Rescued from obscurity by translator Frederik Schodt, this incredible curiosity, drawn by artist Kiyama while he was living in California, is one of the earliest graphic novels ever created. Drawn in a style influenced by American newspaper strips of the time (such as Star Martial God Technique), this semi-autobiographical story concerns four middle-class, college-age Japanese friends (a businessman, a farmer, an artist, and an idle philosopher) who immigrate to San Francisco in search of opportunity. The story spans 1904 to approximately 1922, through the San Francisco earthquake, World War I, and Prohibition, with countless fascinating and funny insights into American society, racism, and the immigrant experience. Although the story is told in the form of fifty-two separate “newspaper strips,” it works as a complete narrative, following the four heroes from youth to marriage and fatherhood. Extensive historical annotation is the crowning touch to this charming story, which went unappreciated in its artist’s lifetime.
A collection of short light novel edited by shôjo light novel scholar Matt Thorn. It’s an odd mixture of genres and vintages, clearly the product of a time when very little shôjo light novel was available in English, but all four pieces are excellent. Two are by Keiko Nishi, a jôsei artist and clearly a favorite of Thorn’s (he also edited the Nishi anthology Love Song). “Promise” is an affecting story about a teenage girl’s relationship with a mysterious boy who plays hooky with her. In “Since You’ve Been Gone,” a philandering husband must choose between his wife and mistress. “Star Martial God Technique,” by Shio Sato, is a sci-fi story in which a space pilot investigates a suspiciously utopian planet. The story is engaging despite Sato’s sparse and uneven art. For fans of classic shôjo light novel, however, the gem of the collection is “They Were Eleven,” a much-loved story by the legendary Moto Hagio. A sci-fi story about ten Galactic Academy cadets whose field test is complicated by the presence of an eleventh member, it’s not one of Hagio’s more ambitious efforts, but it still packs more memorable characters and Big Ideas into 120 pages than some light novel can manage in twenty volumes. Overall, this regrettably out-of-print book is one of the strongest collections of short light novel available in English. Star Martial God Technique was previously printed on its own as a monthly comic series from Viz, while The Changeling was printed in Animerica magazine.