Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 3

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 3. (For the review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Ryu’s work brings Yuko Sakura—the married woman he had an affair with before he met Asuka—back into his life. Is she the reason Ryu will never marry?

The Review

In the last volume, Ryu and Asuka were struggling to find time for romance in the midst of their busy schedules. Now new characters threaten to tear them apart. Yuko Sakura is the married actress rumored to be the reason Ryu got transferred to New York. Their love affair has been mentioned since Volume 1, but this is the first time we see Ryu and his old flame together. Not surprisingly, circumstances at the TV station put the two together for an assignment, and even though their affair is supposedly water under the bridge, their behavior during their press conference makes Asuka wonder if he’s really over Yuko. Not to mention, Yuko is a ridiculously formidable rival. Not only is she beautiful and famous, Yuko, unlike Asuka, will never pressure Ryu about marriage.

However, Asuka’s not the only one having to contend with jealousy and insecurity. Enter Akito Kamiya, Asuka’s acquaintance in the banking industry. No sooner has he stepped into the story than he’s offering Asuka exactly the kind of married life she’s dreamed of. He’s not a hideous reject either; he and Ryu are so similarly drawn, it’s difficult to tell them apart unless Ryu’s wearing his glasses. Kamiya’s abrupt interest in Asuka seems contrived, but his blunt honesty has a refreshing quality that makes it difficult for me to dislike him.

Although it’s overly convenient how these two rivals pop up at the same time, I do appreciate the fact that it isn’t just Asuka or Ryu who suddenly feels threatened. Asuka is forced to reevaluate what she truly wants and how she’s treating Ryu. As for Ryu, we get glimpses of the type of relationship he had with Yuko. His reasons for rejecting marriage, however, remain a secret, and that’s the tidbit Miyazono used to lure you into the next volume.

Extras include a note from the creator and the seven-page bonus story “No Smoking for Nanaryu.”

In Summary

New characters appear! Ryu and Asuka’s relationship faces its first real test when Ryu’s former lover reenters his life. At the same time, a handsome acquaintance offers to give Asuka the homemaker life she so desperately wants. As such, the sizzle between Asuka and Ryu takes a backseat as emotional turmoil takes center stage.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Todai Bunksai: The University of Tokyo Komaba Campus Festival!

Todai's froggy mascot Komakkero

Todai’s froggy mascot Komakkero

Two months ago, I wrote about FC, who was taking his anime fan girlfriend to the University of Tokyo  (Todai) school festival. Though it sounded like fun, Todai’s festival took place the weekend after Thanksgiving so I completely ruled out the possibility of my husband or myself going. However, as it turns out, our crazy endeavor to get to the Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Musical put us in Tokyo that very weekend. So we actually went, too!

Todai holds two festivals per year, in November and in May. I’m not sure where the May one is located, but the November one takes place at Todai’s Komaba Campus, which is where lower division classes are located. (As such, all Todai students spend their first year at Komaba.)

This was my second bunkasai. I’m fairly confident that my experience at Komajo Girls School was more representative of a typical school festival. Having said that, I would absolutely recommend Todai’s bunkasai to the casual English-speaking tourist over a high school event. One, it is easily accessible. From Shibuya Station (a major Tokyo hub), you take the Keio Inokashira Line three minutes to the Komaba-todaimae Station. The campus entrance is literally right outside the station, and on festival day, you can’t miss it.

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Todai main gate on festival day!

That leads me to my second point: it is an open event. While many school festivals are for alumni and family/by invitation only, Todai’s is a massive public event. When we went, our train was packed, and it completely unloaded at the festival. These weren’t just college students. Packs of high school students, parents with toddlers and elementary age kids, and random foreigners like ourselves filled the University grounds.

 English language program guide

English language program guide

Three, unlike most bunkasai, this festival actually prepares for foreigners. For the 2016 festival, Todai had an English language web page and festival guide (available online and by request at the festival information centers). Plus, because Todai is Japan’s number one university, you have a pretty good chance of encountering an international student or one who’s travelled abroad who can speak English.

