Irregular Review: Let’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi

Let's Eat Ramen

Let’s Eat Ramen
Nagumo + Aji-ichi
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:
Doujinshi, otherwise known as independent manga in Japan, is rarely published in English. In fact, it’s considered underground and quite exclusive in its home country of Japan as well. Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories finally gives western readers an exclusive look at the elusive world of contemporary Japanese doujinshi manga. Let’s East Ramen is a three-part tale of Saeki, a girl who loves ramen noodles. At last, she thinks that she has finally found the perfect ramen shop, but the problem is the shop is completely full of old regulars and she can’t get in. Will the timid Saeki ever summon the willpower to reach out and get the ramen that she desperately wants?

The summary on Goodreads only covers the first story, which lends the collection its title. After Saeki’s story, there’s “Plastic Blue,” the story of an ill-timed, unrequited first love, that works out in the end for the two girls; Urameshiya, a ghost story with a twist that, again, works out well for the two girls in the end; and You Make Me Dizzy, a schoolgirl maybe romance that works out pretty well for the two girls in the end.

The Good

Did I mention there are a lot of girls in this anthology? And while “Plastic Blue” is the most forthrightly queer, the others have girl/girl undertones, or focus on the friendship between girls. (Manga, in my reading experience, is sometimes very ambiguous about this. I like that ambiguity.)

Although Saeki does get a little crush on her ramen partner, her true love seems to be ramen – which is why I jumped at the opportunity to read this when it came up on NetGalley. I love ramen. (Unlike Saeki, I have no worries about walking into a ramen shop full of besuited businessmen and slurping with the best of ’em.) So you could say, “Let’s Eat Ramen” spoke to me – and made me really hungry. (My mouth is watering…)

The sweetness (savoryness?) of “Let’s Eat Ramen” was followed by the melancholy of “Plastic Blue.” Minato confesses (i.e., her crush) to Shizuku, but Shizuku shoots her down, saying, “I like you as a friend.” We can only assume it’s internalized homophobia or a fear of coming out that makes Shizuku turn down her friend’s confession, because a year later, Shizuku is still kicking herself. In the end, Minato dumps her boyfriend and the two girls get together and the story ends with Shizuku and Minato flirting, smiling, and holding hands, which is pretty much exactly how I like my girl/girl stories to end.

“Urameshiya” is a sweet little ghost story with a twist. (A footnote on the page explains that “urameshiya,” which the girls use to greet each other as an inside joke, means “boo,” like a ghost.)  I don’t want to give it away too much. Suffice to say, it’s a cute story of a girl who likes to garden and a cooler member of the swim team and how they become friends while Hanako tends to the garden (her name means “flower child;” it’s also the name of a ghostly girl in a Japanese urban legend who usually haunts girls’ school bathrooms) and Natsume (“summer”) attends swimming practice – although she seems to spend more time chatting with Hanako than practicing.

The last story (and my least favorite) was “You Make Me Dizzy.” Although this one wasn’t as cute as the others, I liked that the girls’ friendship was founded on stories. Shibahara, deciding she’s “not very smart,” becomes the class clown. She’s never read a novel, until she befriends Kunitachi, a cooler girl who is always reading “books with no pictures.” There’s a classic manga miscommunication, but all’s well that ends well.

The Bad

I thought some of the art was really cute, like “Let’s Eat Ramen.” The weird style of “Urameshiya” grew on me, too. But “Plastic Blue” was so-so, and the style of “You Make Me Dizzy” didn’t do much for me at all. But keeping in mind that this is dojinshi, independently produced comics, it wasn’t too bad. There were a few wonky pages in “Plastic Blue,” but I think that will be fixed in the final print.

My only other minor quibble was that I don’t think it’s possible to recover from a two year coma that quickly. (I won’t say which story.)

The Verdict

The paperback edition is about $10 on Amazon.com; the 2014 digital archive of GEN Manga is $24, including these stories, so, despite the inconsistent art quality, I’d recommend it for someone interested in reading something outside of the manga mainstream, especially with the queer content. (Unlike a lot of BL (“boys’ love”) or GL (“girls’ love”), these stories – especially “Plastic Blue” – felt genuinely like queer stories, not fetishized representations.)

When I was your age, these stories were impossible to find in English, and then when they became available, they were illegal scans. This is a step in the right direction, as is GEN Manga‘s completely reasonable pricing.

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve)

A Christmas CarolWhat are you currently reading?

‘Tis the season and all, so I’m reading A Christmas Carol. I grew up with the 1983 Disney special Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and I designed a book jacket to fit the local library copy for a project during high school, but I’ve never actually read it; my one encounter with Dickens (Bleak House) scared me off of that for a very long time. Now that I have the time and motivation to read it for my own edification and of my own free will, I’m finding that it’s not actually so bad.

