- Somebody's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband by Joanna Russ [Jump]
- Blade of the Immortal Volume 1-15 by Hiroaki Samura, translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith [Jump]
- Honey So Sweet Volume 1 by Amu Meguro, translated by Katherine Schilling [Jump]
- Horimiya Volume 1 by Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara [Jump]
- Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker [Jump]
- Dynama by Ruth Diaz [Jump]
- Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Faith Hicks, Brooke A. Allen, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch [Jump]
- Princeless Volume 1 by Jeremy Whitley and Mia Goodwin [Jump]
- Éclair [Jump]
- A City Inside by Tillie Walden [Jump]
- xXxholic Omnibus 1 by CLAMP [Jump]
1. Somebody's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband by Joanna Russ [Top]
Someone's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband is Joanna Russ talking about the narrative tropes of gothic fiction from the late sixties and early seventies. The essay itself was originally published in 1973; I first read it in the collection To Write Like A Woman, which is great if you have a chance to read it. I found Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me at work though, and ah, it’s good to have it back.
The premise of this essay is that Joanna Russ, faced with the new wave of gothic fiction, had a publisher friend send her some of the most representative examples of the genre and broke down all of the common elements and analysed them as expressions of the “traditional feminine situation.” I would argue that regardless of how representative those books were, that’s a very small sample size (she mentions about half a dozen titles, and I’m just trying to picture the reaction today if someone tried this with, say, romantic suspense books). But her analysis is interesting? She’s analysing it, justifiably, as an incredibly popular genre with female readers, and picking out the elements that might be contributing to that ("'Occupation: housewife' is simultaneously avoided, glamorised, and vindicated" is one of the stand-out points for me, especially when coupled with the observation that the everyday skills of reading people’s feelings and faces are often the only thing keeping the heroine alive), but it’s a little strange to read. It’s interesting, and I can definitely relate some of her points to female-led genres today (I’m mainly thinking of things like cozy mysteries), but it is definitely an outsider to a genre picking apart its building blocks. So, interesting as a dissection of those specific titles and tropes, but maybe not representative of the wider genre.
2. Blade of the Immortal Volume 1-15 by Hiroaki Samura, translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith [Top]
I picked this series up because I'd seen the movie and really liked both the familial relationship that Manji and Rin built up to by the end of it and the really cool fight scenes. Some of the tropes weren't my jam, and the amount of (thankfully off-screen) rape was off-putting, but it was interesting enough that I was willing to read the manga to see where it had originally been going.
Where it had originally been going started off the same as the movie – a young girl hires an immortal bodyguard to help her get revenge on the group that murdered her parents, which naturally doesn't go to plan. And then it gets... Weirder.
It was really interesting for me to compare this to the movie because there were points in the movie where I was like "This character was important and had a backstory in the manga, didn't they?" and the answer turned out to be correct! And Rin turns out to have been more prepared to fight in the manga and certain betrayals happened differently – I liked seeing what had happened in the deliberate gaps that the movie had left, is what I’m saying here. And the art is beautiful, especially for the fight scenes – they're frequently gory and horrifying, but the choreography and the changes of art style for the most dramatic points are really well done! And the characterisation was mostly well-handled, with complicated relationships building and breaking, and character arcs that I desperately wanted to see reach their conclusion!
But. (You knew there was a but.) But there is so much sexual violence and rape going on here, even more than I guessed that there would be, and I found it intensely uncomfortable, especially for the way that some of the female characters are used and killed just... In passing. As fridging. But on the flip side, Blade of the Immortal does spend time on the impact of the violence going on, both on the people perpetuating it and their victims, so I managed to tolerate it for longer than I normally would. AngRieWords talks about this more in her review of volumes 12 through 14 so I definitely recommend checking it out! I especially appreciated her point about the tentative balance the series maintains between criticising the violence it shows, and making that violence beautiful, because she’s absolutely right.
(Plus, as someone who’s been reading manga for... Oh god, fifteen years, I can feel my bones crumbling into dust as I type... It’s really interesting to go back to something published in the days of flipping manga to read left-to-right, especially because in this case they had to actually rearrange the pages and in some cases get the artist to redraw panels and effects to keep the same flow. It’s weird but interesting in a “relic of other times” way!)
