Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 11

I know I left off this series discussing manga I loved in middle or high school, but this time I’m doing a half-manga, half-novel entry because I remembered I never covered one of my favorite books in middle school…

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan


In 5th and 6th grade, my Reading teacher (we had separate Reading and English classes in 5th and 6th grade for some reason) passed out mini-catalogs of books to take home to our parents. We got their permission and brought the cash, I think, and she would order a book for us that we could pick up at school in a few weeks. This was long before Amazon, and it was a great way to find books we’d never otherwise have heard about.

Since a friend and I were fantasy fans (largely thanks to The Chronicles of Prydain books), a fantasy book in this catalog called Winter of Fire piqued our interest. We both got copies, and we both wound up loving it. I re-read it a number of years later, and although I know I found it a bit simplistic, I still loved it—and made it a quest to track down the other (many out of print) niche titles by New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan (whose most well-known book, I believe, is The Raging Quiet).

I don’t remember a ton about Winter of Fire, other than it was set in a bleak, snowy fantasy world where half the people, the Quelled, are slaves to the other half, the Chosen. The slaves are miners, digging up firestones, which heat the homes of the Chosen. The protagonist, Elsha, is a slave (with a broken eye socket—you can kind of see it on the cover!)  and something happens to make her slave (handmaiden, says the wiki summary?) to the leader of the Chosen. I remember there was romance, too, and I believe Elsha had a special power…

After I graduated high school (thus her books never appear in this series), I started reading Diana Wynne Jones (thanks to news that Miyazaki Hayao was set to adapt one of her books, Howl’s Moving Castle) and devoured every one of her books I could get my hands in within a few years. DWJ is definitely the queen of middle grade and YA fantasy in my opinion, but I have a special affinity for Jordan’s fantasy books, too. I’m still working on reading them all—I managed to buy most of them second-hand a few years ago online—but I’m pretty close. My love for the first book of hers I read was enough to inspire me to keep reading her books all these years later. (Too bad her latest release seems to be New Zealand only…)

Kodomo no Omocha (“Child’s Toy,” called Kodocha: Sana’s Stage in the US) by Obana Miho


I’m kind of cheating here because I’m not sure I read much of the manga before graduating high school. (I did buy and read it all shortly thereafter, though.) However, the anime based on the manga was a favorite in middle and high school. Kodomo no Omocha, called Kodocha for short, is a zany comedy series starring 11-year-old Kurata Sana, a (fictional) popular child actress. The story follows her shooting her most popular TV show, commercials and other events, but it’s largely set in the normal school she attends and at her crazy home.

Sana’s mother drives a Power Wheels-type car around the house, always wears a kimono, and lets a pet squirrel live in elaborate and ever-changing tiny homes in her hair. She’s as rich as Sana, having written an award-winning and globally-best-selling book called The Gigolo and I, the story of her troublesome and crazy marriage. Sana’s mother’s ex-husband, whom Sana lovingly calls the Gigolo, and whom she’ll tell you early on is not her father, is often over begging Sana’s mother for money she made from the book but rarely gets it.

Sana and her mother live with Rei, a twenty-something homeless guy Sana picked off the street and made into her bodyguard, whom she lovingly and publicly refers to as her “pimp,” thinking the word means something like “boyfriend.” (Although that’s entirely one-sided on her part.) Sana requires Rei to wear a suit and tie and sunglasses at all times, even at night, because she thinks that’s what bodyguards need to wear.

