Chatty AF 209: Manga Variety Hour: History is Written by the Mangaka (WITH TRANSCRIPT)

By: Anime Feminist June 24, 20240 Comments

Dee, Peter, and Vrai share some of their favorite historical fiction manga, some of which are now important pieces of history themselves!

Editor’s Note: Because this episode covers such a wide range of titles, the discussion does not touch on a full list of caveats or content warnings for the given titles; please feel free to ask for additional details in the comments.

Episode Information

Date Recorded: June 23rd, 2024
Hosts: Dee, Peter, Vrai

Episode Breakdown

0:00:00 Intros
0:02:15 Fast Pitch: Goodbye, My Rose Garden – Dee
0:04:02 Two to Mango (Side A): House of Five Leaves – Dee, Vrai
0:13:30 Love It Or Loan It: Golden Kamuy – Peter
0:23:46 Antique Roadshow: The Rose of Versailles – Dee
0:30:53 Team Huddle: Innocent – Peter, Vrai, Dee
0:39:20 Bless This Mess: Requiem of the Rose King – Vrai
0:52:18 Two to Mango (Side B): A Bride’s Story – Dee, Peter
1:03:11 Hit Me With Your Best Sell: My Dear Detective – Dee
1:08:43 Outros

Further Reading

Daring to Speak its Name: Goodbye, My Rose Garden and the queer historical romance

“An Inner Revolution Of The Japanese Women”: The Rose of Versailles as feminist historical fiction

VRAI: I sent you a text when I was reading the last volume, Dee, like “This is shoujo!”

DEE: Capital S, yeah.

[Introductory musical theme]

DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. I’m Dee, recently retired but still hanging around the AniFem break room until they change the locks. You can find me posting cat pics and geekery on Bluesky @deescribe (that’s Dee with two E’s) and sporadically remembering I have a Tumblr @joseinextdoor. And I am joined today by fellow AniFem staffers Peter and Vrai.

PETER: Yeah, I’m Peter Fobian, I’m an editor here at Anime Feminist, and I’m @peterfobian on Bluesky.

VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai. I’m daily operations manager for AniFem. You can find me being tired and kind of hanging out on Bluesky @writervrai.

DEE: And you are listening to our ultra-rare 1%-pull-rate series The Manga Variety Hour.

VRAI: They’re very fun! But yeah, they take a long time to do.

DEE: I love putting them together, but you do have to make sure that you’ve got enough people who have read enough similar titles. Otherwise, it’s just like one person monologuing, which I was a little bit worried this one would be. But thankfully, we were able to find enough titles that we’ll all get a chance to talk, which is good. 

Yeah, as that suggests, we haven’t done one of these in a hot, hot minute. So, as a reminder, Manga Variety Hours are where we discuss an assortment of manga series under a particular theme, complete with the corniest segment titles the team would allow me to use. This time we’ll be giving you the rundown on some historical fiction series in an episode we’re calling “History Is Written by the Mangaka.” To help us narrow the field, we’re only talking about series specifically set in real-world places and times. So, historical fantasies are off the table and so are series like The Apothecary Diaries that are vaguely set in history but not concretely set in a particular place. I would personally love to do a historical fantasy episode as well at some point, so if that’s something folks at home are interested in, let us know!

VRAI: For the record, the last time we did this was February 2021.

PETER: What?

DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s… it’s been a while. We should at least try to get one of these out a year. I will be stepping up to the plate first to get us started with a segment we like to call Fast Pitch, where we plug a series that doesn’t need a ton of time to discuss but it’s still worth a read.

Our Fast Pitch title this time is Goodbye, My Rose Garden, about a Japanese woman who takes a job as a maid in Victorian England, where she and her mistress bond over books and then eventually fall in love. The reason this is a Fast Pitch is because there’s actually a lot to discuss but we’ve talked about Goodbye, My Rose Garden a lot on AniFem already. It’s part of our queer manga recommendations list, Cy plugged the first volume in our Yuri Manga Variety Hour way back in 2021, and yours truly wrote a deep-dive article about it called “Daring to Speak its Name: Goodbye, My Rose Garden and the queer historical romance.” So I don’t need to say much more about it here. I can kinda just direct you to that queer recommendations page if you want to get a few paragraphs of a write-up there. But y’all, I did so much research for that AniFem article that any opportunity I get to shamelessly plug it, I am going to take it. So, I’m doing that right now with this Fast Pitch. Also, it remains one of my all-time favorite historical manga and one of my all-time favorite yuri manga, so, plugging the series itself, any opportunity is also a great one.

Just as a very short little Fast Pitch here, the characters are very likable but also really well written. It’s a very smart series. It really fantastically balances acknowledging the historical realities of being a queer woman in Victorian England while also kind of balancing that with more contemporary love story elements. Builds to a really satisfying finale. And it’s only three volumes long, so it’s a very easy commitment. So, yeah, if you haven’t read that yet, just go do it! Go do it. It’s time.

I am worn out from my time on the pitcher’s mound, guys. I had to speak real fast for that one. But I can’t rest yet. Vrai, as I skip off this baseball field, will you join me on the dance floor? Because it only takes one to pitch but it takes Two to Mango!

VRAI: Always. Yes, I will always talk about this series, any time.

DEE: [crosstalk] Excellent. So, Two to Mango is where two of our hosts chat about a title that they have read. This round, Vrai and I are talking about Natsume Ono’s Edo-period crime drama House of Five Leaves—not to be confused with the experimental horror novel House of Leaves, although that’s also good and I’d recommend that, too. Okay, Vrai, you finished reading House of Five Leaves more recently than I did. Would you care to provide a quick plot synopsis for the folks at home?

VRAI: Yes, let me, because I finished reading it six months ago when we were going to…

DEE: Oh, no!

VRAI: But it’s fine! [Chuckles]

DEE: Still sooner than me! [Chuckles]

VRAI: Okay, so this is a series by Natsume Ono, who folks might know for ACCA: 13 (I think was the most recent during-the-streaming-era anime that had been made from her work), Ristorante Paradiso, or Not Simple, which we covered on a bonus podcast if you’re a Patreon listener.

DEE: No, it was on a Manga Variety Hour. We did it on our One-Shot Wonders.

VRAI: Was it?

DEE: Yeah, it was on our One-Shot Wonders.

VRAI: We did!

DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah!

VRAI: Oh! Past episode shoutout. So, House of Five Leaves is set during the Edo period in Japan, and it is about Masanosuke, a ronin who is let go from his previous job after coming to the city of Edo, you know, hoping to make a name for himself because his family is in disgrace. But unfortunately, he cannot keep a job as a bodyguard because he’s extremely shy and anxious and is known to be a coward who has run from a fight, essentially. So, with no money to make food and on the brink of starvation, he happens to cross paths with a mysterious man named Yaichi, who hires him to be a bodyguard who doesn’t have to do anything, should just stand there and look intimidating. 

