This little one-shot had so much to say in just one chapter, the story felt like a hard slap. I didn’t expect to have my heart crushed in such a short number of pages. Things start in the same way that many transgender stories in fiction do, a girl meets a cute boy and helps him find himself. The two become close over their shared secret, she comes to his defense when he is bullied. It’s a step away from the fetishized M/M fiction written by cis women.
“I’ll just have to make you look even cuter.”
Transgender youths are targets of increased physical, sexual, and verbal abuse by family and peers, a sad reality that should never be ignored. Kashiwabara is bullied at school, he likes dressing as a girl and he admires his neighbor Onaga, who also takes an interest in him. While I struggled with one particularly violent scene near the end, the cold reality that “this isn’t abnormal” washed over me and it was a bitter truth to swallow.
The stigma of being a transgender woman and the lack of safety is keenly felt. What appears like a heartwarming ending left me feeling chilled, abusers are abusers no matter what mask they wear. I really admire how Shuzo Oshimi highlights the ugly side of youth with his stories. His stories are filled with imperfect people living difficult, imperfect lives, but there is something haunting and beautiful about his work.
With spooky season right around the corner I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some horror books for you all! The one genre that is the nearest and dearest to my heart has always been horror, and in a genre that is often highlighted as being misogynistic, some of the greatest horror stories of our time were written by women. While I could talk for hours about some of the famous greats like Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some of my favorite recent reads by the women that are writing for today’s readers.
Near the Bone by Christina Henry
Near the Bone has been one of my most recent reads and it cements Christina Henry’s place as an author to watch out for. Most known for her horror and YA dark fantasy retellings of classic fairy tales, Henry has recently been moving steadily more into the horror genre with the releases of Near the Bone and The Ghost Tree. Both books shine a light on the true horrors of being female under the absolute power of men, she doesn’t shy away from shocking violence and grotesque scenes. While I can comfortably recommend both, Near the Bone truly stands out by focusing on two kinds of monsters that lurk in the woods: a supernatural beast and a violent and controlling man. I wasn’t able to put the book down and I feel that it has been one of the scariest books I’ve read in a long while.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
Mariana Enríquez has quickly become one of my absolute favorite horror short fiction writers after I fell in love with Things We Lost in the Fire when it was released in English a few years ago. Since then I have been chomping at the bit for more of her work to finally be translated to the English language, I can’t even begin to describe the sheer joy I felt when I got my hands on The Dangers of Smoking in Bed before release. Enríquez is an Argentinian author and her stories address the socio-political issues of the country with a strong supernatural twist. This book is filled to the brim with dangerous women, from frenzied fan girls to teen witches. I was absolutely shaken by the new collection, I wish I could scream its praises at the top of my lungs.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Perhaps one of the buzziest names on this list, Silvia Morena-Garcia has become literature’s new sweetheart after the breakout success of Mexican Gothic last year. The great thing about the increased visibility of an established writer is the large catalog of previous works, as is the case of Certain Dark Things. Originally published in 2016, the book quickly went out of print after the collapse of her previous publisher. This book has recently been republished by Tor Nightfire and I am honestly so happy that this book has been given a second chance because it is simply outstanding. Shaking up traditional vampire folklore with Aztec vampires and others that came from different backgrounds, a dash of noir, and some truly fun characters, this book has shot up to one of my favorite vampire books of all time. I hope that the wave of attention will lift this book up to its rightful place as a classic in the genre.
Lady Bits by Kate Jonez
I am always so happy when I can find a lesser-known author that manages to blow me away. Kate Jonez has been nominated a handful of times for prestigious horror awards yet her work goes under the radar from the greater reading public. Lady Bits is a fantastic short story collection, the very first story starts the book off with a bang and the pace never lets up. I greatly enjoyed almost every story in the collection and found myself delighting in the grisly kills of the dangerous women that lead each story. My favorite stories dive into the southern gothic, from runaway street tramps to the quiet horror of motherhood, Lady Bits is an utter pleasure to read.
Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Returning again to outstanding Argentinian writers, my hands down favorite book of 2020 was Tender is the Flesh, a nightmare dystopia about state-sanctioned cannibalism. This book is a stark reminder of the difference between fear and all-out gut-wrenching horror. While the main character of the novel is a grieving father, the female horror in this book is undeniable as the main character is saddled with a prized heffer, a young woman fit for slaughter. This book’s pacing is unrelenting as the reader is given a guided tour of the menagerie of atrocities inflicted on our fellow man in the name of keeping the meat industry alive after a natural disaster makes animal meat inedible. Political, provocative, punchy, Tender is the Flesh will challenge the reader’s morality as well as their stomachs.