Sana’s happy-go-lucky insane life is turned on its head when she goes back to school to find that a bunch of delinquent boys have so scared their teacher, they goof off and cause destruction during class and the frightened teacher doesn’t do anything to stop it. In one instance, the boy’s leader, sullen Hayama Akito, sits back and orders the other boys to shoot their teacher with water pistols. Sana, who’s tried to ignore the problem but has had enough, snatches a water pistol and shoots Akito instead. Akito vows revenge after school, but when Sana goes to finish the altercation, she finds him ordering the other boys to shove one of her friends into the pool—all because that friend called him a “demon child.” Sana and Akito fight, and Sana’s not intimidated, even when Akito, karate champion, gets rough. The two begin a rivalry that has the potential to blossom into something more as Sana tries to get to the bottom of why, when she’s so happy in her own life, someone could act like Akito does and not care much whether he lives or dies…

Kodocha tackles some serious drama (sometimes melodrama), but it’s mostly incredibly funny. The manga lasted for 10 volumes, but the 102-episode anime made up a few story arcs and characters to get the most out of the franchise. I actually prefer the anime to the manga—it’s even funnier, and Sana’s insanity has to be seen to be believed—but the manga that started it all is funny and just as sweet, if a bit even more melodramatic.

Posted in Reading, Writing

The Reading and Writing Never Ends

I don’t remember exactly what J.K. Rowling interview I saw (or read, which would be more appropriate to this post, but I do think it was something I saw), but I remember her talking about how she can never stop reading, even if she has to read the ingredients in a bottle of shampoo when in someone else’s bathroom. It clicked with me because I’m much the same. All day, every day, I read and write and live in a world of words bouncing silently around in my head. I think it must be much the same for other writers.

I work as a writer, and I prefer communicating with my clients (or with most anyone) by email, so I’ve never actually spoken with a number of clients who’ve offered me work, even those who’ve offered me work for years. I’m better at communicating my ideas in writing, and it was my strong suit in school. (And I’m grateful for the wonderful teachers in high school and college who encouraged me and helped me grow as a writer!)

I’m introverted (which is NOT the same as lonely, I enjoy solitude)—always have been—and besides my boyfriend and family, I don’t do much with friends. I do, however, have a wide network of dear friends to whom I once wrote handwritten letters. (I still do write to many of them by hand, but not anywhere near as often.) I’ve had pen pals since I was 7 years old! The Internet has made it easier to keep in touch with most of them online these days more often than not, but rarely a day goes by where I don’t check in with a number of them. And I keep in touch with school friends online, too. I almost feel like we’re reading each other’s minds. All of this communication happening thanks to words you never speak aloud. Kind of trippy in a way!

As for reading, well, most of the distractions on the Internet I enjoy consist of reading rather than watching videos. (Not that I never watch videos!) It’s always been easier for me to understand and learn something written down than via a visual or audio lecture about the topic for some reason. At breakfast and when I step away from the computer for lunch and I’m alone (and sometimes even when not), I read the newspaper or a catalog or anything within reach, whether I actually care about the topic or not. People sometimes lecture me for reading while eating, and I respond with a line that connected with me from the Steam Detectives manga a decade or more ago: “I’m not reading while eating. I’m eating while reading.”

This habit means you would expect me to finish more books in a timely manner, but it is rare for me to read for pleasure for long periods at a time other than right before bed. And sometimes even then, I prefer gaming.

I do watch TV and I love going to the cinema, but I also watch a lot of foreign language shows (mostly anime), so even then, I’m still reading thanks to subtitles. I think the only other times when I’m not reading or writing is when driving, doing chores, showering (baths are a great place to read, though!), exercising, eating with others (and even then, not always) and sleeping. I can’t stand to be caught without something to occupy my mind for more than a few moments if it can be helped. If I’m leaving the house and expecting even a minute of downtime, I bring a book or newspaper with me.

Are you a non-stop reader and writer? Do you think this helps you improve your writing?

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 10

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but when I last did, I was working on getting through the manga I loved in middle and high school, and some recent news that one of those manga is getting a sequel spurred me to get back to business! In both of these cases, I was introduced to the anime version first, and it wasn’t until late high school/early college that I got my hands on English-translated versions of the manga series. But still, I loved the stories in middle and high school and imported the Japanese versions originally, so they count, right?

