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OKAY, THAT'S THE LAST OF IT. Guys, guys, we survived all of the BL manga!\o/ Good job, us! And I have finally escaped the post that
would not die, goodness me!

Reminder, things on the list with an asterisk next to it contain rape, dubious consent, and/or sexual assault.

Books, Graphic Novels and Manga Read:
  1. Gerard & Jacques Volume One by Fumi Yoshinaga * [Jump]

  2. Gerard & Jacques Volume Two by Fumi Yoshinaga * [Jump]

  3. Vinland Saga Volume Two by Makoto Yukimura * [Jump]

  4. Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton [Jump]

  5. Shut In, Shut Out by Lianne Sentar and dee Juusan [Jump]

  6. Hawkeye Volume One by Matt Faction and David Aja [Jump]

  7. The Rings of Saturn by Kaiju [Jump]

  8. Mahou Josei Chimaka by Kaiju [Jump]

  9. Windrose Volume One by Studio Kosen [Jump]

  10. Orange Junk Volume One by Heldrad [Jump]

  11. Starve Volume One by Brian Wood [Jump]

  12. The Assignment by Evangeline Anderson [Jump]

Books, Graphic Novels and Manga

Gerard & Jacques Volume 1 Gerard & Jacques Volume 2 cover of Vinland Saga, Book Two

1. Gerard & Jacques Volumes One and Two by Fumi Yoshinaga [Top]

Hooboy, this one is going to be a weird one to talk about. (Advisory note: do not try to write a review of this one in a pub, it will not end well.) Gerard & Jacques is set roughly in the era of the French revolution, and revolves around a man who isn't actual noble, but earned a fair amount of money writing filthy novels, and a young man that... Okay, no, this is going to get complicated because Jacques. *rubs face* He was from a aristocratic family, got sold into a brothel by his father to pay off some gambling debts (I KNOW), Gerard is his first customer, goes "Oh, you think I'm better than I am? Okay, I will pay for you to be freed from the brothel, go and get yourself a real job and see how easy you had it here. Also I hate all aristocrats and never want to see you again." ... So Jacques goes and works for him as a servant. As you do.

IT IS A REALLY ODD MANGA, IS WHAT I'M SAYING HERE. The way the relationship develops in volume two is almost sweet? But it's built on such weird foundations.

The art is very much in Fumi Yoshinaga's usual style (very pretty, very wispy lines, often empty background to make sure the characters get your full attention.), which is my jam so that's fine! I love Fumi Yoshinaga's approach to showing emotions without stating them; there're two panels were Gerard reaches out to Jacques and takes his hand back without touching him that break me, and the way she shows Jacques' crush in the fixation on and repetition of a particular moment is really clever. I have no idea what is actually going on in the scenes where Jacques just explodes, but I love the visuals of it too much to care. ("Oh master, you did something strange to Jacques again," someone says, unconcerned, while Gerard protests his innocence and Jacques explodes.)

The writing is... Variable. There are whole pages of dialogue that sound really odd and stilted to my ear, and I can't tell if that's from the translation, the time period it's set in, or just... That's how it's written. And time passes ridiculously quickly; there are timeskips outta nowhere.

I like Jacques a lot! I like how he apparently went "Oh, you think I'm sulking and spoiled? I will be the best fucking servant there has ever been." because YES COMPETENT CHARACTERS, and also look, look, a place where he is loved and respected! The other characters range from "Outright banal evil" to "Wow you're odd," but Jacques manages to be the comparatively sane one. Like, Gerard wanders up and down in my estimation depending on phase of the moon, degree of sobriety and creepy, and how sincere he's being in his emotions. When he's being sincere, I like him! When he's not... Eh...

... I really wanted to find a classy place to throw in the "Look! Canonical bisexual threesomes and consensual polyamory! (Even if it all ends in tears!) but there wasn't really a good point for that. Hey guys, look!

The reason this gets the Asterisk of Nope is that there is so much somewhat dubiously consensual sex, and at least one explicit rape (by an antagonist secondary character, and it's labelled as rape! FUCKING FINALLY, I do not see that enough.)

It's not my favourite Fumi Yoshinaga series, but it's not bad! It's just... Odd.

3. Vinland Saga Volume Two [Top]
In this volume: vikings attack villages, team up with (and/or attempt to take by force) London, have a tiny war in a forest, and go on a lovely holiday to Wales.

