Ravina The Witch?

Title: Ravina The Witch?
Artist: Junko Mizuno (水野 純子)
Translators: C.B. Cebulski, Patrick Macias, and Jason Thompson
Publication Year: 2014 (France); 2017 (United States)
Publisher: Titan Comics
Pages: 48

This guest review is written by Erica Friedman (@OkazuYuri on Twitter).

Imagine if you will, an image of two goats looking at each other. Maybe a younger animal looking up at an older one.

“The younger, cuter one is looking up at the older and wiser one,” your brain immediately fills in for you. You then tell yourself a story about how the older goat is teaching the younger one, or scolding it, or… And in the end, you have created meaning in what is a picture of two animals who are literally just looking at one another for one brief moment.

Ravina is a girl who lives in a garbage heap, raised by crows. She is given a magic wand by a dying old woman. Ravina is captured and brought to the palace of a corrupt king, whom she unmasks as a cheater. She then lives briefly with an older man who wears dresses, and while she stays with him she learns that to use the wand she must be drunk. Ultimately, Ravina is saved from angry villagers by her crow family and returned to her home in the garbage dump.

Ravina The Witch? by Junko Mizuno is the fairytale equivalent of two animals looking at one another. We can be moved deeply by the story and we can find all sorts of meaning in it – whether it is truly there or not. In fact, we’re going to make damn well sure it is by telling ourselves the moral of the story. There is a single moment when Ravina explicitly accepts the man who wears dresses, telling him that if it makes him happy, that’s fine by her. Other than that moment, whether you see Ravina The Witch? as profound tale of acceptance of life’s vagaries or two goats looking at one another, is entirely up to you.

Titan Comics has done a bang-up job with this book. The color palette consists of muted pukey pastels, reminiscent of barfed up blueberry yogurt – entirely suitable for a fairytale that begins and ends in a garbage heap. The cover is highlighted with gold metallic ink, and Mizuno’s illustrations are detailed, intricate, and often framed in black. The combination of these visual elements imbues the book with an atmosphere similar to that of a Russian fairy tale. And, like Russian fairy tales, this story is filled with creatures that are simultaneously cute and disgusting, a lot of drinking, and the kind of ambiguous ending that one expects from Mizuno’s work.

Readers may identify this story as a deconstructed “magical girl” series. Ravina’s magic comes from her wand, but she needs to summon a special power to activate it, and she needs to be drunk to do so. So is she a “witch,” or is she a “heroine”? Or is she a kind of Vasalisa, willing to take risks to achieve morally opaque goals and personal power? You’ll have to decide for yourself, because Mizuno isn’t going to help you with this at all. You may have to re-read the book and then tell yourself another story or two to figure it out.

Ravina The Witch? is an awesome must-get book if you’re a fan of Mizuno’s work or enjoy alternative and deconstructed fairy tales. It will also make a great gift to determine who your real friends are.


Erica Friedman (@OkazuYuri on Twitter) holds a Masters Degree in Library Science and a B.A. in Comparative Literature, and is a full-time researcher for a Fortune 100 company. She has lectured at dozens of conventions and presented at film festivals, notably the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Erica has written about queer comics for the Japanese literary journal Eureka, Animerica magazine, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and she has contributed to numerous online magazines such as Forbes, Slate, and Huffington Post. She has written news and reviews of Yuri anime, manga, and related media on her blog Okazu since 2002.

The Pleasures of Metamorphosis

Title: The Pleasures of Metamorphosis: Japanese and English Fairy Tale Transformations of “The Little Mermaid”
Author: Lucy Fraser
Publication Year: 2017
Publisher: Wayne State University Press
Pages: 232

This guest review is by Annaleigh Marshall.

Lucy Fraser’s The Pleasures of Metamorphosis analyzes the idea of “pleasure” through the lens of mermaid stories, all of which branch from Hans Christian Anderson’s original “The Little Mermaid.” From a girl turning into sea foam to a man trying to have sex with a mermaid and then being eaten alive, Fraser uses the transformations present in the texts to show how different societies enjoy them and thus find pleasure in the tales. Through her feminist voice and academic knowledge of Japanese culture, Fraser reevaluates interpretations of both fairy tales and Japanese society.

