Thursday, May 28, 2009
After watching the greatness of the latest shiny new Haruhi Suzumiya episode, I'm going to take a little blast to the past by discussing this gem: Moonlight Flowers by Mutsumi Tsukumo.
Serialized in the josei manga magazine Office You from 1989 to 1991, Moonlight Flowers is a very quintessentially old school, but very good take on a concept that has been done to death in lesbian-themed media - a married woman leaves her husband for a single, openly self-identified lesbian who she falls in love with, and the two face the hurdles of establishing their relationship.
The story begins with Sahoko, a 25 year-old woman who is about marry a man named Kanou who she met through a miai (a meeting for a prospective arranged marriage). At her high school reunion, she meets her classmate and former best friend Kaoru, who she once acted in a school play with, Romeo and Juliet. (Kaoru was the Romeo to Sahoko's Juliet. ^^) After a besotted Kaoru kissed Sahoko in high school, however, Sahoko ran away and they became estranged. Sahoko learns that Kaoru is now successfully running a flower shop where she makes floral arrangements for hotels, restaurants, weddings (hah ^^), etc. Sahoko asks Kaoru to do the floral arrangements at the wedding, and Kaoru, who is still in love with Sahoko, reluctantly makes Sahoko a beautiful bouquet. (... ;__;) Sahoko nearly breaks down right before the ceremony because she doesn't want to go through with it but she does, after being comforted by Kaoru. (Damn it!! > <) As the months after the wedding go by, Sahoko simply can't enjoy sex with her husband. As she begins to spend more time with Kaoru, her husband takes a mistress, which Sahoko discovers before leaving her husband and staying at Kaoru's place. Sahoko and Kaoru officially become a couple, but when Sahoko returns to her husband's place to get her things, her husband stops her, rapes her (which isn't shown graphically, thank god), and keeps her confined in the house. Kaoru tries to help Sahoko from outside the apartment, but Kanou only relents after Sahoko talks him out of it. Sahoko and Kaoru can finally get together, and end up as a happy couple. But that's only the first half of the story. There's a second part, titled "Midnight Flowers" (the first part was titled "Moonlight Flowers"), that shows a young Kaoru in college coming to terms with her sexuality as she discovers that her boyfriend's young stepmother Kayoko is having an affair with an art gallery owner named Kyouko. And they look an awful lot like Sahoko and Kaoru. The affair ends in tragedy, but Kaoru learns from it and moves on believing that someday she can win over her high school love, Sahoko. And then there is a bonus chapter featuring an unrelated stand-alone story. There are a lot of very good things about this book: the dreamy, romantic atmosphere conveyed through Mutsumi Tsukumo's soft-lined artwork; the refreshingly mature feel of the story and characters; and the honest, yet eloquent and (sometimes embarrassingly) romantic way in which the characters articulate their feelings. There were many poignant moments that stuck in my mind after read this: Sahoko reflecting on how she needs to change as she becomes an adult ("Time that belonged only to me... It's time to bid farewell to all of those things."), Kaoru's struggle over making Sahoko's bouquet, and Kayoko and Kyouko's meeting on the beach at night, among others. This is simply a heart-tugging romantic melodrama done right. Mostly. There are a couple of significant negatives, however. While Mutsumi Tsukumo managed to pull off an overused plot while making it feel organic and fairly fresh, she slipped into cliche territory by occasionally turning Kaoru into a soapbox for why all men are oppressive slave masters, and they suck, and so on. The story is very well written, but affirming the women's relationships with each other by turning the men into the big bad scary "other" doesn't sit well with me (granted, I have the luxury of living in a more open-minded time and place). Given the context in which this manga was created, Kaoru's world view is somewhat understandable, while not being a viewpoint that I would endorse- although I still prefer the far more empathetic depictions of men found in yuri manga today like Girl Friends, Sasameki Koto, Aoi Hana, etc. Plus, given how Moonlight Flowers seems to be striving to be fairly realistic (by manga romance standards), it was a little disappointing how at the very end of "Midnight Flowers", Kaoru arrives at the conclusion that if she devotes her life to her ostensibly one-sided love for Sahoko, it will be requited. (And poof! Sahoko does return her love.) Kaoru's "Wish hard enough, and your love will be returned" platitude feels out of character, and makes the story, in retrospect, feel a little too much like a (very well done) exercise in vicarious wish fulfillment for the author and readers.
If it weren't for those two flaws, this manga would probably earn an A. Nevertheless, this is a very good, mature manga that every yuri fan who truly wants to consider themselves connoisseurs of the genre (Can yuri itself really be considered a genre?) should read, and a must-read for shoujo/josei yuri fans.