Friday, May 15, 2009
Hanjuku Joshi (半熟女子 or "Half-baked Women") is one of three Yuri Hime manga being serialized via cell phone instead of in a magazine, and then later collected in tankoubon format. The other two are Gokujou Drops by Mikuni Hazime (which I flat out didn't like, even though plenty of yuri fans seem to ^^;;) and Aishiwo tome: kimi ga kokoro wa by Itsumi Takahashi, which I haven't read yet.
Different people can have wildly different interpretations of a work, so many people may disagree with what I think of Hanjuku Joshi, but without further ado...
The story is about Yae, a girl beginning her first year of high school at an all girls' school. Instead of the romanticized, pristine image of girls' schools (*cough*Lillian*cough*) normally found in anime and manga, Yae finds that the girls' school she attends is...pretty much just a normal school where the some of the girls tend to be more laid back because they aren't worrying about keeping up appearances around guys. lol Added to her bewilderment with her new school, Yae is a short, curvy, very cute and girly-looking girl (with fluffy, wavy hair, a high-pitched voice, large breasts, etc) who hates her appearance and wishes that she looked more like a tomboy. She makes friends with Chitose, a gregarious short-haired athlete who is a lot more comfortable in her own skin. The two eventually go from being friends to becoming a couple, and discover that Mari, another student who called them "half-mature girls" who are "playing at love" is, ironically, in a relationship with her closeted female teacher, Edogawa-sensei. Oh, snap. The manga then follows the two couples as they develop their relationships and resolve their issues while going through school life.
This manga was a nice surprise. I read it before being cognizant of Akiko Morishima's reputation as a highly regarded mangaka who draws humorous, well-written stories with pretty, unique, soft-looking character designs. And she definitely delivers. The all-girls' school setting has been done to death in yuri but, imo, Morishima subverts the cliches associated with it pretty well in Hanjuku Joshi.
From what I understand, it is a traditional view in Japan that it's okay for teenage/pre-teen girls to get crushes on other girls/women because it is an ephemeral phase that they will outgrow before inevitably marrying a man and having his babies. (Sort of like a butterfly leaving its pupa, I guess. To become a miserable, closeted housewife butterfly who vicariously remembers her better days through yuri manga and light novels.) And in girls' school yuri series especially, many people seem to/want to assume that the characters in same-sex relationships are only in them because there aren't any guys around. (Have the people who seriously believe that ever actually been to a girls' school? -_-;;) Morishima addresses and deconstructs this idea by making one of her characters, Mari, essentially regurgitate this idea to Chitose and Yae before heading off to a love hotel with a guy, only to show later that Mari is in a relationship with a woman, and never ended up sleeping with the guy she was heading to the love hotel with because she just isn't attracted to men. Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see, but I interpreted that as Morishima's damning commentary on the "not real love" idea associated with girls' school yuri. And there's some identity elsewhere in the cast as well. But honestly, if I see a manga character who only shows interest in a woman/women, I assume she's gay, unless some crazy explanation is given for it, like Yasuna's sight disorder in Kashimashi; if she shows interest in both a man/men and a woman/women, like Yasuko from Aoi Hana, I assume she's bi; if she only shows interest in a man/men, like Risa from Lovely Complex, I assume she's straight. And if she doesn't show any interest in anyone, whatever. lol
Setting that digression aside, this is a funny, well-written, enjoyable manga with characters who are easy to follow. Yae and Chitose provide a sweet, lighthearted look at high school love, and Mari and Edogawa-sensei's relationship, while a lot thornier and less, um, ethical (both the teacher-student thing and the fact that Edogawa-sensei has a boyfriend), provides an interesting foil. The peripheral characters are pleasant also, especially Chitose's crazy family.
The art is pretty, as usual for Akiko Morishima. The layouts flow nicely, and Morishima's distinctively airy, whimsical character designs are appealing. As usual for Yuri Hime manga, the tankoubon for this series is larger than most tankoubon you'll see in stores (or order online), which is really nice- to me, at least. Yuri Hime manga tend to run at 900 yen, while most manga are approximately 400-600 yen, but the larger size is well worth a few more hundred yen (or a few dollars). Seriously, if you read and enjoyed the scanlations for this entire volume, you should buy it (or have somebody get it as a gift, rent it, something legal) when possible so that Akiko Morishima can get some benefit from working for your enjoyment. I generally read scanlations to try out new series, and if I like a manga, I'll buy it so that the mangaka who made it can continue creating good manga. It is my policy on this blog to only post manga reviews of manga that I own or have borrowed from a friend (as I did with Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo).
Anyway, this was a very good volume by Morishima, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what happens to Yae and Chitose (and the tangled emotional mess that is Mari and Edogawa-sensei) in volume 2, which is coming out this August.