Marmalade Boy by Yoshizumi Wataru


One of the first shoujo (aimed at pre-teen and teen girl readers) series I liked that was just plain dramatic (and occasionally comedic) hijinks, no magic or sci fi or fantasy elements included. In the sense that there are so many love entanglements it’s practically a mishmash of love octagons, Marmalade Boy isn’t that different from standard shoujo fare. But it was my first, it was addicting, and I remember ravenously consuming every anime episode when I first watched—and then went on to re-watch it all within a year again. (I also re-watched it all some years later and realized only then how cheesy and overdramatic it could be, but I still love it. It certainly spoke to me when I was in the target audience.)

The basic introductory summary for Marmalade Boy is wild, and I could certainly see it as a zany YA book. As time goes on, the craziness that starts the action of the story is less important than the everyone-has-tons-of-people-who-want-to-date-them-and-misunderstandings-lead-to-heartbreak that follows, but still. It stars Koishikawa Miki, a high schooler whose parents come home from a Hawaiian vacation with smiles on their faces and inform her they’re getting divorced. If that wasn’t shocking enough, they inform her that they still love each other (more like brother and sister love, they say), and they’re both getting re-married—to another couple they met also on vacation in Hawaii who’s divorcing each other with no ill will. (As in, Miki’s mom is marrying the husband of this couple and her dad is marrying the wife.) And since the original couple still considers their exes-to-be good friends and there are kids to consider, they decided they’re all moving in together, both new couples under the same roof, with kids in tow.

Miki is flabbergasted, to say the least. When she hears the other couple has a son named Matsuura Yuu her age, she feels even more awkward, but she hopes he’ll think it’s as bizarre as she does and that the two of them can talk their parents out of it. Nope. When she first meets her new step-parents and step-brother-to-be, Yuu doesn’t give a crap about the situation, and Miki’s literally the only voice of reason. Before she can have more than a melt-down or two, her parents are divorced and re-married, the new step-parents are moving in, and she’s got a new step-brother, who’s aloof… But also really cute.

Of course, Miki’s got a ton of emotional baggage with her childhood friend and once unrequited crush, she has a gorgeous and quiet best friend who’s hiding an earth-shattering secret from her, and Yuu’s ex-girlfriend isn’t taking kindly to him living with another girl to whom he’s not technically related—just to give a hint of all of the drama to come. There’s a lot more going on with Miki’s and Yuu’s parents than meets the eye, too.

The manga, only eight volumes, is almost entirely adapted in the anime version, but I was able to read it later, so it was a refreshing way to get back into the story. There’s an entire arc set in the US that’s in the anime and not the manga, and the manga does have one small arc later on that never made it to the screen. Definitely check it out if you like crazy drama and sweet romance!

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) by Be-Papas/Saitou Chiho

rev utena1

Shoujo Kakumei Utena was one of my favorite anime in high school. It’s visually stunning, artistically bizarre, and really spell-binding. Unlike the other manga I’ve reviewed in this category, it was created to be an anime, and there was a manga adaptation, but that came after in development. (Although I believe it started publication slightly before.) If you like one, you’re sure to like the other. The stories in both are fairly different, too—enough to get a different experience when you read and watch.

Utena is hard to explain, but I’ll try. It takes place in a pseudo-classic French-looking Japanese boarding school (but you never see the real world). Tenjou Utena is a middle schooler who dresses and acts like a boy (but still looks fairly feminine). It turns out when she was very young, when she was at her lowest at her parents’ funeral, a prince appeared and offered her words of comfort as well as a rose signet ring. Instead of falling in love with the prince, she decided she wanted to become him, so much did she look up to him. She wears the ring still and always stands up for those who are weak and bullied.

One day she comes across a beautiful student watering roses in a greenhouse. She watches in horror as another student, a high school boy, batters her. Utena intervenes and learns that the female student, Himemiya Anthy, is engaged to the boy and has no objections to him beating her. Horrified, Utena challenges the boy to a duel, thinking they’ll meet in the practice room of the kendo club. Instead, the boy sees her ring and asks if she’s a duelist, saying he’ll meet her in the “arena” outside of the school.

