Hello Japan: Manga!

12 March, 2011

*The last few days have been devastating and sad and we are all thinking of our families and friends in Japan. Japan isn’t accepting any international aid yet and neither is the British Red Cross. The British, American and Australian Red Cross are accepting donations. Please also visit Coco&Me and She Who Eats who have both set up fund-raising pages. It seems trivial to talk about other things during this difficult time, but this is one small reason out of so many why I love Japan.*

It’s been many moons since I participated in In Spring It Is The Dawn’s Hello Japan! mini-challenges. Always fun and informative, this month’s challenge is all about manga. So I thought I’d talk about one series that I read recently and another that I re-read ‘coz I’m greedy like that.

First up is The Glass Mask or Garasu no Kamen (ガラスの仮面) by Suzue Miuchi. This is probably the LONGEST running manga series I have ever read and it still isn’t finished after 20 years. Last year the latest volumes (45 and 46) were published and I think all the fans secretly hoped there would be some kind of conclusion but realistically you knew there was still a long way to go for the story to end naturally. So what’s the big deal?

The Glass Mask is about Maya Kitajima, a naturally gifted thespian, from a poor and working class background. She is lucky enough to encounter a brilliant acting coach, Chigusa Tsukikage, who sees her potential and marks her out for a possible lead part in the legendary play, Kurenai Tenyo (Crimson Goddess) which she herself had played before her tragic accident which resulted in the loss of her eye and the death of her partner. As news of Maya’s talent spreads, she catches the attention of Ayumi Himekawa, a privileged actress from an acting dynasty, and Masumi Hayami, the young boss of a powerful business conglomerate with fingers in many pies. Maya clashes with both, although she respects yet feels intimidated by Ayumi. It is at this time that Maya begins to receive notes of encouragement and rare purple roses from a secret admirer. As both Maya and Ayumi increase their repertoire and hone their acting skills, they also grow and learn about friendship, love and life.

I think what is so fascinating about this series is the detail and the love of acting and plays with which Miuchi infuses work. I first learnt about Hellen Keller through a role Maya plays. There are lots of different techniques, the inner conflict in realising a character part, method acting, all sorts. I’m not particularly interested in acting as such, but it’s interesting to see the different ways in which Maya and Ayumi approach their respective roles. Both women lead pretty separate lives except that you know that they are headed towards a collision when they both audition for the extremely difficult role of Kurenai Tenyo. Complicating matters is Masumi’s growing love for Maya, his fiancée chosen by his autocratic and wheelchair-bound father, who was also involved in the tragic accident that ended the career of Maya’s acting coach, and Maya’s discovery of the identity of her secret admirer.

I also think that although some of the characters in this series are pretty stereotyped and living in the late 70s (Maya’s room-mate still has a 70s hairstyle!), the character of Maya is wonderfully energetic, innocent yet with depth and there is a wonder to the way she sees the world.

And where does volume 46 leave us? Not very far. Both Maya and Ayumi are perfecting their character of Kurenai Tenyo, the triangular relationship of Maya, Masumi and his fiancée is coming to a climax (don’t worry, it’s not that kind of manga) but we still don’t know what’s going to happen. Gah, I’ve been waiting for so long and will probably be waiting for another twenty years. But that’s ok ‘coz I love this manga.

The second series is Godchild (ゴッドチャイルド) by Kaori Yuki who is more famous for her apocalyptic series Angel Sanctuary or Tenshi Kinryoku (天使禁猟区). I first became a fan of Yuki’s work through the Count Cain series of short manga stories of which Godchild is the later part of the saga told in 8 volumes. It’s Victorian, subversive and has lots of murder and deceit and it’s illustrated beautifully. I think I first fell in love with Yuki’s drawings but her story telling is pretty impressive too. It reminds me a little of Angela Carter because it’s a fairy tale for adults with lots of blood, gore and the forbidden.

Cain is a young English Count living in a sprawling pile with his butler and young ward. He’s known for his collection of rare poisons and is often called upon to solve ghastly mysteries and crime. In Godchild, Cain is being hunted by the thing he fears most, his sadistic father and the sinister society he controls called Delilah. So you have murder, poison, incest and madness all rolled into one. Even though his father is alive, Cain considers himself an orphan, born of an incestuous relationship (it’s very Byronic here). Yuki turns the tension up a notch with tragic betrayal, love lost and finally redemption in a world where Jack the Ripper isn’t the most dangerous thing around.

I love this series and I would probably start with the Count Cain short mangas beginning with Forgotten Juliet just so you become familiar with Cain and his household. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, definitely not for the squirmish, but lovers of Victoriana and gothic horror would lap it up.

I’ve also posted about manga here and here.

