Chatty AF 113: Manga Variety Hour – Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight! (WITH TRANSCRIPT)

By: Anime Feminist April 12, 20200 Comments

Bring on the lovers, liars, and clowns! The Manga Variety Hour returns with Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai discussing some of their favorite comedy series.


Episode Information

Date Recorded: April 5th, 2020
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai

Episode Breakdown

0:00:00 Intros
0:03:06 Fast Pitch: Satoko and Nada
0:06:24 Two to Mango (Side A): The Way of the House Husband
0:12:24 Hit Me With Your Best Sell (Side A): Please Tell Me, Galko-chan!
0:16:07 One for Your Money (Side A): A Man and His Cat
0:22:38 Love It or Loan It: The Royal Tutor
0:27:52 One for Your Money (Side B): Junji Ito’s Cat Diary
0:35:40 Two to Mango (Side B): Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
0:48:35 Hit Me with Your Best Sell (Side B): Oresama Teacher
0:55:40 Group Hug: Heaven’s Design Team
1:06:04 Outro

Further Reading

DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And I am joined today by fellow AniFem staffers Caitlin and Vrai.

CAITLIN: Hello. I’m Caitlin. I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as on The Daily Dot. I just had an article come out on VG247. Been keeping myself busy, because God knows I am not going to work right now.

[Short pause]

VRAI: [pained] Yep.

DEE: Okay. And Vrai?

[Laughter]

VRAI: All right!

DEE: I guess that was the end!

VRAI: I guess that’s the end of that!

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That was it. [Chuckles]

DEE: Okay!

VRAI: Fair enough! Hey. I’m Vrai Kaiser. They/them. I freelance all over the place. Most of the stuff I do I’ll post on my Twitter @WriterVrai. And you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.

DEE: And today we are back with what is becoming a semiannual podcast, though we should probably do it a few more times than that. It’s our Manga Variety Hour!

VRAI: The—

DEE: And we figured people could— [crosstalk] Oh, what were you… Vrai, were you gonna… Need to…

VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh. No. In fairness—

DEE: [deadpan] I was building up some momentum there, but it’s fine.

VRAI: Dammit!

DEE: No, no. No, no. [imitating a car] Screeeeech! Keep going.

VRAI: Fuck! No, it’s fine. [Through laughter] That was the most Midwestern thing you’ve ever recorded on one of these podcasts, but all right. “No, no, it’s fine. I was just… I don’t mind that you completely ruined my buildup.”

DEE: [Cracking up]

VRAI: “You say what you were gonna say.”

CAITLIN: [Laughs]

DEE: Oh, it’s good-natured ribbing.

[Laughter]

VRAI: [Laughs] I know. I was gonna say, in fairness, it takes a little while to do as much prep as these episodes require.

DEE: It does. We do have to make sure we have enough titles to talk about and enough people who have read them and all that good stuff. But we do have a new one for you, folks. 

We figured in the midst of everything going on—and this episode will be dropping about a week after we recorded it, so, y’all know what we’re talking about—we thought people could use a pick-me-up, maybe some recommendations for some titles that could brighten their days. 

So, it’s something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone, a comedy tonight!

[Giggling]

VRAI: And for all the children in the audience… No, I’m kidding.

DEE: Five people are gonna get that reference. It’s fine.

[Chuckling]

DEE: [Through laughter] And they’re gonna really like it. They’re gonna really like that reference, those five people.

So, yeah, we’re gonna be talking about comedy series we’ve been reading. Just a couple of little notes: We did decide to keep this to series that we would consider comedy as the first element of it. So, we avoided rom-coms, because we could definitely do an entire episode on rom-coms. And we also wound up avoiding some cooking shows, because we realized we could do an entire episode on food manga, as well. 

So, with that in mind, I’m stepping up to the pitcher’s mound, because it is time for our Fast Pitch! And that one will be Satoko and Nada, which both Caitlin and I have read. I made it a Fast Pitch because there’s only two volumes out in English as of this recording and we also have an article coming out on it that… it’ll be coming out either right before or right after this podcast drops, which will give you more information about the story, as well. 

So, Satoko and Nada is the story of a Japanese and a Saudi Arabian exchange student who share an apartment in New York City together while they’re going to college. And it’s just about their day-to-day life as they navigate their cultural differences and then the different points of similarity that they have with each other and their relationships with the other characters. And it is very fun and light and silly, but also lowkey educational. 

Caitlin, how are you liking this one?

CAITLIN: It is definitely the definition of a gentle comedy. The punchlines don’t hit super hard, but it’s pleasant. It’s nice to read. Everyone is nice. They all take care of each other. I think it is probably a very soothing balm on these days. 

And it’s great because a lot of anime and— Well, a lot of media from any country can be kind of insensitive about other cultures. But I know that a lot of research went into this. The mangaka went to other places. She had a co-editor who is, I think, Muslim American or Muslim Japanese. I know that the English-language editor for Seven Seas is also Muslim American, Lianne, who has been on this podcast. 

And it’s nice. And I do feel like I have learned a lot about various Islamic cultures that I didn’t know before. So, it was very illuminating, too.

DEE: Yeah, there are some really good details in there about day-to-day life in Japan and Saudi Arabia and then how that contrasts with America, because I think the mangaka lived in America for a while, so she’s pulling from those experiences as a Japanese person in the States, as well.

CAITLIN: It definitely has that feeling. It’s very American college culture.

DEE: Yeah. And then how the girls from these different areas navigate that and get used to certain aspects of it, and then maybe don’t, others. And every once in a while it will acknowledge like, “Oh, maybe this is an issue” or “Maybe this is something that could use improvement” in whatever culture they’re discussing. They’re really good about not hitting hard on one particular group. 

But overall, it’s very accepting of like, well, you know, different people do things different ways, and that’s not necessarily a harmful or a bad thing. So, yeah, overall, I really enjoy it. And I’m looking forward to that article coming out, because I think it outlines a lot of the positives of the series really well.

CAITLIN: It’s a nice article.

DEE: Yeah. So, again, I think when this drops, it will not have come out yet, because we’ll have been wrapping up premieres and season recs and stuff, but it should be out pretty quick afterwards. So, keep an eye out for that, folks. 

And with that Fast Pitch out of the way, I am going to step over to the sidelines, bring Vrai in, and allow the two of you to have a little Two to Mango session.

VRAI: Hooray. Yeah, we were going to talk about Way of the Househusband, a manga that everyone in my house is obsessed with because it’s very charming.

CAITLIN: It’s one of the ones that I leave in the bathroom, so that Jared can also read it while he’s pooping.

DEE: [Laughs]

VRAI: I mean…

DEE: Yeah, the optimal way to read manga. Yes, of course.

CAITLIN: [Chuckles]

VRAI: Well, especially a gag manga like this. I think that—

CAITLIN: Exactly.

VRAI: I think one of the closest points of comparison for folks out there might be if you watched Hinamatsuri, because this is also about a former member of the yakuza. It has some of the same types of goofs. 

