As an avid reader of manga scans, I click through the fan-translated manga pretty quick. Many times, I don’t recall the name of the manga once I click on a new page. Or the characters’ names. Or the plot.
Other times, though, there is a series that captures my attention that I keep going back to.
I read through Alexandrite by Narita Minako every few months. Alexandrite is the spin off series of Narita’s series Cipher. The main character is Alexandra (Alex) Levine, a guy who is starting college in New York with his friends (some of who were main characters in the previous series). Sometimes mistaken for a girl (huge insecurities there), super talented in karate and judo, an inspiring work ethic, and head-over-heels in love with his childhood friend, Alex is an incredibly adorable, thoughtful, and intriguing protagonist.
My favorite thing about Narita’s work, especially in Alexandrite, is that the characters feel so real. The way they act and react, the time they take to make big decisions. All the relationships! Not talking romantic relationships, mind you, though that arc is paced great with the proper changes of heart at the right time. She acknowledges a few heavy subjects, too, such as step-family dynamics, homophobia, AIDS, rape, and others. These issues are handled with respect, and don’t overtake the storyline. They just exist in the lives of these characters. And, without fail, I love the diversity of her cast.
A lot of time in manga, I find very few other races (to be expected, when the story is set in Japan)–and if they are present, they are influenced by the stereotypes of that race from American TV media. Every one of Narita’s characters, main or minor, is a true human with flaws, aiming towards their own goal.
A good example of this is Marcus Campbell, a man who challenges Alex to a basketball match towards the end of the series. Really, he’s sizing Alex up in case they ever end up in a karate match. After a few misunderstandings, they become great friends. Marcus is a black man with a determined and gracious character. Many Japanese depictions of black men in manga have been unfortunately violent and troublesome. Instead, Narita has Marcus, a hard worker striving to be the best at karate, which earns him a reputation amongst the dojos. His family is broken–his father left them with a ton of loans to their shop. But Marcus decided to rise and meet the situation his father put his mother and him in. He’s a true friend to Alex.
Alexandrite came out in 1991, in the year after I was born, so it isn’t a surprise even if it was available in print in the USA I wouldn’t find it. Maybe I’ll have to learn to read Japanese and find a copy from Japan.
A fear as always buying a printed manga is that it isn’t going to be the same as the fan-translation you’ve known and loved. With this manga, though, I really really want a physical copy. Even if the tone of the characters change in an official translation, this is one manga I’d love to have on my bookshelf.
Do you have a manga you wish would be sold in your language? I’d love to hear! Comment below!