Basically, what I’m saying is that Blade of the Immortal is very well-crafted, and about fifty percent of what I want from a series about revenge and protection. It’s just that there is so much of the stuff that I dislike about seinen manga that I think I need to take a break from it to recover.
[Caution warnings: rape, assault, abuse, torture, mutilation, gore, swastika imagery (albeit in context as a Buddhist symbol and explicitly explained in the introduction to each book), stalking]
3. Honey So Sweet Volume 1 by Amu Meguro, translated by Katherine Schilling [Top]
[I AM NOT EVEN PRETENDING NOT TO SPOIL THIS ONE, OKAY, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.]
"Huh, this is a really cute story about awkward kids in love!" says I. "Isn't it lovely reading about cute awkward teenagers who aren't sure about their own feelings but trying to be friends anyway! ... What do you mean one of them is in love with her uncle."
Honey So Sweet follows Nao Kugure, who once upon a time helped out her school's infamous delinquent, Taiga Onise, after he'd been injured. In return: he asks her to date him, because OF COURSE. She agrees, then confesses that it would be unfair to him because a) she's terrified of him, and b) she's already in love with someone else! IT JUST GETS WEIRDER FROM THERE.
Like, it’s mostly really sweet? And has the obligatory “delinquent reveals that he’s a massive dork” and “nervous girl realises that a scary dude is okay after all,” with all of the high school tropes that you’d expect (including Taiga trying his best to look like a normal dork when he first meets Nao's family)! And I’m pretty sure from the way that everyone reacts that the incest thing is going to turn out to be full “That feeling was friendship, but neither of them had ever experienced it before,” but it was still an absolute left hook of a development! So, y’know, it’s fine and enjoyably generic in most ways, but be warned that the protagonist specifically says that she’s in love with her uncle, so!
[Caution warning: talk about one-sided emotional incest, dead parents in backstory]
4. Horimiya Volume 1 by Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara [Top]
I had no idea what to expect from this, because the premise seemed to be a mix of familiar and not. A popular student with good grades who doesn’t want her school friends to know that she doesn’t wear make-up or fashionable clothes at home is a familiar trope! That it’s because she’s responsible for looking after her baby brother while her parents work is new to me! (My understanding of the trope is that it’s usually “DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH EMOTIONAL LABOUR GOES INTO BEING PERFECT?” which, valid.) And her inevitable discovery by a classmate/probable love interest is confused by the withdrawn, buttoned-up classmate who discovers her turning out to secretly be a goofball who’s hiding that he is covered in piercings and tattoos!
What I’m saying is that Horimiya is thus far quite generic, but has just enough distinguishing features that I really enjoyed it. It's cute and funny! The art is really crisp! I liked seeing the characters bumbling into a friendship while looking after Hori’s little brother! I don’t understand why some of the developments happen in the narrative of the story (Of COURSE Hori’s friend doesn’t recognise Miyamura and develops a crush on Hori’s punk-rock “cousin”! Of course summer break involves a hotel with no showers for the guys, so Miyamura’s options are “shower somewhere else” or “have his tattoos exposed”! Of course there’s an entire chapter about Hori not knowing Miyamura’s first name!), but I understand why they happen as a high-school shoujo manga! It’s cute, I enjoyed it, the characters are probably all going to be revealed to have tragic backstories, and it is exactly the nonsense that I was looking for at the time.
5. Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker [Top]
Wind Will Rove has a really interesting concept – a generation ship suffered a disaster that lead to the complete wiping of all of their media and history, and now the generation ship has split into factions – those who are adamant that this history must be preserved and maintained in the memories of those living in the ships, those who believe that the crew should focus on creating new media, and the children who are starting to argue that learning this history is a waste of time.
forestofglory wrote a great review of Wind Will Rove, which I highly recommend! My own thoughts are that while it had a number of things that I liked – domesticity in space! The importance of art and memory! Stories told in little snatches of information stored on the ship! – it doesn’t tie it all together properly by the end, so I came away feeling a little let down. It’s worth a look, but I would bear in mind all the points that forestofglory makes about how this story about the importance of remembering history doesn't make the best arguments for it.