And the setup is that our main character was once the fearsome exterminator for the yakuza, but he met the love of his life and he retired in order to marry her, and she is a working woman, and he is a househusband. And the entire joke is he does normal domestic things like going shopping or going to yoga class with some other stay-at-home spouses, but he looks scary while doing it. And every time the joke is funny!

CAITLIN: It is. Every single time. It just has not gotten old yet.

DEE: How many volumes are out? Or how many of you guys read thus far?

CAITLIN: Two.

VRAI: Two.

CAITLIN: Two in English, I think.

DEE: Okay, so it’s another one that… I knew it had just come out recently, but I wasn’t sure how far along they were.

VRAI: Yeah, there’s a third one coming out in May, so pretty soon here.

CAITLIN: Oh, I have to order that.

VRAI: And to its credit, saying it’s only one joke does sell it a little bit short because even as of the second volume, it’s already starting to build recurring characters and this warm little world of nice characters who have these supportive bonds with each other. 

And it’s really nice as an example of positive masculinity, too. I actually wrote a little article about this for Fanbyte. There’s a current member of the yakuza who seeks this guy out because he was so cool and macho, and he wants to learn from him, and so the househusband teaches him how you can get your stains out of your laundry, because what are you doing? What kind of man are you if you don’t know how to do your own laundry?

CAITLIN: He’s clothes all over the floor. And there’s stuff that you would expect, like bloodstains, him being a member of the yakuza, but also grease stains from when he was cooking or chocolate from when he dripped ice cream on himself. It plays with expectations in a very clever way where you know that it’s never going to be exactly what it seems like at first, but you don’t know just how it’s going to turn out. And it’s always just very charming. 

And I think also what makes that work is that it doesn’t just play with reader expectations. It plays with other characters’ expectations as well. Like when Tatsu is growing plants on his balcony and a bunch of police are like, “Oh, he’s growing drugs! He’s got The Weed there!”

[Chuckling]

DEE: [In a rural Midwestern accent] Not the mari-ju-ana!

[Chuckling]

CAITLIN: You know, the drug that, if you are caught with in Japan, will ruin your life.

DEE: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a much harsher penalty over there than it is here—for most people, anyway.

CAITLIN: You know, because it’s so bad… for… you.

DEE: Sure. Sure. Okay.

[Laughter]

CAITLIN: Sure. [Chuckles] I’ll just walk down the street and demonstrate. 

So, we know that he is just growing a garden, because we know that it is him, but the comedy is in the police making assumptions that he is growing drugs, because he’s the Dragon Tatsu, and then their reaction when they go over there and he’s like, “Yeah, I’ve been growing these in my garden. I’ve got the carrots coming in.”

VRAI: There’s this stupendous scene at a yoga studio in the second volume where they’re doing various poses, and he’ll do something like, “Oh, I’m starting to get it.” So, he does… I don’t actually know the actual name of the pose, but you’re on your knees and you bend backwards and you arch your back. “This is like the pose when you know you done fucked up and your boss has slammed your head into the tatami mat!” And everyone just stares.

DEE: [Laughs]

CAITLIN: And the thing that I think really makes it work for me is his relationship with his wife.

VRAI: They’re so sweet and they love each other!

CAITLIN: They’re so sweet.

DEE: [crosstalk] Aw, that’s good.

CAITLIN: They love each other so much. Yeah, they take really nice care of each other. He also plays the quote-unquote “housewife” role with her, like she keeps trying to buy soda at the store and he’s like, “No! You drink too much of this crap! We have some at home.” A very caretaker sort of thing.

DEE: So, just to get a feel for the story, is he a retired yakuza who’s now a stay-at-home husband?

VRAI: Yes.

DEE: And his wife is working.

VRAI: Mm-hm.

CAITLIN: Yes.

DEE: Is that the story? Okay. Okay, that’s fun. I couldn’t tell from your description if he was still in the yakuza or if he was done.

CAITLIN: No, he has quit, much to the disappointment of many of his kohai.

DEE: Gotcha, gotcha. Well, that does sound fun. That’s one that’s definitely been on my radar. I just, you know… I’m reading a lot, and libraries aren’t necessarily an option at this exact moment. I’ve been bad about going to the library anyway, so I tend to just buy the stuff I buy and read it that way. But it’s good to know. I will continue to keep that one on my radar and check it out if I can. Folks at home, you may want to do the same.

VRAI: Heck yeah.

DEE: All right. Vrai, take a seat. Caitlin, I’m sorry. You’re frontloaded on this one.

CAITLIN: [Chuckles]

DEE: But I am going to need you to step up and [singing] Hit Me with Your Best Sell!

CAITLIN: [Chuckles]

DEE: You wanted to tell us about Please Tell Me, Galko-chan, yes?

CAITLIN: Yes. Yes, well, tell you about it again, because I did do the episode about the anime. And the manga is fairly faithful to the anime, or rather the other way around. But, of course, it goes farther. It goes past the point of the anime. 

And so, it continues to have that charm, the sort of bawdy comedy—which I just realized the other day when Dee has said it in other episodes is B-A-W-D-Y, not B-O-D-Y, because I’m smart and have a really good vocabulary.

DEE: To be fair, it basically means the same thing in the context of fiction. When you’re talking about bawdy comedy, you are talking about exploits into bodies.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] A comedy about bodies.

DEE: Yeah. So, to be fair, the meaning was not lost.

CAITLIN: So, if you’re not familiar with it at all, it is the story of Galko, a gal who is very curvy; her best friend Otako, an otaku; and their friend, Ojou, a rich girl; and just the three of them talking about all sorts of different things, including their curiosity about sex, about bodies, about things like boobs and periods and poop.

[Chuckling]

CAITLIN: You can see why I was thinking of it as a B-O-D-Y comedy.

DEE: Yes.

[Chuckling]

CAITLIN: But in ways that are very natural and that I recall having similar conversations with my friends about the same sorts of subjects. And as the manga goes, two things happen. 

One, you start meeting more characters. You get to know Galko’s older sister and her friends more. And they are all adult women, so that has its own set of things. They are sexually experienced, unlike Galko and her friends, so that has its own sort of gentle discussion. 

And also, it gets gayer.

VRAI: Ooh!

DEE: [Laughs]

CAITLIN: Oh, I’ve got Vrai’s interest. There’s a lot of subtext with Galko and Otako.

VRAI: Good!

CAITLIN: [Chuckles] So, if you watched the anime and you picked up on the slight amounts of that, good job! And if you’re interested in that, it’s definitely worth checking out. Plus, the US release of it is beautiful, full color.

DEE: Nice.

CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s absolutely great.

DEE: How many volumes of that are out at the moment?

CAITLIN: Five.

DEE: Okay, so not too far into it. And it’s still an ongoing one, right? I think every title we’ve talked about so far is ongoing.

CAITLIN: Yeah, I think we’re up to the releases in Japan.

DEE: Okay, cool. So we’re reading them as they do. Fun. All right, that’s good to know. Vrai is adding it to their cart as we speak.

VRAI: Heck yeah.

[Laughter]

DEE: “You had me at ‘gayer’!”

[Laughter]

CAITLIN: I mean, I’ve already logged on to The Rightstuf and added the Way of the Househusband volume 3.

VRAI: We’re all learning something today.