The job goes off well, but to his horror, Masanosuke finds that actually he has been party to a kidnapping and ransom, and so now he is complicit in that. Unfortunately, he can’t quite bring himself to break ties because there’s just something about Yaichi that draws him in and he wants to know more about this strange, mysterious man and the family around him. Their lives and sort of their backstories that brought them to this organization of the Five Leaves unfold from there.

DEE: Yeah. I described it as a crime drama, but it’s also kind of a found-family character study where it touches on each member and how they got involved and what their relationship is with Yaichi, and then you gradually start to learn more about Yaichi and Masanosuke throughout all of that as well. Now, Vrai, you’re actually the one who kinda got me into this one. I tried reading the manga in college and bounced off it a little bit. I think I was just too young to appreciate Ono’s particular style of quiet character drama, because—I think we’ve talked about this before—she’s very good at understatement and focusing on the quiet moments in between the action, because you’d think a story about kidnappers would be full of action, and there’s some in it, but a lot of it is more about the downtime that they spend together and get to know one another, which is a very Natsume Ono thing. 

Like, ACCA: 13 is built around a political coup, but most of it is them eating in bakeries. [Chuckles] It’s great! I love that style of writing that she does, but, you know, I think you do have to be in the right headspace for it. But you recommended the anime of this, which I do feel like deserves a callout even though this is a manga podcast because it’s quite good. And I watched that years ago, and then when House of Five Leaves went up on the Viz app, I went ahead and came back to the manga as well.

VRAI: Yeah, the anime is actually one of my top ten favorites and has been for a long time. It was off of streaming for a long time. It’s actually back now. RetroCrush has it, which makes me really happy.

DEE: Yeah. Yeah, this one’s really easy to get a hold of. If you want to watch the anime, it’s on RetroCrush. If you want to read the manga, you can get it through the Viz app for like two bucks a month.

VRAI: And it is worth— I’d say start with the anime, because I think seeing it animated and with the voice acting makes it a little bit more approachable. I also think… just sort of what you alluded to with Ono, I think whether or not you click with any of her given works depends on whether you’re into the premise, because I bounced right off of ACCA: 13. I could not keep up with it. But I really adore this one, deep down in my heart. And she’s got that thing going where, because she writes with her characters sort of at arm’s length, she’s affectionate towards them but distant, and it means that she can tackle some really dark subject matter without it being too overwhelming.

DEE: Yeah. Yeah, it’s an impressive tightrope she walks, where it doesn’t come across as cold but it also doesn’t come across as melodrama. She’s an interesting writer. She’d be worth a Creator Spotlight, for sure. And this one does quite a bit of that. The nice thing about the manga is… The anime is quite faithful to the source material, but it basically just ends a little bit early.

VRAI: And cuts an entire character.

DEE: Yes, yeah, yeah. So it ends before the manga does, so there’s basically a final arc that you don’t get in the anime that you get in the manga that I think ties things together really, really nicely. I was worried this one was going to end in tragedy, and I liked the way it came together in the end with the Five Leaves sort of solidifying themselves as a family. It also has— I’m kinda shocked you haven’t brought this up yet, Vrai… Masa and Yaichi have an intimateship (is a word), emotionally. It’s a very fascinating relationship that I think definitely gives off some queer vibes even though I wouldn’t describe it as being canonical, necessarily. Does that track?

VRAI: Yeah, it’s sort of one of those, like… they don’t kiss on screen but nobody does, even people who explicitly state that they’re in heterosexual relationships, although actually, Masanosuke and Yaichi never have a romantic declaration but Matsukichi before the end does in fact say that the reason he stays in the Five Leaves is because he’s in love with Yaichi.

DEE: That’s right, yeah. And Masa has… there are some pretty big, bold declarations of loyalty and following-you-to-the-end–type stuff, so you can certainly read that as you’d like. But I think, like— I like that Ono kind of… A lot of the relationships in House of Five Leaves kind of live in these in-between places where they don’t really have definite names to them. Does that track?

VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, it’s got that same kind of ambiguous intimacy that Mochizuki does. I think if you’re drawn to that, you will probably like the way that Ono writes relationships.

DEE: Yeah, I think that’s— And I do, so I do.


VRAI: I will say one thing that’s interesting reading this after watching the anime. I think that the ending of the manga is really interesting because— So, it’s not a case where the anime stops and then the manga has more whole-craft story. Both the anime and the manga end with the unraveling of Yaichi’s backstory and basically the consequences coming back to haunt him, but there are additional complicating factors of this other character in the manga. But I was surprised— Even though I think it’s really well done and really fitting how the manga ends, I was surprised how much I missed the sort of naked emotional intimacy of the scene in the graveyard that we get in the anime. Like, I needed them to hug, Dee, and they do not hug in the manga! There is no tearful hugging!

DEE: [Chuckles] No, they do have that scene but it doesn’t have as much of a capstone quality to it because there’s still more story to go in the manga, whereas that’s kind of where the anime wraps up. So, yeah, it sounds like you’re a little bit higher— And this is a Manga Variety Hour; it sounds like you’re a little higher on the anime than you are the manga.

VRAI: No, I really like… I like how much additional depth to the characters the manga offers. It’s just that Ono gonna Ono, and so I do like that I get the more blunt emotional catharsis of the anime to go back to. You know, emotionally I feel satisfied, whereas I felt intellectually satisfied by the ending of the manga, and maybe it’s because I already had the anime ending in my mind that I was kind of waiting for that moment, whereas—

DEE: And it— Yeah.

VRAI: Yeah.

DEE: Yeah, and it’d been a while since I’d seen the anime, so I couldn’t 100% remember how it ended, so comparing them was a little bit fuzzier. But I definitely, by the last volume of the manga… because I really thought things were just gonna go completely sideways and everyone was gonna break apart and I was like, “Don’t do that!” So I got a little emotional at the end of the manga, too. So, yeah, they make for good companion pieces, so, definitely, I think we would both recommend checking this series out, especially if you’re into those more slower-paced kind of character study pieces, which I think Ono does quite well.

Okay! Let’s move on to our next segment. I’ve pitched, I’ve danced, and now I’m going to take a break.


DEE: Peter finally gets to talk. Yay for Peter!


VRAI: Yay.

DEE: Next up is a segment called Love It or Loan It, where we look at a long-running series that’s worth a read, but is it worth a buy or a borrow? Peter, what have you got for us today?

PETER: Oh, I guess I should preface this by saying I am in fact borrowing it since Nate buys every copy and then lends it to me. So, usually… I think I would buy this series if he wasn’t there, so I will call it a “love it.” I don’t know if we’re supposed to do that at the beginning or the end, but…

DEE: It’s okay.

PETER: Even though I’m loaning it and I’m a hypocrite, I guess, I’ll put a “love it” there.

DEE: [crosstalk] We’ve only done— This is like the second Love It or Loan It. It’s the Wild West out here. You can organize things however you want. [Chuckles]

PETER: Mm-hm. Yeah, yeah. So, love the series. Golden Kamuy.

DEE: Yay! Thank you.

PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s very difficult to summarize this series because it’s such a grab bag. It’s like an action-adventure comedy mystery. It’s got a ton of references to film and history in it. Takes place, I think, in the 1900s to 1910s, in that range. It’s kind of like a “big guy, little sidekick” ‘90s cartoon while also being breathtakingly violent and spending a lot of time sexualizing its entire main male cast. So it’s spinning a lot of plates and it’s kind of fascinating that it kind of coalesces all this into such a confident narrative and aesthetic. Satoru Noda kinda threaded the needle when he made the series, I think.

But just to kinda summarize it, it takes place in Hokkaido after the Russo-Japanese War, and it’s kind of like this Smokin’ Aces/National Treasure–esque treasure hunt where three factions are trying to track down this lost Ainu gold. One has the main character, Sugimoto, and his partner Asirpa as sort of a preservationist project. Well, I mean, he needs money on the one hand, but Asirpa is Ainu, which is an indigenous group of people from Hokkaido. It’s basically her people’s gold, and they’ve been basically run over historically, so she’s trying to preserve her own people via finding this gold. 

And then the other two factions are the Tsurumi faction, which is led by the former leader of the 7th Division during the Russo-Japanese war, who is trying to use the gold to create a separatist state… Well, I mean, basically everybody wants to create a separatist state in this one. He wants to do it to turn Hokkaido into its own country that can manufacture guns and drugs and turn into its own military power, which is also kind of the faction of Hijikata Toshizo, who historically should be dead by this point (spoiler) but survived his untimely end during the Bakumatsu and now wants to use that money to reestablish the Republic of Ezo, which was what Hokkaido was formerly, a separatist country for, I think, something like five or six months before that stopped with the ending of the shogunate. But he wants to bring it back, the classics.

It’s difficult to know what to talk about with this series. It’s just—

DEE: It’s a lot. I’ve seen the first, I think, two cours because I think the anime was two cours right off the bat, and then they took a break. So I’ve seen the first two cours. And yeah, it’s a lot. You did a really good job summarizing it because it can be pretty chaotic in the moment.

VRAI: It’s also a cooking anime.

PETER: Yeah, I missed the cooking part! Yeah, a lot of the best scenes are Asirpa creating traditional Ainu dishes. Yeah, like after killing a huge number of armed men, they might need to take camp and then Asirpa makes some soup or something. So, yeah, it manages to wrap all this stuff very well. Again, it has a lot of cool historical references. It does have actual historic individuals like Hijikata Toshizo, who was formerly of the Shinsengumi. But it’s also got a lot of characters who are just kind of mashups of a lot of historic people. 

Like, Kano Ienaga is the main— Well, I guess I should mention, the method by which they’re trying to track down this gold is it was tattooed on the bodies of a bunch of prisoners in one of Japan’s most notorious prisons, Abashiri Prison, so they need to track down these people and either copy their tattoos or skin them, depending upon which faction you’re working for. Since they’re tracking down all of these crazy criminals, right… so, they have a story arc that kind of takes place inside of a murder mystery house, which is the… The criminal is named Kano Ienaga, and they’re kind of a mashup of Ed Gein since they eat people to steal their spirit or whatever physical attribute it is that they’re trying to take from them, but there’s also this H. H. Holmes reference in… I don’t know if you’ve read Devil in the White City, but they—

VRAI: [incredulous] Do I know H. H. Holmes.

DEE: [Chuckles]

VRAI: Look at everything about me, Peter!

PETER: For the listeners! For the listeners.

VRAI: [Chuckles]

PETER: So it’s kind of like this weird murder mystery house. Lots of trap doors, torture chambers, that kind of thing, a real thing that happened during the World’s Fair in… was that Chicago or Philadelphia? One of the two.

VRAI: Chicago.

PETER: [crosstalk] There’s going to be a Keanu Reeves movie, rumored. And then there’s a Russian sniper named Vasily, who is of course a reference to Vasily Zaitsev but also Simo Häyhä, the White Death, who is kind of a reference built in there because I think he gets his jaw shot off with a similar injury to Simo Häyhä. I hope I’m pronouncing that; I’m definitely not, though. And then they’ve got a Bonnie-and-Clyde type… So, in reading it, you encounter a bunch of these wild characters who seem very familiar and you can usually tie back to some sort of notable historical criminal or outrageous figure that has been kind of re-skinned for this series. It’s harder to talk about the film references since a lot of them are just visual, but there are a lot there, as well.

DEE: But clearly the author did a lot of research.

PETER: Yes, yes, yes.

DEE: Well, and I knew that was true for a lot of the stuff with the Ainu because when the anime first came out there was a lot of concern about “How would it handle an indigenous group of people?” And obviously, the three of us can’t make any kind of judgment calls on that, but I do know some articles, some translated pieces have come out basically saying that he did a lot of research, and, you know, no one is a monolith, but I know there’s been some where there have been some actual Ainu people who are like, “Yeah, no, this seems to be pretty well done.” So…

VRAI: Yeah, there’s at least one Ainu cultural museum that actually includes a tiny little… like, Golden Kamuy is included and gets its own little mention at the museum. You know, obviously, I can’t comment on whether or not it’s perfect, but it’s definitely acknowledged as having done a lot to bring at least general awareness of the Ainu people, both here around the world and in Japan, where there’s been a lot of burial of the genociding of the people at large. You know, you read articles today. There’s still a lot of battles just to have access to ancestral grounds, and a lot of other depressingly familiar things.

DEE: Yeah. Yeah. So, the series has handled that pretty well. I do, Peter— Do you remember this? There is, I believe— Just to kind of give folks who might be interested in this a little bit of a heads-up, there is, if I remember correctly, a very problematically written trans woman. I mean, most of the characters are murderers, so at a certain point you kinda have to be like, “Well, yeah, they’re going to be a murderer, too.” But I remember it being a point where I was like, probably folks should be aware of this.

PETER: Oh, yeah, that was Kano Ienaga. Yeah, yeah.

VRAI: Yeah, yeah. She’s one of the— And I still need to read Golden Kamuy in full, but my memory of the discussion around her was… it’s a very Grell Sutcliff, like “She’s fun! But oh, yikes.”

DEE: That’s a lot of Golden Kamuy. As you said, it’s incredibly confident, and there are plenty of moments where you’re like, “I’m having a good time, but also, yikes!”

PETER: Mm-hm. Yes, there is— I mean, you kinda have to just accept that there’s a lot of… there’s a lot of yikes in this series. I want to say that usually they’re very brief because it’s… I don’t want to say monster of the week, but criminal of the story arc [shows] up and they are… I mean, again, a lot of them are normal, like the members of Asirpa’s faction. He’s just sort of an escape artist whose name escapes me right now. But then there’s a guy whose whole entire thing is he fucks bears.

DEE: [Exclaims in wordless surprise]

PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is ultraviolent but it’s hard to stress how, again, there’s breathtaking violence, but also I would mostly describe the series as goofy.

DEE: It is surprisingly silly in between, yeah, the brutality of it. Yeah, it’s wild how Noda threads all these different styles together in a way that mostly works. Yeah, yeah.

