Manga: Spy X Family by Tatsuya Endo

Volume 1 Cover

Spy X Family
by Tatsuya Endo
published by Viz, San Francisco
2020 – (ongoing)

Westalis and Ostania are on the brink of war. Twilight, a handsome super-spy working for Westalis, must infiltrate elite society where politicians mingle: to do that, he’ll need a family – by the end of the week – to get into position to collect intelligence on a deadline.

He can’t be fussy.

He quickly adopts a child from a sketchy orphanage, and agrees to a faux marriage with a nice young woman who asks him for assistance, successfully assembling the Forger family. He doesn’t know the child, Anya, is hiding the fact that she is a telepath, or that his innocent-looking wife, Yor, is a professional assassin. Thanks to a series of misunderstandings and barely kept secrets, he won’t understand his (fake) wife or (fake) child any time soon!

This is a light-hearted comedy is attractively drawn. The faux-European setting provides a pretty-yet-tense backdrop, as government security services abduct and torture citizens who: show any hints of disloyalty, are turned in by envious acquaintances, or even are just a little different. The Forger family’s ability to fit in feels ‘high stakes,’ and while each of them has their own reasons they need to pass for normal, they all feel safer together.

Petty office rivalries, secret crushes, childhood bonds, misunderstandings, and sharp objects keep things moving along amusingly! EVEN THE DOG HAS A SECRET!

Viz’s Shonen Jump currently provides subscribers Chapters 1- 58; the compilation books are up through Volume 6 (Chapters 1 – 37).

Spy X Family is a nice way to take your mind off [gesturing]… the state of things.

This Viz preview below sets the scene in English; the Japanese preview below it has catchy music, and shows more images of the characters in action.

Manga: Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto

This is the cover for the compilation of the first 7 chapters. And it’s COOL.

Kaiju No. 8
by Naoya Matsumoto
published by Viz, San Francisco
2021 (ongoing)

Kafka Hibino has a dirty job: cleaning up the mess after giant monsters (kaiju) that attack his home city are violently “neutralized” by the nation’s Defense Force.

Kafka didn’t PLAN to be cutting up monster guts: he planned to fight against the kaiju directly at the side of childhood best friend, Mina Ashiro. But his plans went sideways, and decades later, he handles sanitation, while Mina leads the Defense Force’s third division as a national hero(ine), using weapons made from previously killed, powerful kaiju.

But… one day, things go very wrong, and Kafka becomes a part-time kaiju himself. Which is… SO AWKWARD. How will he ever get into the Defense Force and work with Mina if he is the enemy?

This is a charming adventure with dangerous monsters, dangerous humans, loyalty, teamwork, men gossiping in bathhouses, monster intestines, secret identities, partial kaiju transformations, very sharp blades, unexpected alliances, and fun illustrations between chapters.

I subscribe to Viz’s Shonen Jump, so I have access to all available chapters (1 through 54 as of mid-January 2022), and have been delighted by the story so far! Chapters 1-7 are available in book form, and I imagine the rest of the story will be bundled and released in the future.

I’m looking forward to future issues!

Book: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata
translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
published in English by Grove Press (Grove Atlantic)
2016 (Japanese) / 2018 (English)

This is a compact, engrossing novel about a woman who has never quite fit into the rigid expectations of her family or society.

While convinced she is quite logical, Keiko sees that her behavior creates distress, especially for her beloved younger sister. Keiko learns to adjust her public self by mimicking those around her – their mannerisms, accents, clothing choices, figures of speech… And everyone seems satisfied and a bit flattered by how well she fits in – up to a point. Her continued work in a Japanese convenience store and single status remain unacceptable, though both suit her.

Ultimately, to appease her sister and others, she announces the end of her single status. The absurdity of misplaced satisfaction of those around her comes into the starkest possible relief.

The reviews I’ve read of this book discuss how “quirky” and “eccentric” the lead character is, but I suspect more. Those of us with friends ‘on the spectrum’ may read more into her viewpoints, and see Keiko as advocating for the liberation of neurodivergent people on their own terms.

It’s a great, short novel, and I love the frequency in which variations of ‘unnerving’ or ‘unsettling’ come up in the reviews!