DEE: Yeah, the third volume of Satoko and Nada, I think, comes out in May as well. It’s lowkey in my cart right now, too, so I feel that, definitely. 

All right, Caitlin, you finally get to rest for a minute. Go take a drink of water or beer or coffee or whatever your preferred drink is at the moment. Vrai and I—

CAITLIN: [Unintelligible due to crosstalk] right here.

DEE: [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: [Chuckles] I’m so cool.

DEE: Vrai and I will be stepping in to do a segment entitled One for Your Money, which we haven’t done since the first episode of this, because it’s where we look at either a single-volume series or a series that only has one volume out, and we kind of talk about how it started off and if we want to keep up with it and all that good stuff. We didn’t do that for our last episode, because our last episode was nothing but one-shots, so that would have gotten real repetitive. 

But here we are, One for Your Money, Side A, and Vrai and I will be talking about A Man and His Cat, which just started getting published in English this past January, February. Vrai, how do you like it?

VRAI: [Blubbers weepily] So sweet!

[Laughter]

DEE: Oh yeah?

VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s very nice and good.

DEE: Well, I can’t think of anything else to say, so I guess we’ll just move on from that very…

[Laughter]

DEE: …eloquent description!

VRAI: This is the one that folks will probably have at least some familiarity with, because when it first started coming out, I think some of the initial comics were being traded around a lot on Tumblr and Twitter. So I think folks might have seen this one and maybe didn’t necessarily know that it had been bound and was localized. So I’m glad that we can tell them that, because it’s so good, and my heart, and the cat puns.

DEE: Yeah, it is delightful. So, this one is about Fukumaru, a fat and so-called ugly—but he’s not ugly, he’s adorable—a big fat cat who was passed over at the pet store for a long while until Kanda, an older man who’s been recently widowed, shows up at the pet store and decides to adopt Fukumaru because he, like all people with a discerning eye, realizes that Fukumaru is, in fact, adorable. And the story is about these two lonely… I’m gonna say “people,” but this lonely guy and this lonely cat finding each other and finding companionship with one another. 

It is a combination of hilarious and adorable and also really sweet. I teared up within the first chapter, I think. And there were a few other places where I did that as well. But then there’s tons of spots— I definitely consider it a comedy because there’s so many spots where I’m just giggling nonstop at the antics of Kanda and his cat, and him figuring out how to raise an animal for the first time, because he’s never really had a pet before. 

He has a friend who’s really into dogs who kind of cycles in and out of the story. There’s people at the pet store who will become characters. So, you can already tell that the cast is going to expand to give the story more to do in the coming volumes. 

I think my favorite thing about this one is the author is so obviously somebody who has owned and loves cats.

VRAI: Definitely.

DEE: I actually tweeted this and it went a little viral, which made me happy. It hits that perfect balance between “Here’s a four-panel comic that’s absolutely adorable and sweet about what wonderful balls of cuddly fluff cats are,” and then you’ll flip the page and the next one is like “Look at this little shit! What a gremlin! Oh my God!” And I’m like, “Yep, no, that’s cat ownership in a nutshell.” 

There’s a very good comic—I have never seen another story about cats do this—where Fukumaru makes a big mess in his litterbox and doesn’t bury it, gets out of the litter box, has a little poop fall out, and then tries to bury the one that’s on the ground that has no litter around it, and obviously it’s not working. I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah! My cat likes to paw at the carpet, too, and completely miss burying it.” And I didn’t know anybody else knew about this experience!

[Laughter]

DEE: Hashtag Relatable, Kanda. You and me.

VRAI: It’s so good and heartwarming and I die. I’m having trouble being coherent, just because it’s so… I think the only downside to this, just if you’re somebody who has limited funds to spend on manga, this is a little bit pricier and it’s a pretty thin volume. I think if you have a discretionary fund budget, it’s well worth your time. 

It’s very heartwarming, and it’s a story I’d like to see supported and do well. But if you’re one where, like, “I want to get something where I’m getting a lot of bang for my buck,” it is a little bit smaller.

DEE: The digital volumes are nine. They’re cheaper.

VRAI: That’s nice.

DEE: That’s how I’ve been buying them, is digital. I know not everybody likes or can read digital manga, but if that is an option for you, they tend to skew a little bit less expensive that way. And you still get the color pages and everything. And I believe the print volumes are very nicely made, too.

VRAI: They are. I have it actually sitting on my desk right now. It’s a very nice slim little volume. Looks good. By the way, all of you, I need you to Google Scottish Fold cats, because that is the supposedly ugly breed of cat that Fukumaru is.

DEE: Oh, no, Scottish Folds are precious and perfect.

VRAI: [crosstalk] Uh-huh. Beautiful angels.

DEE: Like most cats. Yes.

CAITLIN: They’re really popular in Japan, too. Maru is a Scottish Fold.

VRAI: Oh!

DEE: Cute.

VRAI: They’re so stinking cute. Yeah, if you want cat feels, this is A++.

DEE: It’s really, really good, yeah. And again, only the first volume’s out. It’s Square Enix. It’s their new publishing line. They’re releasing it, I think, once every three or four months. There’s only four volumes out in Japan, so it’s one that if you committed to it, it wouldn’t necessarily be like “Well, I have to buy a volume every two months to stay up with a 20-volume series,” or something like that. 

It’s an easy one to pick up and read a little bit and then put it down and read a little bit more later, because it’s just sweet and heartwarming and episodic. And yeah, like Vrai, a hard, hard recommendation on A Man and His Cat. Absolutely.

VRAI: Oh, apparently the second volume will be out in July. So, that’s fine.

DEE: July. Okay. I thought they were staggering them a little bit just because there aren’t that many volumes, so they’d run out pretty quick if they threw them at us too quickly. So, okay, cool. That’s great to know. I will put that on the wish list as well. 

Okay. Vrai, you get to take a little break here. It’s Dee Monologues at Everybody for a Short Period of Time. 

We are introducing a new segment, mostly because I felt like we needed something else to help break this up and it’s always good to have new stuff. This segment is called Love it or Loan it. And the concept here, folks at home, is that we will be talking about a series that we enjoy, but the question will remain: is it a series you should spend your hard-earned money on? Or should you just pick it up from the library or borrow it from a friend’s collection? And the series I will be talking about today is The Royal Tutor

Now, if any of you have been following my stuff over the past few years, you’ll know I did episode commentary on the anime adaptation of The Royal Tutor. It was a pleasant surprise that I expected nothing from and then ended up being very funny and also heartwarming and lowkey kind of progressive. It did some pretty good stuff with, like, the ideas of judging people by appearances versus reality. It tackled a lot of issues on class differences in ways that were surprisingly smart for what started as a goofy pretty-boy comedy. 

So, quick sum-up for folks who have never heard of The Royal Tutor: it is about a royal family in a fantasy kingdom, whose four younger sons keep running tutors off, and so their dad, the king, hires a new tutor, Haine, who is… He’s this tiny little guy who looks like a child, but he’s a full-grown man. And he shows up and he very quickly wins the princes over by being just a really, really good tutor. There’s also some really good points about what makes a good teacher throughout this, and as somebody who was raised by teachers and comes from a family full of teachers, I really enjoyed that as well.