PETER: It’s kind of like Dorohedoro, where whenever there’s a fight, people are literally getting cut in half and their bodies are being desecrated and stuff, but then you talk to all the fans and they just say, “Oh, the main characters are such a cute couple. I love them. They’re so goofy. She rides a skateboard!”

DEE: Yeah. Golden Kamuy, another found-family story! Yeah. Yeah, so this… It kind of sounds to me like this is definitely one of those where… and it’s popular enough, probably your library will have it, but you could borrow a couple volumes to see how you feel about it and then you can… like if you’re into it, you are into it. So, you can definitely commit.

So, thank you for that, Peter. I also appreciated the hydration break. I’ve had some water and I’m ready to roll us into a brand-new segment called Antique Road Show, where we talk about a classic manga series from at least 25 years ago. So, yeah, that would mean a ‘90s series would be considered a classic. All three of us are gonna blow away to dust on the wind.

VRAI: [Exhales deeply]

DEE: And you just can’t have a historical Manga Variety Hour without talking about The Rose of Versailles by Ikeda Riyoko, written 1972 to 1973. You guys… Obviously you are familiar with this. Have you read or watched any of this, or is this mostly me monologuing?

VRAI: I still haven’t because I’ve stored the— Five years ago, I stored the anime away as “We’ll need this for a watchalong someday,” and we still haven’t gotten there, so…

DEE: Someday. [Chuckles]

PETER: I’ve got the Blu-rays and I’ve read through the first omnibus. But I haven’t made it much past that.

DEE: Okay. Yeah, I was so excited when Udon brought out the nice hardcover omnibus. It’s finally available in English, folks, yay, in case you didn’t know, a very nice hardcover set with a lot of color pages and things. It’s five volumes in the omnibus set.

And so, as kind of a rundown, it’s kind of two narratives. Starts on the eve of the French Revolution and goes… I think it covers about 15 years and goes until the French Revolution itself. The Bastille is like a big point kind of at the end of the story. I’m gonna try not to give away spoilers, but it’s the French Revolution so I think most people know it doesn’t turn out great for almost everyone. But it sort of follows two narratives. You get real-life figure Marie Antoinette coming to Versailles and becoming effectively the crown princess and then the queen. And then it also follows Oscar, a girl whose dad decides to raise her as a boy because he has, I think, seven children and they’re all girls and he’s like, “I need a son!” So he decides that Oscar, the youngest of his children, he’ll raise as a boy.

And Oscar is perfectly happy with this. I mean, sometimes there are— Oscar is a really fascinating character who has been incredibly influential to the shoujo genre. Rose of Versailles as a whole has been, and Oscar as this kind of princely female-assigned— I always hesitate to call Oscar trans because it’s not like Oscar denies being a woman but sort of denies the trappings of femininity. Oscar is cool with being a soldier and wants that and enjoys… (enjoys?) takes that life seriously and doesn’t necessarily regret it. There are moments where they kind of wish they could allow themselves to be more feminine in certain situations. So, they’re at conflict between what society expects of them versus who they want to be… is one of the, to me, more compelling threads in the story. Also, Oscar slowly realizing that the people of France are being treated like crap and the nobles and aristocracy are 100% in the wrong forms a really fascinating line throughout what is a pretty hardcore melodrama.

There’s a lot of court intrigue and backbiting in the Marie Antoinette storyline especially. So, there’s a lot to like from… If you like political dramas, if you like romance… There’s a lot of elements of star-crossed lovers within it. It was written in the ‘70s so there is a little bit of assault that… it’s not played as romantic but it’s not played as seriously as, I think, that a contemporary audience would take it. Like, there’s a moment where a character starts to force themselves on somebody and then apologizes and stops. So, there’s that. But like, it’s… yeah. So, I mean, kind of be aware of that going in. But it’s Ikeda, so it’s very stylized and lovely. 

And again, it’s this massive… I would recommend it— I mean, I’ve recommended it to most people because I think it’s a good story, but I also think that if you’re interested in manga history at all, it’s a must-read. This would be on a classroom syllabus because it has been hugely influential not just to shoujo but to all genres, shounen, everything. It’s such a big piece and still holds up remarkably well, given that it was, you know, written in the ‘70s, and the early ‘70s at that. Do you guys have any questions for me about this while we’re here?

PETER: I definitely want to say, I think the more you know about the series, the more it’s like you can see The Matrix watching literally almost any other anime.

DEE: Yeah.

PETER: As you were saying, as far as its influentialness, you just start seeing references to it everywhere. And it’s kind of one of those eye-opening moments where you can really see how landmark the series is just based on its… It’s like a fundamental building block of some narratives now and visual references. So, even just for that…

VRAI: I feel like even if we just keep it in the realm of Shonen Jump, it’s like you’ve gone through your life and then one day as an adult, you’re like, “What is this Dragon Ball? Oh!”

DEE: [Laughs]

PETER: Or like watching Twin Peaks or Streets of Fire or something, where you’re just like, oh, man, this had such a huge influence on Japan. You can see red rooms everywhere, the aesthetic of the dude in Streets of Fire and frickin’ William Dafoe’s character. Just kind of like that.

DEE: Yeah. And I mean, it’s still a massive touchstone today. There are regularly stage plays and musicals of Rose of Versailles. My friend and I have decided the next time we go to Japan— which will be a few years because she has small children. But the next time we do that, she’s like, “We have to try to track down a Rose of Versailles show. Now that I’ve read the manga, I just have to see a musical version of it!” So, hopefully it will continue to be popular and continue to get retellings and remakes throughout the years.

VRAI: Yeah, and if you want to, this can be a good opportunity if you want to use it as a step-stone to look into more of the history of progressive movements generally in Japan. We have an article on the site that talks about how Ikeda herself was really connected to the student movements and protests of the 1960s, and that was definitely an influence on Rose of Versailles.

DEE: Yeah, we have quite a few… we have a few really good Rose of Versailles articles and Ikeda articles up on the site now. So, yeah, definitely recommend. You could just check out that tag and find some good stuff in there, for sure. Yeah, and like I said, most people are probably familiar with it, so that was just my little personal reading of it. There’s lots of good content out there that’s much more in depth. And so, I would recommend checking that out, for sure.

PETER: Yeah, if you love reading about something that you can read, Rose of Versailles has a ton of academic work around it, too.

DEE: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s such a massive touchstone, so yeah, couldn’t do this episode without talking about it. And now that we’ve looked at a classic French Revolution series, we’re going to take a hard right into… a modern French Revolution series. Alright, it’s time for our Team Huddle segment because we’ve all read at least some of this one. We’re going to be discussing the first omnibus volume of Shin-ichi Sakamoto’s Innocent. I’m sure people are sick of hearing me talk by this point, so would one of you care to summarize this one?

VRAI: Peter, you were so hardcore that you bought this series in Japanese like five years ago, so if you want to go ahead, go for it.

PETER: Oh, but we can only talk about the first volume, huh.

VRAI: Yes.

DEE: Have you read the whole thing? Because the first two omnibus are out in English, as of recording this. The third will be out in the next two, three months, I think, pretty quick here. So we’ll have the whole thing in English pretty soon but we don’t yet. So, yeah, if you could, just a synopsis of the early material. We don’t want to dig too much into spoilers because even folks— Vrai and I haven’t read the second omnibus, and even folks who have won’t know how it ends.

