Manga of the Month: Isabella Bird in Wonderland

Isabella Bird in Wonderland (ふしぎの国のバード) by Taiga Sassa

Adventuress and writer Isabella Bird arrived in 1870s-era Japan with a grand plan to travel all through the country recording her experience with the culture and people along the way. But Japan was extensively closed to foreigners; few if any were let past the major cities and left to explore the greater country.

Isabella’s fame as a traveler, the help of a friend, and a little extra time spent in Edo gained her access to a rare, unrestricted passport. With her indispensable interpreter Ito in tow, Isabella set off to see the country and make her way north to meet the Ainu people.

During the Meiji-restoration Japan was in a place of great transition. New political rule and a move to new technological advances were soon to change the face of the country and make certain ways of life by-gone. Isabella’s culture shock was played for laughs, but she was deeply interested in the ways of this foreign world and respected it. She was full of humor, wit, kindness, and curiosity.

Taiga Sassa’s art is lush with minute details bring the period to life, and it was inevitable that I would pour over each crafted item, piece of clothing, or architectural component just as Isabella did. Sassa’s precise line work extends to the characters and their expressions as well whether conveying something subtle with their eyes or an over-top reaction. A beautiful manga that feels in line with the work of Kaoru Mori.

Isabella and her travels are real! This manga is based on her actual writings. Having not read Isabella Bird’s travel diary Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, I don’t know how closely this manga sticks to its source material. A rare bilingual edition of the first volume of this manga came out in Japan (which is how I read it).

~kate

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Manga of the Month: ACCA

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department by Natsume Ono

The Kingdom of Dowa is subdivided into thirteen autonomous states, all of which coexist peacefully. Or do they? Jean Otus finds himself in the middle of a country-wide coup, and he doesn’t even know it. Or does he? And with all thirteen districts renowned for their unique snacks, only one food can reign supreme. Or can it?

Independent civilian agency ACCA keeps an eye on the workings of each section of Dowa’s kingdom. With an impending coronation assumed, a power struggle is bubbling just below the surface. As vice-chairman of the Inspection Department, basically internal affairs, Jean often travels for business, crisscrossing the thirteen territories. Gaining the nickname The Cigarette Peddler for his love of the now-extravagant luxury good, Jean finds himself in possession of many unique cigarettes over the course of the series, but just what is their significance? The Chief Officers of ACCA have their suspicions about Jean, but they also have their own agendas.

Jean seems to look at the world with an all-knowing gaze. He has a quiet charm with a dry sense of humor, is a thoughtful big brother, and has an appreciation for all types of bread. But he is also a character who plays his cards very close to the vest. Part of the fun of the series is trying to figure out just how much he actually knows. Which in turn makes me questioning whether I really know anything for sure, not because ACCA is confusing, but because it is quiet and subtle.

ACCA is a refreshing political thriller that seamlessly integrates cuisine and comedy among the intrigue. I am just as likely to remember the conspiracies, royal secrets, and double (triple?) agents, as I am the office politics, attentions paid to sandwich breads, and thwarted romances.

~kate

Manga of the Month: Tokyo Tarareba Girls

Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura

Are you in the Olympic spirit like me? Then enjoy Tokyo Tarareba Girls! I’m sure a dramedy about single 30-somethings discussing their lives and loves isn’t the first series that seems relevant to an international athletic competition, but these women have a plan: get married before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

From the creator of Princess Jellyfish comes a hilarious and searing look into the concepts of youth, beauty, love, sex, and society’s expectations on women, especially as they age. Successful screenwriter Rinko and her friends meet-up to commiserate their “old age” and play the what-if game of continuously rehashing their past decisions and speculating on how things could have turned out differently. Their feelings about their failed relationships and their desires to find love are complex. They embrace society’s demands of them while also trying to reject those demands; it’s a tough and true place they find themselves in.

Funny, heartbreaking, a little too on the nose at times, and over the top at the right points, Tokyo Tarareba Girls speaks with authenticity about the actual experience of your 30s VS what you thought it would be like in your 20s. Just because life didn’t turn out the way you planned doesn’t make it wrong, but will Rinko learn this herself by the end?

~kate