Monday, June 8, 2009

Yuri Manga: Sasameki Koto volume 1

Seasoned yuri fans tend to be extremely savvy about the "names" to follow for yuri: Milk Morinaga, Shizuru Hayashiya, Akiko Morishima, Yuri Hime, etc. Ikeda Takashi's Sasameki Koto is a delightful surprise that began serialization in 2007 (although I only began reading it in the second half of 2008), and at four volumes strong, it is easily one of the best yuri titles being released today.

Sasameki Koto is about two best friends in high school, Sumika Murasame and Ushio Kazama. Sumika is deeply in love with Ushio, but Ushio only likes super-cute girly girls, and unfortunately for Sumi, she isn't cute at all. In fact, while Ushio herself is cute and girly, Sumika is tomboyish, (externally) cool, and highly competent at both athletics and academics; since she grew up in a family that runs a karate dojo, she's also a highly-skilled black belt martial artist. (Despite the fact that she quit karate in middle school because it "isn't cute" enough for Ushio.) Volume 1 follows the two friends as Sumi painfully watches Ushio have her heart broken by a sempai who superficially seems like her "type", Sumi and Ushio get cajoled into joining an unofficial club for "girls who love girls" by a lesbian couple in their class, Tomoe and Miyako, who saw them "practice" kissing through a wrestling mask, Ushio crushes on a cute model who Sumika discovers is a boy in their class who likes Sumi and only began cross-dressing to attract her attention (this doesn't come across as being as weird as it sounds ^^;;), and Ushio reconciles with the sempai who broke her heart. All the while, Sumika is willing to wait for her. ^^;; (I shouldn't be happy writing that sentence but... it's so adorable!!! o___o;;; Darn it, Ushio!!!)

I'll be up front: this is one of my favorite series, and I await the anime adaptation this fall with enormous anticipation. By virtue of being a yuri title, it likely won't receive remotely as much attention as it deserves, well done though it is. This places among the miniscule proportion of self-described comedy manga I have read that are truly, consistently funny, and in a sweet, good-natured, goofy way most of the time to boot. A healthy amount of well-executed drama balances out the comedy and gives it some necessary depth; while Sumi's attempts to win over Ushio (and several other characters' attempts to win over the people they love) are funny, the candor of their feelings should strike a chord for anybody who has been on the wrong end of an unrequited crush or love.

In this volume, however, the wheels are only getting greased, setting the stage for the character relationships that will grow ever more complex and amusing/poignant as the volumes go by. This volume has several stand-out moments on its own: Ushio and Sumi's amusing pseudo-first kiss, Sumi's truncated first attempt at confessing to Ushio, and Ushio inadvertently getting poor Sumi's hopes up in Chapter 6 before crushing them. ^^;; As sympathetic as I feel for Sumi by the end of this volume, I have to say that she partially dug her own grave in the beginning of the book by making some disparaging comments about Ushio's preferences and pretending not to share them at all. Not that I can blame her too much, in her circumstances. (True story: In the 8th grade, a girl classmate who I was super close friends with- and quite frankly, stuck to like glue- innocuously commented at lunch one day that if we were a lesbian couple, I would be the "girl" and she would be the "guy." I flipped out and blurted "What?! No way. Eww! I'm not like that." I felt bad about saying it almost immediately afterward, and she never brought the subject up again. Point is, I can kind of understand Sumi's screw up. -_-;;) The other characters are enjoyable as well: after reading further on in the series, it's especially fun (and strange) to see how much Miyako changes from a seemingly mild-mannered dojikko ("dojikko"=cute, clumsy girl) to the snarky cynic she reveals herself as, while still being strangely likeable; Tomoe (Miyako's more cool-headed girlfriend) and Kiyori (Sumi and Ushio's mellow, cheerful friend who is constantly snacking) are likeable also, and the members of Sumi's household provide their own amusement. :) (I'm really curious about Ushio's family circumstances- hopefully Ikeda will explore that later on.)

The art is also good. It's stylized and clean, yet not overly simplistic. The character designs are charming and distinctive without being outlandish, and Ikeda does an excellent job at conveying different emotions. Several times throughout Sasameki Koto, Ikeda also makes effective use of different angles and light, as in the "mask-kissing" scene.

At 500 yen, the tankoubon is at a normal size for a Japanese tankoubon. (I've been getting spoiled by the super-sized, but more expensive, Yuri Hime and Aoi Hana takoubon volumes... ^^;;) As somebody who is still learning Japanese, but whose kanji skills suck (hence, my taking Japanese language classes this coming school year) I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sasameki Koto contains a lot of furigana. A lot. I was really surprised, actually, considering that it runs in a seinen manga magazine, Monthly Comic Alive. Girl Friends runs in a magazine targeting the same age demographic, but it has little to no furigana I can recall seeing, and Yuri Hime's series have little to no furigana either. I wonder why. Not like it matters much, although I'm curious.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: B+

A strong beginning for a series that will continue to improve.

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