#352: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers; in my last letter I promised some manga recommendations, so here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently:

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama. About Coco, a young dressmaker who gets caught up in a mysterious plot by a cabal of masked wizards to overthrow the established order. The art and story world both feel quite wholesome at first, but there’s a bigger, darker question lurking underneath—of just who is allowed to wield magic—that I hope gets answered in a satisfying way. I say “I hope” because the serial is still ongoing. I’m five volumes into the eight currently translated to English.

Chihayafuru by Yuki Suetsugu. Also ongoing. A friend introduced the anime version to me years ago, and I’ve been revisiting it in book form. Chihayafuru has all the fittings of a sports manga, but in this case the sport is karuta, a competitive poetry-memorization card game(!) In karuta, an announcer reads off, one by one, waka poems printed on a deck of one hundred cards. The first side to slap the corresponding card takes the point. It might seem relatively straightforward at first, but the game has tremendous depth—a depth I won’t deprive you from discovering for yourself through the series. I will say that this might be one case where I slightly prefer the anime to the manga, for being able to hear the poems read in their original Japanese. But I recommend both!

Fukushima Devil Fish by Katsumata Susumu. A compilation of shorter alternative comics by Katsumata Susumu, the highlight of which are a pair of haunting strips about laborers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. Created twenty years before the 2011 meltdowns, the comics are journalistic in a David-Simonesque way—the characters might be made up, but it’s through them we get to see the invisible workers who bear the cost of a societal convenience.

Neophyte by Mr.SHAWNLIU. While not a manga, this comic zine by my buddy Shawn is always a treat. I especially love his autobiographical comics, such as this one, as they can touch on graver topics without ever being too self-serious (which I think makes them more poignant and effective). I also love the simple dollar-an-issue proposition of Shawn’s Patreon. There is no other piece of physical mail that I enjoy receiving more.

While I’m at it, I also have a bonus non-manga recommendation: we played the board game Parks with Julia’s parents over this Thanksgiving weekend and all quite enjoyed it. It was easy to learn/teach, crunchy enough to want to replay, and made us reminisce about (and want to visit more) national parks. It also has maybe the most thoughtfully designed box insert—with perfectly sized slots/holders for all the cards and game pieces (and no extraneous ziplock bags)—that I’ve come across. Just a great little game.