Bookstore: Silver Sprocket

I’ve already posted about my favorite indie bookshops here in San Francisco (haven’t I?), but I now must add Silver Sprocket to my list. They run a great comic book shop (and are a publisher, a pro-bike organization, and a bunch of other things).

Book: FTL, Y’all! Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive, edited by C. Spike Trotman and Amanda LaFrenais

FTL, Y’all! Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive
edited by C. Spike Trotman and Amanda LaFrenais
published by Iron Circus Comics

I love sci-fi, and so this anthology of what people would do if faster-than-light travel was possible, cheap, and open to anyone who could assemble some off-the-shelf parts was irresistible.

I think I actually said, “OH NO” out loud in the shop, because my first thought was, yes, some people would make their parents’ old Camaro into a FTL travel device, and go into space with NO PREPARATION AT ALL. I would like to thank the editors for assuring me that I’m not the only one who would fear this…

This anthology has it all: people who are competent with interstellar travel! People who are not! People who prepare! Cool ships! Quiet disasters! People on the run from the authorities! Other forms of life! The absence of other forms of life! Social media! Pop culture references to famous sci-fi movies! A wide range of illustration styles in a wide range of stories… I really enjoyed this hefty, speculative collection of adventures from a collection of talented artists.

Book: What If We Were… by Axelle Lenoir

Beyond adorable

What If We Were…
by Axelle Lenoir
published by Penguin Random House

This is an extremely adorable graphic novel about two best friends, whose hobbies include coming up with wild, hypothetical adventures as scientists (inventing spaceships, exploring the universe, forgetting earth?), parents, mythical beings, more adult versions of themselves, giant robots…

The way the dear friends riff on each other’s ideas is like the best possible versions of improv, but for their own enjoyment rather than an audience’s. Meanwhile, they go to school and navigate being teens with all that entails, supporting and encouraging each other in the ways that best friends can.

I was almost able to resist buying this graphic novel (due to its younger target audience), but the characters each have journal entries in the volume, and they are hilarious – I starting giggling while skimming through them – and suddenly, I was at the cashier with an armful of books!

Axelle Lenoir does a lovely, charming, fun job of showing off a fun friendship, and making the characters’ bond feel healthy, happy, and real. I recommend it – if you need an excuse, buy it for a young person in your life, but make sure you get a chance to enjoy it first!

Writing: First Novel’s Second Draft Completed on December 2nd

This version clocks in at 65,484 words!

It looks hefty, printed out on regular office paper in a 12 point font. It’s 151 pages long.

I have a sense of accomplishment… And I don’t want to downplay what I’ve achieved while trying to juggle so many other things… but still need to get to version 2.1, which will have all the weird auto-correct typos taken out of it!

(My other three novellas are sitting in binders on a shelf behind me, quietly waiting for their turn.)

I’m very glad I did edited and updated my first novel, and hope to soon have it ready to USE.

Writing: Novel Progress

“Novel Progress” here means I have an update on the progress of my novel, not that making progress is novel in itself… English is silly, isn’t it?

I’m over 43,000 words into my rewrite of my first novella. There’s still a lot of story to go, and I’m impressed that I’ve got so much, considering I’m 62% of the way through the printed first draft, and that draft was just over 50k. (I’m truly rewriting it, and not just retyping it. 62% of 50k would be just 31k, so…)

My writing isn’t as steady as I’d hoped: I’ve had many real-life interruptions and minor crises to resolve. I also take abundant breaks to ensure that I don’t inflame my arms from doing too much of any one activity, having just finished physical therapy for an arm injury recently.

The breaks are unexpectedly beneficial, because the time away from the writing allows me to rethink some of the motivations of the characters. There have been several nights and mornings when I’ve sat up in bed, re-evaluating how some powerful beings came to power, and how they maintain it. There’s another story there, one that I reveal partially in the climax of the first draft. While it should not be fully revealed in this book – I’m keeping the focus on the central character and how she is affected by power struggles from her point of view – refinements of these motivations have already contributed heavily to the wording of the re-write.

