Thursday, June 21, 2012

A brief look at wearing kimono in modern society

As much as Japan as modernized and westernized in the last fifty years, there is still something of the classical there.  New apartment buildings have risen next to old Shinto shrines, and the spirits of times gone by seem to meld into the fast-paced life of modern Japan.  As fashions and trends move ever onward, there will always be those who treasure the traditional.

Mokona, of CLAMP fame, has brought her love of the kimono to the manga reader in CLAMP Mokona's Okimono Kimono.  Having decided to wear kimono in as many common-day situations as possible, this book demonstrates both her love of kimono as a piece of art, as well as the practicalities of wearing a style of dress that seems, on first glance, to be completely at odds with modern life.

Fans of CLAMP's manga will certainly be thrilled with the first section, dedicated to kimono art.  Mokona has tried her hand at designing several kimono based on CLAMP series.  From WISH to Tsubasa, Mokona shows how nearly any mood or setting can be depicted in the kimono art form.

The book then shows how to properly accessorize a kimono, both in the traditional style and a more modern look; shows the author in a variety of modern-day situations in kimono; and interviews a few people about their experiences as well.  There's also a short manga story at the end, and an essay by one of the other members of CLAMP about her experiences with kimono.

Mokona's Okimono Kimono shows the uniquely Japanese art form of the kimono in settings that I would never expect to see them in.  It's hard to make a good analogy to American fashion with this, because no one would expect to see traditional Western European clothing walking down the street.  Mokona deserves some credit and respect for trying to keep this part of Japanese history alive with its younger generations.

Highs:  Mokona's accessory collection makes me want to plan a trip to the antique mall and find some adorable vintage pieces of my own.

Lows:  I wish there was some context to these pictures, as I have no idea if the reaction of the people on the street would be closer to someone wearing a 1960s housedress or leiderhosen.

Verdict:  A very quick read, and one of the few kimono books to be found marketed to the manga crowd, it's an interesting of somewhat incomplete read.

Further Reading:  Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators

Monday, June 18, 2012

Manga Monday: How far will a young scholar go to win the hand of the maiden?

A beautiful girl, living in a monastery with her mother and maid, spies a travelling scholar in the orchard in the manga based on a classical Chinese play, The History of the West Wing.

Pianpian, the beautiful daughter of a government minister, has been promised since she was young to the son of imperial secretary Du Heng.  Being the obedient daught er she is, she seems content in this, spending most of her days embroidering or making stationery.  She also takes the occasional walk through the monastery's courtyards with her maid Hong Niang, which is where all the trouble starts.

Being a small village, without much to keep the young men busy, they've all heard of the young maiden who lives in the monastery.  It's even become something of a hobby for them to try to catch glimpses of Pianpian over the wall as she reads in her rooms or walks around the grounds.  And when Chen Yuqing, a wandering scholar, arrives in the village, the men are quick to tell him about her, and invite him along on their daily viewing sessions.

But fate would have it work out another way, and the two both meet face-to-face and fall in love. Now, Yuquing has to find a way to earn the respect of Pianpian's mother to gain her hand in marriage.

Most of the manga-style work that makes it to the US is from Japan.  There, they have an abundance of folklore and traditional stories, from Dororo to Natsume's Book of Friends to draw from.  Sun Jiayo and Guo Guo, both from China, do a beautiful job with The History of the West Wing, using their Chinese traditional stories and evoking both the delicacy of the sheltered noble girls of the era, as well as the way in which women are at the mercy of the men in their lives, be it fathers, husbands or their betrothed.

Yen Press did a fantastic job with the North American release of this book, keeping a slightly larger format than most manga, and printing in color as well.  Large frames, as well as full-panel scenes at the back of the book show a masterful use of watercolor techniques, as well as attention to both the composition of the frame as a whole, and the details such as the drape of fabric or the twist of hair.  Certainly one of the more pretty manga to be released by Yen Press, and one that can be enjoyed many times over.

Highs:  As the forward informs us, Hong Niang has been immortalized in Chinese language as  part of the term for 'matchmaker,' and her deviousness here is reminiscent of many an interfering character in fiction.

Lows:  It must be a bit hard to translate a play into a manga, and a few of the transitions between acts were hard to follow.

Verdict:  A beautiful, delicate story that makes me wonder what else ought to be brought over from Mainland China to Western audiences.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

As people slowly disappear, does anyone else notice?

Standalone short stories can be difficult to read.  Oftentimes, just as a story begins to pick up and engage the reader, the story comes to a quick, and sometimes abrupt conclusion.

'The Day They Came' by Kali Wallace does an admirable job at avoiding this downfall, and nearly succeeds.  The story begins after an occupation by some group of extraterrestrials.  They appear the same day that his father dies of old age and a protracted illness.  Beyond this, the day was perfectly normal.  He went to work at the grocery store, just a bit late in arriving.  He eats his lunch.  A family with many children came in and they misplaced one of the younger children.

After they came, life seems to be put on hold.  The man on the TV admonishes everyone to stay in their five mile radius, tells of the ration distribution centers, reminds them of the new rules.

But people keep disappearing.  First the narrator's closest neighbor.  Each week, another child from the large family at the grocery store fails to show up for rations.  Eventually, the last house light visible from his porch fails to come on at dusk.

The kids who come to the ration distribution talk of things that are different now.  The creeks have near-invisible snakes that are impossible to catch.  Patches of the forest are dying out.  There are shadows, slinking along the ground, just out of view.  The water tastes slimy and off.  The other adults don't mention this, though, if they even notice it.

The stoy is told in the 2nd person, which at times makes the story awkward to read.  The characters, including the narrator, never do quite what would make sense in the situation.  Enough of the occupation is left out that the story flirts with the line between mysterious and being frustrating.

But all that aside, Wallace does an admirable job setting up the town and its inhabitants for the story.  Enough care is put into the descriptions of their lives and the town that I truly want to know what kind of invasion they're facing and what has been happening to the people as they vanish.

Available for free on the Lightspeed Magazine website, 'The Day They Came' is a well-crafted story that simply leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions.

Highs:  The imagery of waiting for that last light to turn on

Lows:  An ending that meant for the reader to wonder what happened, but just frustrates instead

Verdict:  More of a setup than a story, but a well crafted piece of work besides that