VRAI: Oh, I love The Sound of Music. Sorry.

DEE: Yeah. I mean… [Chuckles] He hasn’t married their dad yet, but it’s possible. [Chuckles] And so, he comes in and he bonds with the kids and kind of helps them each through their own insecurities, some of their past traumas. And so it’s this balance of goofy shenanigans running around this fantasy Austria and then coupled with these nice character beats. 

I think up to this point we’ve mostly been talking about gag manga—well, A Man and His Cat really isn’t—this one’s more like a sitcom. And so, it will cycle through some more dramatic story arcs, and there’s this whole undercurrent about some political intrigue involving their oldest brother, because as of right now he’s first in line for the throne but his dad clearly doesn’t think he should be the king, so the other sons are lowkey in competition. And so that’s all been building up as well. 

Full disclosure: I’m not caught up on the English release. I think I just finished volume 9 or 10, so I’m a couple behind on that. 

I enjoy this one a lot. I think the fact that I’m not caught up is indicative of this not being my very favorite series in the world, because I’m like, “Oh, I can pick up the next volume whenever.” It’s not one that I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to see what happens next. It is a nice story that I enjoy while I am reading it. 

So, with the question “Love it or loan it?” I would probably mark this one as “loan it” unless you are really into comedies about cute boys, in which case, then, yeah, you should buy it. Because I’m buying it, clearly I like it enough to continue to give it my money. But I think for most folks, I would say it is definitely worth a read. 

There’s more meat to it than I had initially expected, and I appreciate that about it a lot, and it continues to develop the characters in ways that I really enjoy as you watch them all try to find their own individual paths and what they really want to do with their lives, which may not necessarily have to do with being a king or helping run the kingdom or whatever. And it’s very accepting of those different goals and dreams of the different characters. 

So, yeah, overall I really like it. It’s not [an] absolute top-tier glowing recommendation, but there’s also not really anything I need to warn people about. There’s a lot of cover art that is suggestively shippy, which is weird because Haine is a grown-ass adult who’s not a creeper and has a really good and supportive and healthy relationship with these boys, so I’m not sure why the manga artist keeps drawing those pictures. But, you know, they exist. 

So, other than that, though—within the story itself, the closest thing to an actual ship is between Haine and the king. So, if you were worried about that going in, don’t be. Other than some occasional art decisions, it’s really very gentle and sweet and it is about a teacher with a healthy relationship with his students.

VRAI: That’s so rare in anime these days!

DEE: I know! I’ll actually be talking about another series along those veins later in the lineup. But I think that’s all I have to say about The Royal Tutor for now. I would also say if you really liked the anime, then yeah, buy the manga, read it. You’ll continue to enjoy it. So, that is The Royal Tutor

And now I’m the one who’s going to need to take a step back and take a good long sip of this beer sitting next to me and turn it over for… Sorry. We’re flipping the cassette—click!—to side B. And we’re starting with another session of One for Your Money, Caitlin and Vrai, where you will be talking about Junji Ito’s Cat Diary.

VRAI: Yes!

CAITLIN: More cat manga! Yay!

VRAI: You know what we all need right now? More cats.

DEE: This is always true.

CAITLIN: God, I know I need more cats. I have zero in my life right now.

VRAI: [Groans in pity]

DEE: That’s why you’re reading the manga, right?

CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is an autobiographical manga by master of horror Junji Ito about his cats. Because fictional cats are great, but we all know that real cats are also strange, quirky creatures that live in our homes and eat and poop in a box and just do stuff that doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. 

And the truly great thing about it is that Ito really does draw it like a horror manga. In the first couple of chapters, he drew his wife without eyeballs. And apparently, she got really mad at him for making her look so creepy, so he changed how he drew her.

DEE: Why would he draw her without eyeballs in the first place?

VRAI: Because he’s Junji Ito.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I don’t know!

DEE: Because he’s Junji Ito? Yeah, that would be the answer, right?

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Because he’s Junji Ito. [Laughs]

VRAI: I really appreciated this manga as somebody who was raised only having dogs and then married a cat person, which is the situation— Well, Junji Ito didn’t really have pets ever, but he marries a woman who has a cat. And so, a lot of it is about him learning the entirely new communication style you have to learn when you have a cat. 

And it really excels at capturing those moments of… when you’re trying so hard to form this bond but you’re kind of overdoing it. There’s this amazing joke where he takes a cat toy from his wife after she encourages him to play with the cat. And there’s this great panel of him waving it enthusiastically all around and making a fool of himself and then both cats just deadpan staring at him.

[Laughter]

VRAI: Like, he watches his wife do it, and they love it, and they bounce and they chase the cat toy, and then he does it and they just stare. And that’s the realest mood.

DEE: [Haughtily] “You are not the one who plays!”

[Chuckling]

DEE: “Interloper!” [Chuckles]

VRAI: But it’s also balanced that with some nice, sweet moments where he just draws the cats as cute as they clearly are, being sweet and cuddly with his wife, and it has a nice balance of tenderness with that.

CAITLIN: My personal favorites are when he gets into petty fights with his wife about who the cats love more.

VRAI: Yes!

CAITLIN: Like when she’s taunting him about the cats choosing to sleep in her bed, just like “Ahaha! The cats like me more.” And then later they sleep in his bed, and she gets super mad. Like, oh, that’s very real.

VRAI: It’s extremely… Yeah. So, it’s another gag-style manga that’s just basically a chronicle of… I think two years is how long he was drawing it for. Maybe folks might want to be aware… A little bit melancholy at the end, because by the time the tankobon came out, both of his cats had passed away, so he has little memorials to them at the end.

DEE: Awww!

VRAI: Yeah.

DEE: Poor kitties.

CAITLIN: I mean, of old age, as I recall.

VRAI: One of them, I think, got sick, yeah. And then the other one was when the hurricane or… you know, in 2012.

CAITLIN: Oh.

VRAI: Yeah.

DEE: Ohhh. [Bummed] You didn’t… It’s a sad cat story.

VRAI: [Frantic] No-no! It’s just a bit of… It’s like two or three pages, but it kind of… you know!

CAITLIN: The thing is that all pet stories are ultimately sad because… I don’t know what it is, but so many of them end with the pet dying.

VRAI: I don’t know what it is about pets, but they keep dying!

DEE: [Laughs]

CAITLIN: Dog movies, too. Dog movies always end with the dog dying.

DEE: Not always. Homeward Bound didn’t.

VRAI: You can’t tell me there’s not a draft where Shadow didn’t make it out of that pit.

DEE: Oh, there’s a draft. But that’s not the version we got, so…

CAITLIN: [Chuckles]

DEE: Spoilers for folks at home. Homeward Bound [unintelligible beneath crosstalk]

VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh no!

[Laughter]

DEE: —all of the animals… 

[Laughter]

DEE: Sorry!

VRAI: [crosstalk; through laughter] 26-year-old movie!

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Homeward Bound, the movie I saw when I was six!

