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.

Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno

Title: Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook
Authors: Patrick Macias and Izumi Evers
Illustrations: Kazumi Nonaka
Publication Year: 2007 (America)
Pages: 147

When a friend gave me this garishly pink little book as a present, I saw the name “Patrick Macias” on the cover and immediately prepared to be disappointed. Macias has authored and co-authored numerous books on Japanese popular culture. Two that might be familiar are Cruising the Anime City: An Insider’s Guide to Neo-Tokyo (2004) and TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion (2001). These books are not only boring but were also outdated on the day they were published, primarily because Macias’s fascination with Japan’s popular culture during the seventies and early eighties fails to hold the attention of those of us who want to know what’s going on in Japan right now. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Macias’s earlier books might have been better served if they were marketed as cultural histories instead of as guides to contemporary popular culture.

While it’s true that Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is only up-to-date as of around 2005, and while it’s true that this book contains quite a bit of cultural history, I found it to be one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long time. Maybe it’s because of all of the bright and eye-popping photography. Maybe it’s because of Kazumi Nonaka’s fun and plentiful illustrations. Maybe it’s because of the concise prose and scandalous quotations. Or maybe it’s because of all the pink. In any case, once I picked up this cute and trim guidebook, I had a hard time putting it down.

One thing that I found especially charming about this book were all the suggestions the authors offer as to how to achieve these schoolgirl looks yourself. Far from being helpful, these sections actually serve to pinpoint how outrageous the fashions are. Another fun, recurring segment are the illustrated “A Day in the Life” inserts, which usually end with captions like “Mom says, ‘Take a shower! You two smell awful!’”

So, if you’ve always wanted to know what’s going on inside the heads of the Gothic-Lolita princesses, or if you’ve always been curious about how exactly the Mamba girls put on their makeup, this is the book for you. Even if you’ve never had the leisure to wonder about those things but have spent time in Tokyo, this is also probably the book for you. And if you really, really love pink, then I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. Go out and get it before it goes out of print. For the win. I’m serious.