PETER: Mm-hm, okay. So I think it’s easiest to sort of describe this as like the anti–Rose of Versailles. Marie herself is pretty much kind of an anti-Oscar. But she’s a character that I think by this point just in the first omnibus… you’ve kind of met her but she hasn’t developed too much. She’s one of the two leads, with the other one being Charles-Henri Sanson, who was the Monsieur de Paris. He is a real-life person. He was basically the royal executioner. The Sanson family were a noble family that… it basically was their job to do executions. He himself, I think, killed something like 3,000 people and was instrumental in the introduction of the guillotine for use of execution. And eventually, he himself was the executioner for Louis XVI after the French Revolution. So, the story follows him and his sister’s lives, as well as the broader Sanson family, who are largely fictionalized, I want to say. They have a lot of brothers and sisters, so I don’t know if… are too real, not that I’m extremely familiar with their family tree.

But it’s kind of… It takes place before, during, and after the French Revolution as an entire narrative. In the early volumes, it’s mostly following Charles stepping up into his role as leader of the Sanson family, as he as an individual does not want to become an executioner at all. He doesn’t like the thought of killing people. It repulses him. And via his sort of an introduction into the nobility… I feel like the tack that Rose of Versailles took where Oscar slowly realizes that it is the fault of the nobility that people are suffering, he engages with in a different way, as most of his interactions with nobles are they— I mean, he is a noble himself, but most other nobles are repulsed by his family since their job is basically, you know, killing people and handling dead bodies. 

So, he is a sort of unwelcome individual within higher society of France, which kind of colors all of his interactions with nobles and leads him to be more compassionate toward the peasantry. For example, the series fictionalizes a bunch of executions of real people such as Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to assassinate Louis XV. Before his execution in the series, it wrote this story where Henri meets Damiens in advance. He’s been impoverished; his town’s been ruined. I believe his son is malnourished and sick. But he can’t get to see him a doctor. Charles takes him in and is able to perform a life-saving surgery on the boy. I think he has to amputate both his legs—or one or both his legs.

DEE: One of ‘em. One of his legs, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PETER: And he basically sees how Damiens and his child have suffered at the hands of nobility and the inequity of resources and stuff like that. And eventually Damiens… he decides he needs to kill Louis XV. He goes off, kills [sic] him, and then of course Charles-Henri is assigned to be the one to kill him, to execute him. And via like… I can’t remember specifically if it’s machinations against Charles specifically, but it is decreed that he’s to be drawn and quartered but they are provided with lame horses. And in the real execution, the horses couldn’t quarter him so they had to cut his tendons to separate him.

DEE: Oof.

PETER: Yes. So in the series, this is, I believe, portrayed as a machination against Charles to ruin his family’s reputation since none of the nobles like the Sansons.

DEE: I think there are a lot of— Once Innocent is fully out in English, I think there are some really interesting comparison pieces you can do between it and Rose of Versailles. I think Rose of Versailles 100% is like, “The nobility is in the wrong,” but it’s also a lot more sympathetic to Marie and some of the people who are just sort of caught up in, like, “Well, they were raised like this their whole life and they’re so sheltered they really have no idea what’s going on.” And so it’s a little more sympathetic while also saying the ignorance was… like, that is their fault. Whereas I feel like Innocent really is absolutely pitiless towards the nobles. Like, the way it’s drawn, the things that Charles sees happening around him, it’s all very much about the decadence and casual cruelty of the upper class.

VRAI: Boy howdy, do you want to see some terrible things happen to a pretty boy?

DEE: Man! Hey, it’s a lot. I would say content warnings for everything on this one. I asked my library to get it for me, and they did because they rock. And about halfway through the first volume, I was like, “I feel a little bad for asking my library to…” There’s a lot. They tagged it as an adult book so it’s fine. It’s in the adult graphic novel section. But yeah, I mean, there’s some pretty grisly violence, there is—

VRAI: Yeah, do you want me to just give sort of an extremely illustrative example? I feel like it’s the centerpiece example of the first omnibus.

DEE: I think I know what you’re going to say but go for it.

VRAI: Yeah. So, Charles, in the midst of rejecting his fate, sort of falls for another young man that he meets by chance. And then it just so happens that this other young man is caught and made the stoolie for the crimes of another noble. Charles is led to the prison to see this stranger who’s supposed to be executed, and there’s the young man who was his first love who has been brutalized sexually and physically and now blames him for his fate. And then, when he gets to the execution block, Charles starts dissociating and seeing everybody as these very effectively horrifically looking inanimate dolls. And he botches the execution, horribly, because he’s so traumatized.

DEE: Yeah. It is— Seriously, content warnings for everything. Go into this one with caution, folks. It never feels— To me it doesn’t feel exploitative. It feels like it’s all serving a narrative purpose. But it is very intense and pulls no punches. So…

VRAI: Yeah, I think you can argue it’s definitely maybe… I think you can argue that it’s a little bit…

PETER: Gratuitous.

DEE: Yeah.

VRAI: Yeah.

DEE: Yeah, yeah, that’s fair.

VRAI: Like, it’s so very… It’s very my shit, which is a horrible thing to say.

PETER: [Chuckles] Same.

VRAI: But this kind of thing is the kind of thing I read a lot, this sort of very gothic… suffering is horrible and grotesque but it’s also drawn beautifully. It’s very what it is, but I don’t think I would blame anybody who put it down halfway through and looked up like, “Fucking really?”

DEE: I’m slightly hesitant to keep going, which isn’t to say that I thought it was bad. I was just like, “This is a lot.” So, yeah, definitely proceed with caution with that one. But Vrai, you gave me such a good segue that I do think we should move on to the next one, because we’re not done with our historical melodramas just yet. In our next segment, Vrai is going to take us through a messy series they still find a lot of value in! It’s time for Bless This Mess! What you got for us?

VRAI: Hey!

DEE: Your favorite segment! Let’s go!

VRAI: It’s for me! So, this time around, I am going to be talking about Aya Kanno’s Requiem of the Rose King, which I wrote a little article on, gosh, years ago now. And I do want to say up top that when I wrote that article, a lot of folks stepped up to give some feedback and I want to try and be mindful about that because I think with Rose King it’s very easy to… it’s very resonant for me as a trans reader, but I want to try and be careful to not overshadow that it is about an intersex protagonist, and while our communities have a lot of overlap in issues that we face, they are not the same thing. 

So… [Clears throat] But so, yeah, Requiem of the Rose King is a dark shoujo manga. It ran from 2013 to 2022. It was only Aya Kanno’s second long-running series. Her one before this was Otomen, which is more of a school-based shoujo and, I think, a little bit more comedically inclined. So this was a really big departure for her. And it is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play Richard III, which is my very favorite Shakespeare play. It is an absolute tour de force for whoever you cast as a central actor because Richard is basically never off stage. And the plot of the play is that it takes place during the War of the Roses. If y’all at home have heard of Henry VIII and the Tudors, these were his ancestors. And Richard was part of the House of York who was dethroned by Henry VIII’s predecessor and Henry VII was made king. So, it’s also important to know about that play that Shakespeare wrote it on commission for Queen Elizabeth, who was, you know, a relative of the victors of this particular conflict, so Richard III is a great literary villain. 

