantomhive family even though he is only thirteen years old. He runs the company but also has a crime fighting role in the London underworld as the Queen’s Guardian. This alternative universe appears Victorian and is intriguing because it is set in London but is Japanese in origin.
Sebastian Michaelis is the butler of the title. He serves and protects his young master using skills that seem beyond the ordinary. There is a household of servants supporting him but it is Sebastian who anticipates and serves his master’s every wish. The young Phantomhive is enigmatic himself. There are references to his parents’ death and strange circumstances that led to his position at the head of a crime fighting initiative. The set up is enough to keep me going. I am ready to move on to volume two!
I loved the anime ‘Your Name’ so much that I bought the first volume of the manga version. I understand that the manga followed the film, which is interesting since more often it is the other way around. In this case, the book covers only part of the film even if it is the most interesting part: where rural high school student Mitsuha longs for a life in the big city and wakes up in the body of Taki, a high school boy in Tokyo; he wakes up as her. Their confusion and then accommodation of this situation gave the story the real drama and the real interest.
Mitsuha lives in a town called Itomori, a fictional construct for the story. She gets what she wants when she wakes as Taki but it is unclear why he should become her, there is no equivalent desire to become a girl. Nevertheless, he is most interested in the idea of having breasts and is usually caught out by Mitsuha’s younger sister physically exploring him/herself each morning!
The switch and switch back give the story interest but it is Taki whose personality is the most affected. He returns to his own body to find his dad is charmed by being called ‘daddy’ and the interest he has in a slightly older woman at his casual job moves on a pace when he finds a date has been arranged for him when Mitsuha was in his body.
The manga volume ends when the switching stops, something of a half way point in the film. The film takes several viewings so a manga version adds little but consolidates the sense that this was a fascinating story.
This manga by Japanese artist and writer Gengoroh Tagame provides an interesting insight into a society where being gay is rarely celebrated. The story involves a visit from a foreigner whose presence in the lives of a father and his daughter makes the father reflect on his views and prejudices.
Single parent Yaichi brings up his daughter Kana, earning a living by renting out property in the local area. This gives him time to look after his daughter, something he does with great love and care. Kana’s mother lives elsewhere but is still part of her life; she visits and stays in the family home but obviously has a high powered job elsewhere.
Into their lives comes Mike, a Canadian visiting Tokyo to see the childhood places his husband talked about before he died. Mike’s husband, Ryoji, was Yaichi’s brother.
Kana adores Mike from first meeting and insists he stay at their house. Yaichi feels obliged to agree and the manga tells the story of Mike’s time with the father and daughter. Yaichi confronts his own prejudices and sees Mike through his daughter’s eyes, coming to terms as he does so with his feelings about his brother and how he handled his coming out.
It is a brilliant tale of accepting people for who they are and seeing beyond labels. The homophobia in society is raised through reactions of local people to Mike’s arrival but, in what was for me the most poignant scene, the arrival of a teenage boy to their door shows that gay people do exist in Japan and the need for validation is of high importance.
‘My Brother’s Husband’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This is the first manga series I read! Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last. Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom. Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki. The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like. Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer. His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.
The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano. As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.
The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes. Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish. ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.
The manga series continues to impress. Mostly, this is because the experience of a young boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who identifies as a boy are played out slowly over many volumes.
I have reached volume 7, published in English by Fanatagraphics. Shimura Takako’s words have been translated by Matt Thorn so that we can people like me (who don’t read Japanese) can understand the story of Nitori and Takatsuki and their ongoing conflicts with identity.
Conflict is probably too strong a word since both children would be very happy if the world around them was more accepting. For Nitori the first signs of acne bring new concerns about his growing body. The pupils at the school embark on another gender bending play and the ski trip provides another backdrop for the young people to try out their identities.
The story works for the most part because the two main characters are so sweet. Their friendship group is something of a mixed bag and I have to admit to finding some of the girls around them both a little melodramatic. On the edge of the story is Seya, a boy whose interest in Nitori is confusing to them both. As this unfolds, the complications of gender, identity and friendship should further intertwine.
The ‘Wandering Son’ manga series is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This amazing manga series of identity and diversity continues as the two main characters continue to grapple with the issues most school children face but with the added confusion of their gender identity.
In this volume the youngsters decide to put on a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but with boys as girls and girls as boys. Shuichi is the boy who wished he were a girl. As the series has progressed, we have seen the first stirrings of romantic feeling. But, as the object of his affection is Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl who identifies as a boy, it is unclear to him whether this is a boy’s growing feelings for a girl, a boy for another boy, a girl for a girl, or a girl for a boy.
Love is all around in this volume as Shuichi’s sister has a date with her boyfriend at the beach. Her parents will not allow her to go on her own so she needs Shuichi to go too. This is awkward since the boyfriend mistook him for a girl when they first met. Yet high on Shu’s list of worries is what will happen to his body as it goes through puberty. He takes a great deal of interest in the hair on his father’s arms and legs and he is concerned about his voice. Yoshino, meanwhile, is most concerned about the changes in her chest area.
The pace of this manga series is slow but this gives characters time to develop and time for us to see that the pressures of adolescence are greater for children who feel born into the wrong gender.
‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This manga series is the most thought provoking one I know. The story of the boy who wants to be a girl and the girl who wants to be a boy attending the same school continues into a fifth volume. The issue of gender confusion has been covered but, as each volume is published, we see how this central problem of identity continues to affect the two growing youngsters.
Shuichi would love to wear a girl’s school uniform but must wear the black boy uniform expected of him as he starts Junior High School. Takatsuki must wear the girl uniform whereas the boy clothes would suit the person she believes she is inside. Japanese school uniforms are based on European military styles of the 19th Century. The boys and girls have completely different looks.
One girl, called Sarashia Chizuru, enters Junior High with her long hair and feminine looks. She is wearing a boy’s uniform though and carries off the look well, despite the stares and whispers of her peers. Her confidence highlights Takatsuki’s own timidity and makes her question what she wants.
Both Shuichi and Takatsuki are growing up and the pain this brings them, both trapped in bodies that don’t match their gender identity, is sensitively explored. The characters around them continue to show that more normal concerns of young people also have to be negotiated but Shuichi’s sister’s feelings about her brother’s cross dressing come to the fore in this volume. She cannot hide her embarrassment when she thinks his dressing will affect her potential love interest. When the boy of her dreams calls round to offer her sympathy for being off school with a cold, he catches her stripping Shuichi of his dress.
This manga series, by its very length, takes a more nuanced view of gender identity than would be possible in one volume. There are more to come. How it will end is unknown to me. Happily, I hope!
‘Wandering Son’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?