Image Isn’t Everything

In Clothes Called FatOne of the things that has historically made the Japanese comic scene unique is how it can tackle social issues while presenting them in an accessible and entertaining manner. The manga market, even as it adjusts globally, can still find audiences for challenging realistic themes without having to frame them in the world of superheroes or school-age allegories.

Moyoco Anno’s latest translated work falls into that realm perfectly. In Clothes Called Fat never shies away from the topic at hand. Instead it presents eating disorders at the forefront, even frames it right on the cover in an almost frightening manner. Her lead character Noko Hanazawa is like many Japanese office ladies. She lives for her job, but her occupation gives her little more than a wage and stress. Her co-workers provide little support or comfort. And while she is fortunate to have a lover, her insecurities are piling up and to those around her so is her weight. To combat this, Noko, who at one point was being overcome by her frustrations leading her to eat as an escape mechanism, would instead come to purge everything in her life.

In Clothes Called Fat presents a story all too common, but sets it from a perspective that is fresh to Western readers. Told from the eyes of one of josei comics’ (women’s comics) premier talents Fat takes readers deep into a world that while not very different from ours, is simply rarely seen outside of Japan – the everyday office lady (OL). But unlike the handful of OL tales that have been translated before, Fat‘s world-view is not an OL fantasy, it’s an all true real tragedy that sent shock waves across Japan, and eventually across the globe.

Mangia! Manga!

What Did You Eat YesterdayOver the last decade few new manga artists worldwide have received as much critical acclaim as Fumi Yoshinaga. After making a splash with her josei (women’s comics) baking-themed mystery Antique Bakery, she repeated surprised and thrilled the world with her subtle romances, innovative views on history, and honest take on gender issues. And in a very unique way, she has branched far outside the limited reach of the international manga community as she has received honors from the American comics industry and LGBT circles, as well.

Her latest work may be her most intriguing work yet. Combining her passion of food and her insights towards Tokyo’s gay community, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a somber, subtly comical, but honest slice-of-life look at what it is like to be a gay couple in modern day Tokyo. Yoshinaga presents a couple with contrasting views on their privacy: one openly out but rejected by his family; while his partner is partly in the closet as his parents awkwardly try to be supportive. Presented without the titillation or graphic sex typically found in comparative works from the boys love genre, Eat at its core is a look at the couple’s struggles and their catharsis expressed over the finely prepared meals they share each and every night.

Packed with thoughtful writing, insightful and timely commentary and a recipe or two with every chapter, Eat is like a wonderfully prepared full-course meal by one of manga’s finest. And this volume will not only whet the appetite for more, but should satisfy the hunger of most manga gourmands desperately looking for some more substantial manga to consume.

Ota-King and Queen

Insufficient DirectionOur latest manga is a bit of an albatross in the world of translated manga. Biographical manga, while not extremely popular in Japan, has a significant place in Japan, but has been a rarity in the United States and beyond. And in the case of Moyoco Anno’s Insufficient Direction this biographical comedy not only covers the famous women’s comic artist but it also peels back the curtain on the life of one of anime’s most well-known directors, her husband Hideaki Anno.

In Insufficient Direction Anno, Moyoco, shares with her readers a touching and hilarious look at the couple’s marriage. Detailing what it is like to be engaged to one of the “top four” otaku of all time, Moyoco reveals a side of Hideaki that has not really been accessed as the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, His and Her Circumstances and RE: Cutey Honey. In this comic, we do not see the hard working artisan with an obsessive compulsive streak, instead we see a fan of science-fiction, tokusatsu and classic anime. And as readers find out more of Hideaki, more of Moyoco is revealed as well. We see her admit to her knowledge of manga and her love of anime theme songs!

Never before have anime and manga creators been so accessible and approachable! And possibly like few biographical manga ever translated have they been this funny and smart.

Beauty and her Beast

pinkOver the last year plus, Vertical has embarked on a very unique publishing endeavor. With an aim to continue to challenge and grow the market, Vertical took it upon themselves to branch out to a segment of the Japanese market that has long been underserved within the English reading manga community – josei manga (Japanese women’s comics).

Our latest is a gem from the early days of josei. Originally penned in the late 80’s, PINK is Kyoko Okazaki’s first breakthrough and is often credited by critics globally as one of the most important women’s comics of its time. A product of the conclusion of the Japanese economic bubble PINK delves into a life of a young office lady with ambitions of living an ideal life – a comfortable life with some luxuries, some romance, wealth, health, independence and a pet crocodile.

To accomplish this lead character Yumi splits her time between working in an office and working under the sheets. But having everything you wish does not make a happy life. And when family and financial matters impact her oh so comfortable life improvisation is required. The results may seem to come up roses on the surface, but inside may not be so pretty.

Thoughtful, shocking and full of melancholy, PINK is as colorful as it was twenty-five years ago. And given the state of manga in English is needed here more than ever!

Eyes of the Tiger

Helter SkelterIt is well known throughout comic circles that Japan’s manga industry thrives due to its range of content and reader diversity. Manga over there is consumed by the general public, and even with magazine numbers declining, graphic novel sales are seeing spikes across the board. However even within the manga world there is still new territories to be discovered.

These days works from international artists and yuri (lesbian relationships) comics tend to be considered the next frontier. But just thirty years ago, ladies comics were the final frontier. Where women were known to read shojo comics, along with shonen and seinen comics, josei (ladies comics) were a new fad driven almost exclusively by harlequin style romances and fashion themed magazine spreads. A generation later, artists like Kyoko Okazaki were beginning to revolutionize the category by branching out from the old memes, while still resonating with a new generation of young women readers.

Helter Skelter is the culmination of that change. In it, Japan’s top fashion model Liliko may be at the top of her field but like many in her position she is wavering internally. But Liliko has good reason for her struggles… She is physically falling apart. While younger, perkier models begin to make their moves on the scene, Liliko like a tiger is not willing to let go of her territory. She takes on more and more work and dates some of Japan’s business elite. All of this is accomplished while continuing to work on her beauty. And with all that stress, the young woman is now breaking down inside and out.

There is no amount of plastic surgery that can fix her. Medication or therapy will not bring her back, either. Nevertheless, if this star is going to fall or fade into obscurity, she is going to take down as much of the business with her. And that downfall proves quite a fascinating ride for the reader.

Dark, powerful and never willing to hold back its punches, Helter Skelter is a challenging work that is well-worth the critical acclaim it has received over the years, having won the Osamu Tezuka Award and the Japan Media Arts Award for Manga Excellence.