The Pleasures of Metamorphosis is composed of six chapters, as well as an Introduction and Conclusion. Throughout her study, Fraser argues that the pleasure found in the idea of “The Little Mermaid” is achieved through the act of transformation. She discusses not only the legitimacy of being able to transform the fairy tale but also the ways in which this is done. Using concrete examples drawn from literature and film, Fraser shows how authors play with the ideas of Anderson’s original text.

Creators from both Western and Eastern backgrounds transform the figure of the mermaid, resisting the straightforward portrayal of an innocent girl becoming a male possession and transforming her into an adult woman on a journey to find herself within a society of gender norms and restrictive societal rules. The pleasure is in the journey of the characters, authors, and readers, and it exists within a conversation of laughter and societal critique that Fraser argues can only be created by a fairy tale. Fraser maintains a strong connection to the idea of transformation throughout the book, using evidence from multiples sources and disciplines.

Fraser makes it clear that she does not wish to compare the West to the East. Instead she wants to show the reader how fairy tales serve all of humanity as a safe way to critique our societies and experiment with concepts impossible to test in reality. The West and the East are in a cycle of constantly borrowing from one another, transforming and creating something new, sometimes to the extent that the original author does not recognize their own work’s influence. Fraser argues passionately for the idea of cross-cultural transformation, using “The Little Mermaid” as a case study and prime example. She also discusses other fairy tales, such as “The Snow Queen” and “Snow White,” but her primary focus is on the story of a youthful fish-girl going through a metamorphosis to enter the patriarchal world of adults.

Fraser’s writing style is detailed and specific, and she favors a system of presenting an idea and then illustrating this idea with lengthy examples. Often her detail-orientated perspective creates page-long discussions concerning minor details of a story. These extended explorations add strength to her argument that the pleasure of reading fairy tales lies in their transformations. Fraser shows how authors from Oscar Wilde to Japanese postfeminist writer Nonaka Hiiragi take Anderson’s original tale and use their own life experiences, national history, and personal beliefs to create unique retellings of “The Little Mermaid.” Sometimes these stories can act as methods to teach children proper social behavior, while sometimes they serve as a way to question our shared cultures and beliefs.

It should be noted the writing is not as accessible as it could be, as the author frequently uses academic jargon from Gender Studies, Folklore Studies, and Cultural Studies without sufficient explanation, expecting her reader to already understand her terms. The biggest problem lies in the author’s handling of Japanese-language expressions. Since she takes the time to explain these words, she seems not to take Japanese language proficiency for granted. Her explanations of these concepts can feel rushed, however, and she also refers to historical eras in Japanese history without providing a great deal of context, which can be alienating to readers unfamiliar with Japanese language or history.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Fraser’s informative study of the movement of fairy tales across national and cultural borders. By incorporating an interdisciplinary viewpoint, she is able to depict multiple perspectives on the transformative use of Anderson’s classic story as a means of understanding both society and individuals. As Fraser argues, we are all mermaids waiting for our metamorphosis, and the pleasure we find in mermaid stories exists in the potential for transformation.

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Annaleigh Marshall is a rising senior double majoring in English and Modern Languages at George Mason University. She has previously published an essay on Hawai’ian Pidgin in the George Mason Review (link), and you can find her full professional profile on LinkedIn (link). Annaleigh is passionate about linguistics and translation, and she aims to enter the field of video game localization when she graduates.

The Fox’s Window

Title: The Fox’s Window: And Other Stories
Japanese Title: きつねの窓 (Kitsune no mado)
Author: Awa Naoko (安房 直子)
Translator: Toshiya Kamei
Publication Year: 2010
Publisher: University of New Orleans Press
Pages: 232

I found out about this book due to the happy accident of stumbling upon the website of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Tokyo Translation Group. It’s a fantastic site that has taught me a great deal about Japanese children’s literature, and I’m grateful that it’s so well organized and contains so many interesting and well written essays.

Before I discovered the website, however, I had never heard of “the revered Japanese author” Awa Naoko. Thankfully, her translator’s short introduction does a fine job of sketching out her background for the reader:

Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was an award-winning writer of modern fairy tales. She was born in Tokyo, and while growing up, lived in different parts of Japan. As a child, Awa read fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilhelm Hauff, as well as The Arabian Nights, which later influenced her writings. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Japanese literature from Japan Women’s University, where she studied under Shizuka Yamamuro (1906-2000), who translated Nordic children’s literature into Japanese. While still in college, Awa made her literary debut in the magazine Mejiro jidō bungaku (Mejiro Children’s Literature).

