The Manga of Takako Shimura, author of "Even Though We're Adults", by Erica Friedman
No new episode this week!
Hi everyone, Christopher here. This week there’s no new episode of Mangasplaining, as we usually take some time off after our Season Retrospectives to rest, recharge, and try to get ahead on our recording again. Last time we took off a month, this time it’s just a week, and we’re going to give you…. BONUS CONTENT! WOO HOO! It’s true, we’ve been putting together some interesting extra content for you behind the scenes over the past little bit, so that our week-to-week schedule wouldn’t be TOO interrupted. Starting this week, we have a new piece of writing from friend-of-the-podcast Erica Friedman, and a more extended look at what to expect this month from the Mangasplaining crew.
IN THIS NEWSLETTER:
This week on Susumu Higa’s Okinawa
The Manga of Takako Shimura, by Erica Friedman
What’s Coming Up on Mangasplaining and Mangasplaining Extra?
This Week’s manga on MSX: Okinawa Chapter 4, by Susumu Higa
This week’s chapter of Okinawa is particularly harrowing, and powerful. As I mentioned on the podcast it can give one a bit of whiplash, going from funny-podcast-antics to… very difficult subject matter in the manga sections that we run. So we wanted to give subscribers a heads-up before they started reading this week’s email. Okinawa Chapter 4: The Call of the Sand, will run on the newsletter for paid subscribers on Friday March 11th. Previous chapters are available here.
An Introduction to Takako Shimura’s Work in English
From Mangasplaining Episode 17: June 8, 2021
Mangasplainer Chip Zdarsky wanted to read something aimed at a grown-up audience this week, after a few weeks of reading about teens and their problems. So this episode we jump into Takako Shimura’s down-to-earth, complex, and beautifully illustrated LGBTQ romance story Even Though We’re Adults! Will it be just what the doctor ordered? Spoilers: Yes. It’s very good.
In June of 2021, the Mangasplaining crew took a look at an ongoing series Even Though We’re Adults by Takako Shimura, published by Seven Seas. Shimura’s one of those names that pops up now and again and seems like you ought to know some of their work, you’re sure you’ve heard of or seen some, somewhere.
Hi, I’m Erica Friedman. I’m the founder of Yuricon, ALC Publishing, and a Speaker, Writer, Editor, and LGBTQ manga tastemaker. Usually you can find me at my website Okazu, but today, I thought I’d offer up a primer on Takako Shimura, and where you can find Shimura’s work in English. We’ll take this in order of appearance in English.
Sweet Blue Flowers / Aoi Hana (青い花)
Sweet Blue Flowers is the story of two childhood friends that meet again as they are entering two different girl’s high schools. Fumi, the tall, long-black-haired, quiet girl is emotionally struggling with a breakup with her female cousin. A-chan protects her from a creep on the train and their friendship is renewed. It’s a rough start, but as we meet other students from the two schools, the story settles into a coming-of-age story about young women with a lot of time and attention given to their interior lives, something manga for adult readers often lacks.
Even more crucially, Sweet Blue Flowers is a story about girls who navigate their adolescence through a number of key life choices. These stories are tied into classical Japanese “girls’ culture” with references to literary masterworks of the early twentieth century Japan in a way that makes this story simultaneously contemporary and timeless.
The story first appeared in English as an anime that had top talent working on it. But the nature of the story meant it wasn’t flashy or likely to bring in massive audiences. It was licensed by Crunchyroll, but after a year, the JP licensor pulled the anime from CR, for not having done well enough either here or in Japan. In later years, the anime was returned to Crunchyroll, where you can still watch it: Sweet Blue Flowers on Crunchyroll. The anime is also available from Right Stuf as a Blu-ray box set
It would be another few years before VIZ Media put out a 4-volume omnibus set of the manga, a full decade after the manga came out in Japan. In the intervening decade, the Yuri genre had grown a lot and this story, steeped in references that were dated, came off feeling a little stale. It still holds some fascination as a callback to an earlier era of 20th century Japanese girls’ life stories. You can find Volumes 1-4 at your preferred manga vendor.
