A look at two more artbooks (Eshi 100 Generation 2, Ganbare Douki-chan PIN-UPS)

Well man this is what this site is now. Why not? This is yet another lazy “look at some artbooks/photobooks/doujins I have” post, only a little more adult-themed this time (though technically not 18+, but calling the second of these books safe for work — you be the judge when you read about it. Unless you’d rather not see it, in which case please be sure to check back in next post.)

Eshi 100 Generation 2: New Masterpieces of 100 Eshi

When I wrote about my most recent artbook purchase a week ago, I didn’t make the obvious connection with another similar artbook I’ve had for years now. Eshi 100 or 100 Eshi is another running series of compilation-style artbooks, though not annually but rather once every four years. I’m not sure who organizes this series, but they all feature beautiful covers by the eminent Range Murata, so it’s immediately obvious that the publishers have good taste. There’s a reason Mr. Murata draws so many covers — they really catch the eye, don’t they? I especially like this sunflower-themed one.

Having an eye-catching cover is great, but it’s not sufficient to make the book worth buying (I’ve gotten a few doujins on the strength of their covers alone, and that’s backfired more often than not.) Thankfully, this book is full of excellent art from 100 top Japanese illustrators from back in 2013 when this book was released, each getting two pages with a listing of artist profiles in the front. And good news for me and other readers who aren’t fluent in Japanese: all the text in 100 Eshi Generation 2 is in both Japanese and English. (Not such good news: a lot of the links provided in the book to artists’ online profiles are probably broken since the book is almost ten years old, but that couldn’t be avoided.)

More of that slice-of-life vibe, wholesome fun with music and cooking from the artist Takashi Shiwasu.

Of course, the actual art is what you’ll probably be most interested in, and that’s all well worth seeing. There’s an even stronger emphasis on the cute girl/heroine theme in this than in Visions 2021 — in that book it was maybe 70%; here it’s more like 99%. Works for me, though. The book includes the work of such masters as Sayori, the woman behind Nekopara; and VOFAN, the Monogatari cover illustrator/character designer. Murata naturally gets a couple of pages as well, and one of his pieces is a girl eating a hamburger for some reason. Maybe McDonald’s should hire him to make their food look more appealing than it actually is.

So if you’re into the theme and aesthetic, this book is worth checking out. Like Visions, it’s on the smaller side, and some of the pieces are sadly resized to fit into quarters of pages, but what can you do with these size and page constraints? I’d just look these guys’ profiles up online for their higher res work. Just one practical note: I think this book has been out of print for a while, so it can be a bit expensive (say $60 or more) unless you dig around for a good deal. They are out there.

Ganbare Douki-chan PIN-UPS

I said it would get spicier the further you read, and I’m fulfilling that promise now. Not that this book is especially spicy all things considered — it’s just a jalapeño compared to some of the stuff I have.

But Pin-ups is a special case, a doujin by Yom, another one of my very favorite artists online. I’ve already written about the Douki-chan series and its unique light romantic comedy manga/artbook format (and also its anime short adaptation that was pretty decent.) Pin-ups isn’t part of that story, but is rather a small doujin-sized artbook full of exactly what you’d hope from the title: pin-up illustrations of the four main ladies from the series.

And damn it’s good. Yom is an excellent artist, and he likes drawing this kind of old-fashioned cheesecake, so that’s what you’ll get in Pin-ups. As with his main Twitter manga/art series, you won’t get any actual nudity or technically explicit content here (otherwise the cover would bear an 18+ or Adults Only stamp.) Instead, Yom’s work seems to take more from an older erotic art style similar to those 50s and 60s pin-ups. The only magazine from that time I’m familiar with is Playboy, so maybe something like that but with a modern look and coming as close to nudity as possible in some places without going over that line.

I have to say my heart is with Douki-chan, but Kouhai-chan… I just don’t know. Maybe it’s the eyebrows.

I don’t know if I’m thinking too much about this. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were, but I believe “not quite showing everything” adds to the appeal of art like this. Going back to my stupid hot pepper analogy, I actually like jalapeños more than any other type — spicier doesn’t necessarily mean better.

This “not showing everything” idea is an old one, but Yom uses it to excellent effect. And for those who might argue as I’ve sometimes seen on social media that this stuff is a little objectionable, or even objectifying, I say 1) I’m looking respectfully* and 2) I’d be happy to see a similar work full of guys. In fact, I’m positive such books exist considering how much pretty guy anime art is out there (and see also those old firefighter calendars that apparently used to be popular, though I’m still not sure if that wasn’t just something invented by 90s sitcom writers to put their characters in wacky situations.) I like this cheesecake style in any case and hope it has a revival, and if anyone can help drive that it’s Yom.**

Well, I guess I’m a pervert for knowing this much about this sphere of the internet, but you certainly knew that already. I really like this small artbook and recommend it for those who are into such subjects. Just keep in mind that this is a doujin, a self-published work. It has no bar code or ISBN, and like other doujins it’s not sold in regular bookstores, not even in Japan — you have to visit a hobby or specialist store to find these. Or if you’re in Burgerland like me you have to either buy at a con probably at a high markup, from an online hobbyist/specialist doujin/manga/anime goods retailer, or from Japan through a proxy buyer. Not even the few anime goods shops around here sell these, though that might be because a lot of, maybe even most, doujin books are just plain pornography.