To close out, I wanted to include a few links to some wonderful articles that I enjoyed about women in horror.
Warnings: Violence, Abuse, Mild Sexual Content, Death
One of my favorite story arcs in Kodocha was the on-location shoot for Sana’s first film, Palace of Water. It is during an arc where Sana grapples with her personal relationships and realizes feelings she didn’t know existed. Brief snippets of the film are included in the story for different parts of the shoot, and for years I had always wondered what the movie would have been like! The premise sounded really interesting, and the bits of story that are shown showed the usually cheerful Sana taking on a more somber, chilling role.
This is an ever-present desire whenever I read about a film or story that is contained within a story, I become invested in the characters and plot, and I wonder what it’d be like as a standalone. I was excited to find out that Miho Obana had written a standalone one-shot about the movie, finally my curiosity would be sated! Unfortunately, I realized that at times it is perhaps better to leave things up to the imagination.
The story follows a young man who searches for his missing brother, and it leads him to a mysterious mansion in the middle of the woods. He encounters a ghostly young girl that is both pretty but possessive. I wanted so much to know the backstory of this girl, and what happened to the main character’s brother. The explanation was… Not good, in fact, it was really weird. The story is not that scary at all, even though there is at least one disturbing and bloody scene. I feel that this can be attributed to the fact that Obana is a shojo writer known for her rom-com’s, so the attempt at a spooky story was a bit weak.
I did not understand the need for the plants sub-plot in what could have been a chilling story about a ghost. As should be expected from a story that takes place in the background of another story, Palace of the Water was pretty sparse and not well developed. It was immersive enough that I could view Sana and Naozumi as different people and forgot that these are characters from Kodocha. I also really liked the mini-chapter at the end, which included a teenage Sana and Akito watching the film.
It makes me wonder if I should have skipped this one if only so I could continue to wonder about the possibilities for this fictional film. I would only recommend this one-shot for existing fans of Kodocha if only to sate the curiosity that I’m sure other readers felt as well while reading the original series.
“Shall we let him in…?”
Prologue – Gymnopédies – is a surprising little manga collection that I found on a whim while looking for more work by Natsujikei Miyazaki. It is part of a project that seeks to collaborate between manga and music, a novel concept. The music that inspired this collection is Gymnopédies by Erik Satie. Six lesser-known mangakas were asked to create a short one-shot manga that is inspired by the titular track.
Gymnopédies is a soft piano track that to me elicited a dreamy yet somber feeling. I felt that most of the manga fit the theme of the music well, and I enjoyed reading it while listening to the track in the background. Some of the manga didn’t contain a single line of text or dialogue, such as in Gentle Water and A Certain Student Gymnopedies, yet both pieces had some of the greatest impacts on the reading experience.
The art styles varied wildly but each had a degree of charm, I was particularly impressed with the art styles of Yoso Machi and Murai. For a Quiet Night’s Sleep was by far my favorite and it was the most heartfelt of the entire collection. The art was beautiful and the story was really touching. I didn’t care much for Déjà vu nor Slowly, as if in pain, though the latter at least had a little bit of humor.
In all, this was an obscure and charming little collection that makes for a relaxing read that can be completed it one sitting. It is highly recommended to read it while listening to the accompanying track, as it is the way it is intended to be read and it really adds to the reading experience.
Warnings: Animal Cruelty
Well, this was certainly a surprising little manhua that I stumbled on. The premise is simple, a teen girl is in love with a boy but is too shy to confess. It starts off sweet and the art style is dazzlingly cute! Things quickly take a dark turn once she stumbles on a book called Love Practice and begins to prepare herself for the real confession.
I can’t go into too much more without heading into spoiler territory, but this manhua was pretty clever and goes in unexpected directions that I couldn’t have predicted. Even when I thought I knew how things were going to end, my expectations were exceeded. It’s a little silly, the main character gives off yandere vibes and you really have to suspend your belief that the main dude wouldn’t be more terrified of the entire scenario.
It’s short so there is not a whole lot of room for character development or a deeper plot but as a standalone it was just fine. An interesting mix of horror and high school romance that somehow goes horribly right? Either way, it’s worth a read for the wonderful art and for those that enjoy cute stories with spooky themes.
“If you still don’t have enough courage to love, just practice some more.”