DEE: Yeah. [Chuckles]

VRAI: But yeah, it’s one that I… Honestly, it is my favorite Junji Ito manga, and I’ve read a fair bit of his stuff, but I think this one is just so pitch-perfect self-awareness of his own style, his own limitations, and he uses the art as much to poke fun at himself and his own tendencies and his manga as anything else. It’s amazing.

CAITLIN: Oh yeah, he draws himself as terrifying just as much as he draws anyone else terrifying.

DEE: That’s good, then. I like that he has that sense of— Is this the only autobiographical thing he’s done? Because I know he’s known for horror manga. That’s his thing. So, for him to do a cute cat one-shot feels like it’s very surprising, I would think, but I’m not as familiar with his work as I think you guys are.

VRAI: To my knowledge, this is his only autobiographical work. But he did do that amazing panel at CRX, where he rated various cats, that I can’t believe wasn’t recorded.

[Laughter]

VRAI: So I think he just likes cats.

DEE: I forgot he did that. I love when stuff like that happens, when you have these writers who are known for terrifying, fucked-up shit, and then they’re like, “Here’s my cute cat diary.”

CAITLIN: That seems to be the case more often than not. Horror writers are generally very gentle and chill people. It’s the comedians you need to watch out for.

VRAI: True. Which is as good a transition as we can possibly get.

DEE: #NotAllComedians.

VRAI: [Laughs]

DEE: I know some comedians, okay? They’re perfectly lovely people.

[Laughter]

DEE: But anyway… Yeah, okay, and just to double-check, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is a one-shot, right?

VRAI: It is.

CAITLIN: Yes.

DEE: [crosstalk] So, if people wanted to check it out, they could just grab it. Okay. Yeah. I thought that was the case, and that was why I gave it the title I did, but I did want to double-check and make sure folks at home knew that. So if you’ve always been interested in Junji Ito, but you don’t have a stomach for horror: Cat Diary! There you go.

VRAI: [crosstalk] God, it’s so fucking funny. I love it so much!

DEE: That’s good to know. Actually that’s not one that I really knew much about, so hearing you guys talk about it… And again, knowing that it’s a one-volume commitment is an easy sell, I think. It’s one that I would be interested in picking up. 

All right, that was One for Your Money. Now it’s Two to Mango. Vrai, take a seat. And Caitlin, let’s go. We will be talking about the series that was adapted into what became the AniFem Comedy of the Decade pick, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Now, full disclosure: the most recent volume that came out these past couple months, I haven’t read it yet because I’ve been reading that one digitally and there’s a weird thing with the latest volume where it’s not available digitally yet. I don’t know why. I’m about to start yelling at people.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] There’s not much that happens in the latest volume.

DEE: I mean, it’s a gag manga. I don’t necessarily expect a lot of stuff to happen. I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t read the most recent volume, because there are some lowkey character arcs in the story. So, if there were any big moments in the most recent volume, let’s skip it for this podcast, for my benefit and for folks at home who maybe haven’t gotten around to the most recent volume, since it did just come out pretty recently. 

So, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, for the folks at home who are not aware of this one… Well, the first few volumes were adapted into an anime, which is how most of us found out about it. And we all liked it very, very much. 

It is a comedy series about a high school boy, Nozaki-kun, who writes a popular shoujo manga called “Let’s Fall in Love”—under a pen name, so people don’t immediately know it’s him. His classmate, Sakura Chiyo, has a crush on him, and when she tries to confess to him, she fumbles out her words in such a way that he thinks she’s saying she’s a fan of his manga, so he gives her an autograph. She puts two and two together and then, because she wants to spend more time with him and she is in the more traditional arts club at school, she ends up becoming one of his assistants. Through that, she meets his other assistants and their friends, and the cast expands into a group of about seven characters, overall, these other kids at school. 

And the manga is very much about poking fun at, lovingly… It’s a loving parody of shoujo tropes and also does some pretty cool things off and on with gender roles and norms. I wrote an article about the anime. It was one of the first pieces I ever wrote that I’m still proud of and will definitely be linking to, because any excuse to link to that article… 

And I really appreciate it for the way it provides these reversals of expectations in terms of how you think a shoujo series is going to go or how you think [of] the characters based on being the princely figure or the hotheaded, brash character, and they’ll flip the roles so those are female characters, but your tsundere-style heroine character is this adorable nerd boy Mikorin, who everybody loves. [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: Yeah, for the record, in case anyone listening doesn’t know, Dee wrote an excellent article on exactly this subject.

DEE: Yeah, that’s why I’m continuing to yammer about it.

CAITLIN: What I really like is that part of the reason you know that it’s an affectionate parody is because the writer is a shoujo manga author herself. But yeah, no, it’s pleasant. The way it skewers shoujo comedy is perfect. And I have said already in this very episode, I appreciate anything that does a lot of gender reversal.

VRAI: I have a question for people. So this has been going on for a long time, right? And it’s a gag manga, but also with characters. How’s it doing at sustaining itself as long as it is?

DEE: It’s not that long for a manga. It’s 11 volumes at this point. And I kind of get the sense that it’s winding down, but I could be mistaken on that front.

CAITLIN: There was a lot of character progress in the second-to-last volume to come out; a lot of stuff that was coming up to the line of “Is there gonna be some actual forward movement? Is a character gonna actually realize something?” Because there’s a lot of quote-unquote “couples” in it who just haven’t figured it out yet.

DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s very shippy. Yeah, I wouldn’t describe it— I kept it on this list because I think it is first and foremost a comedy. Other than Chiyo having a crush on Nozaki, which is a throughline from day one, I think most of the romantic elements are more on the backburner in favor of the gags. But there is definitely lowkey progression with some of the different couples throughout the series.

CAITLIN: Now, Dee, I have a question for you.

DEE: Sure.

CAITLIN: What’s your favorite couple?

DEE: [Laughs] That’s hard. The thing about Nozaki-kun is every character is great. There really aren’t any weak links in the cast. A lot of the time with comedies, there’ll be that one character who sucks or that one character who you just don’t really enjoy hanging out with.

CAITLIN: But I love all of them!

DEE: I love all of them. I… Whew. So, I kinda want to say Kashima and Hori, and I think it might just be because I was also in the drama club in high school, and so their goofy drama club stuff resonates with me. 

I know the series has taken some criticisms for the slapstick nature of their relationship, like Hori will pick Kashima up and swing her around and throw her into stuff. And a lot of the time I don’t like that kind of slapstick comedy in manga series, but the reason I don’t like it is because the character getting slapsticked around is miserable. The thing I appreciate about Nozaki-kun is the way it’s played is so reminiscent of high school roughhousing.

CAITLIN: Right. She just gets up and starts laughing.

DEE: Yeah, he’s swinging her around and she’s grinning the whole time. And when she’s talking to Chiyo, when she’s starting to worry that maybe Senpai has another favorite person or something, she’s like, “Wait a minute. I’m the only one he hits!” And she’s very excited about this. 

And so, that part of their relationship does not bother me, and I actually find it endearing because, again, it is reminiscent to me of the way my close friends and I would rib each other and, you know, you run down the hallway and side-tackle jokingly kind of thing, and so—

CAITLIN: Hip-check each other.