He’s also arguably a hatchet job of the historical figure. You know, probably the most famous lines from the play are the opening monologue: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” And the gist of the monologue is that Richard is saying, you know, “York is finally ruling and in a position of power. However, on account of I am so ugly and disabled and deformed and hideous…” (He probably had scoliosis in real life, but he has a withered arm and a hump in traditional stagings of the play.) “… because I am so terribly, terribly hideous and malformed, I’ve decided that I am going to betray my way to the throne—for the lulz?”

DEE: [Chuckles]

VRAI: And so he does! It’s a wonderful actor showpiece of a play, but—

DEE: Also deeply ableist.

VRAI: Deeply! Deeply ableist. Yeah, I thought that— But you know what? You’re right. It should be said.


VRAI: And the interesting thing about that is that Kanno’s take on the material… I say all this to say that Kanno is not doing a historical take on the War of the Roses. She is retelling specifically the play and sort of refracturing that and looking at it through new lights, and she decides to take the tack that Richard’s quote-unquote “deformity” is that he is born intersex. You know, he is assigned male at birth by his father, and that’s very important to his identity for him. But he struggles a lot because he’s smaller than his brothers, he has breasts, he is treated as this object of shame by his mother, and his father dies early as part of this struggle for the throne, which then motivates him sort of chasing this specter of the only person who ever gave him love. And he keeps trying to chase the memory of that into what increasingly seems like the hollow glory that he’ll find inside the circlet and on the throne. So this… like I said, it ran for almost a decade. It is 19 volumes long. It is… Holy fuck, this is shoujo.

DEE: [Chuckles]

VRAI: Honestly, I think you can draw a lot of comparisons to Fushigi Yugi in that it swings big, it swings messy, you can sort of see Kanno learning what she wants to do and sort of figuring out the kind of story she wants to tell as it goes along. I think the early volumes lean a little bit heavy on sexual menace and sexual assaults. Like, in the first five volumes or so, there’s probably two or three scenes at least where Richard is somehow cornered and stripped of his clothes so that we can show off that he has breasts and people can be shocked about it. And that can be kind of rough and frustrating. 

But at the same time, it’s also a series that is absolutely sumptuously drawn. It’s really gorgeous in terms of the thorn imagery, and he’s sort of visited by this ghostly figure of Jeanne d’Arc, who is of course this other famous French (part of the lineage between French and England)… this other famous figure of gender ambiguity who sort of taunts him and, as the series goes on, becomes both like this tormentor and this source of solace and this monologue he has with himself as he grows about his relationship to his gender and his social role. And I feel like that is an element of the series that really matures and becomes fascinating as it goes along.

I think one of the other weaknesses of— Because when I wrote about— I think I came down a little bit critical when I wrote that article years and years ago. And back then, only the first four volumes were available in English, and it’s got that trouble with sexual assault, and I think Kanno also quite hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to do with the women of the series in those early volumes. Like, everybody in this series is sort of machinating and terrible, but in the early going Richard has his one or two men who are on his side amidst all these terrible people. But among the women, it’s kind of terrible, terrible, terrible, and then Anne, who is sort of pure and naive. And it can be a little bit frustrating early on. 

And that’s another element that I think, as the series hits its second act, it really grows into and figures out what it wants to do, in that by the second half of the series (you know, spoilers for history), [when] Richard has sort of gotten to court and gotten close to the throne and is actively within reach of it, it starts to get more into these questions of, you know, “I am a man. That’s important to me and who I am,” but sometimes he has these fleetings of “Well, who would I have been in this other life? If this other part of me wasn’t anathema and terrifying to me, would it be a part of my life?” And I think there are some really tender moments that he has with Anne that are very sort of… because Anne is much more attracted to him in feminine presentation than masculine presentation. And I kind of wish the manga had explored that a little bit more. Because there’s so much going on politically in the latter half, we only get some glimpses of it.

Early on, the sort of back-and-forth is that Richard sees himself as a man. Hardline, he has no questions about this. He is a man. And then the men in his life try to force him into this box of “woman” because they wish to possess him sexually. And that’s sort of… it can get a little bit repetitive, but then as Richard gets older, as the story gets more mature, I think it comes into a more interesting dialogue of him feeling safe to have this conversation with himself and what his relationship to his body and his gender is if he feels like he has people who love him and it’s not perfect and that feeling of safety is very fragile. Richard is honestly one of my favorite protagonists in years. He’s really wonderful.

DEE: Yeah. I’m coming at this from the anime, which is truncated and on a shoestring budget, but no, I feel like the development of Richard as a Shakespearean tragic figure… although, I don’t know, minor spoilers? It doesn’t end the way you think it’s gonna end. I’ll just say that. Which I was delighted by. I liked the swerve towards the end. But yeah, no, I think the writing for Richard and the different conflicts that he experiences throughout, especially, kind of what you were talking about but on a different level, this kind of balancing or fighting between who he is as a member of his family and as a royal versus just as a person outside of that setting and trying to figure out who he is outside of the roles and responsibilities that have been thrust upon him from birth. And I think that ties into the conversation around gender in a way that’s really fascinating and builds him as a really interesting character, as he feels like he has to be a villain, but the guilt and the responsibilities and the desires and everything… yeah. It starts kind of as an over-the-top melodrama and then sort of morphs into a character drama in a way that ends up being pretty satisfying by the end, even as an anime viewer, so I’m sure the manga is even better.

VRAI: Yeah. And once the manga introduces Henry Tudor, basically, it really gets into the meat of “How are we going to construct the narrative of Richard III?” which feels like Kanno taking back and being like, “Let’s look at this play and how it exists.” And once she starts doing that, that’s really when the female characters, I feel like, get to shine and sort of function more in terms of, like, they too are trapped within this narrativization, who women are within the court. And it’s kind of slow going getting there, but there were some really fantastic closes for a lot of the women by the last few volumes of the series that made me forgive at least some of the frustrating first two or three volumes.

DEE: Yeah, it did better to its characters by the end than I think the beginning would lead you to believe it would. So, definitely messy but I agree with you. I was not mad that I finished it at all.

VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, it’s still a little melodrama throughout. Like, I feel like Richard’s relationship with Buckingham was better when they were pining for each other than when they were actually together. That kind of thing. And there’s like… Okay, the princes who are like a figurehead of how depraved Richard in the play is are obviously two terribly evil little gremlins in the manga. And like, okay. Okay, Kanno, you swung a little too hard the other way. But overall, I think it is sort of a messy sophomore work of an incredibly gifted artist that really gets to some places in regards to gender and social roles and systems of power that you really only see in really, really fucking good emotionally told shoujo. Like, I think I sent you a text when I was reading the last volume, Dee, like “This is shoujo!”