Utena goes, and finds that she can only open the door to the arena with her ring. She climbs magical, impossible stairs and finds a strange scene at the top of the arena. Anthy appears dressed as a princess, and her fiancé claims she’s the “Rose Bride.” He draws a sword out of her chest and fights Utena, who manages to defeat him even with only a wooden sword with which to defend herself. Baffled, Utena leaves and goes back to her dorm, not sure what to make of what happened.

Anthy appears at her dorm shortly thereafter. She explains that Utena is now the victor of the duels and that means that she, Anthy, is engaged to Utena. She’ll do whatever Utena asks of her, and Utena now must accept challenges from any duelist with a ring who asks for a duel. Originally unsure that she wants to be engaged to this other girl, Utena eventually comes to revel in the duels and keeping Anthy away from unworthy fiancés/fiancées, determined to protect the weaker girl and show her what it means to have self-confidence and self-respect. And of course, there’s a pretty weird, magical reasoning behind everything going on that’s revealed over time… And all these years later, I’m only sort of sure I understand it, actually, but I love it even so.

For some reason, the only kind of “battle” I love watching on screen is a sword battle. (I’m talking lightsabers, medieval swords, whatever.) Utena has plenty of those, as the duels are sword-based. Each duel has its own operatic song, too, and I just really got pumped every time I watch the duels, even when I’ve re-watched the series a few times over the years.

There are only five volumes of manga, and it entirely skips a large arc of the anime. There’s also a bonus sixth volume loosely based on the movie—and the movie itself is a different continuity than the anime series, so there are plenty of different versions of Utena to go around.

Posted in Geek Out, Reading

Happy Reading, Happy Holidays!

I haven’t been blogged in a few weeks, largely because of the holidays. I hope you’re all enjoying the end of the year and all the vacation time (I hope), celebration and laughter that comes with it. I know I have!

I just decided to drop by and blog about the books I got this Christmas:

  • The Casual Vacancy (don’t know when I’ll read it, but I have to read Rowling’s new offering!)
  • The Luxe final book (I got this from a friend a few weeks ago–I’ve yet to read the series, but she likes it so much, she got me all four over the past couple of years!)
  • Death Note complete box set (I borrowed it from the library in the past, and now I have my own copy; one of the most thrilling manga I’ve ever read [until about halfway through, but it’s still good])
  • Fullmetal Alchemist 3-in-1 volumes 1-3 (so really volumes 1-9; also a library read in the past, and one of my favorite anime series [both incarnations])
  • Skip Beat 3-in-1 volumes 2-3 (so really volumes 4-9, as I had 1-3 already; another former library read, a humorous and fun shoujo story)

I also got a lot of games, so it’s going to be hard to decide which to do in my free time. What reads did you get this year?

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 8

I’m going to sort of “cheat” for the next few posts on this topic. I decided to move on from the novels I loved in middle and high school for now to the manga I loved at that time, but technically, it wasn’t always available. The unflopped-$10-or-less-a-pop manga boom began when I was just getting to college. When I was in middle and high school, I had limited access to manga. What I did get was imported from Japan (at least I saw pretty pictures and practiced my fledgling understanding of Japanese, but I certainly didn’t totally follow the story) or limited/edited/flopped (as in mirror imaged to follow American left-to-right reading style)/much more expensive for the most part. In other words, this library wasn’t anywhere near this large back then (each shelf is double-stacked; there’s another row of volumes behind it, although some non-manga stuff has creeped in there. Should I be bragging about probably thousands of dollars spent on manga over a decade and a half? Not really, but yes… Yes, I should… ):

Still, the manga I’ll cover in this series meant a lot to me as a middle and high schooler, and they still mean a lot to me today. I may or may not have had the translated volumes until after high school, but I often had import volumes and grew to love these series through anime adaptations, so I certainly knew the stories.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon (Pretty Solder Sailor Moon) by Takeuchi Naoko

I have to start here. Sailor Moon was my first “official” introduction to anime at age 12–what I understood to be anime, anyway–and it snowballed into a huge part of my life ever since. Japanese anime and manga not only inspire me creatively, but this facet of pop culture inspired my love for the Japanese language and culture, helped me make many of my most treasured friends, and led me to meet my boyfriend of seven years in a college Anime Club, too. (More than seven years ago. We didn’t date immediately!)