My favourite part of this volume might actually just be Floki? He's like seven feet tall, one of the defenders of London for Reasons (I believe his exact reasoning is "Don't you get bored always being on the winning side?"), and his favourite technique for dealing with invaders is to just pick up a log and smash their ship with it. And he's fighting against the vikings because he's bored and this is the best way to ensure he gets a good fight! And he's so chill about receiving injuries and excited about getting to fight a tough opponent! THESE ARE CHARACTER TROPES THAT I WOULD PLAY IN A TABLETOP GAME, OKAY, AND I... THINK I ACTUALLY HAVE, ACTUALLY. (And I have apparently been paying too much attention to narrative structuring, because when I got to Thorfinn being sent to kill Floki, my entire response was "OH, oh THIS explains why they led with Thorfinn murdering a dude last volume! To establish how it usually goes so that when Floki steps on his face we know that this is momentous! Got it!" ... I READ TOO MUCH MANGA.) I hope that he is a recurring antagonist!

I am interested in the plot involving the young prince, I think? (Q: You saw the cover and thought there was going to be a significant female character again, didn't you? A: I CAN DREAM, OKAY.) I like the degree of scheming and double-dealing around him, although I'm wary of getting attached in any way until I'm sure that the scheming, double-dealing and character developments aren't all leading to this socially anxious kid's head on a spike.

I don't know how much to trust what we get of Askeladd's backstory here, or whether to believe that his hatred of the vikings is real. I honestly kinda hope so, and that there is going to be a massive about of backstabbing in the future! I hope that what I keep interpreting as disappointment and disgust in his men's behaviour is actually real and not me misreading! Whatever his plan is, it has clearly taken work! I would be interested in seeing more of that (And Ylsa working to avoid her grief, oh honey no), except.

See, it turns out that I am fine with the fight scenes and grisly deaths, but what I can't get over is Thorfinn just walking away from a woman being gang-raped. Just leaving her there. And there are a ton of reasons I can think of why that is an understandable character choice for Thorfinn, but as a reader I still couldn't -- it was not a good reading experience, and yes it turns out that I am more comfortable with the graphic eye gouging and murder than I am with that scene. Like, a recurring theme of this manga is that all of these characters are going to do awful things, whether it's using villagers' trust as a disguise in the lead-up to an attack to actively slaughtering entire villages! And yet I continually manage to be horrified! Why am I still surprised?


cover of Stand Aside Pops cover of Shut In, Shut Out cover of Hawkeye Volume 1

4. Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton [Top]
This is DELIGHTFUL. It's hilarious and the art is great and I love all of the little historical details? Plus, you have no idea how much I needed to have hardcopies of the strong female characters comics on hand for emergencies. And the Ida B. Wells comics! (Plus: I have discovered tiny Hermione and nemesis and basically YES this had all of the strips I recognised in and a few I didn't.)

If you, like me, look at the Hark, A Vagrant backlog and feel a bit faint, this seems like a good place to start. It has historical details with beautifully anachronistic dialogue and literary criticism! It has a bunch of the famous strips that I recognised! Exactly what I wanted when I wanted it.

5. Shut In, Shut Out by Lianne Sentar and dee Juusan [Top]
This is a really short little story about making friends and accepting that you can't make people stay the same forever, even if you want them to. Rashid wants to introduce his best friend, Bo, to his other friends – which Bo is aggressively against because a) social anxiety and fear of leaving your home is fucking terrible, which is really well done here, and b) he wants Rashid and he to be the centre of their world. I like the compromise that resolves this conflict, and the way that Bo's social anxiety about new people is handled. (Plus, Rashid's team mates are all absolute sweethearts.) The resolution relies a little more on co-incidence than I'd have wanted, but everyone's happy and I am definitely in favour of people pulling healthy relationships together out of shaky ones? And look, look, relationships formed via the internet are treated as valid!

I'm not sure there's enough of why Bo and Rashid like each other enough to put this work in -- the comic comes in on them already on the outs with each other? But I think there's flashes of it towards the end, when it's clear that Rashid is still thinking of Bo when he's out, and that Bo is generous and thoughtful when he's not freaking out? (Bo's ABSOLUTELY FLUMMOXED when people are grateful for stuff: I know this feel.)

But yes, I like it! It's short and sweet, and has little details in the art (Bo's shaking hands when he texts!) that make me happy.

(I read this in hardcopy, but it can be read for free online.)

6. Hawkeye Volume One by Matt Faction and David Aja [Top]
At around the point that my reaction to Hawkeye hit 1000 words of impassioned sobbing about boundaries and how the narrative respects and loves Kate Bishop as much as I do, I figured I should maybe give that its own post. MAYBE. SO, the tl;dr! I am very excited about Human Disaster Hawkeye, Amazing Human Being Hawkeye, and Pizza Dog; there is excellent boundaries and trying to be a decent person even in the face of fucking up royally, and there are some story structure choice that make me chair-dance when I talk about them.

