Sunday, August 31, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

I was going to save this for next week, but then I realized today was 8/01

I can't help but think these panels from Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! are pretty much the genesis of What Did You Eat Yesterday?  By which I mean, Fumi Yoshinaga seems to be going out of her way to write a story about a gay couple that avoids pretty much every staple of the yaoi genre.

In fact, they're kind of a dull couple!  Shiro and Kenji are pushing forty and just flat-out done with having drama in their lives.  Theirs is not an especially affectionate relationship; the honeymoon is well over, and there's a lot of intimacy, but no romance (in fact, in three volumes I don't think we even see a kiss).  In some ways, they don't actually know each other very well at all; there are some pointed minor revelations in v3 especially.  To a certain extent, they've kind of settled for each other and are happy enough with the way that's working out.  As the mighty Shaenon Garrity says, "most BL is about horrible screwed-up relationships: they have the unfortunate tendency to be more exciting."

A lot of this is Shiro's fault; he is pretty much Yesterday's straight man (no, I couldn't figure out how to avoid saying that) and just not a vivacious kinda guy. He's not unlikable, but he is a much lower-key protagonist than you may be used to, especially since much of his internal monologue is about food, his one true passion.

That's the other thing about Yesterday; fundamentally, it's an illustrated recipe book.  The centerpiece of every chapter is Shiro bustling about in the kitchen for several pages, narrating what he's doing and what the ingredients are; the human drama elements of the series are frankly there as seasoning.  I see a fair amount of complaints about that from people expecting this to be more of an ongoing story; for the most part, chapters are standalone vignettes of Shiro working as a lawyer, dealing with his family, and shopping, then he and Kenji come home and eat.  I'm actually fine with the pacing; Yoshinaga is sort of cheating the way the Astron-6 crew do by shooting trailers they never intend to flesh out into movies, and her stories here tend to be snapshots of awkward moments or part of a particularly juicy case, without any real buildup or denouement.  I think what's there is interesting reading (Yoshinaga has a surprising amount to say about Japanese law and social custom, especially as they relate to the gay experience), but it is slight and there's not much you could really call forward motion.  It's pretty much a bunch of character sketches, but Yoshinaga is very good at those.

Unfortunately, what she isn't very good at is drawing the food!  She's excellent with facial expressions and body language, but everything else is basically workmanlike (there are some serious Giant Yaoi Hands all up in this), and most damningly, she just does not make the food look appetizing at all.  Kaoru Mori makes me hungry every damn time I read A Bride's Story (oh god all that fried rice), but I may as well be reading the phone book here.

This is actually something she was much better at in Delicious Foods; the food didn't look any better, but there was tons of nigh-orgasmic dialogue from everyone savoring the chow, which was way more my speed.  I am not so much a foodie or gourmand as a hedonist; I love me a good meal, but when I'm hungry I get too damn impatient to spend time doing anything elaborate.  The way Yoshinaga structures the story, Shiro and Kenji spend like six pages making the food and then about two panels enjoying it, and that is some serious cuisine interruptus as far as I'm concerned.

Delicious Foods is actually a much grabbier book than Yesterday in general; I picked it up looking for those panels to scan, then ended up rereading the whole thing in one sitting.  It's basically a farce, which puts her wit and strengths as an artist to much better use than the dryer and more naturalistic material in Yesterday.

So I guess, to end on an unavoidable food analogy, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is an acquired taste.  Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! or Antique Bakery are more obviously crowd-pleasing intros to Yoshinaga's work, Ooku has a more original premise and stronger drama, and you'll probably get more quiet amusement if you've read enough yaoi to notice all the genre tropes and weird power dynamics she's going out of her way to avoid in Yesterday (or at least I do), but it's an enjoyable series on its own merits.  It's not flashy or obviously hooky, but I'm not reading anything else quite like it and I've enjoyed every volume so far.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's another resurrection and a third lease on life for North America's newer, tougher manga sweetheart

Man do I love that mid-'90s ad copy.

Volume 6 of Battle Angel starts the Tuned arc, the final major status quo that lasts until the end of the series. Alita is working for Tiphares now, unsuccessfully hunting down Nova for "many years" since the last time we saw her.  The book finally moves outside the Scrapyard proper, and while it's all Mad Max desert and punked-out raiders, it does at least confirm that people do live out there (the notes at the back of the unflopped edition even explicitly spell out the exact supply chain between the outlying areas, Scrapyard, and Tiphares; the Scrapyard and its Factories are parasites on the surrounding farms, and of course Tiphares is a parasite on the Scrapyard). This volume has a great blend of humor and action, compared to the fairly melodramatic last one.