I hope to use breaks to decide whether or not the lead character will realize why no one else remembers the things she is talking about from earth. Not even really basic things. There’s a reason, and it was hinted at, but she missed the hint at the time, and hasn’t revisited it. Her understanding of [the cause] won’t change the arc of the story, but it may make things easier for a friend of hers, and that may be worth doing before the story ends…

Summary: I want to complete this draft zealously, and then move into continuity editing and additional story refinements. I know editing is complex, and I’m unsure how long it will really take. I am enjoying the process, and feel I am improving on my old draft. I’m glad I am making the time and space to do this!

Manga: All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Viz’s banner for All You Need is Kill

All You Need is Kill
by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
published by Viz Media, LLC (San Francisco)
2004 and 2014

I was impressed by the movie Edge of Tomorrow (whose posters read. “Live, Die, Repeat,” a slogan which was better known than the movie title). While perusing my new access to the Viz Shonen Jump library, I checked out this title, and… it is the story that Edge of Tomorrow was based on!!

And… it is somehow… darker!?!?

For those of you who didn’t see the movie, the premise is: aliens attack earth, and they are nearly indestructible. A solider dies in battle, and then wakes up the morning before his death. He has to live through that day, the battle, and his death all over again. And again. And again. Though he can change things, he still always winds up dying. And he’s the only one who appears to be repeating that same day – for everyone else, it’s a new day, and they don’t know what is coming. This experience, of brutally dying daily, haunts and hardens him.

Since nearly any skill can be mastered with repetition, and repeating one day IS brutal repetition, he trains to become a super solider, to see if surviving the day can break the loop.

And then, he meets someone else who is experiencing the same thing. And may have figured out how to end it.

It’s a great, painful, dark story. It differs from the movie – it is more compact, there are fewer characters, the deaths are more gruesome, and the mechanics of the time trap are different. Different enough that, even if you’ve seen the movie, you may be impressed with this more cruel and concise version.

I recommend each and every one of these seventeen chapters zealously.

Manga: Ghost Reaper Girl by Akissa Saiké

Ghost Reaper Girl Header from the Viz Shonen Jump website – nicely composed, and what lovely colors! The burnt oranges are really well chosen…

Ghost Reaper Girl
by Akissa Saiké (Akihisa Ikeda)
published by Viz Media, LLC (San Francisco)
2020 – present (2021)

I read all available chapters (1 – 29) of this manga yesterday, and I think it’s lots of fun!

Chloé Love, a struggling, 28-year old horror movie actress, gets her big break in an unexpected way: she allows herself to be possessed by a spirit from Hades to battle evil, and a video of her defeating monsters goes viral. After learning that she is a “spirit medium” who can take on the powers of the spirits who possess her, she starts making friends PLUS fighting evil professionally, with enemies that include the nightmarish creatures of the Cthulhu mythos.

It’s fun! The drawing style is lovely, and consistent in a way I appreciate. Everyone is attractive! Chloé is adorable, caring, and makes friends with everyone!

If I wanted to totally misrepresent this manga for fun, I would say it is about handsome men from Hell who come to the normal world to cook for adoring women, as illustrated by this panel. That is a swoon-worthy idea! These friendly domestic scenes are SO CHARMING!! This clever manga offers so much.

Working for a Great Old One who hides its form by doing sexy-nurse cosplay is light-hearted fun. There is a ‘knowing’ sense of humor in the work about manga conventions generally, and I appreciate the way this manga pokes gentle fun at those conventions while also utilizing them smoothly.

While Chloé does often go to battle in a swimsuit and stockings, her character is proportioned respectably, and is treated with affection. Consent is sexy, and she consents to her possession by her spirit friends for battles.

The action scenes are pleasingly composed, too! The artist uses thoughtful design that gives the action sequences clear progress, which is a major accomplishment that should be recognized. (Too many manga have so many battles that are just movement lines and loud noises, so I really appreciate the thoughtful, well-designed battles with strong visual continuity.)

This is a lovely series from a talented artist that includes humor, supernatural action, great design, and a pleasant cast of characters. It sold me on the idea of subscribing to Shonen Jump (link below), and I’m looking forward to future chapters!