6. Dynama by Ruth Diaz [Top]
Y’know what the internet likes? Superhero narratives about queer Latina heroines. Guess what Dynama is! Yep!
TJ retired from her public life and became a behind-the-scenes hero to make it harder for anyone to find her children. Except now she’s struggling to juggle a demanding career, her role as a never-seen superhero, and looking after her kids in the face of, y’know, her supervillain ex-husband busting out of jail and trying to take them back! Enter Annmarie, nanny extraordinaire for the children of superheroes, who moves in to look after the kids while TJ tries to put her ex behind bars.
The world building is great, especially for the mechanics of how the superhero union works and the various powers and heroes running around – it feels like a real comic book universe, especially with its set-piece showdowns! But it’s also pretty good at the human emotions at the core of it, like the fear TJ feels for her family and the friendship and care between the various heroes and the people around TJ! I liked that everyone seemed to rally around when TJ’s ex breaks out of prison, and a lot of the focus is on making sure TJ and the children are safe. The villains’ plans are... Mildly incomprehensible as I remember, except for Singularity (the evil ex), but in a way that works!
I liked most of the relationship between TJ and Annmarie, but literally the only real problem I remember having with Dynama (bearing in mind that I’ve slept since I read it) is that the jump from "I kinda like this person!” to “AND NOW WE BONE” to “in love” seems to be a bit sudden? I know that I’m often oblivious to “This dynamic was supposed to be romantic,” but even so. Their friendship was nice! And their attempt to maintain professional boundaries was nice too! But... Yeah. Suddenly boning. (Plus the kids are a bit plot-moppety, pretty much just there to bring the two romantic leads together, which is honestly what I’ve grown to expect from romance novels, so it barely registers now.)
But yes, if you want a story about a queer Latina falling in love while being a superhero and a mother, go forth! This book is for you!
[Caution warning: stalking, kidnapping, abusive exes, endangerment of children]
7. Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Faith Hicks, Brooke A. Allen, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch [Top]
I knew that Lumberjanes was about friendship between girls at a summer camp, but that’s all I really took in. I knew that there was going to be Weirdness, but somehow I’d become convinced that all of the weirdness was going to be a background feature to the camp shenanigans in the foreground. … Honestly, I am so glad those proportions got reversed! We just get to jump straight into an already established friendship group as they go off and have weird adventures together! … Like seriously, the story OPENS with them fending off three-eyed foxes, and I love the degree of “Well yes, of course we have to fend off three-eyed foxes and do a labyrinth full of puzzles, it’s summer camp, of course we do.”
The art isreally cute – all of the girls look and act like believable kids with their own reactions to everything being Weird, and have the classic ensemble about summer camp range of personalities and interests! Plus, it looks like some of the kids have adorable crushes, which I am absolutely here for!
(I really like the badges at the start of each issue/chapter, and the descriptions! And the way that the pledge has “And then there’s a line about god and junk” scribbled over it, because I was in Guides and agnostic at best, so that was how I felt about the Guide promise as well! I feel so seen.)
I kinda wish I’d had Lumberjanes to read when I was a kid, because I would have loved it! But hey, it’s here now, and I’m delighted by it.
8. Princeless Volume 1 by Jeremy Whitley and Mia Goodwin [Top]
Princeless is one of those books where it's fine, and I can see what it's doing, it's just that I'm not the target audience. It feels like a non-intersectional feminism 101 primer, presumably because it's aimed at kids. It follows a princess who decides to rescue herself from the tower her father locks her in, steal a dragon, and go around trying to be a knight! It does things like take pot shots at boob plate and misogyny, which is nice, but it feels very... Simplistic in the way that it handles the issues it raises. Especially when there’s the option for explicit comparison in the way that two girls of different classes are treated by their abusive and/or neglectful fathers. ... I think that my problem isn’t necessarily that it’s an introduction to feminism, it’s that its solution is the “Strong Female Character” trope, where a girl trades femininity for swords, and it’s odd to come back to that trope when graphic novels like Princess Princess Ever After are like “You can be femme! You can be butch! You can fight! You can not! Either way you can be a heroine and rescue yourself!”
Maybe it gets more depth and less simplistic in the future! I don’t currently plan to pick up any of the other volumes to find out, but I’d be interested in hearing from people who HAVE read them!