So although I’ve read and seen so many manga and anime since, and I may not think SM stands up as the very best of the best or anything, it means a lot to me. At the time, finding a whole team of girl superheroes–girls around my age at that–spoke to the comic-book-loving girl I was. The series not only balances superhero battles of good and evil, but it has drama, comedy and romance, too.

The series starts with a single heroine, 14-year-old Tsukino Usagi, who discovers she can transform into Sailor Moon and fight evil demons attacking Tokyo thanks to a talking cat named Luna (whom I named my own kitty after). Eventually, she finds four other girls her age who are other Sailor Senshi, and even later, she encounters five more, older and younger girls, to round out the team. (And possibly even more girls after that. It gets complex.) There’s way more to it than that, including reincarnation and a love that lasts through lifetimes, but that’s the very basics.

The anime is actually quite different from the manga, other than characters and the enemies of each battle arc, but I actually did have access to translated SM manga in middle and high school, a sort of butchered version by Mixx/Tokyopop that I collected first in a magazine called Mixx Zine, then in a magazine called SMILE, then in individual American comic-book-style issues, and then in graphic novel form. Actually, some of that was concurrent; they published different arcs at once. And the translation used half English dub names and half original Japanese names; it was just a mess! But still, I collected it eagerly. And a few years ago finally rid myself of the whole haphazard mess… Thank goodness Kodansha started bringing out a much nicer and better translated version last year! (And they were the first to translate the prequel series, Codename Sailor V, yay.)

The original manga is 18 volumes, although the re-release packs more in one volume, so it should be 12 (14?) in the end. Although it’s much more drawn out, I think I prefer the anime to the manga, although I’m a fan of the manga’s gorgeous style. Still, I appreciate having two versions of the same story; many manga are almost completely unedited adaptations of their manga (or these days, light novel or game) origins.

Fushigi Yuugi (or Yugi; “Mysterious Play”) by Watase Yuu

This series became my absolute favorite series in middle school, perhaps only eclipsed in high school by a another Watase series, Ayashi no Ceres. I started with the anime (and watched it four or five times all the way through–there was less to watch back then!) and collected the manga in Japanese shortly thereafter, but some of the manga was available in English by the time I got to high school, in a magazine put out by Viz called Animerica Extra. I collected the manga in English through the magazine for all of its run, but it was canceled before the 18-volume manga ended, and years later I got rid of the magazines and collected it in six big three-volumes-in-one re-releases.

FY follows the tale of two 15-year-old Japanese best friends, Yuuki Miaka and Hongo Yui, who get magically sucked into a book about fictional ancient China. One goes on to become the Suzaku no Miko (“priestess of Suzaku”‘; Suzaku is one of four mythical beasts in Chinese folklore), and the other the Seiryuu no Miko, her mortal enemy. How these two friends come to be at such odds is a compelling part of the drama, and the two are in a race to gather their seven warriors and call their mythical beasts to grant them three wishes. Oh, and those warriors? Most are handsome men, and there are love triangles and rectangles and all sorts of shapes going on, which spurs more of the drama. And the series can be pretty funny at times, too.

There’s a prequel series, Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden, about the first Japanese girl to become a miko in this ancient book, that’s still coming out both in Japanese and English, but volumes are few and far between these days since Watase is juggling multiple projects and this one seems to be on the back burner. The middle schooler in me loved hearing there would be another tale set in that universe (especially since we learn a bit about this protagonist in the original series), and I do love many things about it, but it perhaps doesn’t have quite the charm as the original to me (it’s less funny, too), and the conflict is more political than personal like it was in FY. I actually would have preferred a prequel story about the Byakko no Miko, who comes after the Genbu no Miko, from what we learned in the original FY, but I’m not sure Watase will be up for it since she’s accomplished her dream of doing a weekly shounen (boys) manga, as opposed to the monthly shoujo (girls) manga she used to do. Ah, well.