DEE: Capital S, yeah.

VRAI: Yeah. When I finished it, I just really wanted to come back and make the last… if these were the last words I had about it, I wanted people to know that, my God, it’s a ten-year epic and I had to wait forever to get here but it really was well worth the rollercoaster.

DEE: I’m glad you were happy with the ending. I was, too. Well, gang, I’ve been sitting for too long and the dance floor is calling me again. Peter, care you join me for another round of Two to Mango? Awesome!

This time we’re traveling some place quite different, Central Asia in the late 1800s, in Kaoru Mori’s gorgeous ongoing series A Bride’s Story. This is one of my… kind of like Goodbye, My Rose Garden. Hey, guys, I really like historical fiction. I don’t know if you knew this about me. But this is another one of my favorite series. Other than the fact that it is absolutely beautiful, Kaoru Mori is one of if not the best straight-up artist mangaka on the market. I once heard her described as like a shounen rival except the rival is also Kaoru Mori, so constantly trying to just one up herself.

But it can be a difficult one to pitch because it starts with a marriage between… I don’t remember their exact ages, but I think Karluk is like 12 and Amir is like 20. And I mean, it’s a political marriage because it’s the late 1800s and that was how most marriages were done, was it was a political tool, not a love match. And she’s like the daughter of a chieftain of one of the other local tribes. And I think he has a relationship with their chieftain as well. So it is a political match to unite their clans, basically. And it is remarkable how well it’s done because that is such a fraught premise. But their relationship is not… like, there’s nothing sexual about it. Nobody expects there to be anything sexual about it. You know, I think from a modern perspective, if something like that were to happen nowadays, we’d be like, “That’s grooming! 100%, that’s grooming!” And I don’t want to handwave that away. But I think that one of the things I really like about historical fiction is how you can explore the way people lived and even sometimes found happiness in systems that are very different from our own and could be rife with abuse. And so much of A Bride’s Story is about exploring people navigating these patriarchal systems during a time when marriage was primarily a political tool and finding ways to have actually healthy relationships or find happiness, even if it’s not with somebody they necessarily knew before they were married to them.

And it starts with Karluk and Amir, and then it follows this anthropologist Henry Smith as he travels back across Central Asia, so you meet these other young women who are either in the process of getting married or are fairly new brides. And I think the way it tells— They’re all very different stories, but they’re all kind of still set up in those patriarchal systems, and just showing how different cultures and different people navigated those social expectations at the time.

Yeah, one arc I really enjoyed was one that takes place… it’s about a young bride, and she loves her husband, but they’re very wealthy and so she’s kind of sequestered in their house all the time. So, going to like the women’s baths is the one chance she gets to really meet and socialize and find community. And they don’t say this in as many words because they wouldn’t have had the language for it, but she forms a special friendship with a woman there. And Mori is very, very… Again, this takes place at a bathhouse. In Mori’s art and perspective, it is very clear that she is attracted to this woman. And because of the mores of the time and the fact that men were allowed to take multiple brides in this particular locale, she kind of talks her husband into, like, “Could you also marry this woman?” And he’s like, “Yeah! If that would make you happy and you’d have a friend in the house, I think that sounds great.”

So, it’s storylines like that where it takes these well-trod examples of historical relationships and kind of puts an interesting spin on them, like “Okay, but not everyone was miserable 100% of the time. So what do those relationships look like when you’re able to navigate them with your partners?” And I think that makes for a really fascinating experience where it doesn’t necessarily feel like we’ve mapped modern-day social mores onto a historical period. It feels like Mori did a ton of research to try to make it true to the world that it’s in. But it’s also not taking that Game of Thrones tack of, like, “And then the women were exploited and miserable all of the time,” because, you know, that wasn’t necessarily the case. 

And that’s not to say that more independence and freedom and marriage by the choice of the people involved is like… you know, I mean, again, this is a modern standpoint, but I think we would all agree that that makes for… you’re less likely to have terrible, abusive situations, so there’s definitely been improvements. But I think that’s what makes A Bride’s Story such an interesting tale, is the way it talks about soft power and the navigation of the systems that you are in. And Mori’s just generally really good at writing characters, so I tend to like most of the people and I get invested in their stories. And so, yeah, I’m a big fan of this one. Sorry, Vrai, what were you gonna say?

VRAI: Oh, no, I was just… for folks at home… I don’t know if you clarified, because I still haven’t gotten around to reading this yet, but the opening relationship that I think sort of keeps people from diving in, that ends up being pretty platonic, doesn’t it?

DEE: [crosstalk] I mean, yeah, so far. The implication is… They are husband and wife, eventually he will be older, and when he is, they will have children together. I mean, that’s what the marriage bond would have been at the time. But there is no pressure on him for that to happen. There’s no indication— Like, as he grows, they do kind of start to develop a relationship that eases its way into being more romantic. But no, at the very beginning it’s completely platonic. And by volume 13 or 14, it still basically is. So…

PETER: Yeah. I would say all of the scenario and situations… because, you know, it jumps around to all these different people all the time. But whenever we revisit them, the context for their stories are either about stuff that’s going on in their town or when it’s related to their marriage, specifically her learning more about his larger family, or him kind of… He has a lot of admiration for her since she came from… like, they’re from settled merchants and she’s from horse people who travel around, so she’s able to hunt, she can go out, bring back a bird or some sort of animal and they end up eating it or something like that. So, she’s very independent and able and has a lot of agency, and I feel like he is really… he admires her a lot. I don’t know. I can’t think of any words besides that.

DEE: Yeah, yeah, he admires her. I think that’s a good word for it. He also… It’s nice because it’s not like he feels like… There’s never a moment where he’s like, “You can’t go do this,” or like he’s jealous of her for being able to do that. It’s more like “I need to work hard so that I can meet you on your level basically.” He doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s worthy to be your husband yet because he knows how much younger he is than her, and he knows that he still has a lot to learn about being a member of his community and being a leader of his community. So, their dynamic is very interesting in that regard as well.

PETER: Yeah. They have a lot of affection for each other, but I think a lot of his writing is he definitely… He says “When I become a man” a lot, so it’s like when he becomes a man, he wants to be somebody who’s worthy of her. So, it does have that kind of in-the-future pretense to all of it. So, yeah, I think it’s definitely one of the… yeah, perilous scenario but handled very well, I think.

DEE: Remarkably well. Like, I could not believe how… And again, I think all the arcs are. And it does a nice job of showing people from different social classes, as well as from different cultures from this sort of Central Asian region. And it goes into the Middle East a little bit by the time Smith gets to the end of his route. And the surrounding stories, there’s a lot of political tensions with, I believe, colonizers. The last couple of volumes have kind of talked about… I think it’s some Russian forces are starting to encroach upon their lands and how they’re going to deal with that. It feels like we might be getting kind of towards the finale of the series. Do you get that sense as well, Peter?

PETER: Yeah. It takes place during the Russian conquest of Central Asia. And this definitely has been something kind of brewing in the background, the approach of the Russian military or just conflict becoming nearer to their peaceful lives in general.

