Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yuri Manga: Rica'tte Kanji!? (English)

This week is Josei Week on Yuri no Boke! For those unaware, josei manga is manga aimed at women 18-30- although people outside of that age and gender range obviously enjoy it, as with any genre of entertainment. Like shoujo, josei tends to focus on relationships, but unlike shoujo, josei bills itself as having more ostensibly realistic and mature stories starring adult women (although there are high school aged protagonists) who tend to be more competent and pragmatic than their shoujo counterparts (from what I've read)- so, less heroines sans two brain cells to rub together who find themselves surrounded by lovestruck vampire bishonen, bishonen who transform into cute SD animals, Celestial Warrior bishonen, bishonen hosts, etc. I've just really been in a josei-reading mood lately, so I decided to dedicate this week to one of the rarest of manga breeds- josei yuri manga, beginning with Rica'tte Kanji!?

Rica'tte Kanji!?
by Rica Takashima is a cute, feel-good romp through the Tokyo lesbian scene, as filtered through the eyes of a newcomer, a bubbly college student named Rica. Rica is attending a women's college to study early children's education. She has never met another out lesbian before (ah, nostalgia...) and visits Shinjuku's Nichoume district (Tokyo's lgbt neighborhood). On her first night there, she makes several new friends, including Miho, the down-to-earth fine arts college student who eventually becomes Rica's girlfriend. Each chapter presents a slice of Rica's life, whether it's her first "date" with a woman who isn't exactly what she seems, Christmastime, or Rica's plans after college.

It's a really cute story, frequently punctuated by gentle humor that, like the humor in Aoi Hana, is mostly the kind that makes one thoughtfully chuckle instead of laugh out loud. Rica is a cute, likeable (argh, must stop using "cute" > <) protagonist whose gung-ho enthusiasm and mild naïvete, surprisingly, never becomes irritating or cloying. Her interactions with the pragmatic former playgirl Miho and the other characters (my favorite among them probably being the glamorous Kaoru) are nearly all pleasant and laid-back. I especially like how Rica'tte Kanji!? occasionally touches on social issues in a lighthearted manner without making light of them, like how Rica's classmates forgo the careers they trained for in college in favor of a job that they would be more typically encouraged to do.

Rica'tte Kanji?! was remarkable in the context in which it was first published in Japan. It ran in two Japanese lesbian women's magazines, Phryne and Anise, from 1995 to 1996, when the only other happy, professionally published non-pornographic yuri manga (as far as I know) was in the relationship between two side characters in Sailor Moon. Even after the excellence and positive portrayals found in numerous later yuri manga, this still provides a good, mature, realistic josei yuri manga read- starring an openly self-identified lesbian, to boot.

My only two caveats are that the characters' exposition is sometimes too blatant (the opposite of most manga ^^;;), and I'm caught between finding the art too simplistic, or a cute (gahh...) stylized alternative to "typical" manga style.

Story: A-
Art: B
Overall: B+ before a year at college, A after a year at college

A solid title, especially for fans of josei or yuri or anybody curious about lgbt life in Japan.

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