I do have a problem with hearing some parts in Gonzo’s voice, because they’re directly quoted in Muppet’s Christmas Carol. 

I’m happy to finally be reading this book. It’s helping me to keep in the Christmas spirit and not be such a Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol

The colors matched up when printed. This is the problem when designing in RGB for print in CYMK.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve been on vacation, so I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this week.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantI read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant in two sittings: once right before bed and then immediately as soon as I woke up (and wrote my morning pages). I grew up on black and white manga, so I struggle with the information overload of full color comic books, but it was beautiful – the art and the story, both. I guess it’s the first in a series, and I hope I get the chance to read the rest of it.

I finished Pantomime and it was excellent. (Review.)

Keeping with the season, I read My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, which I enjoyed, but I also docked a star because there was one token queer couple, two cis gay boys, and exactly zero queer women or trans people, which is just such a bummer.  You’ll have to do better than that if you want an ally cookie. (Review.)

Then I read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I liked a lot at the beginning and wanted to like at the end, but it didn’t quite work for me. (I can’t really say what bugged me about it without getting into spoiler territory, but it really just didn’t seem to “fit” for me. Suffice to say, I think the ending would have been better left ambiguous.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not really sure why I haven’t immediately jumped into Shadowplay, considering the first thing I did when I finished Pantomime was run out and get it? (Metaphorically.) So… probably that!

I’ve read 98 of my 100 books for the Goodreads challenge. This isn’t to say that hitting 100 will stop me, but expect some MATHS soon. For someone who had to take my math gen ed pass/fail, I really like crunching numbers.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

My Thoughts On…: My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me  One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to actually review (some of) the books I read. I figured, Why wait? and so here we are, with My True Love Gave to Me.

Goodreads summary:

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Do I love holiday stories? Yes. Holiday movies? You bet! Made-for-TV-holiday specials? Ohhh yeah. Holiday episodes of my favorite sitcoms? Bring it on.

I love Christmas so much that I get excited about starting Advent somewhere around Halloween. And let’s be honest: it says “holiday” up there, but it’s mostly Christmas with a token Hanukkah story. There was a token Hanukkah story, and a token “queer” story – we’ll get to that in a minute – but it was a Christmas anthology.

I didn’t recognize most of these authors. I know Holly Black from Tithe when I was a teenager and Doll Bones now; Rainbow Rowell for Fangirl, which I read this year but it did not impress me; David Levithan from the good/bad old days of digging up something anything queer I could get my greedy little hands on reading Boy Meets Boy and then Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist in university; and though I’ve heard of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’ve never read it. The others were a mystery to me.

Usually, I get bored of short story collections, but these were just the right length, and just the right number.

Most of the stories washed right over me. I enjoyed them enough to keep going and not skip any, but then I promptly forgot about them. (This happened with Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” and “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins.)  Others I really didn’t like at all because it felt like wasted potential. (e.g., Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem,” and Holly Black’s “Krumpuslauf.” Black’s story felt too much like she was trying to be Holly Black then just tell a story.) The closest I came to skipping was “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me,” by Penny Han.

A handful really stuck out for me: “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” was probably my favorite. I hadn’t even heard of Myra McEntire, and the whole thing fell flat when I tried to explain to my roommate why I liked it so much, but I actually laughed out loud – multiple times, even! – at this story, and I’d love to read more by her.

The other two I liked were magical: “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link was vivid and beautiful, like a Tam Lin retelling? and I love Tam Lin retellings, ever since I read Holly Black’s Tithe when I was sixteen or so. “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” was so vividly told that I’m curious if it’s part of another, larger piece… I hope so!

All in all, I’d give it three stars: a solid I liked it. (I’m trying to be stricter with my stars. Otherwise, I give everything four stars and it just becomes meaningless.)

However, in twelve stories, there was one couple that wasn’t straight – the two boys in Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” – and there wasn’t a single queer girl to be seen. There were no trans characters. While each individual story was good enough on it’s own, I guess, as a collection, I wanted to see a little… more.

Cis gay men are always the token queers. Cis gay men’s stories are the dominant narrative of what it means to be queer in 2014. That’s not David Levithan’s fault, but they couldn’t find a single author to write about a lesbian couple? Nobody would write about a trans main character?

Let me tell you: this asexual lesbian (that’s two points on your diversity bingo!) freaking loves Christmas. I’d like to read about girls like me falling in love with girls like me and kissing under the snow or whatever it is couples do in holiday specials.

That’s what I want for Christmas.