Kamikaze Girls

kamikaze-girls

Title: Kamikaze Girls
Japanese Title: 下妻物語
Author: Takemoto Novala (嶽本野ばら)
Translator: Akemi Wegmüller
Publication Year: 2008 (America); 2002 (Japan)
Publisher: Viz Media
Pages: 219

In his afterward to Kamikaze Girls, Takemoto Novala writes that “Lolita is a fusion of the spirit of punk rock with formal beauty that honors tradition. Lolitas value independence and beauty above all else. In Kamikaze Girls, the two girls are drawn to each other’s independent natures and eventually come to respect one another.” Such a lofty statement is belied by the colorful and overwhelmingly pink cover of the novel, as well as the fact that the “two girls” in question (the protagonists of the novel) are a stereotypically representative Sweet Lolita and a stereotypically representative Yanki, or juvenile motorcycle (or, as the case may be, scooter) gang member.

The novel is narrated by Momoko, who describes herself in this way: “A red felt mini-hat accented with rose-shaped burnout lace is perched on my hair, which is styled in a princess cut with long ringlets, and I have on frilly white over-the-knee socks. So aside from my shoes, which are Vivienne Westwood’s Rocking Horse Ballerinas and Lolita must-haves (they go with any Lolita outfit), I am clad head-to-toe in my darling Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.”

In other words, Momoko is a Lolita among Lolitas, and she peppers her story with all sorts of references to and explanations of Lolita culture. In fact, Momoko begins her engagingly chatty narrative with a pseudo-historical lecture on the Rococo era in France, which supposedly inspired Lolita fashion and its ideals. Despite the silliness of the premise, Momoko’s narrative style is one of the major attractions of the novel. An unreliable narrator par excellence, Momoko relates the often sordid and depressing details of her personal and family history in witty, toungue-in-cheek monologues that reflect teenage power fantasies (at least as I remember my own) to an amazing degree.

In any case, the aggressively anti-social Momoko manages to attract the attention of Ichigo, a similarly dysfunctional seventeen year old. Unlike Momoko, Ichigo was born to a fairly bourgeois family; but, upon encountering ijime (group bullying) in middle school, she fell into despair and was rescued by a female Yanki gang. Although Ichigo respects and admires the leader of this gang for both her toughness and her nurturing personality, she is drawn to Momoko despite the Lolita’s almost constant derision. When the Yanki leader announces her intention to “graduate” from the gang (she intends to get married), Ichigo wants to present her with a kamikaze coat embroidered by the legendary Yanki figure Emma, who can supposedly be found in the fashionable Daikanyama district of Tokyo. Emma doesn’t exist, unfortunately, but Momoko is quite skilled at embroidery herself, and the pair’s adventures in Tokyo have some unexpected outcomes for both of them.

Even though Nakashima Tetsuya’s 2004 film version of Kamikaze Girls was so ridiculous and oversaturated that it made my eyes bleed a little, I found that I honestly enjoyed Takemoto’s original novel. As I mentioned earlier, the informal, chatty, and at times almost essay-like narrative style is quite enjoyable, the dialog is quick and jazzy and well-translated, and the characterization is surprisingly deep and complex for a book with such a pink cover. I’m not quite sure what Takemoto’s novel says about gender performity, post-modern identity construction, or the historical moment in which it was written, but hey, it’s a really fun book with two awesome protagonists.

Gothic & Lolita Bible

gothic-lolita-bible

Title: Gothic & Lolita Bible
Editors: Jenna Winterburg and Michelle Nguyen
Publisher: Tokyopop
Publication Schedule: Quarterly
Pages: 128

This month has seen the publication of the fifth issue of the English edition of the famed Japanese “mook” (magazine-book) Gothic & Lolita Bible (ゴシック&ロリータバイブル). Since the theme of the Spring 2009 issue is “A Dreamy Gothic & Lolita Wedding,” and since I find the obsession with weddings somewhat troubling (blame my inner feminist), I will base this review on the Winter 2009 (fourth) issue of the Bible. The focus of this issue seems to be “badassery and cupcakes,” which provides more comfortable thematic material for me to work with.

So, what is the Gothic & Lolita Bible all about, anyway? Well, obviously, it’s about Gothic and Lolita fashion, but there is also information about visual kei singers and bands, as well as copious amounts of information concerning the Gothic Lolita lifestyle so vividly portrayed in contemporary Japanese fiction like Novala Takemoto’s novel Kamikaze Girls (下妻物語, published in translation by Viz Media). The English version of the Bible provided both translated material from the original Japanese mooks and incorporates new material of interest to Western (especially American) readers.

Because the English edition of the Bible just came into existence (the first issue was released in early 2008), the content tends to change from issue to issue, as features and formats still seem to be in a developmental stage. Each issue, however, will contain numerous fantasy-inspired photo shoots of both Japanese models and Western readers, a Fruits magazine-esque montage of Harajuku street fashion photos, and, of course, a detailed section featuring the season’s offerings from major Japanese Gothic Lolita fashion brands like Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty, Innocent World, h.NAOTO, Black Peace Now, and Atelier Boz. Also, like the Japanese version, each issue contains patterns and instructions for do-it-yourself pieces (mainly accessories). Other articles may feature interviews with American Gothic Lolita designers, information on American and Japanese artists specializing in Gothic Lolita art, and reviews of fancy cupcakes that would presumably complement a Gothic Lolita tea party.

Personally, my favorite features are the “Letters from Our Readers” section, which includes, for example, poetry and reader-submitted art of surprisingly high quality, and the occasional fiction and essays that make it into the magazine, such as Arika Takarano’s manifesto titled “Oh Maiden, Advance with a Sword and a Rose,” which encourages young ladies to follow their hearts and their dreams regardless of the social pressures they might face. Along these lines, the reader letters published by the mook tend to deal with issues of participating in the Gothic Lolita culture even though you’re too old, too fat (by Japanese sizing standards), or live in the middle of nowhere. If nothing else, the Gothic & Lolita Bible gives its readers a sense of community, regardless of whether they own a stitch of the clothing or not.

Does this sound corny? You bet it’s corny. The whole mook is corny, actually. If you’ve already made up your mind that Gothic and Lolita culture is the most silly, superficial thing you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter, the Gothic & Lolita Bible will not convince you otherwise. If you’re even the slightest bit curious about Gothic Lolita, however, I would recommend picking up a copy of this mook. It’s a gorgeous publication and well worth the $20 price tag.