April 9, 2010

Last August, I put up a post about Ooku, which is a manga written by Fumi Yoshinaga. Briefly, Ooku is an alternate history set in 18th Century Japan. A plague called the Redface Pox has killed off 80% of the male population. As a result, women are now in positions of power. One is even Shogun. Men, who are now precious “seed providers”, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful men are chosen to sexually serve in the Ooku, the Shogun’s Inner Chambers.

This year at
Wiscon, which is a feminist science convention held every year in Madison, Wisconsin, the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award will be presented to Ooku: The Inner Chambers Volumes 1 and 2, and to Greer Gilman’s, Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter Tales

For those who are not familiar with the TipTree award, it’s an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores the understanding of gender. The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr., at a time when it was not de rigueur for women to write science fiction.

I’ve not yet read Volume 1 of Ooku, but I have read Volume 2 and it’s an amazing story. In Volume 2, which takes place at the start of the plague, a young Buddhist monk named Arikoto is calling upon Lord Iemitsu. Arikoto has no idea that Lord Iemitsu is, in fact, a young woman named Chie, who is being forced to wear men’s clothes and pretend to be the catamite of Lord Iemitsu, her father, who died from the Redface Pox. She is, however, the true ruler. Arikoto, due to his stunning beauty, is forced (in a most horrific way, I must say) to give up being a monk and, essentially, become a concubine of Chie’s.

I’m looking forward to reading the other volumes in the series as I like the fact that it’s not one of those simplistic, hits-you-over-the-head with its feminist rhetoric that some novels, who attempt this kind of experimentation, sometimes employ as a way to get their message across regarding gender. There is a complexity and a subtlety to what’s happening to the relations between men and women in 18th century Japan as a result of this plague.

Here’s a quote from Wiscon’s newsletter regarding Ooku and it’s having been awarded the James Tiptree Jr. Award.

“Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Volumes 1 & 2) explores an alternate version of feudal Japan, in which a plague has killed three out of every four boys. In this world, young men are protected and sheltered; women have secretly taken positions of authority and power. The Japanese ruler or shogun and the feudal lords are women and much of the story takes place among the men in the shogun’s harem.

The title of the work refers to the living quarters for the shogun’s harem, contained within Edo Castle. The selection of Ooku: The Inner Chambers marks the first time that manga has been chosen for the Tiptree Award. Though no one on the jury is an expert on manga or on Japanese history, the jurors fell in love with the detailed exploration of the world of these books, a world in which men are assumed to be weak and sickly, yet women still use symbolic masculinity to maintain power.

Throughout the two books, Yoshinaga explores how the deep gendering of this society is both maintained and challenged by the alteration in ratios. “The result,” juror Jude Feldman writes, “is a fascinating, subtle, and nuanced speculation with gender at its center. Ooku was awarded the Sense of Gender awards by the Japanese Association of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy (2005), the Excellence Award at Japan’s Media Arts Festival (2006), and the Grand Prize in Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize (2009).”



August 25, 2009

I finished reading the manga series Emma this week and what a delight it was.

I have to admit I usually go for the darker stuff when it comes to my choice of reading material but reading Emma was like drinking tea in a delicate little china cup.

Not that there wasn’t passion and dark moments in the series, but it’s basically a very sweet romance between two people who shouldn’t have fallen in love but did and the forces arrayed against them, both internally and externally, to keep them apart.

It was utterly charming to read and someday I plan to buy the whole series as it’s definitely a keeper. The art work was exquisite and Kaoru Mori conveyed the most delicate and the most passionate of emotions with her drawings. Her research of the Victorian era shows in every panel of this manga and I highly recommend it to anyone who plans to write a Victorian-era story.

Speaking of Victorian-era fiction, Gypsy Scarlett is writing a steampunk. Very cool! I loved steampunk even before I knew what it was. 🙂

I have a steampunk story that I had drafted but set aside to work on something else. After reading Emma I’m itching to get back to it. A book I found extremely helpful—for the domestic side of Victorian life—is Inside the Victorian Home

The book takes you room by room through a Victorian household and is very useful for all the little details you may want to include in your Victorian-set story.

Oh, and still in line with the Victorian Era. If you have the Turner Classic Movie Channel, The Lodger is on tonight at 7:00 CST. It’s a movie I blogged about some time ago. Another version of Jack The Ripper starring Merle Oberon and Laird Creger. It’s very good and very evocative of the period.

But, for now, before I can return to gaslights and corsets, I need to get back to knights, witches and vampires.

Just Stuff

August 17, 2009

UPDATE: I just found out about this new manga and I can’t wait to read it. Here’s a synopsis:

Edo Japan, Tokugawa Shogunate. A boy goes into the forest and is mauled by a bear. Carried back to the village, he brings with him more than just a bloodied body—he brings back a deadly disease which becomes known as the Redface Pox.

Only the country’s men are vulnerable, and within eighty years, the male population has fallen to about a fourth its former number. Women assume most of the roles usually performed by men—they even become Japan’s rulers. Men, meanwhile, have become prized, privileged commodities that are carefully cosseted and protected. The most beautiful of these men get sent to the Ôoku as concubines of the fabled Inner Chamber of the Tokugawa shogun. This is the story of these prized men…and the remarkable woman whom they serve.

The Ōoku, by the way, refers to the section of Edo Castle where the women connected to the reigning Shōgun resided; mothers, wives, concubines.

I gotta read this one! The first volume was published this month and subsequent ones are forthcoming.