DEE: Yeah, I find it very cute. That having been said, I think the first couple to get together will probably be Seo and Waka, because Seo’s just going to grab him and make out with him one of these days.

CAITLIN: They’re basically a couple already. They go on dates and stuff. He just doesn’t know it. I mean Seo knows exactly what’s going on.

DEE: She does, yeah.

CAITLIN: Waka’s just too stupid to live.

DEE: God, she’s another one of those great characters who’s such a perfect reversal of gender norms, because she is that brash, loud, like Tasuki—I always call them “the Tasuki figure” because I watched Fushigi Yugi growing up. [The] “basically good-hearted, but so oblivious”-type character. And the fact that when Nozaki hears about her, he ends up turning her into the brash boy in his story, because that’s the kind of character she is.

CAITLIN: Oh, he hates her so much.

DEE: Yeah, and I like that some of the characters don’t like each other. Like, Nozaki doesn’t like Seo; she rubs him the wrong way. But Chiyo gets along really well with Seo. All the girls have really good relationships with each other, which I appreciate. And then Chiyo and Mikorin have a really good friendship. 

And I love stories that will allow for romances but don’t feel like every single character needs to have a crush on somebody. You know what I mean? So, Chiyo and Mikorin just having this really chill friendship, or Kashima and Mikorin having this really fun friendship…

CAITLIN: Oh yeah, they’re best friends. No, Nozaki-kun is really good at that kind of sitcom technique where, if you need a plotline, you just take two characters and just toss them in a room together, and no matter what two characters you get or three or however many, you’re going to have a good dynamic come out of it.

DEE: Something really fun is going to come out of it, yeah.

CAITLIN: Yeah, and it’s really good at… They’re not all part of the same social group, so it took a while in the story for them all to meet each other and to get to know each other. And there were some obstacles, because Mikorin has social anxiety.

DEE: So much social anxiety!

CAITLIN: Like the story where he met Hori and Hori’s like, “Oh, Mikoshiba’s a really cool guy once you get to know him,” and then the next day Mikoshiba is hiding from him.

DEE: He’s like a cat. “He forgot about you. You have to get used to him again a few more times before he’ll open up.” I can’t remember—I remember tweeting about it, but I can’t remember the specifics in the more recent volumes—there’s always these little romantic undercurrents, but I think it does the friendships… I think that’s what really stands out to me in the story, is the way the characters will hang out and support each other in things that are trivial but then also big-deal things, too. And they just have a great relationship. It’s very genre-savvy.

CAITLIN: And the characters who also had the couple-y bits, they’re also friends. Every moment that Hori and Kashima—who, by the way, remind me of my parents in a really weird way…

DEE: Okay!

CAITLIN: My dad is an actor. He’s short, he has sandy brown hair, and he gets mad at my mom a lot.

DEE: [Laughs] Okay then.

CAITLIN: And my mom is very brash and doesn’t always think about what she says. And it’s very weird.

DEE: Okay, no, I see that. I see that.

CAITLIN: [Laughs] And she’s tall.

DEE: But yeah, I know what you mean about… Again, I consider them more like “ships” because, again, the story is not focused on, like, “Oh, look who’s crushing on who.” But the ships in the story, they’re all between characters who already have these unique relationships and get along, and it’s not just constant, like, “Oooh, sexual tension”—again, other than Chiyo starts with a crush on Nozaki, and that is the throughline for the two of them.

CAITLIN: But they’re also just friends, too.

DEE: Yeah, they are.

CAITLIN: They grow into friends.

DEE: Yeah, they get to know each other and ended up getting really close in a way that I really appreciate. And that is the benefit of especially a comedy-focused slow burn—this isn’t technically a shoujo—but that style of story, is that you get a feel for… Will they eventually hook up? Yeah, maybe, probably. But you get a feel for why they like each other throughout and how they get to know each other before that maybe-big confession. If it happens. You know how it goes. 

I feel like we could gush about this one for an entire episode if we wanted to.

CAITLIN: Yeah. I think it’s worth mentioning for anime-only watchers, the manga does also introduce Nozaki’s younger brother, who is also delightful.

DEE: Yeah, he’s pretty fun. He’s not in it as much as the other characters, but he’s pretty fun, yeah.

CAITLIN: He’s a more tertiary character, but it’s always a good time when he shows up.

DEE: Yeah, and I sincerely hope that someday we’ll get that second season, because I know the first one was pretty popular.

CAITLIN: God, someday. Please!

VRAI: [crosstalk] I mean, Tiger & Bunny is coming back, so literally anything is possible.

DEE: Oh, no, I mean, we got a third season of Chihayafuru. Anything is possible. And as good as the manga is, I think in some ways the anime even improves on the material. It’s so good.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It really does. It’s got such amazing comedic timing. 

DEE: The timing is perfect. Yeah.

CAITLIN: And the voice actors all do such a great job. No, the anime… absolutely, it takes really good source material and then it adds all of the advantages that anime gives and makes it even better.

DEE: Yeah, I agree. So, I would say check out the manga, especially if you want to see where the stories and characters keep going, because it continues to be really fun. And then if you can’t spring for a new manga series at this exact moment, you can go watch the anime. It’s on Crunchyroll. I’m sure it’s on their free version, too, so you just watch it with ads. It’s been out for a while. It’s great. Go check it out. 

Okay, we do have to move on, though, because we talked about that one for a while. This is a really good transition, though, and I purposely put these back-to-back because Izumi Tsubaki, the writer of Nozaki-kun, has another long-running series out in English that a lot of folks don’t know about. 

So, I’m going to Hit You with My Best Sell! Side B: I’m going to tell you guys about Oresama Teacher, which is a long-running shoujo series. We’re up to about 26 volumes but, good news, Tsubaki has said that she’s planning on the series wrapping up pretty quick. You can tell. We’ve basically followed the main character through her high school life, and we’re in her final year, so it should be wrapped up in the next couple of volumes. So, we’re looking at maybe 29, 30, which is long but not unwieldy.

CAITLIN: It’s not Skip Beat.

DEE: Yeah. Especially knowing that there’s an ending around the corner. And it’s one of those that you can pick it up and then put it down for a little bit and then pick it back up again, and it’s fine. 

It is the story of Mafuyu, who was a rough-and-tumble leader of a gang of delinquents in middle school. She was a bancho, basically. And she gets in enough trouble that her mom decides to send her to this far-off boarding school-type school to get her act together and get her away from these other kids. And she decides that she’s going to reboot her life and be a normal person and make good girlfriends, because she’s never really had girlfriends before. She’s always just been surrounded by these rowdy boys. 

And so, she goes to this school, and it turns out the school is full of delinquents. And she knows one of the teachers there. She grew up with him. I think he’s like eight years older than her. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and he kind of looked out after her when she was really young. And he was also a former bancho—delinquent-type kid. 

There’s a lot of backstory here that gets unraveled over the course of a few volumes, but his grandpa used to own the school and he’s trying to bring its reputation back up. So, he’s trying to encourage more normal kids to come to the school by getting the delinquency issues under control, so he loops Mafuyu and the first kid she meets, Hayasaka—who’s also a delinquent type—into becoming members of the brand-new founded Public Morals Club. And their job is to keep things chill at school and deal with fights before they turn into full-out brawls. 