... So yeah, I liked it!

cover of The Ring of Saturn cover of Windrose Volume 1

7. The Rings of Saturn by Kaiju [Top]

Okay, so is is an odd one: it's a comic about a girl who happens to be studying under Gustav Holst while he composes the Planets suite, whose best friend goes off to be a nurse in the First World War, and who encounters a young man who is particularly interested in astronomy.

The best part of the art for me is how it manages to convey music and sound so well! The figures are well done, but the movement and backgrounds are the best parts of the art for me. And theme of struggling with the parts of art that are difficult instead of giving up for something easier – and that sometimes, there are just going to be things where you don't have the experience and knowledge to make yet.

If you looked at the "the best friend is a nurse in the war" and made an assumption about how that plot thread ended: you are correct. That goes exactly as you think it will, which is lampshaded by one of the characters in a really cruel scene that I'm not sure I understand the point of? Like, it doesn't seem to be in like with his characterisation at all. But then, I look at the last few pages and go "I feel like this is the set up for another series that I don't have" so... I dunno. (There ARE other comics set in this universe, but I believe they're all set during the Renaissance, so.)

(I read this in hardcopy, but it can be read for free online.)

8. Mahou Josei Chimaka by Kaiju [Top]
I think Mahou Josei Chimaka makes a really good companion read for Zodiac StarForce! Both revolve around magical girls after their fights are over, although the girls of Zodiac StarForce won their fight against their big bad, and Chimaka... Didn't.

Chimaka's magical girl days are very reminiscent of Sailor Moon -- she has the magical creature, the past life, the destined boyfriend, the transformation catchphrase! But after she fails to save her city, she breaks up with her destined boyfriend, fails most of her exams, and ends up a bitter scientist trying to make use of her geology knowledge to pay the bills. This is... Honestly what I wanted from Sailor Moon! At least a consideration of how your magical past life or whatever does or does not affect your present one, and how the characters now are not carbon copies of the character then! (The little glimpses we get of Chimaka in her magical girl days are great; she is adorable, but it's still pretty clear how she got from there to here.)

I like the art as well, the costumes are really cute and the facial expressions are great -- this comic has a sense of humour to go with its sense of drama, and I really like it. And there is a very sweet queer romance! Pip is clearly trying so hard and the appreciation they both show for each other makes me happy! (Plus, canonical queer magical girls! YES, GIMME. *adds them to the list*)

I need to go on a dive through Sparkler Monthly's social media at some point, because I'd be interested in the creator commentary on their usage of... I think it's Chinese mythology? And I feel like that'd be the sort of thing that the Sparkler editors would take the opportunity to talk about and that I would love to hear, I just need to find it.

(Q: Susan, without spoilers, is this because you have questions about their use of a real-world religion?
A: ... Okay I legitimately couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me until that question, but YES, THAT. It uses a trope that I'm usually fine with, but it does it with a real world religion instead of a fantasy one and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it.)

Basically, I think this is a really cool take on magical girl tropes, and on the question of "What happens to magical girls after they save the world."

(I read this is hardcopy, but it can be read for free online. Fair warning if you are also reading in hardcopy: mine was missing a random page in chapter one! If your copy is also missing pages and you just want that, it's page 26 of chapter one, and it can be found here.)

9. Windrose Volume One by Studio Kosen [Top]
A young woman in seventeenth century Europe goes looking for her missing archaeologist father, while trying to protect a mysterious astrolabe that he sent her and keep an eye on the two rogues she encounters who want to sell it to the highest bidder.

Windrose has a lot of the things I like! It's very definitely a historical adventure series, with all of the sword fights and mysterious thieves and fancy dresses and women in men's clothing you'd expect! I'm quite fond of all of the characters as well; Danielle is very much from the mould of the naive but determined bookworm, Angeline is a dashing duellist (... And thief) with a tragic backstory, and Leon is a musketeer who is clearly too into thieves for his own good, really.

... It is tropey and delicious, this is exactly what I wanted. I'm in the position where nothing that happens has necessarily surprised me, but I'm still not sure where it's going next, which is very peculiar. The writing is fairly good? I am kinda put out that all of the female characters in Danielle's backstory are presented as obstacles, but considering how literally everyone is a problem in this story to one degree or another, I'm not really surprised. I like the art as well, I think? It's quite good for the fancy details and attractive people, but sometimes the faces of older characters don't look quite right? But the details on the costumes, though! *swoon*

(For something that is also about smart girls looking for their treasure-hunting fathers in a historical setting: if you can find a copy of The Curiosity Shop in a language that you read, I heartily recommend it! They are quite different in tone and style - Windrose is manga-esque comic set in Spain during the seventeenth-century, while The Curiosity Shop is a bande desinée set in Catalonia before the first world war - but they both have missing fathers, adventures and adventurers, and betrayals. I... I might slightly prefer what I've read of The Curiosity Shop, but it skews more towards the spies side of intrigues than the adventurer side.)