A big part of that is getting to meet the non-cyborg martial artist Figure Four, who's a bit of a buffoon, but easily the most well-adjusted character in the series.  He doesn't have any messy Oedipal issues like Ido, he isn't a bitter opportunist like Hugo, and he has real good chemistry with Alita, kind of a buddy-cop vibe.  It seems significant that Figure is neither from the Scrapyard, nor living in it (he's a drifter-- in the karmic framework of the series, someone unbound by attachment).  Maybe that's why his moral center is still intact.

(Figure says his hometown is named Alhambra, so maybe he's from Spain?  Does that put the Scrapyard in Europe?  Kishiro, you're killing me. Also, there are giant fucking sea serpents now?  The coastal village thing in his flashback seems like the seed that grew into Aqua Knight)

Figure is pretty much the first male character who isn't either a criminal, victim, or casual killer (I was a little shocked that he let that guy live).  Ido tries hard to be a good person, but is ultimately dragged down by his flaws (and/or worn down by the Scrapyard).  Jashugan was our previous top contender for vital masculinity, but we met him at the end of his life, while Figure is still in his prime.  

That said, Figure is still an underdog; he's a fully flesh man in a world where cyborgs are at the top of the food chain.  He can hold his own against random cybered-up yahoos, but he has zero chance against professional killers like the Barjack or Alita.  It's probably this relative weakness and awareness of his limits that keeps him from becoming a monster like Makaku, Zapan, and all the other cyborged "supermen" who became strong enough to claw the world out of their way (and speaking of that recurring Nietzchean undertone, Kishiro explicitly foregrounds it in a lot of Yolg's dialogue, but offers no more comforting answer than "the weak shall remain weak").  Figure's martial skills are impressive, but it's really his unflagging will and grace under pressure that mark him as great.

Those traits also let him pull Alita back from the moral brink.  Kishiro sort of turns back the clock on her character development between volumes-- just like the last time a loved one died, she runs off to become a compassionless killer, and is frankly kind of wallowing in the melodrama (this is also some distressing foreshadowing for the way Last Order played out...). Figure calls Alita out on that budding superiority complex I mentioned before; Alita is, basically, fortunate enough to have lucked into kung fu training and a series of high-test cybodies, so it's pretty hypocritical of her to look down on people without the same opportunities.

Similarly, the Barjack are another set of brutal fighters who started out with something resembling principles-- they start out looking like wilderness raiders, but turn out to be a fairly disciplined group of revolutionaries.  It's easy to sympathize with their anti-Tiphares agenda, except for that pesky "any collateral damage is an acceptable loss" thing.  We'll come back to them and their leader Den soon.

The fights in this volume are interesting; against both the Barjack and Figure, Alita is in complete control and just dominates her enemies in a way she hasn't previously.  It definitely plays into the motif of her becoming closer to the monsters she's been fighting against, especially with the demonic facial expressions Kishiro draws on her.  He also seems to be having a lot of fun drawing her hair whipping around during the constant high-speed movement.

This may be the cartooniest volume of the series yet, actually.  Kishiro has always had a clear fondness for grotesque, cartoony caricature, but I think Yolg is pretty much the first so-designed character who doesn't die immediately, and he has a lot of fun drawing his expressive, hangdog gargoyle face.  There's also Alita's ridiculously cathartic relief during the famous "miracle" rainstorm in the desert (which comes after another amazing-looking high-contrast sequence wandering through the dunes)...which I'm not quite ready to talk about yet, but there will definitely be an appropriate time to discuss divine grace, given what I remember of the final volume.

Brain count this volume is an astounding sixty-two, but almost none from violence-- one of the recurring villains actually has a brain-in-a-jar for a head.  And as is Kishiro's wont, there's an extra brain on the unflipped table of contents.  I suspect we have reached Peak Brain.

Volume 6 doesn't move the story forward as dramatically or decisively as the fifth, but it is a satisfying read (not least because Kishiro's art and composition are especially strong) and introduces some great characters, even if only in passing.  The final leg of the series is off to a good start.