[CW: abusive/neglectful parents in backstory]
9. Éclair [Top]
"Ooh, an anthology of lesbian romance manga!" I said. "This'll be GREAT!" I said.
MORE. FOOL. ME.
It's not a bad collection, necessarily? The general quality of the art is pretty high, and there was a better variety of ages represented than I thought there'd be (I thought it was just be high school romances, but it actually covers pre-school to young adulthood, so that's genuinely more than I was expecting!) It's just that out of the, what, fourteen stories presented here, there's maybe two with functional relationships? And that's... That's a bad ratio, okay.
For example, there's one where the girls get together because one feels guilty for ACTIVELY FANTASISING ABOUT HARM HAPPENING TO THE OTHER, and another where the two of them are explicitly and specifically not getting together because their platonic relationship was ~more important~ as it was. And those stories are fine, I guess, because sometimes you do need stories about relationships that aren't necessarily functional or healthy, it's just that if I'm sold an f/f anthology, I expect there to be a decent mix of stories where the girls end up together and happy to ones where they don’t? And that's not what I got from Eclair at all.
I’m planning to dig into Éclair for the Lesbrary at some point, so I’ll link to it when I do. I just felt let down that it wasn’t what I expected.
10. A City Inside by Tillie Walden [Top]
A City Inside is a short, surreal book by Tillie Walden, which as far as I can tell is about a young woman growing into herself again and again. The art is beautiful; the scenes of the protagonist in her home in the sky are especially beautiful, and the scenes of her life with her girlfriend are tinged with melancholy in a beautifully visual way. It’s just – a beautiful exploration of the ways you can try for what you think you should want, and the ways that sometimes the things that you want are going to contradict themselves in irreparable ways, and the value of finding a place, a version of you that you can live in and with. It’s gorgeous and melancholy and hopeful, and the way it tells the protagonist of a future she hasn’t seen yet absolutely wrecks me in a good way. Definitely read this one.
11. xXxholic Omnibus 1 by CLAMP [Top]
And because I've already mentioned that I like anthology horror: xXxholic! Watanuki, a student who can see spirits, stumbles into working at a shop that grants wishes on the promise that the witch who runs it will be able to stop the spirits haunting him, which involves more death, curses, housework, and hanging out with his (one-sided) NEMESIS than he really expected.
... Look, this is not my first rodeo. I do not need to look at AO3 to tell you with absolute certainty that Watanuki and Domeki are the main pairing in this fandom. I just know.
I just needed to get that off my chest, it’s fine, I’m good, I’m good. I have mixed feelings about this omnibus though! It’s beautifully drawn and has fantastic costumes and magic effects, as you’d expect from a CLAMP series! When it’s trying to be creepy, it’s really effective – the scene with the girls messing with a home-made ouija board, for example, creeped me out in a good way! When it’s crossing over with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, CLAMP’s sprawling crossover series of doom, I am really confused because I haven’t read Tsubasa yet!
(I’m reliably informed that I shouldn’t read it, but too bad! I’m gonna!)
It’s just... It has this sense of inevitability about it, where if the characters were able to avoid their fates alone they would have done it long before they encountered Yuko. And some of the things that are punished – lying, confidence (I’m not even sure it’s overconfidence, I think it’s just a belief in one’s own luck) – just seem... Disproportionate to the fate of the women involved? And it has a discussion about whether you should conform to the expectations of the people around you or to what makes you happy (through the medium of a housewife “addicted to the internet” which is just – this manga was originally published in 2004 and it shows.), and never actually resolves it. It’s weird! Not necessarily bad, but definitely warranting the level of side-eye that I’m giving it.
But yes, I enjoyed the first omnibus of XXXholic enough that I’m going to keep reading the rest, it just felt very variable.
No. 6 Volume 6 by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Hino -- I'll be honest, I literally just meant to skim over this series again to remind me what I wanted to say in the review and then somehow I got sucked in. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE.
Reading goal: 166/180 (25 new this post(again?!)) Prose: 88/90 (3 new this post, 52/88 short fiction) Nonfiction: 6/12 (1 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 24/50 (0 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 62/50 (4 new this post; Dynama, Lumberjanes, Éclair, A City Inside)