And then over the course of the story, the Public Morals Club gains some more members. Mafuyu starts to make friends with other people at the school. She befriends the local bancho. And most of the story thus far has been taken up with an arc about the student council, who are trying to thwart the Public Morals Club for reasons that aren’t made clear for a while, so I’m not going to get into that yet. 

But it is first and foremost a school comedy about Mafuyu trying to corral this rowdy school. And she ends up taking on multiple personas to do it because she wants to maintain her image as “just a normal girl” to everybody else. But sometimes she’ll dress up as a boy who’s also a shadow member of the Public Morals Club. And then sometimes she is a girl wearing a bunny mask called Super Bun, who will go around saving the day when needed.

CAITLIN: It’s worth noting, because I’ve read a few volumes, it’s not a sexy bunny mask.

DEE: No, no, no, no. It’s a goofy full-faced mascot-style… It’s silly. Yeah. And the series is very silly. Mafuyu is such a good protagonist. She’s one of those “straightforward and chipper but also a total idiot” shoujo heroines, which… I love those characters. And she just wants to make best friends with everybody. 

The story is very much a friendship story. It is about her friendship with the other members of the Public Morals Club, especially Hayasaka and Yui Shinobu, who ends up becoming my favorite character. He’s so good. But then also how the different relationships she builds with the members of the student council and some of the other students in the school. 

The one thing I want to make super clear is that the series starts off not great. I liked it from volume 1. I kept reading it, but I did not fall in love with it until probably about seven or eight in, because in the early going… I don’t know if this was editorial mandate or what, but there are hints in the early going that Mafuyu has a crush on the teacher, Saeki, who she knew when she was younger. And so, there’s these kind of off-putting moments of sexual tension between the two of them. That gets dropped completely about three volumes in.

CAITLIN: Oh, good.

VRAI: Phew.

DEE: And then he’s just a mentor. He’s there, and there’s still the sense that maybe Mafuyu has a crush on him, but whatever. Kids can have crushes on their teachers. It’s fine. And I’m hoping that continues through to the very end. 

I just really like it. Every volume is a good time. The cast continues to expand in some really good ways. It does some fun stuff with the idea of what it means to be a “normal girl” and Mafuyu figuring out, “Well, no, I kind of like fighting. I don’t want to necessarily be a delinquent, but I like this sort of active lifestyle, and so I do want to keep that up in some way, and I don’t want to lose touch with my old friends,” and stuff like that. 

The most recent arc—full disclosure—has some issues with… There’s a false assault accusation thing that shows up. But I think it is helped by the fact that it happens 23 volumes in and we’ve met so many other characters and we’ve had arcs about girls getting harassed or bullied for real. And it’s always a very light touch. But I think the fact that all of that is built into it makes it so it— I ground my teeth a little bit, but it wasn’t as harmful as I think those stories tend to be because of the balance of other stories that it had told up to that point. So, be aware that that shows up eventually. 

But overall, it’s a really nice, fun, character-driven goofball school battle story. And I like it a lot. And I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends, and I really hope she sticks the landing and doesn’t do anything weird with it like in the final stretch, because again, I’ve really liked it so far and I hope it keeps its focus on Mafuyu and her friendships with the other Morals Club members. 

So, yeah, that’s Oresama Teacher. Folks should check it out. There are plenty of volumes to keep you entertained, and it has a conclusion coming up, so you don’t have to feel like you’re committing to one of those series that’s going to go on forever and ever and ever, which is great.

VRAI: Yay.

DEE: Okay, I talked for a while. But again, it was a long one and there was a lot I wanted to say about it. 

So, we are coming up on the hour, which means it is time for us to bring it all in for a big Group Hug and finish things off with one of my personal favorites—and I’m so glad the two of you have gotten a chance to read some of this as well—Heaven’s Design Team.

VRAI: This is such a nice series.

CAITLIN: I don’t know. I don’t know. I learned a lot of stuff I did not want to know about koalas from this one.

[Laughter]

DEE: Okay, yeah, so, folks at home, real quick: the premise of Heaven’s Design Team is there are a group of celestial beings whose job it is to create animals to populate Earth with. And so, every chapter they’ll get… Well, not every chapter, but the concept is they periodically get commissions from God with general design things that he wants out of the animal, like “a creature that wears its home on its back.” And that could lead to a snail or something like that. 

And so, it follows the designers as they try to fulfill the requests of their employer. And then throughout that you learn fun facts about animals.

CAITLIN: Not fun. Not always fun.

DEE: Okay. Sometimes weird and horrifying and gross facts about animals. I wrote an article about—

CAITLIN: [Laughs]

VRAI: [crosstalk] No, that is intensely part of the appeal.

DEE: Oh, it is, though. That’s the thing. That’s part of what makes it so fun.

CAITLIN: I want to be clear here. It’s fascinating. But oh my God! Nature is gross, y’all.

DEE: Nature is disgusting, yes. That is perhaps the moral of Heaven’s Design Team

So you guys just jumped into this one pretty recently, partly for this podcast, because you’d been meaning to read it. It sounds like you’re both enjoying it, yes?

VRAI: Yeah.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes.

VRAI: I mean, it’s an edutainment manga, which I find myself warming to as I grow older. And maybe this is just because it’s the anime closest in my mind, but it did remind me a lot of Cells at Work.

CAITLIN: Yes! I got that feeling, too.

DEE: Yeah, I think that comparison is kind of an easy one to make, especially since Cells at Work is the more popular of the two. That’s usually my point of comparison when I’m pitching it to people.

VRAI: But—and I think you touched on this in your article, Dee…

DEE: Yeah, I wrote an article about this one, too.

VRAI: Yeah. Heaven’s Design Team handles its gender shit a lot better.

CAITLIN: Yes.

DEE: Oh yeah.

CAITLIN: Cells at Work, for all I love it, does fall a little bit into the gender norm trap. Not in a serious way, but just a little bit. 

VRAI: I mean—

CAITLIN: But Heaven’s Design Team likes to be a little bit more respectful.

VRAI: [pained] Yeah!

CAITLIN: Maybe in a way that ruins it for some people. Not for everyone.

VRAI: No, I was just going to point out Cells at Work Black, which takes away all of the good merit points of regular Cells at Work.

CAITLIN: Oh, yeah, that’s true. That’s a lot of demerits. But yeah, Heaven’s Design Team does not just play with— Er, it plays with expectations. It does not just play within the sort of expected rules and bounds. Like, you have Pluto, who is a Gothic Lolita who loves disgusting creatures.

VRAI: Pluto’s very good.

CAITLIN: She’s the one—

DEE: She’s always talking about dicks and shit. Just loves ’em!

VRAI: [Laughs]

CAITLIN: “It has two penises, and the female has two vaginas to go with it! It’s great!” She’s the one who designed koalas!

DEE: She had help from the guy who loves cute things.

CAITLIN: That’s true.

DEE: The soft, cuddly boy. I know you guys aren’t 100% caught up, but I hope you got to the part where he’s just snuggling a dolphin because he needed some comfort.

