mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Kurotsubaki 9-11

Whenever I'm in Bookoff I check for Kawasou Masumis. She's a prolific mangaka with a couple of very long series, like Karin and Sardinaasia and Touring Express and spinoffs of the spinoffs of that last, and then something completely different, like China in the time of Sun Yatsen. And usually the random volumes are nice enough but don't grab. Kurotsubaki (Black Camellia) grabbed me but hard, though I seem to recall my first stab at it in '05 bounced off the Kyoto-ben but hard as well. No matter. The series has slipped into my Faves of all time list and holds up well against all comers.

I'm also a fan of Lots. Last time I was in NY I bought the last three volumes of Kurotsubaki-- and no, don't ask me why I hadn't got them online as is my spendthrift fashion. Maybe because I was waiting until I had Lots, given that the last one I read-- fall of '09-- was well enough but largely set in Tokyo with, I think, a look-in from some Touring Express side characters, and could have used another volume to balance it. Then I saved them for my Christmas vacation, and oh what a happy week I spent with those three volumes.

Kawasou's manga are wraparound experiences of another reality. It's not just the language, though immersing oneself in Kyoto dialect certainly distances one from present-day Canada. Her Kyoto settings and interiors and clothes and fabric patterns are all accurately and minutely drawn. Not afraid of ink, but not Yuki Kaori or Fujita Atsuko overwhelming either; and probably with an army of assistants. She occasionally does back story and has characters who reappear from earlier volumes in among the recurring cast. When she widens the cast it happens in a very likely fashion, not just arbitrary. Though me, I found vol 11 a bit Err what? in that regard. But f'rinstance, heroine's husband Keiji is the grandson of a geisha and a zaibatsu millionaire. (Vague recollection of early volumes had me thinking grandpa was a yakuza, but I think I'm confusing it with another manga.) Grandpa and Grandma were certainly both high-handed in their attempts to rope Keiji into Grandpa's company, but Keiji's having no part of it. He runs his Kyoto geisha house and buys stocks online form his laptop and is perfectly happy with that, thank you. But of course Grandpa has a wife and separate family of his own, and when he falls ill they all appear, and take up much of the action here.

Realistic manga rarely do it for me, and a manga about the geisha and theatrical world, however 'not here and now' the atmosphere may be, and however gender-fluid and gender-bending that world's denizens, probably wouldn't grab me as much. Fortunately the series is half supernatural: there are deities and kami and tengu walking in and out of the shop, as well as Izumo no Okuni who founded Noh, and the occasional living ghost. This is Kyoto, after all, 1300 years old and more likely to do Spirit of Place than ugly bustling Tokyo.

Something else I hadn't twigged was that the manga happens in real time. Someone mentions how in the recent fukeiki (economic slump) more girls want to become geisha. Now, I read 'fukeiki' in a manga and assume it's set, or backset, to the 90s post-Bubble economy. Mh, no. This is our very own Riiman shokku of 2008, is what it is-- day before yesterday stuff.

And one nice twist in the last volume, where an American shows up with his two kids. When they (and bilingual Keiji) are supposed to be speaking English, the text is horizontal left to right. When they're speaking Japanese, it's vertical right to left. Useful visual marker, if occasionally dizzy-making.
Tags: karin_mangaka, manga_10

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