The themes of Awa’s work collected in The Fox’s Window are nature, transformation, and bittersweet pain of fondly remembered past. Like Western fairy tales, Awa’s stories are filled with animals who possess anthropomorphic attributes, such as the ability to talk. Like Classical mythology, Awa’s stories operate on at the edges of a constantly shifting boundary between plant, animal, and human; flowers can easily turn into girls, and rabbits and can easily turn into boys. In the worlds Awa creates in her writing, charming and innocuous trickster spirits abound and good deeds are always rewarded. This childhood realm is seldom presented without nostalgia, and characters often remember the past as being more vibrant than the present.

The story collection opens with “The Sky-colored Chair.” In this story, a blind girl’s father wants to paint a rocking chair he’s built for her the color of the sky so that she will be able to see the sky by sitting in the chair. On a windy hilltop, the father meets a young boy who helps him create the color of the sky for his daughter. The chair is such a success that the father begins to seek out other colors, such as those of the sea and the sunset. The boy, in an effort to help the father achieve these colors, disappears and then reappears as a young man who asks that the girl’s father take him on as an apprentice chair maker. The blind girl is never really able to see any other colors, but her story still ends happily:

After a short while, the blind girl married the young man. She became a happy wife who knew the true color of the sky better than anyone else. Even after her hair turned white, she enjoyed watching the sky in her rocking chair.

In the collection’s title story, “The Fox’s Window,” an archetypal hunter enters an archetypal forest in order to hunt an archetypal fox. After chasing and losing the fox, the hunter emerges into a clearing, in the middle of which is a house he has never seen before. Out of the house emerges the fox, now in the form of a boy, who offers to paint the hunter’s hands blue in an act of magic that will allow the hunter to see into the past. The story has no plot, per se, but the visions that the hunter sees in the window that he forms with his fox-painted hands are lovely:

In my mother’s vegetable garden, a patch of shiso plants was getting soaked by the drizzle. I wondered if she would come out into the yard to pick the leaves. A soft light seeped from the house. From time to time I heard children’s laughter mixed with the music from the radio. The voices belonged to me and my sister, who was now dead. I gave a deep sigh and dropped my hands. The house I grew up in burned down, and that yard doesn’t exist anymore.

Although many of the stories in the collection are harmlessly beautiful, a few, such as “Forest of Voices,” contain touches of genuine fairy-tale horror:

The Forest of Voices returned to silence and waited for its next prey. It was a terrifying place. Countless animals had lost their way in the forest. Like someone scared of his own reflection in the mirror, every animal going astray among the trees was surprised by its own echo and ran in circles until it collapsed and died. Sometimes humans wandered into the forest – hunters pursuing their game and woodcutters following the wrong path in the fog. They all ended up nourishing the oaks.

Such stories always end well, though. The pure of heart always prevail and no one is ever really punished. The only characters who die or get hurt are animals, and even then it’s usually just an instance of the “dead mother” trope.

Unfortunately, this lack of darkness made the stories seem shallow to me. With no true shadows or bursts of light, the separate stories began to blur together into a sepia-toned slurry of adorable children, talking animals, and nature imagery. These stories are completely harmless and thus, in my opinion, mostly forgettable.

Perhaps The Fox’s Window would appeal to parents of young children for whom the stories of Beatrix Potter and Jill Barklem are deemed too scary. The stories might also appeal to the children themselves, as younger readers have an astonishing ability to make up details to fill in the gaps of minimalist narratives. Since the visual imagery of Awa Naoko’s writing is so strong, her stories might also appeal to artists and illustrators looking for inspiration. In fact, I felt that each of the individual pieces in The Fox’s Window was highly impressionistic, like a pencil sketch of a scene onto which a single layer of watercolors has been quickly applied. Although this type of writing doesn’t hold a great deal of appeal for someone like me, who finds beauty and meaning in words and narratives, I imagine that Awa’s short fairy tales could be much more interesting to someone better able to think in pictures and images.

I’d like to thank University of New Orleans Press for making The Fox’s Window available on the Kindle Store. I’ve been noticing a baffling dearth of children’s literature in digital format, and I think it’s wonderful that this collection is helping to remedy the situation.