Wandering Son / Hourou Musuko (放浪息子)
Wandering Son is the story of two tween trans children in the same class in school. This 21-volume manga handles both stories with some sensitivity, along with discussions of the sexuality and gender of the kids around the protagonists. It fails in some key points, especially in regards to an adult trans woman character. It’s a complicated story, told with more sincerity than skill.
Again, Wandering Son arrived in the west first as a short anime which covers the first few volumes. Like Sweet Blue Flowers, the animation was given top talent, but this time, the topic drew more interest and was pretty successful. The anime was removed by Crunchyroll in 2021 and has not been picked up for streaming by another service as of writing. There is no home video release for the series, which I have to admit surprises me.
Fantagraphics licensed the manga, which they released as a hardcover beginning in 2013. The price point of the large size hardcover became an issue, and the series only made it to Volume 8 of what would have been 15 omnibus volumes. You can still find most of these volumes at manga vendors, but Volume 1 has gone out of print. (I gave copies of these to my library just to make sure they’d stay in circulation!)
Happy Go Lucky Days / Dōnika Naru Hibi (うにかなる日々)
Happy Go Lucky Days was a short manga series by Shimura that dated back to 2002. It followed several scenarios with no specific connection. This was made into ana anime that has been released in English. Two of the scenarios deal with LGBTQ+ characters, looking at adult lives. A third scenario addresses children in middle school becoming aware of sex and sexuality. This series really began to show Shimura’s strengths in everyday interactions between everyday people. No one in this series is extraordinary, and their individual stories are rooted in everyday concerns. And yet, this is where her art and narrative really come alive. This series received very positive critical reception in Japan and was the focus (along with other series that have not made it over here in any format) of a pop-up art exhibit in Japan in 2019.
While the manga never made it into English, the anime did the rounds of several film festivals in 2021. It was eventually licensed by Sentai Filmworks for streaming on their HIDIVE service, as well as in home video format. A 10-minute trailer is available on Youtube, if you want to see how this adaptation of her work compares with Sweet Blue Flowers. If nothing else, you can see that her treatment of the characters is much more “adult,” even in the scenario with the children.
Character Concepts for Aldonoah Zero
As I was researching Shimura’s work for this article, I came across a fun little extra item. Shimura provided the original character concepts for the anime Aldnoah.Zero, a science fiction anime currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Even Though We’re Adults / Otona ni Nattemo (おとなになっても)
Even Though We’re Adults, the series Mangasplaining took a look at, is one of Shimura’s currently running series and, in my honest opinion one of the best things she’s done to date. Where previous series look at individuals in groups and their relationships within the group, Even Though We’re Adults is grounded in the complex interactions of adults within a larger society.
Even Though We’re Adults follows Akari, a lesbian who shares a one-night stand with Ayano, a married woman. Ayano finds herself questioning her own sexuality and the entirety of her life choices, while Akari finds herself unable to break free of this new complication. Ayano’s husband, Wataru finds it impossible to resent the woman his wife is in love with, but is confused and unsurprisingly, frustrated. This isn’t what he signed up for.
The supporting cast is likewise fully-formed and complex humans. Shimura’s art has never been stronger and the complexity of both the situation, the family dynamics, and the individual characters, makes this one of her most compelling stories.
Seven Seas has licensed this manga in English, as I write the 4th volume will be released in April 2022. It is at volume 6 in Japan, and is still ongoing.
Shimura is best known for her works delving into the lives of LGBTQ+ people, which has brought some legitimate criticism from the LGBTQ+ community in both Japan and the west. Where Shimura’s work shines is when the story is not centered on the fact of queerness in a main character. Yes, Akari is a queer woman, and maybe Ayano might be, but none of that is the point of the story, those are just pieces of a larger and more interesting story.
