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Review from June 30th.

Unusually for Fumi Yoshinaga, this is a set of interlinked stories centered on women, with a contemporary setting, and little explicit sex. The principal character has grown up with a single mother, and they still live together as adults. When the mother comes down with and then recovers from cancer, she decides to change her life, and marries a man three years older than her daughter.

This is the core for a web of explorations of female identity and the ways women live, the ways in which women decide whom to marry and the ways that love does and doesn't work out and the ways that women relate to their mothers. The stories are mostly very good, unexpected and subtle: the problem the adult daughter has with her mother's husband is that he's a decent guy who loves her mother honestly and deeply. She'd love it if he were a golddigger, because that would make some kind of sense to her, but this blindsides her.

There is one story that bothers me, though, both because it feels very different from the rest of the book and because it seems to buy into assumptions about women that the rest of the book is bent on disproving. A friend of the young husband, a professor, is blackmailed into sex by one of his students, and the best way I can describe the way the story goes from there is that it is repeating that old canard that women really don't like nice guys and gravitate to people who will be nasty to them. This entire portion is disturbing on multiple levels.

Fortunately, it's only a single issue, and the rest of the book is really Yoshinaga at her best; I can't figure out why her judgment lapsed that way, especially since the rest of it comes together into a cohesive thematic whole into which that one simply doesn't fit. Skip that, and I recommend it highly, because it is moving and lovely and different. Yoshinaga's art, as always, is impressive, and it's nice to see her get to use a larger range of female character designs than she usually needs. I approve of the trend where more and more of her work is turning up in English translation.

(O powers that be: given all the recent Yoshinaga and the lovely recent editions of things like Saiunkoku Monogatari and A Bride's Story, perhaps we have all decided that josei is a viable commercial proposition now? In which case, can I have some Ebine Yamaji in English? Thanks.)
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A one-volume piece by Fumi Yoshinaga, also author of Ōoku, Antique Bakery, Flower of Life, and many other extremely good manga of which I am very fond. Honestly Yoshinaga is probably my favorite mangaka. She references eighteenth-century philosophy in her gay romances and is doing a gender-switched version of the history of the Tokugawa shogunate, what's not to like?

And she is also something of a foodie.

This particular work is semi-autobiographical, in that way one sometimes gets with Japanese pseudonyms where the character is called F-mi Y-naga and everyone else is also called their names with parts blanked out. The principal effect of this is that one knows perfectly well that it is autobiographical... ish, because it is, in fact, a pseudonym; it gives her plausible deniability. Probably best to read this as fiction, though she assures us on the title page that all the restaurants are real, and gives their addresses, phone numbers, days open and nearest train stations.

At any rate, F-mi Y-naga, who is a manga artist, gets hired to do manga recommendations of good restaurants in Tokyo, and the manga is about how she does that. Along for the ride are her assistant/roommate/absolutely not boyfriend S-hara and their various friends, blind dates, colleagues and other people who can be taken out to dinner. The personal relationships are fun and interesting and do not follow the usual cliches-- when I say that S-hara is absolutely not her boyfriend, I mean that these are two people who would rather crawl over broken glass than date each other, but who are starting to worry that the expectations of their families and society in general combined with the oddly scheduled life of a manga studio may leave them no alternatives. Their friendship is bitchy, hilarious, and weirdly touching, and they are quite right that they shouldn't be dating.

But the main point is the food porn. Which is really impressive. I am glad that a) these are all real restaurants and b) she gives their addresses, because even though restaurants shift over time I will be hitting any one of these that is still there if I get to Japan in the next decade. She draws food quite appetizingly (there's a great repeating gag about how she keeps meaning to take reference photos when her meal arrives and then forgets until after she's eaten it), but as anyone who's read her Antique Bakery will remember, what she's really good at is how people talk about food. Everyone in this manga can talk about food in a knowledgeable, descriptive, non-pretentious, mouthwatering way that I wish I could do myself. Food is serious business to Y-naga, who at one point breaks up with a guy for not liking a restaurant she suggested, and her joy in cooking well, taking people to good restaurants, feeding people good food and watching them revel in it shines through continuously. (When someone asks her how it is she knows so many good restaurants, the reply is "There are maybe between four and six hours in a day when I am not either working or sleeping. During all of that time, I think about food. Or, better to say, depending on the work I might be spending my working hours thinking about food too. Since I've given that much of my life to food, don't you think food owes me a little bit of payback for it?")

Seriously, the only way this could be better is if there were recipes.


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