End of UPDATE. 🙂

Dew point. Most of the time I could care less what the dew point is (which is the temperature at which the air can no longer hold all of its water vapor, and some of the water vapor must condense into liquid water).

But when that darn dew point gets over 60, which it has been the last few days around here, and gets to 70 which it did yesterday, man, do you feel it. Like breathing water. Yuck!

Below is a chart showing how we humans perceive dew points. Of course, in late fall and winter, when that dew points drops below 50, you also feel it because the air is so dry it feels like your skin is cracking. That’s when I have to keep a bottle of lotion around all the time.

75°+ Extremely uncomfortable, oppressive
70° – 74° Very Humid, quite uncomfortable
65° – 69° Somewhat uncomfortable for most people
at upper limit
60° – 64° OK for most, but everyone perceives the humidity
at upper limit
55° – 59° Comfortable
50° – 54° Very comfortable
49° – or lower Feels like the western US a bit dry to some

I’ve experienced a few above 70 dew points and it really does feel like the air is just soup. Almost like you can’t breathe it’s so thick with moisture.

Anyway, we’re supposed to get back to more comfortable dew points by tomorrow.

I’m currently reading the manga Emma and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Not only is it beautifully drawn but the romance is lovely and would, I think, make a charming movie. (I read that it’s been turned into an anime but I think it would also make a nice live-action movie).

The author, Kaoru Mori. extensively researched the Victorian era and it shows in her beautifully detailed drawings. There are scenes that tore my heart, such as this one, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

I’m working on my vampire story but I’m taking my time with it. There’s no hard deadline on it so I can submit it when I want. I had planned to submit it today but there are still a few things I’m not quite happy with. And I’m not submitting it until I am nearly 100% happy with it since I know I will never be 100% happy with anything I write. 🙂

More Guilty Pleasures

July 22, 2009

I suppose I wouldn’t label these as actually guilty but I have taken pleasure in them of late.

First, manga.

I’ve been a fan of anime for quite some time but have to admit that only recently have I gotten into manga. I do read graphic novels but manga-not so much. That is until lately.

Manga, for those who don’t know, are Japanese comics. They’re very popular in Japan, read by all age groups and genders. They represent a nearly $5 billion market in Japan. They’ve also caught on here in the States. Most large bookstores now have a huge manga section and even my local library carries a lot of them. Manga, like American comics, cover a wide range of topics and genres.

Now, I have to admit it took some getting used to reading not only from right to left, but from back to front. And some manga are published in what we probably consider a more traditional format.

Here are the manga I’m currently reading. Oh, and for those who are more into manga than me, you’ll probably notice that most of what I’m reading is shojo manga, which is manga targeted to girls between the age of 10 and 18, although Midnight Secretary is regarded more as josei manga, which is for a more mature audience.

Midnight Secretary by Tomu Oomi

Considered to be the “perfect secretary” yet constantly criticized for her ultra-conservative dress style by the Director, Kaya lives a seemingly normal life until she finds out that her boss is actually a vampire. Despite uncovering his identity, she dedicates herself to serving the Director to the best of her abilities. The early part of the story focuses on the trials and tribulations of Kaya’s increasingly hectic workload, then shifts to the developing personal relationship between her and the Director. (From Wikipedia entry)

Major guilty pleasure!

Ceres-Celestial Legend by Yuu Watase

The series focuses on Aya Mikage, who learns on her sixteenth birthday that she is the reincarnation of a celestial maiden named Ceres, and her twin brother Aki the reincarnation of Ceres’ former husband. Ceres begins manifesting in Aya. To try to save her brother, Aya must find Ceres’ lost celestial robe while trying to avoid being killed or captured by her own family, who wants to use Ceres powers for their own gain. (From Wikipedia entry)

I like this series because it starts out kind of fluffy and then, wham! it suddenly turns dark and serious but there’s still a lot humor and, of course, a romance between the heroine and the handsome, but mysterious, hero.

Emma by Kaoru Mori.

Set in Victorian London at the end of the 19th century, Emma is the story of a maid who falls in love with a member of the gentry. However, the young man’s family disapproves of him associating with people of the lower classes. (from Wikipedia entry)

I just picked this one up from the library but I was drawn to it’s Victorian setting. There are no vampires, werewolves or any kind of paranormal goings on in this manga. Just a story of a maid and the man she loves but is separated from due to class.

Megatokyo by Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston.

This is a manga that my son recommend I read after I expressed an interest in reading more manga.

Set in a fictional version of Tokyo, Megatokyo portrays the adventures of Piro, a young fan of anime and manga, and his friend Largo, an American video game enthusiast. The comic often parodies and comments on the archetypes and clichés of anime, manga, dating sims, and video games, occasionally making direct references to real-world works.

Megatokyo originally emphasized humor, with continuity of the story a subsidiary concern. Over time, it focused more on developing a complex plot and the personalities of its characters. (from Wikipedia entry)

And, last but not, least The Crow

This movie was on television over the weekend (so it was heavily edited) but despite a lot of gratitious violence and less than savory sex, I still love this movie. It was Brandon Lee’s last role as he was killed during the making of it. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s gothic, it’s violent, but it’s also a tender love story in that Eric Draven, Brandon Lee’s character, comes back from the grave to avenge his death and the death of his true love.

So, there they are. Some of my “guilty” pleasures. I have more, as I know I’ve only touched the top of the iceberg when it comes to manga, but I don’t want to bore anyone. 🙂