Daily Archives: August 31, 2011

From the Writer’s Almanac


Image via Wikipedia

Now I want to read some of Oshima’s manga.

Today is the 64th birthday of manga artist Yumiko Oshima (books by this author), who was born in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, in 1947. She is a member of the Year 24 Flower Group, one of two Year 24 groups of women who are considered to have revolutionized shojo manga — comics for girls — and introduced many elements of the coming of age story in their work. Oshima and the other women of her group have brought to their art issues of philosophy, and sexuality and gender, and marked the first major entry of women artists into manga.

Oshima made her debut in 1968 with the surreal-feeling Paula’s Tearsand has continually produced manga on a nearly yearly basis up to her most recent project, which has been ongoing since 1996. In 1973 she wrote To Joker, an allegorical love triangle that includes a boy accidentally transformed into a girl, Strawberry Story in 1975, andBanana Bread no Pudding from 1977 to 1978.

From 1978 until 1987, Oshima serialized The Star of Cottonland in the shojo manga magazine LaLa. The story has since been collected in seven volumes. The Star of Cottonland tells of an abandoned kitten, Chibi-neko, who thinks she is human and speaks human words, although people can only hear her meow. She is drawn as a young girl with cat ears and a tail and believes that all humans were once kittens like her. Chibi-neko is found and cared for by a young man, and when she realizes that he loves a human girl, Chibi-neko wishes she could grow up and become the human she expects she will be. She runs away from home to seek a paradise called Cottonland, where it is said that dreams can come true.

In 1978, Oshima won the Kodansha Manga Award for The Star of Cottonland. In 1984, it was adapted to a full-length animated film that has been praised for its complex characterizations and gorgeous animation, as well as well as for going beyond a simple animal fable to become a philosophical story that explores psychological and emotional states, and functions as a metaphor for adolescence.

On a less contemplative note, the popularity of The Star of Cottonlandhelped make fashionable the Nekomimi, or catgirl, character, a young girl like Chibi-neko who has cat ears and sometimes a tail. The catgirl does not originate within shojo manga, but is rooted in the ancient Japanese folklore of ghosts and goblins, where cats are associated with the supernatural and demon cats can take on humanoid forms. In the ’80s, girls in manga began turning into cats and their real-life counter parts began wearing headbands with kitty ears to identify with and be like the Nekomimi. In May 2011, a Japanese company called Neurowear introduced their nekomimi headwear, which looks like any other headband with ears but has the distinction of also containing a brain wave sensor, so that their ears are the first to be controlled by the thoughts of the wearer, expressing concentration and attention by standing erect, and relaxation by falling down.

In 1997, Yumiko Oshima was diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer. She recovered and went on to create manga that shared her experiences with illness and recovery.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 31, 2011 in contemporary, fiction


Tags: ,

My Brother’s Keeper

Patricia McCormick’s My Brother’s Keeper isn’t as good as Sold. This novel’s hero Toby just wants life to return to normal and that’s not going to happen. The best he can hope for s that things get better. After his father left, his mother checked out emotionally and the family has no real adult at the helm. Toby’s older brother Jake is using drugs and hanging out with losers. His younger brother Eli is too young and dreamy to really get what’s going on in the family.

That leaves middle child Toby to hoist the world onto his shoulders and try to keep things normal. The only wise person in Toby’s world is Mr. D. the owner of a baseball memorabilia shop who gives Toby words of wisdom and a rare baseball card. The minute Toby got the card, I knew Jake would get it and sell it.

After the dad, who never shows up or calls, abandons the family, money troubles increase. Mom was catatonic for a spell and now works at a hair salon where she meets a new boyfriend. Her dating, which was clandestine at first, makes the mom seem very adolescent.

I felt sorry for Toby, but he was tackling an impossible problem. Obviously, he couldn’t and probably shouldn’t have covered for his brother for so long.


At the climax, mom’s on a date when Eli and Toby fight over the cat. Jake’s out with his druggy pals. Eli goes out to rescue the cat and guilt compels Toby to find Eli. He can’t and return home at 11 pm to find the police at his condo. The police found Eli dangerously close to the highway trying to get the cat and they also found Jake who’s in custody and destined for rehab.

In the real world when a parent goes out and the kids were in such situations, the police would be derelict not to take the kids to child protective services. They’d have to investigate the mother, but McCormick doesn’t go that route.

This slice of life novel doesn’t end with a bow, but it also doesn’t offer much hope. I bet Jake’s back on drugs and unless the new wealthy boyfriend marries mom, the other two boys don’t have much future ahead of them. I like McCormick’s style, but got sick of the narrator and wished there were more characters. Poor Toby has one friend that we don’t see enough of and there are no other relatives in his life. It’s depressing how isolated these people were on their own. Also there were no chapter breaks. I longed for some.

I’m reading about novel writing now and such books exhort writers to ensure that if you take the character at the end of the book and place him in a circumstance similar to his first problem at the beginning, he’ll behave very differently. I’m not sure Toby would despite anything he says. The plot does not follow conventions of featuring a hero who takes action or changes significantly. I expected Toby to come forward and alert the mom to what Jake was into. Now that wouldn’t happen in real life, but I wanted Toby to do something and that’s what the family needed.

I can see that McCormick wanted something edgy, but this just didn’t satisfy.

Comments Off on My Brother’s Keeper

Posted by on August 31, 2011 in teen lit, YA


Tags: , ,