Next time, will I write about still more artbooks? Maybe another visual novel review, or a complete surprise? I’m not sure yet, but I hope I’ll see you then.

 

* Okay, this is a common joke now, but it’s at least partially true this time.

** You thought you’d escape without an unnecessarily lengthy endnote section? Of course not. Since I used the term twice, I wondered about why these old-fashioned pin-up photos were called “cheesecake”, its literal definition being a cake made with a few particular kinds of soft cheese — where’s the connection? Apparently the story is that a New York photographer in 1950 asked his subject to hike her skirt up a little for a photo, and when the editor saw it he said it was “better than cheesecake!”

Just like that New York editor, I love cheesecake, but I was hoping for a more interesting origin than that. If the editor had said “this is better than fettuccine alfredo” would we be calling this style fettuccine alfredo? Probably not, but who can say? But really, this story feels like one of those bullshit backwards explanations for an existing term that nobody truly knows the origin of.

Anime short triple feature: Piacevole / Miss Bernard said. / Ganbare Douki-chan

The anime short review feature returns, and as a triple feature this time instead of just a double! However, I’m not actually doing more work here, because this time the featured shorts aren’t just half-length but are rather extra-short shorts, with each series consisting of only twelve 3 to 4-minute episodes.

I’ve been curious about these for a while, wondering how their makers manage to get their points across in only a few minutes at a time. Turns out this format is pretty limiting. A lot of these extra-shorts (not sure if there’s a better term for these 5-minutes-or-less-episode series to differentiate them from the longer shorts) also have middling-to-poor scores on the big anime database/grading sites, suggesting that a lot of viewers aren’t satisfied with them.

But fuck those scores, I say — I’ll judge these series for myself. Before I start, I should note that these are all adapted from print works, only one of which I’ve read, so for the most part I’ll be taking these series on their own merits. Starting with:

Piacevole

No, I don’t know what this new annoying black border on the screenshots is about. I’ll try to work that out.

I picked most of these series to watch based on whether I thought I’d enjoy their themes. And Piacevole is about Italian food, and I like Italian food.

But did I like Piacevole? That’s a more complicated question. This series opens with a high school student, Morina, looking for a part-time job. In the course of her search, she discovers Trattoria Festa, a rustic-looking Italian place, and is immediately hired as a waitress there. However, Morina’s time with the absentee owner’s young son Maro, an aspiring chef, and with the rest of the restaurant’s strange/quirky staff inspires her to try cooking herself.

A slow start, but she’s determined

The crew at the trattoria along with a few new characters who show up halfway through are pretty fun, and it was a good time seeing Maro desperately trying to impress Morina, because he’s obviously smitten with her, but while also proudly pretending he doesn’t really care or anything. And aside from the above kind of scuffed-looking Caprese salad, the show makes all this food look nice enough — the usual high standards for food featured in anime.

It’s been so long since I’ve had mussels…

The trouble with Piacevole, and I’m guessing with some of these other types of shorts, is that I’m left wanting more. I’m pretty sure there’s enough here to at least fill half-length episodes — first, because I’ve already seen a series with a similar premise of “new girl starts working at restaurant/café full of weird characters” that pulled off a full-length one-cour season (Blend S, though that one was much less about food and much more about otaku-related stuff like idols, doujinshi, and mobile game addictions.)

And second, because everything in Piacevole runs at triple speed. Every character is talking and speeding around a mile a minute, seemingly to cram as much as possible into each three or four-minute stretch. I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the series, though you could argue it fits the frantic pace of working in a restaurant.

Italian food is serious business

But I thought Piacevole was all right in the end. Italian cooking is an interesting niche for a manga, anyway — I guess it’s considered more of a novelty in Japan than here in the US, where Italian cuisine is pretty common and has been absorbed somewhat into the broader American culture.

I don’t know enough about food or cooking to say, though. I just know that Piacevole made me want some fucking fried eggplant that I don’t know how to prepare myself and can’t easily get, and now I’m annoyed because of it. But that’s not really the show’s fault, is it? In fact, that seems to be the whole point of the show, so if its purpose was to get viewers hungry for Italian food, it probably pulled that off well enough.

Miss Bernard said.

