Manga Manifesto, Bride's Story, and Sakuran

I made a promise to talk about every book I've read from cover to cover - I also made a promise to talk a little about everything I read while away on vacation, and that it would be a lot. But I've never written reviews for comic books until now. Interestingly, because I've been a huge fan of manga since I was 13. College almost killed that joy, but in the past year I've reconciled with it.
A note on comics, manga, and shojo: Manga might not be as popular now as it has been in the last few years. That's okay, because it's still really huge. I understand that in the wide, wide world people still think of comic books as "for the boys," and that's still largely true - in American comics. With the introduction of manga in the US, and the shojo genre with it, there was finally something on the market for girls to read. I understand that Marvel and DC have tried (with limited success) to introduce something marketed towards girls. The thing is, they always seem completely clueless as to how to navigate those waters. I really think the popularity of manga has a lot to do with having a HUGE female audience. In 2001, I was one of those kids that helped make manga so popular. Manga, particularly CLAMP's Cardcaptor Sakura, introduced me to comic books. In the early oughts the quality and quantity of manga available doesn't compare with what it is today. Anime and manga was still a very niche market. It was rare and expensive, but the fans didn't take themselves so seriously and it was still, well, fun. All the same, when people tell me that girls don't read comic books, I think of shojo manga - a genre made for and adored by women all over the world.

Comics makes great beach reads, too. It's a breeze to read through and doesn't take the same amount of concentration that novels require. Personally, I find it hard to read anywhere that isn't perfectly quiet and private. Hotel rooms with TV's blaring, bustling pool sides, etc can be very distracting to me, even when they don't mean to be - I'm particular about my surroundings. But when I'm reading comics, none of that is an issue. That's how during this trip I managed to read 5 volumes of manga and a leetle bit of Clash of Kings.

I started the series Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori - the first three volumes of it, at least. Bride's Story is gorgeously illustrated and richly detailed. I'm personally a big fan of historic fiction and costume drama, and if you are too that this'll be your cuppa. Bride's Story is set in Central Asia's Silk Road, a setting that isn't often seen fictionalized in Western literature. That alone makes it worth a read, in my opinion.

It's about a young boy who takes a 20 year old woman from a semi-nomadic tribe as a wife. As you can imagine, there is some nudity, but it's nothing I think you'd try to hide your kids from. ... Unless it's that big of a deal to you. Honestly, it's a beautiful series with a very sweet story. Of all the manga I read this week, it's probably the best written. Even if you don't read graphic novels very often, I think this would still be interesting to a lot of women. Volume 1 introduced us to the characters and world, but not in the tired, worn out way that manga usually does it. In Volume 2, Amar (our favorite bride, who is really more of a big sister character - tough, but sweet) makes a new friend. There is some fighting over her - this is some of the family politics of the time, but it's basically resolved. Volume 3 is where the drama picks up. In fact, Amar and her child groom Karluk are barely in it. The volume ended on a cliff hanger involving a character that initially wasn't much more than a dippy side character. So I'm eagerly waiting to get my grubby little paws on volume 4.
If you're as curious about the daily lives of women and families on the silk road as you are dramatic stories - thinking along the lines of  Downton Abbey of Central Asia and The Silk Road - I do recommend this series highly.
I've quickly become a fan of Kaoru Mori's work, and it's surprising that I'm only discovering her now. She's well known for Emma, which speaking of Downton Abbey, is Victorian romance about a maid, as Kaoru Mori is a bit of an anglophile. It won't be long before I pick up that manga series as well.

The next manga title I read over vacation was a one volume, shrink wrapped title called Sakuran ("Derangement" in English). Sakuran is set in Japan's Edo period, in the "pleasure quarter," about a courtesan. In other words, it's about a Japanese prostitute. Fun Facts About "Oirans": The way you could tell the difference between a geisha and courtesan at the time is the way that they tied their Obis. Geisha's tied theirs in the back while courtesans tied theirs in the front for easier access. Otherwise, they had a few things in common.
In Sakuran, Kiyoha is sold to a brothel at a young age and is trained from a maid up until she becomes one of the most popular courtesans in the house. She's very sassy and rude, which doesn't make her very popular in the brothel - all the other women she lives with basically hate her. But, that kind of spunk and feminine wiles makes her very popular with customers. The story doesn't so much center around how competitive her life is, but the impossibility of love. As bold and brash as she is, her story is very tragic.
As I've said, it's a shrink wrapped manga, which you understand means one thing - it's for mature readers only, please. But it means another thing, too. Shrink Wrapped Manga was pretty common in the late 90's not because so much of it was for mature audiences, but because the glue was so cheap. Bending the spin while reading, even just a little bit, meant that pages would drop out. I haven't seen that as often lately with manga, but that is definitely true here. If possible, try to read it online instead of buying a hard copy - or watch the movie is you're so inclined.

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