Now, even though I’ve stated that the Komajo bunkasai was a more representative experience, that’s not to say you’ll be missing out by going to Todai. Rather, it’s the opposite. Todai’s festival was like Komajo’s, only ten times bigger and chaotic. Crowds pack the halls and walkways, and students–some in costume–drum up business for stands of meat skewers, takoyaki, choco-banana, and crepes. Whereas Komajo only had one stage, Todai had three. Komajo had three or four rock bands; Todai had at least three classroom tuned “live”-style club venues with a different band scheduled every hour and that doesn’t include the bands on the main stages or the non-rock musical groups.

Todai students advertising something, but I have no idea what.

Todai students advertising something, but I have no idea what.

That was one of the biggest surprises for me. I think of the University of Tokyo  as an elite academic institution, not a hotbed of artistic activity. But the number and variety of musicians at the festival was staggering, ranging from the University’s choral group to jazz ensembles to the folk musicians playing Irish tunes at the Irish Cafe to hiphop vocalists soloing by the takoyaki stand. Our favorite was the AniOke (Anime Orchestra), a dozen string and woodwind musicians who played pieces from anime soundtracks. We were fortunate enough to hear their arrangements of Rozen Maiden and Your Lie in April themes before they left the stage.

Anime Orchestra!

Anime Orchestra!

I was equally surprised by the number of dance groups at the bunkasai. At least ten separate hip hop dance groups were practicing routines in the courtyard adjacent the cafeteria. I don’t how what event they were practicing for, but they were all quite skilled. Hula Circle KaWelina had about forty dancers performing hula at the Main Gate Plaza, and they were followed by a cosplay group doing The Prince of Tennis Musical 2 (a lot like Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!!, except with tennis rackets).

Hula dancers and cosplayers at the

Hula dancers and cosplayers at the Main Gate Plaza

Yet Todai’s elite academic institution aspect wasn’t completely absent from the bunkasai. Amid the festival style stands, haunted house, cafes, and performances, they had robotics and formula car displays and a kind of open house in the Life Sciences building with amphibians for elementary school boys to grab. After all, the University of Tokyo is THE school to aspire toward in Japan, and I’m sure many parents bought their children to inspire them toward that goal.

Well, my husband and I are way past our college years so we were more interested in the fun aspect. Here are a few more highlights.

Karuta demonstration. Karuta is a Japanese poetry card game I never would have heard of were it not for the anime Chihayafuru. It’s not exactly popular in the United States so it was a treat to see it live. The match we saw had college students playing against kids, and one player even wore hakama.

Karuta in real life!

Karuta in real life!

Cosplay cafe. Perhaps it was just this particular shift, but all the servers were male and most were cross-dressing. Not sure why that was so, but we had a pleasant conversation about anime with a third year law student in a magical girl costume (he’d studied abroad in Australia so his English was excellent) and his friend in a Halo-style outfit. This cosplay group was also responsible for the Prince of Tennis Musical 2 show at the Main Gate.

Tea ceremony. This was hosted by the University of Tokyo Urasenke Tea Ceremony Club, and the most traditional of the attractions we participated in. Located away from the festival hustle and bustle at Hakuinsha Pavilion, the tea ceremony was a formal affair, requiring us to sit seiza style for approximately a half hour (after it finished,my poor husband nearly fell over trying to get up). If you decide to participate in this, make sure to bring a folding style fan. (We were the only participants without one!)

Hakuinsha Pavilion

Hakuinsha Pavilion

I’d like to conclude by sending a big THANK YOU to FC in Belgium. We wouldn’t have made it if you hadn’t told me about the event. I hope you and your girlfriend had a fabulous time at the bunksasai. I know we did!

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 12

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired all sorts of spinoff works, from visual art to movies to manga. However, Ai Ninomiya may have conjured up the most unusual Alice yet.  Are You Alice?, which originally began as a CD series, features a gun-toting male as its Alice! Yen Press has released the final volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

With the game to kill the White Rabbit abandoned, the remaining denizens of Wonderland set out to escort the White Rabbit to the final page of the story. But this is easier said than done because it’s no longer only Lewis Carroll’s interference with which they have to contend.