I also like reading, so I also picked up Miss Bernard said., another extra-short series, this one about students talking about literature. But don’t let the above screenshot fool you: the school library remains peaceful for about 15 seconds, until title character Sawako Machida shows up.

I wonder what anime she’s talking about

Sawako, who for some reason insists on calling herself “Miss Bernard” (though nobody else calls her this, and I’m sure there’s a reference here I’m not getting) tries to make like she loves reading, but she’s too lazy to actually read a book. She brags a lot about her literary pursuits, but the other three characters in the series see right through her act and end up pretty much tolerating her presence in the library while still thinking she’s an idiot. But they also all become friends in the end.

Miss Bernard is maybe even faster-paced than Piacevole, and it’s certainly crammed even more fully with text. It’s Literary References: The Anime. I thought I liked reading, but not as much as the people who made this or the source material behind it, because some of these references were over my head. Though a lot of them connect to classic science fiction, which I haven’t read too much of (I haven’t even read Dune. I know, I know.)

Pretty much

There are a few spot-on jokes here about readers who go on about “the book being better” when a movie adaptation comes out, or pretending that they’ve read more than they actually have, or that they’ve even tried to understand the writing of Thomas Pynchon and other purposely difficult authors (I’ll just admit here as well that I’ve never tried to read Pynchon, nor James Joyce outside of a few of his short stories that read pretty normally from what I remember — far more normally than his novels at least from the bits I’ve seen.)

But in general, I didn’t get much out of watching Miss Bernard. Except that I learned Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, which I guess is interesting, but I can’t do much with that knowledge either. At least the ending was nice.

Ganbare Douki-chan

Good luck with that

And finally for the series I was looking forward to, since I’m reading/viewing the source material. Ganbare Douki-chan is a recently completed adaptation of Yom’s still-running hybrid manga/artbook series of the same name, featuring a lot of nice art of attractive lady office workers pining after the one guy they work with. The main character Douki-chan (again, douki here meaning “co-worker”; none of these characters get actual names) wants to express her feelings to Douki-kun, but she’s too nervous to do so clearly. And Douki-kun is just as dense as your typical anime romantic comedy male lead, which is certainly no help.

Douki-chan’s situation is complicated by her rivals, a flirty and much more forward junior office worker (above) and a business client with a more subtle and seductive approach. Every time Douki-chan works up the nerve to move her relationship with her co-hire forward, one or both of these rivals edge their way in and involve themselves, trying to get Douki-kun’s attention instead much to our protagonist’s frustration.

I know the feeling

Unlike the first two series I covered in this post, Douki-chan thankfully doesn’t move at 200 miles per hour to cram a ton of dialogue into its three to four minutes each — each episode is more like a vignette than a full story, so it can move at a relaxed pace without any trouble. It probably makes a difference that it’s not adapting a manga but rather a series of artworks that just have bits of dialogue and text attached, leaving a lot up to the reader’s imagination.

In that sense, I think this series of shorts is a pretty good adaptation of the original material. I still prefer the books — watching the anime just can’t beat fully taking in Yom’s art, which I felt was a big part of the appeal of the work — but it’s still fun to see it all animated and voiced. (Also, does this count as saying “the book was better”? Guess I really am one of those readers.)

Douki-kun still has that “no face male lead” thing going on here that a lot of VNs also do, which I’m not a big fan of. I know why it’s a thing — makes it easier to self-insert supposedly. But it still creeps me out a bit. Still, it’s a better solution than animating everything from his POV.

So it’s this series alone that gets my full approval. Though just as with the artbooks it’s based on, that’s a qualified recommendation. If you care very much about whether the anime you watch passes the Bechdel test, for example, you obviously shouldn’t come anywhere near this stuff. Ganbare Douki-chan didn’t even take the Bechdel test; it failed to study and then slept through the alarm because it was hung over that morning.

But that’s kind of the point, anyway. You’ll already know whether this series is for you, so if it’s clearly not, best avoid it.

I’m sure Douki-chan will realize her ambitions eventually, but I’m also sure Yom will keep stringing us along for a while.

That’s it for the shorts for now. I’m not sure whether I’ll return to these extra-short series — they’re naturally very quick and easy to watch, but I didn’t get much out of them aside from Douki-chan, which I already figured I’d probably like anyway. The only other one I even have on my watchlist, Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki, looks like it’s all about regional Japanese cultures and dialects focusing on Nagoya, and I’m not even going to pretend I’d understand any of that. Especially not if it’s all presented in this lightning-speed 3/4-minute format.

But there’s plenty more anime to come with the end of the fall season. I actually watched a few series that I plan to write about, so you can look forward to that later this month and/or next month depending on my schedule. Until then!