... I am hoping, due to the publisher and the fact that it's listed under the LGBTQ section on Comixology that this is going to end in bisexual polyamory at SOME point in the next book or so. *crosses fingers*

(I read this in hardcopy, but it can be read for free online.)

cover of Orange Junk Volume 1 cover of Starve Volume 1 cover of The Assignment

10. Orange Junk Volume One by Heldrad [Top]
I'll be honest, this one didn't make much of an impression on me. I enjoyed it, but I genuinely hard a hard time remembering what the plot was. (A girl who was born into a life of wealth and privilege has to deal with her father declaring bankruptcy. This leads to her attending a regular school for the first time, discovering that she has never actually learned basic maths, and meeting two boys who are totally not going to be a love triangle.

... There is totally a love triangle for like two chapters, it was resolved impressively quickly for a shoujo story.

But yes, it's your standard romantic comedy shoujo manga, the art is cute and I like the characters (even if I'm a bit "Really? Really?" at Drew's reasoning for liking the others and how parts of the love triangle are resolving in the bonus comic at the back...), I like that it is flipping the tropes of the smart-looking female character tutoring the delinquent-looking male character, and with the "mysterious-looking transfer student" trope. I like the way it handles Louise's family difficulties and the characters getting closer? But it didn't stick with me very well I'm afraid.

(I read this in hardcopy, but it can be read for free online.)

11. Starve Volume 1 by Brian Wood APPARENTLY there is something wrong with my genre savvy. I look at a book about a former celebrity chef who got abandoned by his company when the stock market crashed, and gets called back for one last job (AKA finishing out his contract on a cooking show he started that has been converted into "Masterchef but taken to perverse and illegal extremes to entertain the 1% who are even more astronomically rich than in the present"), and I go "Okay, this book is going to end in cannibalism."

SPOILER: not only was there no cannibalism in this book, but when I asked people who've read the second one if it's the daughter or the assistant that gets served up like Tanatlus' son, they seemed confused! Pffft.

Joking aside, this was pretty good! I didn't like the art style at first, because it's very thick lines and dark colours, and it's hard to distinguish features in it? But what this art style is really good for is gody language and silhouettes and even when the faces are hard to distinguish the body language is great. *_* I love it.

And the writing is good too! It's not very subtle in its views, but it doesn't have to be – it's very upfront that Cruikshank thinks that the people he's entertaining are classist, kinda racist, and generally awful people, but also he's not wrong. There are maybe three genuinely nice characters in the entire book (Cruikshank's daughter, his assistant, and an old friend who shows up), and I was so tense reading it because I was convinced that something terrible was going to happen to them. ... I REPEAT: THEY DO NOT GET EATEN. IN THE FIRST BOOK, ANYWAY. Plus, I was expecting the story to have Cruikshanks' hubris-induced fall from grace in this book, which I don't want to read; if there is to be one, it's in the next one.

Other things that I like! I like that the protagonist is just incidentally gay? Like, he came out a while ago, the only person who cares is his ex-wife? His ex-wife wants to destroy him anyway, and it's hard to say whether it's because she's homophobic or because she hates him. I like that his daughter wants him to be part of her life and takes every step she can to make it so (FAMILY AND MAKING THE EFFORT TO BE A FAMILY IS HOW YOU GET ME, OKAY, THIS IS WHAT KILLS ME.). I like that Cruikshank is getting by on equal parts chutzpah and skill, because that is my favourite combination, and I like that he's aware that this is all going to go down in flames. It makes me feel better about my conviction that nothing is going to go well for anyone. I like that the villains are smart, even as I hate them.

... I don't know if I can read the second volume, though, I don't think I can take the tension. ;_;

12. The Assignment by Evangeline Anderson
I sure had opinions on this one, and those opinions were "Oh fucking hell, what am I reading?" Extremely NSFW commentary, quotes, and despair over unexamined homophobia in a queer romance at the link!

Currently Reading

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens (In the first twelve pages we have established that Hazel is adorable, there are two teachers who are canonically queer, and that the bisexual one is dead. People assure me this book is good despite that, but it's on notice.) The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again (I am so excited about this book because this is my aesthetic! I'm not sure about the writing style, because omniscient narrator is not always my thing? But the stories I've read so far are great and are taking the piss out of 70s scifi tropes.)

Reading Challenges

Books read so far: 98/150 (12 new this post)
New-to-me female creators: 44/100 (4 new this post.)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub: 5 (Gerard & Jacques Volumes 1 and 2, Mahou Josei Chimaka, Starve, The Assignment)


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