23 Responses to “Hello Japan: Manga!”

  1. Leeswammes Says:

    Interesting, especially the second series.

    Here in the Netherlands (or in my library at least), there is very little choice in manga, unfortunately. I’m reading a manga about a boy detective at the moment, which is OK but a bit childish.

  2. I have been glued to the news and feel almost guilty for blogging/tweeting when such horrors are happening in Japan. It is all so sad.

    I haven’t read any manga yet. Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to start.

  3. Mystica Says:

    I am so sad for the people affected. This tsunami seems as bad if not worse than the one that hit Sri Lanka. The damage to the nuclear reactors adds a whole new tale of horror.

    • Sakura Says:

      Oh Mystica, it’s just unbelievable that something so devastating can happen again. I’m certain that Japan will soon pick itself up again just like Sri Lanka.

  4. Novroz Says:

    It is so sad thinking about one of the countries I love so much 😦 I always keep myself updated. I hope things could get better soon and build their life again.

    Great review on Garasu Kamen 🙂 I love that manga too…but I haven’t read it again as it stopped for so long. I wonder why it stopped like that? I know it doesn’t stop but it took sooooo long from one volume to the next, what was she doing all this time?
    One Piece has reached volume 60 and the author never took a single break yet…that act can keep all the fans glued.
    You know, I didn’t realize it till you point it out, that they were so 70s.

    I haven’t read the second manga yet…but it looks very interesting…too bad, as far as I can remember it, Godchild is not avaiable in JF library.

    • Sakura Says:

      I know how much you love Japan, Novia. It always puts a smile on my face when I read your posts:)

      I’ve heard rumours that Suzue Miuchi has become all religious and joined a cult so most of her time is taken up with that. I think her assistants are trying to finish the series but who knows when:(

      I started reading One Piece but stopped really early on, so never got into it. Maybe I will one day:)

      • Novroz Says:

        Am I that obvious? 😉

        Ah…too bad 😦 I want to know how it ends (I hope Oda never lose his interest on his Manga).

        Don’t sweat it … Onepiece is not a manga you have to force to read, when you didn’t like it in the beginning you will not like it in advance…Onepiece is a manga you have to fall in love from the 1st sight, as most Onepiece loyal fans I know fell in love instanly with the manga.

        • Sakura Says:

          I actually stopped reading One Piece because they stopped posting it on-line, heh heh. But I hope to read it soon. I’m becoming more of a fan of shonen-manga now (love Bleach, Naruto, Vagabond) whereas before I was a shojo-manga girl since I grew up reading it.

  5. nymeth Says:

    The images of the devastation this week broke my heart :\ I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the worst doesn’t happen with the nuclear reactors.

    As for the series, as a lover of Gothic and Victorian stuff I should definitely check it out!

  6. Mee Says:

    She’s not going to finish Garasu no Kamen isn’t she? It’s been too long. She probably lost interest somewhere along the way :(. I first learned about Hellen Keller from the manga too. And Little Women. And Midsummer Night Dream. It’s such a special manga for me.

    I hadn’t heard of that second one. Sounds interesting!

    • Sakura Says:

      I’m waiting for her to finish too. As I said to Novroz above, apparently she’s joined a religious cult and so hasn’t been concentrating on her manga. But everyone’s waiting so hopefully her assistants will finish it for her! I just want to know what happens!!!

  7. Chinoiseries Says:

    I had no idea there were manga series running this long. Hm, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it happens, I remember Hikaru no Go and InuYasha going on and on as well. Glass Mask sounds like a well-thought out and well-developed story. I guess that is how it remains a popular series (as opposed to the many clichéd high school “dramas” out there).
    Godchild is definitely a series I have to check out. My sister (used to be a wannabe mangaka, now occasionally draws in a diarystyle) loves Angel Sanctuary, and the artist behind it.

  8. tanabata Says:

    20 years is a long time for one manga series. I hope you do eventually get an ending.
    The Count Cain, and Godchild series sound very interesting. I kind of envy you and Novoz, and everyone who grew up reading manga. It definitely is harder to find the perfect fit, coming into manga as an adult.
    Thanks for taking part in Hello Japan! again. 🙂

    • sakura Says:

      There are loads of 20+ year old manga series – I think Japanese readers just love them;P It was a pleasure taking part again, I’ve been meaning to for a while but time just seems to slip by. I do think that it’s easier to get back into reading manga if you’ve read them at an earlier age just because a lot of manga are aimed for younger readers. But then there are so many titles around so you’re bound to find something that’s right for you!

  9. Owl59 Says:

    I remember the time when Garasu no Kamamen started: shows how long I have been reading Manga! Nice reviews.

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