Even Though We’re Adults feel like an honest exploration of adult life. I know I’m enjoying it, even as it gets messier. If anything, it is the messiness of human existence that makes this manga so good. Shimura’s art is more confident, her distinctive use of watercolor pens for the covers has lost the translucent feel of earlier works and here presents bold, colorful images.
I hope this article gives you a little bit of an idea about Shimura’s work in English and I hope you’ll take a look at her earlier manga and the anime based on it. Then grab yourself a copy of Even Though We’re Adults and see how good her work has become.
Erica Friedman has written about Yuri manga, anime and related media at her blog, Okazu, since 2002.
What’s Coming up on Mangasplaining and the MSX Newsletter This Month?
Here’s what’s coming up on Mangasplaining and the MSX newsletter in March!
TL;DR for the Podcast: Podcast Interviews with Emma Rios, Ken Niimura, and Jamila Rowser, and a Mangasplaining Recommends Special Episode. Then we return to regular episodes April 12th with Ajin: Demi-Human Vol. 1.
TL;DR for MSX: Article on Mangaka Takako Shimura, two additional bonus articles, new chapters of Susumu Higa’s Okinawa, and two free-to-read comics by Ken Niimura.
March 8: SKIP WEEK! No podcast this week. But on the MSX Newsletter, we’re running an introduction to the manga of Takako Shimura by writer Erica Friedman.
March 11: Okinawa Chapter 4, by Susumu Higa. (MSX, Paid Subscribers)
March 15: Episode 53: Mangasplaining: Listen To Me! With Emma Rios. During our Gundam: The Origin episode we ran a short excerpt of Emma and David’s conversation about Gundam, but it was actually a full length interview! We’re running the whole thing as its own episode, and David is providing show notes from this episode too!
March 18. Okinawa Chapter 5, by Susumu Higa (MSX, Paid Subscribers)
March 20: On MSX we’re running the free short comic How I Made Henshin, by Ken Niimura. A great introduction to this mangaka!
March 22: Episode 54: Mangasplaining: Listen To Me! With Ken Niimura. This episode Deb and Christopher interview I Kill Giants, Henshin, and Umami manga creator Ken Niimura about his new book, Never Open It. We’re running show notes for this interview too!
March 25: On MSX we’re running ANOTHER free comic this week, Ken Niimura’s Spicy Tuna, for the first time in English! A melding of Ken’s Japanese and Spanish heritage, this is a farcical romp through Tokyo and shows off a lot of what’s great about Ken’s work.
March 27: Bonus Article! Deb Aoki dives into the differences between the Japanese legends and folktales, and how those same stories are used in Ken Niimura’s new manga Never Open It.
March 29: Episode 55: Mangasplaining: Listen To Me! With Jamila Rowser of Black Josei Press! David interviews publisher and creator Jamila Rowser of Black Josei Press, which creates manga by and for women of color and non-binary people of color.
April 1: Okinawa Chapter 6, by Susumu Higa (MSX Paid Subscribers).
April 5: Episode 56: The Best Manga for New Readers, from Mangasplaing Season 1. A special episode as Deb, David, Christopher and Chip dig through the first 29-ish manga they read to pull out the very best titles for a reader new to manga to enjoy.
April 8: Okinawa Chapter 7, by Susumu Higa (MSX Paid Subscribers).
April 12: Podcast Episode 57: Ajin: Demi-Human Volume 1, by Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai. David hosts our return to ‘normal’ episodes with an exploration of the sci-fi/horror/thriller seinen manga Ajin: Demi-Human.
And that’s today’s newsletter! Thanks so much for reading! We hope you’re as excited as we are about getting a whole whack of new episodes to listen to this month, instead of 5 weeks of dead air. ;)
As always, you can subscribe and listen to Mangasplaining at the following links, and maybe catch up on some episodes you missed!
See you soon!