A review of Ganbare Douki-chan (Vol. 1-4)

Anyone who’s into the less safe-for-work side of art on Twitter might be familiar with Yomu. This artist has made a name for himself creating work that’s sometimes very close to the edge of being 18+ but technically doesn’t cross it. That’s to say, a lot of his art really isn’t SFW in the literal sense. (And the standard disclaimer: this is more or less adult stuff this time around so fair warning as usual.)

Yomu certainly deserves the praise he gets for all his skill, but part of his appeal probably comes from the fact that he makes no secret of what he’s into, which is a quality many people respect. If you’ve seen Miru Tights, this is pretty obvious — this is the same artist behind that series. And the same is true of his other work Ganbare Douki-chan.

I’m really not sure what category to put this one into. I chose to file this post under “manga”, but Ganbare Douki-chan is not exactly a manga; it’s really more of a series of full-page and full-color drawings with a bit of descriptive text or dialogue sometimes included punctuated by a few comic strips. It’s more like an artbook series in that sense. But unlike the other artbooks I own, these aren’t just individual pieces of art: they feature established characters and tell a running story. So Douki-chan is a strange bird, but that’s part of why I wanted to write about it.

Ganbare Douki-chan (something like Do Your Best, Co-Worker, or maybe Doing Her Best/Hardworking Co-Worker? I’m still not that great in Japanese) is about the emotional travails of the office worker Douki-chan, seen on the cover above. She doesn’t get a real name — I don’t think anyone in this series does from what I can tell; “Douki” is an equal colleague or in this case a co-hire as opposed to your senior or junior. Douki-chan and her colleagues work at an office doing some kind of office-related work that’s never specified, but that’s not important either, because this series is all about Douki-chan and her rivals vying for the affections of one guy at their office.

Vol. 2: A challenger appears!

This dude is apparently desirable as hell too, because they’re all going after him pretty hard. Unfortunately, Douki-chan isn’t quite as forward as her rivals, and she certainly can’t bring herself to confess her feelings to the guy, but she still somehow ends up getting into nice situations with him that aren’t quite intimate but close enough to spur her on more. On the other hand, she also worries about and imagines her rivals getting into sexual situations with the guy (and she imagines herself doing so as well — Douki-chan has a pretty good imagination.)

For me, a lot of the appeal to Ganbare Douki-chan comes from seeing the title character getting all flustered but then getting those small wins over her flirty co-workers. But then, of course, there’s the appeal of the art itself. Yomu is great at drawing really cute/attractive women. That seems to be about all he does, anyway, which is certainly fine with me.

He also has a few very obvious fixations, namely on women’s legs and tights/pantyhose; that was the focus of Miru Tights, and the same theme shows up a whole lot in Ganbare Douki-chan, so if that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed. However, he also branches out into other areas: there’s plenty of cleavage, some swimsuits in the fourth volume, and a few approaching-but-not-quite-naked situations throughout, even with implied sex in Douki-chan’s imagination/dreams in a few (again skirting that 18+ line! And a reminder that even though they avoid that 18+ only label on the cover, these volumes aren’t for kids.)

Finally, there’s the appeal of imagining yourself as the guy in this situation. I guess this is part of the point of Douki-chan, anyway, since a lot of the pages are drawn from the point of view of the man being fought over. Of course, as with a lot of fantasies, the situation would probably get a bit ugly if it were to become reality — there’s a reason a lot of offices discourage open co-worker relationships, and the love polygon in this series has to be causing productivity issues.

… and another one. Will there be yet another challenger added in Vol. 4? You can probably guess.

But I don’t read something like Ganbare Douki-chan because I want to think about productivity issues. I have to do that enough at my own office, which isn’t anything like the one featured in these books (otherwise I might actually look forward to going back soon despite what I just wrote above; yes I really can be that shallow sometimes.) The point to me is more to appreciate Yomu’s beautiful art and to hope Douki-chan comes out on top in the end. This isn’t a deep or serious work or anything, and there’s only so much in the way of storytelling I think you can do with this kind of format.

But I like the format Yomu uses here. It strikes a nice balance between showing off his art and telling a very light romantic story with some comedy mixed in. This is naturally one of those “this is for me but might not be for you” works again — that applies with double or even triple strength this time — but if it’s for you, you’ll like it too.

Just a few more points about Douki-chan — these are doujin (self-published) books, so they don’t have ISBNs or barcodes, and they’re not listed in a lot of the places you can typically find manga. I got mine off of eBay, because of course I had to get physical copies, but if you don’t want to go through the trouble I think there are digital copies available around as well. There also isn’t any official translation and very likely never will be — not such a big deal since you can get the gist of the whole thing without even being able to read any of the bits of text and dialogue in it, but there are sites out there that have unofficial translations, and you can find them easily if you know where to look. Finally, each volume is fairly short at about 30-36 pages each, but the quality of the art and the paper size (B5, typical doujin size; larger than a manga tankobon volume) more than make up for their relatively short lengths.