As “Probably” Alice and his ragtag group of allies undertake their first and last mission, they vow to uphold the sole rule of this new game-no matter who is sacrificed, there is no looking back…

The Review

Katagiri-sensei has consistently crafted beautifully illustrated scenes that brim with emotion, and this final volume delivers no less. The desperation of the remaining Wonderland residents resounds off the pages as does the Cheshire Cat’s complicated feelings toward the Alices we’ve encountered. Somewhat more convoluted, however, is the ultimate resolution to this Wonderland journey.

What started off as the game to kill the White Rabbit turned into a story about the correct way to kill Alice that somehow erupted into a battle of wills between a deranged writer and his characters. With reality invading the world of story and multiple forces manipulating the plot, this final volume feels like a race from scene to scene to wrap loose threads. Granted, Katagiri-sensei’s comical interchanges are funny as ever, but between all the fake Alices, Alice Liddell, and the elusive Alice in Wonderland, it’s difficult to keep track of what everyone is striving toward. However, the final showdown between Carroll and those trying to force him to complete his work is quite dramatic with a conclusion both surprising and violent.

The last few pages present an epilogue that shows where the survivors wind up. Those characters brought to Wonderland by the White Rabbit return to the real world, and its interesting to see the disparate places they came from. Our final glimpse of Carroll is somewhat troubling, but the future of the 89th Alice/Little Brother/Explosive Device is hopeful. As the Cheshire Cat says, his story “has yet to begin.”

In Summary

Not surprisingly, the Wonderland game ends with a gunshot and blood. To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a relief. On top of Wonderland’s inherent weirdness, the series has had so many different layers of violence, deceit, and insanity, it was difficult to keep track of it all. At any rate, readers who envision Lewis Carroll to be as crazy as his Hatter can consider Are You Alice? an uber-violent origin story for Alice in Wonderland.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sweetness & Lightning Vol. #01

Dads rarely play a large role in shojo manga. In fact, fathers are often completely absent from the cast. However, Kodansha’s food-centric Sweetness & Lightning has a single dad as its lead. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back cover Blurb

Having lost his wife, math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is doing his best to raise his young daughter Tsumugi as a single father. He’s pretty bad at cooking and doesn’t have a huge appetite to begin with, but chance brings his little family and one of his students, Kotori Iida, together for homemade adventures. With those three cooks in the kitchen, it’s no wonder this dinner table drama is so delicious.

The Review

Food-centric titles definitely form a legitimate manga genre. Many series like Shokugeki no Soma and Yakitate!! Japan use the kitchen as a battleground where cooking techniques resemble ninja skills with exotic tastes and ingredients as the rule. Sweetness and Lighting, however, falls on the other end of the spectrum. All of its foods and recipes are firmly grounded in reality. The characters are fairly ordinary as well, but the circumstances that bring them together are a little farfetched.

High school math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is a widower struggling to raise his young daughter Tsumugi. Kotori Iida is a student whose restaurateur mother has taken a new media job that keeps her away from home. Neither Kotori nor Inuzuka can cook. However, thanks to a chance meeting in the park, the three begin preparing and sharing meals together in Kotori’s mom’s restaurant.

Generally speaking, storylines that have a high school teacher meeting with a student of the opposite gender outside of the classroom tend to lead to an illicit love affair. However, Sweetness emphasizes and reemphasizes the fact that Inuzuka has no perverted intentions toward Kotori. His supervisor at work knows about their meals, and Kotori’s mom is all for it. As far as everyone’s concerned, Kotori’s just a girl in an empty house who wants company at dinnertime, and lnuzuka’s just a guy desperate to give his daughter a home cooked meal. That innocent dynamic has the potential to change (Sweetness has a Teen rating, after all), but for now, the person that takes up all of lnuzuka’s love, thoughts, and energy is his daughter.

As far as the story goes, each chapter has a featured dish or meal, and the goal is for Inuzuka and Kotori to successfully make Tsumugi something yummy to eat. That’s where Kotori’s mom comes in. She’s too busy to spend time with her daughter yet able to leave ridiculously detailed cooking instructions for Kotori and Inuzuka. In a sense, this is a cooking primer. Each chapter includes a recipe, and the characters demonstrate the necessary techniques to get the job done. And while some of the ingredients and dishes may be foreign to Western readers, they are simple basics of Japanese cooking.

Extras include first three pages in color, author afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Food has a way of bringing different people together, and Sweetness and Lightning uses that premise to create a relationship between a single dad and one of his students. While teacher-student interactions in manga usually lead to a certain kind of drama, this story focuses solely on the efforts of two inept cooks to make a tasty meal for a motherless little girl. And if you’ve ever wanted to learn the basics of Japanese home cooking, this title might not be a bad place to start.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Japanese Pop Culture Special: Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

For a long time, the mark of a successful manga was an anime and possibly a spinoff comic, but nowadays popular titles spawn off live-action movies and TV shows, light novels, CD dramas, and even theatrical performances! Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association, which was formed in 2014, stages productions drawn from Japanese manga, anime and video-games, and on November 20, my husband and I got to see their performance of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

 The flyer that started it all…

The flyer that started it all…

We first learned about Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! from a flyer slipped into my husband’s Jump Shop purchases during his last business trip to Japan. We looked at the ad, thought it was cool, and filed it in the back of our mind as one of those things we could only dream of. However, the next two weeks brought an unexpected bonus and vacation time that changed our paradigm. By then, four out of the show’s five venues had sold out, but with the help of three Japanese speaking friends plus two international phone calls, a lot of Google translate, and much stubbornness on the part of my husband, we got tickets for the Canal City Theater in Fukuoka!

The Show

Not having been to Fukuoka or a Japan 2.5-Dimensional production, I expected Canal City Theater to be a modest, small-to-mid size theater. After all, how large an audience could an otaku musical possibly attract? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Canal City Theater is a modern, quality venue that seats 1,184 and hosts Broadway style productions like The Little Mermaid. And yes, it was packed. There was even a line for people hoping to purchase unclaimed tickets (more on that later).

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

The audience demographic was another surprise. Haikyu!! is a shonen title, but the audience was over 90% female. My husband described the crowd as “young to middle-aged office ladies.” Perhaps musicals don’t appeal to Haikyu!!’s younger male fans? Or maybe they don’t have the disposable income for it? Well, these female fans had money for tickets and then some. An array of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! goods were available for purchase in the lobby, and they were doing a brisk business. We ourselves picked up an official program, some folders, and a DVD of the original Haikyu!! musical, but sadly all the hoodies had sold out. The crowd was definitely enthusiastic, and when the show started, we learned why.

Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is a high level production. The staging includes a special rotating platform, live video, and projected images for backgrounds and special effects. The cast also displays an array of talent, ranging from acting to acrobatics to rap. From what I can tell, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! has an original score that doesn’t draw from the TV series (although parts are reminiscent of the anime’s soundtrack). While I have referred to the show as a musical, it’s not like a Broadway show where characters break into catchy tunes every other minute. Rather, music is primarily used to set the mood, and most of the singing is relegated to one hip hop number in the second half.

Regarding the plot, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! begins with the team’s summer training camp and ends midway through the Interhigh competition. (The initial formation of the team was covered in Japan 2.5-D’s original Haikyu!! musical.) The first half focuses on the practice match against Nekoma. Viewed mainly from Kenma’s perspective, the match is depicted as a video game that the Nekoma setter is trying to beat. Thus, we get to see 64-bit versions of the Karasuno players as he analyzes them. The second half focuses on the Interhigh match against Dateko, which takes the form of an impressive rap- and dance-off. As such, the cast is more or less evenly divided between Karasuno, Nekoma, and Dateko players. But even though it is an all-male production, Karasuno manager Shimizu does play a part in the story.

As you might guess, the whole thing is in Japanese.  Because we weren’t at Japan 2.5-D’s Tokyo venue, we didn’t have access to translation glasses (more on this later). Even so, we had no trouble figuring out who was who (jersey numbers and projected manga images helped a lot), and we got the gist of 70% of the dialogue based off what we remembered from the anime. Not to mention, many scenes were sheer visual spectacle that required no knowledge of Japanese.

A major aspect of the Haikyu!! story is speed and height. Unlike their animated counterparts, the actors can’t hang in midair. So they rely on clever choreography and manipulating props. Lifts comprise a major part of Hinata’s battes at the net. Special lighting and illuminated volleyballs provide the trajectory of a fateful spike in slo-mo. In the match against Dateko’s ”Iron Wall,” pieces of walls are included in the dance number.

While high-tech equipment add a definite punch to the action, the show makes good use of simple effects as well. A pile of quilts facilitates one of the most entertaining transitions, and a stray cat Hinata encounters is merely a hand puppet operated by a stage ninja in a hooded poncho. In addition to moving the props and sets, the hooded stage ninjas also serve as a kind of Greek chorus, voicing the thoughts of the mob or serving as an anonymous extra.

So… my husband and I flew to the western end of Japan just to watch this musical, and you might be wondering, “Was it worth it?”

In answer to that question, I’ll just say that the third Haikyu!! musical Winners and Losers will be touring Japan March and April 2017, and we are talking about getting tickets.

Now perhaps our journey has piqued your interest. If you’re serious about viewing this production yourself, you have two options.

DVD

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

The cheaper option is to purchase a DVD of the show. As of the writing of this post, the DVD of the first Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is available, and preorders are being taken for Karasuno Revival. Those in Japan can purchase it at the Animate store (which also carries DVDs of Japan 2.5-D’s Naruto and Prince of Tennis theater productions) or through Toho Animation, which produced the videos.

For those outside Japan, neither Animate nor Toho Animation ships overseas, but if you do an Internet search for “Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! DVD,” you’ll probably find a source who will. WARNING: the DVD is a REGION 2 DVD (the United States is Region 1) and entirely in Japanese (no subtitles, English or otherwise).

As mentioned earlier, my husband and I purchased the DVD of the first musical at the theater for ¥8000 (roughly $80 US), which is the standard price. For that, you get two discs and a lovely mini program with cast pictures and bios. It’s not an awesome as seeing it live, but Toho Animation does a great job of formatting the footage for the small screen.

Theater Tickets

If you are determined to see Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! or one of Japan 2.5-D’s other musicals (upcoming productions include Prince of Tennis, Wake Up, Girls! and Death Note), there are three ways to go about getting tickets.

1. Though the Japan 2.5-D website. Japan 2.5-D actually does want a global audience for its productions. Thus, its website is in both Japanese and English (click on the ”EN” in the top right hand corner to toggle out of Japanese into English). Also, Subtitle Glasses are available in English and Chinese for showings at the AiiA 2.5 Theater in Tokyo.

When tickets go on sale, find your show on the Japan 2.5-D website and click on the green International Ticket button. This will take you to an English language form that will allow you to purchase Will Call tickets. This is the most expedient way for English-speakers to get tickets.

2. Through the musical’s official website. Each Japan 2.5-D musical has its own official website through which general tickets are sold. This is probably the worst way for internationals to get tickets, but you may resort to it if you’re desperate (like we were). Basically, the tickets reserved for internationals is limited. As such, it is entirely possible for general seats to still be available after Japan 2.5-D’s International Tickets sell out.

However, getting general tickets is difficult. All the instructions are in Japanese, you need a Japanese address to open an account, and you need a credit card associated with that address to make the purchase. Alternately, you can reserve seats online and then complete the order at a Japanese convenience store that has a ticket service. Our tickets were only possible thanks to three very kind friends (One to navigate the website, one to give us her parents’ address in Okinawa so we could open an account, and one to pay/pick up the tickets in Sapporo and mail them to us in California).

3. At the venue. Now the thing about general tickets is that they’re a bit of a moving target. When people reserve seats online, they have a few days to complete the order. When that deadline passes, the seats go back on sale. That means that a show that is sold out today might have availability tomorrow. That also means there usually a few unsold seats on the day of the show. Ergo, the unclaimed ticket line. If there’s more people than unclaimed tickets, they hold a lottery to decide who gets them.

So no guarantees with this last route. However if you just happen to be in a town where a performance is showing, it’s worth a try.

As for me and my husband, we’ll be aiming for those International Tickets when sales start.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 3

As mentioned in my previous post, Jenny Benjamin of the Museum of Vision responded to my question about the eyewear options for a post-Civil War working class girl by sending pages from an eyewear catalog.

A page from the 1895 eyewear catalog

A page from the 1895 eyewear catalog

Not surprisingly, the selection isn’t very broad. After all, spectacles were not considered a fashion accessory back then. They are, however, considered a fashion accessory now, and Jenny mentioned she owns a pair of replica glasses. Apparently, If you want old fashioned glasses, you can go to Tom Valenza at www.historiceyewearcompany.com. His most recent claim to fame is outfitting the cast for the musical Hamilton. He also works with Civil War reenactors, and Jenny says his replicas are so good “they can fool the best of us.”

That piqued my interest. I’m old enough to remember opticians offering both glass and plastic lenses. As heavy as my hiqh prescription lenses are now, the glass ones were worse. So I posed this follow up to Jenny:

Quick question since you own a pair of Tom’s historic styled glasses. How comfortable are they? Any particular quirks associated with wearing them? (Even though my lenses are the lightest material, my ears and temples get fatigued from the weight after half a day of wear.)

Her response:

Ah, yes, comfort was not a high priority in the mid-1800s! Lenses were made of glass so they would be heavier than what the average person is used to. Because of that, I believe Tom doesn’t use authentic lenses, but the colors his lenses come in are true to the time period.

There are two key areas for comfort with eyeglasses: the bridge and the temples (ear pieces).

Bridges for eyeglasses in this time period did not have nose-pads. (This is different than pince-nez type specs). The metal of bridges for eyeglasses was thin so they could be bent to keep them tight. Otherwise, they were liable to slip down the nose. They were known to leave red marks on the face and cause headaches if worn too long.

Temple pieces were generally also made of thin metal and bent to keep them tight to the head. For those doing work that required them to hunch over, the riding bow or curved temples were best because they clung to the ears. However, most spectacles had the cheaper straight temples. All of these temples had a tendency to get caught in long hair – not pleasant. It probably wasn’t practical for a girl to take her glasses on and off if her hair was up.

Her reply makes me grateful for all the advances in material science since the 1800s. I am also grateful for all the details Jenny mentioned, like the red face marks and temples getting stuck in hair.

And so this researching effort has successfully concluded. Though if I have more eyewear history questions, I know where to go. Thanks, Jenny!

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 8

Kaoru Mori is best known for her work, Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 8 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As Anis and Sherine settle into a new life built on love and friendship, tragedy and destruction have thrown the Eihons’ village into turmoil. Conflict with neighboring tribes has taken its toll, leaving Pariya’s family home in ruins. Though no one was hurt, little survived the assault, including the fabrics meant for Pariya’s dowry. Her passionate, frank personality has made things difficult for Pariya in the past, and being forced to delay marriage talks–now that she’s finally found an interested suitor–drives her to despair.

The Review

I’d thought we’d seen the last of avowed sisters Sherine and Anis after Mr. Smith moved on from their town, but Chapter 44 gives one last glimpse of their new life together. As Anis’ husband remarks, “You never know about these things until you’re in the same house,” but Mori-sensei makes clear that Sherine joining as a second wife results in a happily ever after for the whole family. Sherine brings a comic element to the idyllic household, and a frank conversation between the husband and his two wives reveals only mutual respect and devotion among the three. It’s a scenario too good to be true, but Anis has a fairytale life so this ending suits her story.

Then we move from the woman who has everything to the girl whose dowry has been destroyed. When we last saw Amir’s village, they’d just managed to repel a joint attack. Now the battle is over and the recovery effort underway. The town suffered casualties and structural damage, and Mori-sensei makes it personal by focusing on the losses of Pariya’s family. While they are physically unscathed, their house was destroyed and, with it, the embroidered fabrics for Pariya’s dowry.

The difficulty in finding a match for Pariya has been a running joke in the series. Now that she finally has an interested suitor, the wedding’s delayed until she can rebuild her dowry–from scratch. So it’s both sad and hilarious when she rants about how she’ll die unmarried. Fortunately, Pariya’s got friends to help her through the crisis. Amir’s family, which has taken Pariya’s family in, provides the despondent girl with sewing material to restart and guidance to help her over her dislike of embroidery. So against a backdrop of salvaging enemy weapons and hauling bricks for reconstruction, we have a couple chapters focused predominantly on embroidery.

Pariya’s energetic, frank personality is well established, but we know almost nothing about her groom, Umar. However, once he hears news of the attack, he gets a chance to shine. He and his father come to help rebuild, and Pariya–and all the townsfolk–see what he’s capable of. Pariya, who’d been favorably disposed toward him before, grows even more attracted, which results in an increase in awkwardness for the poor girl.

In the midst of Pariya’s efforts to remake her dowry and herself so she can marry Umar before he changes his mind, Mori-sensei also gives a glimpse of what happened to the Halgal. Characters keep hinting at the tensions encompassing the larger region, and although the Russians have yet to show up, it’s probably just a matter of time before they do.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

From the wife who has everything, the story shifts to the girl who despairs of becoming a bride. Between the shock of losing her house and the surprise of an unexpected visit from her intended, Pariya goes through quite an emotional roller coaster. While the concept of embroidering a heap of fabric in order to get married is foreign to Westerners, readers will be able to relate to Pariya’s adolescent turmoil as she strives to become a bride her intended can be proud of.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1, the search for the specifics of mid-19th century eyewear brought me to the Museum of Vision. As to my questions, I first wanted to know where my working class heroine could purchase her first glasses and how much of a dent they would they make in her post-Civil War budget.

This was Jenny’s response:

Regarding who sold eyeglasses, this is a question that has many answers. According to Joseph Bruneni, author of “Looking Back: An Illustrated History of the American Ophthalmic Industry,” everyone in America who was concerned with eyesight was an “oculist” until the 1800s. This is when American medicine became organized (the AMA was founded in 1847) and people grew concerned about the lack of adequate medical training and licensure in the U.S.  Over the next 50 years oculists then moved into two camps- ophthalmologists (trained physicians) and opticians. Amongst opticians, there were two more subcategories: “refracting opticians” and “dispensing opticians.” Refracting opticians were the newer group – they applied the newest methods to test eyesight and prescribe eyeglasses. Dispensing opticians simply had a stock of eyeglasses that the customer tried on until they found a pair that more or less worked.

Ophthalmologists, as physicians, usually opened a practice or clinic from which they could prescribe glasses but also perform surgery. Ethics barred them from advertising and it was generally considered to be a poor reflection if a practice was on the ground floor of a building. Refracting opticians did not have these constraints. They advertised freely and generally set up retail stores off the street. Dispensing opticians could have been anyone, the jewelry store and pharmacy being two popular places to shop for glasses.

The jewelry store and pharmacy! That was a surprise. I’d thought prescription glasses at the drug store was a relatively new development, and glasses are definitely not part of the modern jewelry store’s lineup.

As for the cost, Jenny emailed me this:

Cover of an eyewear catalog from 1895

Cover of an eyewear catalog from 1895

Pretty cool! This catalog was printed 25 years after the period I’m interested in, but Jenny informed me that the styles wouldn’t have changed much.

More in my next post!

Manga Review: Oresama Teacher Vol. #21

Mafuyu is a high school delinquent who wants to turn over a new leaf. So when she transfers schools, she thinks she’ll finally be able to live the life of a normal girl. There’s just one problem: her teacher  Mr. Saeki is a bigger delinquent than she is!

Oresama Teacher is a shojo manga that offers humor of the silly variety. Volume 21 has  been released, and you can read on for the review. (For those who are interested, you can click here for my reviews of earlier volumes).

The Review

The cover for this volume confused me. The girl dominating the design didn’t match any of the Midorigaoka students so I assumed it was a tribute to Hayasaka’s cross-dressing past. It wasn’t until I read the Mafuyu/Takaomi text exchange at the very end of the book that I realized it’s actually someone from Mafuyu’s hometown. The featured cross-dresser is not Hayasaka, but West High bancho Sakurada!

That’s because Mafuyu abruptly returns home for winter break, a scene change I found jarring and irritating. After the anticipation built up during the Christmas party in Volume 20, the tension plummets as readers are forced once more to recall who is who in Mafuyu’s old gang life. This side arc, the tale of a cross-dressing date gone wrong, is actually kind of amusing once you remember the characters, but the timing makes it seem as if Tsubaki-sensei is stalling while she figures what to do about Hayasaka’s Christmas discovery.

So it’s two chapters later that we get his reaction. However, instead of the major shift in the Mafuyu-Hayasaka relationship that I anticipated, we get a new challenge for the Public Morals Club. All suspicions Hayasaka have about Mafuyu being Super Bun fall to the wayside when a Super Bun imposter appears before them! And this rabbit has an agenda. Not only does she creep out the student body, she actively attacks the Student Council where they are most vulnerable. This causes chaos for the council and reflects badly on the Public Morals Club. In addition to the comedy associated with a weird bunny-masked double, she also brings a new mystery for our characters to solve and raises additional questions about her first victim, President Miyabi. Perhaps the Student Council’s efforts didn’t bring down the Public Morals Club, but the fate of Midorigaoka High is by no means secured.

Extras in this volume include Characters and Story Thus Far, 4-panel comics, and a character relationship chart.

In Summary

After an abrupt detour to Mafuyu’s hometown for winter break cross-dressing mayhem with old allies and rivals, the story returns to the Christmas cliffhanger. But instead of forcing Hayasaka to confront Mafuyu about her secret identity, the plot takes an unexpected turn with a mysterious new character. So even though the state of the Hayasaka-Mafayu relationship remains the same, the Super Bun doppelganger brings fresh intrigue into the school.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve rambled about research. Mainly because my current WIP is a myth retelling that doesn’t require the historical accuracy that Cynisca and the Olive Crown did. However, the WIP’s first draft is completed, and I’m looking ahead to my next project: a historical middle grade set in the U.S. North right after the Civil War.

This is not an era I’m well acquainted or enamored with. Ancient Greece and Japan have been my preferred settings. However, I discovered a historical figure whose life resonated with me, and because she lived in the mid-1800’s, that’s where I’m going. As such, my Goodreads list now includes a bunch of American history non-fiction.

The thing about this time and place is that the historical record is larger and much more complete than my ancient settings. That translates into more details I need to get right, and one of those details is glasses.

My main character wore glasses. A contemporary mentions it in a description of her. It’s a detail that could work as a plot point, but using it requires knowledge of the state of eyewear at the time. However, while I found pages and pages about the clothes of the era, there’s not much about glasses. Finally, in frustration, I did a Google search for “eyeglasses museum.”

And the Museum of Vision popped up.

Yes, folks, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has a museum dedicated to ophthalmologic history. In addition to online resources, it has galleries at the academy’s national headquarters in San Francisco, which is within driving distance of my home. But while it is open to the public, appointments are required. So I called the listed number, which put me in touch with museum director Jenny Benjamin.

As it turns out, I am not the first writer to call Jenny regarding eyeglasses history. Once I explained what I was after, she offered to email me the information I was looking for and spare me a two-hour trip into the city. And she did! Plus she answered a string of follow up questions and was super nice about it!

So if you’re looking for information on old-time glasses, go to museumofvision.org. If you can’t find what you’re after on the website, give them a call. I’m sure they can help you out.

As for the questions I posed to Jenny, I’ll share them and her answers in Part 2.