DEE: Yeah. Yeah, it feels like it’s coming to a head. We also followed… We’ve basically followed Smith all the way across from their Central Asia home to… I forget where— Man, I should have looked at the locations before we started this. I want to say like around the Red Sea area, maybe. Maybe not quite that far. But then he ends up going back. And he’s made it back, and so we’ve kind of done this full loop of meeting these different women and families along the way. And so now that we’re back and it feels like some of the political stuff is coming to a head, I’m very curious to see how Mori ends up finishing this one off.

PETER: Yeah, how do you end it at all, really? [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. It feels like whatever the ending will be will be kind of a “This is a good stopping point but obviously everyone’s lives are gonna keep going.” So… But yeah, I— So, again, I haven’t done a ton of reading on these particular areas so I can’t necessarily speak to how well represented it is, but just by the amount of work that’s done on, like— Mori has an interest in day-to-day crafts, too, so there’ll be chapters on different kinds of weavings or…

PETER: Wood carving.

DEE: Yeah, carving, things like that, the different craft areas, and there is a ton of time spent on those. And she’ll talk in her little afterwords sometimes about, like, “Here’s the real-life history I pulled from” or “Here’s what I was reading that inspired me to do this.” And I know she’s visited some of the regions as well, so she’s clearly put in some work. Obviously, I would be— An article from someone who historically knows that area and time period really well would be super cool. So if anyone wants to pitch us that, I’d love to see it. It’s one I think that you could go story by story and kind of dig into and have some good conversations on. So, I don’t know, maybe a longer podcast at some point.

But we are running up to the end of our Variety Hour, which I think at this point has gone past an hour. Whoopsies! But we’re not done with the recommendations just yet. I will be bookending the show with another monologue, this one for a segment you just gotta belt out. It’s time for [Sings] Hit Me With Your Best Sell! [Returns to normal speech] In this particular segment, one of the hosts plugs an under-the-radar series more people should know about, so I am going to hit you guys with my best sell for My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files by Natsumi Ito.

This one’s fun because it’s been running on Azuki as a digital-only series for a while, and very recently, as of the recording of this, they announced their… I think Seven Seas is doing a paperback publication of it. So, that will open it up for more people if you don’t necessarily like reading digitally. If you do, Azuki is another monthly service that’s pretty inexpensive and they’ve got some cool series on there, so that’s one way to check this one out, as well.

My Dear Detective takes place in Taisho-era Japan. It is about an independent investigator, Mitsuko, who takes on cases that aren’t necessarily… Some of them are crimes, but a lot of it is more, you know, people lose something and they need help finding it, or “So-and-so’s acting unusual. Can you find out what’s going on?” kind of stuff. So there’s a lot more of her working with individuals and people and kind of trying to figure out what their relationships are and how that could have worked out. She has kind of an assistant—I wrote his name down and then I lost it—Saku. There. Okay, let me say that line again and then Peter can cut me not knowing. She has an assistant, Saku, who she meets as a part-time server, and then he kinda gets involved in the mystery she’s solving and so he ends up coming along with her. Their dynamic is very charming. The story is primarily episodic with some underlying arcs for the main characters that kind of pop up here and there in between the different case files that Mitsuko is investigating.

One of the reasons I really wanted to bring this up for the AniFem audience is this series does not hide the fact that it is quite progressive minded. The very first chapter is about a trans person. And I’m using the term “trans.” That wouldn’t have been the language at the time, but bear with me. It is a male-assigned person who likes to wear women’s clothing and present as a woman and I think even says, like, “I have the heart of a woman,” so I’m gonna use the term “trans.” And that’s the first story. It’s very sympathetically handled. It’s basically about her best friend finding out about this and at first being kind of upset, not necessarily because she’s trans but more because, like, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did I have to find out like this?” and them kind of explaining like, “I was nervous about it.” So it deals with the social mores of the time but overall in a very sympathetic best-case-scenario way because by the end her friend comes around and they make up and continue to spend time together, which is really sweet.

It spends a lot of time talking about sexism because Mitsuko is like the first female investigator, and so she has to deal with that along the way, pretty much from day one. There’s episodes on— Episodes. There’s chapters on classism, police brutality, exploitative business practices. It really digs into a lot of that stuff and it always kind of comes up on the side of the more progressive angle for it. The storylines, because they’re usually one- to two-part chapters… it can be a bit tidy sometimes, where things work out maybe quicker than they would have in the moment itself. So it does exist in a slightly idealized version of the Taisho era. And there is a chapter that’s kind of about the one good cop. You know? The “We know there’s brutality but this guy really wants to do right by the people!” So, you know, approach that with understanding and awareness of it.

But overall, I like this one a lot. I think they’re up to volume 5 at this point, so Seven Seas will have a few to put out when they do start publishing them. I’m curious to see if it’s going to develop more of an overarching story or if it will just kind of continue to be these just episodic detective stories for a while. But doing this podcast gave me an excuse to catch up on it, and yeah, I still like it! So, yeah, if you’re into detective-type stories, mysteries, or historical fiction, especially with that more progressive bent, I definitely recommend this one. It’s a really fun read.

VRAI: Sounds like it might be a good one for fans of Case Files of Jeweler Richard, which, again, I can’t emphasize enough, despite its really underwhelming anime, is a really good manga and light novel!

DEE: No, I think you’re right. Just from what I’m aware of that one, yeah, I think that style of storytelling, if that sings to you, then I think My Dear Detective will sing to you as well.

Alright, anything else, or should I move this into the outro?

VRAI: No, I could talk about Rose King for another, at least, good 15 to 20 minutes, but we gotta go.

DEE: I feel that way about a few of the titles on this list as well.

PETER: I’m glad we all feel the same way. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, the fact that our hour started to balloon tells y’all that we are enthusiastic about the titles that we have discussed here today and that there’s a lot to chew on. So, again, if people have articles they want to pitch on these titles, you know, because we did really just scrape the surface here, we’d love to get them.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Chatty AF. If you like what you heard, leave a nice review, leave a nice comment. You know, if people really like Manga Variety Hours, we will make more attempts to try to put them together for y’all.

And if you really liked what you heard today, why not head over to and become a patron? For the low, low price of $3 a month, you can get even more manga recommendations in our monthly newsletter. If you enjoy our podcasts, consider our $5 tier, which gets you a new bonus podcast and transcript every month as well as access to our private Discord server, where you can geek out with fellow feminist-minded anime fans. We also have a store,, where you can find cute and cool merch for the progressive geek on the go. And if you’re interested in more from the team and our contributors, you can check us out at For the full list of socials you can follow us on—it’s most of them except Twitter, because fuck Twitter—you can just search for our Linktree, animefeminist, and it’ll pop right up.

And that’s the show! Hit us with your best historical manga recs in the comments, and we will catch you next time.

We Need Your Help!

We’re dedicated to paying our contributors and staff members fairly for their work—but we can’t do it alone.

You can become a patron for as little as $1 a month, and every single penny goes to the people and services that keep Anime Feminist running. Please help us pay more people to make great content!

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

%d bloggers like this: