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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Irregular Review: Dragon’s Danger, Edward Branley

When I signed up for Story Cartel, I went straight for the fantasy and kidlit selections because, well, that’s what I read and that’s what I felt most comfortable reviewing. I chose Dragon’s Blood by Edward Branley because it had a nice cover. You know what they say, “never judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, they say it for a reason. Dragon's Blood

Dragon’s Danger
Edward Branley (Blood Bound #1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (No comment.)

Goodreads summary:

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!
Joey, Anne Marie, and David are three teens from New Orleans. They’re smart enough to understand this. Imagine their surprise when a “dragon’s egg” they bought online turns out to be from an ancient trading company that sells “collectibles and curiosities”. Suddenly it’s more than just kidding around, as they help their dragon avoid danger and evolve to its full potential!
For over a thousand years, the dragons have used the merchant concern, Hassan’s Collectibles and Curiosities to help identify those worthy of becoming the “Blood Bound” — humans who are willing to hatch dragon eggs and nurture the hatchlings to adulthood. The methods used by Hassan’s have changed over time, but the results are the same. The dragons live!
It’s never been easy to be a teen. Asking a teen to hatch a dragon egg is a big request. That’s why it’s important to choose a teen who has friends to help. Better yet, get three inseparable kids to do the job!

The Good
The cover art, as I mentioned, is what drew me to the story. The premise reminds me of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, a book I loved when I was a kid, but if Jeremy had internet access.

The Bad
I didn’t finish this. I’m not one of those people who powers through when books get boring. There are only so many hours in the day. I dropped this book partway through the first chapter. Why? I didn’t feel like anyone had taken the time to edit it. So why should I take the time to read?

Sentences like, “Typical of New Orleans in February, it was cold for two days, today’s high would be much warmer,” and “Since most of New Orleans’ Catholic high schools are all-boy or all-girl, the boys ended up at one school, and Ann Marie at another, but regularly re-unite on holidays and in the summer” threw me out of the story while I tried to figure out what they meant. (Those were on facing pages, p7 and p8.)

Look, I don’t demand perfection, but two glaring editorial failures like this, in two pages, in the first chapter is unacceptable. I tried to look up the publisher, but was unsuccessful; if Elysian Fields Press has a website, they’ve done a mighty fine job of hiding it. (Goodreads lists the publisher as Smashwords, but the author’s profile doesn’t list any books.)

What really killed the book for me, however, was this:  “’Fuck you, Joey!’ she said, without even looking away from the TV.”

Dragon’s Danger is billed on StoryCartel as a “middle grade contemporary fantasy.” SFWA quotes agents and editors as defining MG as for children age 8-12. Dragon’s Danger has a casual F-bomb in the first chapter; searching the e-book pulls up an additional twenty five instances of the F word. His author bio rather defensively states, “he can attest that sixteen-year olds attending Catholic school do swear like the Trio do,” and while I’m sure they do, this is inappropriate language for a MG book. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting this in my students’ hands.

So why was this a MG book? The characters are rather old for a normal MG protagonist (they’re all sixteen or so) and the language was more suited to a YA audience. This was the real lack of editing that made me decide not to finish this book, more than some awkwardly worded sentences.

I received a free digital copy of this book from StoryCartel.