VRAI and CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes!

VRAI: That scene is such a mood!

CAITLIN: And then he made a fuzzy one!

DEE: He made a fuzzy dolphin because he was under a lot of stress at work. 

Yeah, I think what keeps me coming back to Heaven’s Design Team is the animal facts are really fun and interesting and presented really well, but also the characters are all great and I love the way they interact with each other. And I also like that there’s this element of what it’s like to work in a graphic design firm—or just any kind of design firm—where you get these weird, vague requests from a client and then you just have to do your best to figure out what the hell they mean by that. 

And so you will have episodes where they’re super stressed out, or there’s one where Venus goes off about how getting vague designs is the absolute worst, because then you’ll just do whatever you want, but it’s not actually what the client wants, so they’ll just keep coming back at you like, “No, this isn’t quite right.” And I love that element of it as well, the sort of workplace comedy that comes into play, too.

CAITLIN: It feels like it comes from a place of experience.

DEE: Oh, yeah, it really is.

VRAI: So intensely relatable.

DEE: It’s not hard to believe that a manga artist might have worked in a more marketing-style design firm at some point in their life. So, you can feel that vibe as well.

CAITLIN: I love the character who loves horses.

VRAI: Saturn!

DEE: Saturn, yeah.

CAITLIN: Saturn, yes. Saturn’s horse obsession. Because, once again, going with the going-against-expectations thing, you would think that the person obsessed with horses would be a teenage girl. But it’s an old man. And the fact that horses evolutionarily are designed to do precisely what horses do, and you really can’t change it in any way because horses are actually very poorly designed animals.

DEE: Mm-hm. I love any time they go into why a particular mythological creature would absolutely not work.

VRAI: Yes!

CAITLIN: Oh, the unicorns! [Laughs]

DEE: Those segments are always very good.

[Laughter]

VRAI: [crosstalk] The dedication to dunking on the unicorn!

DEE: [crosstalk] The unicorn bit, the pegasus…

VRAI: The guest appearance by the Xenomorph.

DEE: Yeah, so, every so often, they will accidentally invent a pop culture reference. So there’s one volume where at the end they basically create Cthulhu. I don’t know if you guys got to the one where they create a Sharknado, but they create a Sharknado.

VRAI: Yeah! Yeah, they did!

CAITLIN: [Laughs]

VRAI: Awesome!

DEE: The pop culture savviness of the series leads to some really good comedy bits, too. I did not know Sharknado was a thing that was known in Japan, so props to the writer for proving me wrong.

CAITLIN: It’s just the right amount of reference, too.

DEE: Oh, it is. Yeah.

CAITLIN: If you go too hard, it just becomes gimmicky. But every so often, just a little bit of “Oh, I recognize that thing. This is why it doesn’t make sense.”

DEE: Yeah. And I’ll link to my article as well. But circling back to the gender thing, and maybe we can end on this note, one reason I like to pitch the series to people is because not only does it play with gender norms in the way that Nozaki does, but it also takes that extra step that I wish Nozaki would take, which is to include characters who don’t just… It’s not just about gender presentation; it’s also about gender identity. 

Venus is canonically a trans woman, and I think that’s fantastic, because it’s very rare to find those in anime, especially anime—or manga, sorry—that aren’t about queer issues. And Vrai, let me know your thoughts on this as well, but I think the way the series handles Venus is great.

VRAI: Yeah! She does have some arguably stereotypical traits in that she’s extremely fashionable. In the first issue, when the writer is clearly still figuring out the characters, she has one of those moments where she’s like, “Oh, I’ve been hit by this terrible, poisonous creature. I wish I could have died in the arms of a strong, burly man!” But that element goes away pretty quickly. And mostly, it doesn’t feel egregious. She doesn’t feel like a joke in the story. 

And there’s a lot of lovely little normalized things, like nobody comments on her outfits except to note how incredibly fashionable she is. She’s not drawn to look absurd or ugly. And when they go to a hot spring, she hangs out with the other girls in the bath, and it’s not a big deal. It’s a wonderfully normalized portrayal, and it made me really happy.

DEE: Yeah, I really liked… When they went to the hot springs, I got nervous, because up to that point, I thought they’d been handling Venus really well, and I was like, “Oh, God, what are they going to do here?” 

Because even the line about wanting to die in the arms of a strapping young man or something like that, none of the other characters react to that, so it’s like a quirk of Venus. It’s like Venus being kind of silly and melodramatic, but it’s not played like “Oh, gross, you like dudes.” You know what I mean? It’s not like Shimoda is freaking out about it. He’s just worried because he thinks Venus might be dying. (She’s fine.) 

But then, like you said, we get to the hot springs and she’s just chilling on the girls’ side. And there’s no comments about it. It just exists. And I was like, “Thank you, Jesus! I just needed this in my media.” So, I really like that about it, too.

VRAI: Yeah. It’s a shame that shorts seem to be kind of on the wane right now, because I think this would make a fantastic series of animated shorts.

DEE: It would be a really good 10, 15- minute series. I agree with you there. I mean, I didn’t watch Cells at Work all the way through. I think it might struggle to maintain a 20, 25-minute block. I think it could do it because the characters are really likable. But yeah, it would be a perfect 10-to-15-minute short series. Maybe someday. It’s reasonably well received. It got a translation into English really fast. So I’m hoping that means it’s popular in Japan.

VRAI: Is it complete?

DEE: No, it’s ongoing. We get new volumes every six months or so.

VRAI: Nice.

DEE: Yeah. So it’s a nice little continuing series. There’s only four out right now, so, folks, if you want to check it out…

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Also, it’s selling well enough that they’re going to make a physical release, too.

DEE: That’s right. It was digital only when it started, but they’re doing physical volumes now, or they’re in the process of. So, that’s excellent. That’s always a good sign if Kodansha decides to do the physical version as well. So, yay!

VRAI: [crosstalk] I think this would be a perfect series for middle schoolers who are in their gross facts phase. Like, exactly right.

DEE: It’s educational but also very fun, and I think every volume gets at least one full belly laugh out of me about something goofy it does. So, yeah, we should probably stop there, but I’m very glad you guys are enjoying it. I hope you continue to read it. It’s just a fun one to pick up and have a good time with. 

And, folks at home, we hope that you have enjoyed this episode of Chatty AF and have found some new light, fun, silly series to enjoy and help take your mind off of things. If you do like what you heard today, we hope you tell your friends about this podcast and have all of them listen to it, even the ones who don’t like manga.

[Laughter]

DEE: And if you really like what you heard today, we would love it if you could head over to our Patreon, www.patreon.com/animefeminist, and become a patron for as little as $1 a month. We know that not everybody has that option right now. We totally understand. But if you are able, it goes a long way to helping us pay for our contributors, our editors, everything that makes Anime Feminist run both in print and in your earbuds. 

If you’re interested in more from the team and our contributors, you can check us out at www.animefeminist.com, on Facebook at AnimeFem, on Tumblr at animefeminist, and on Twitter @AnimeFeminist

And that’s the show! Tell us your favorite comedy manga in the comments, AniFam, and we’ll catch you next time.

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