Friday, August 21, 2009
As a kid, I used to be fascinated with "creepy" things like the witch trials, vampire lore, and the origins of Halloween (sacrifices to Samhain, anybody?), so discovering Banana Nangoku's Tokimeki Mononoke Jougakuen (Heart-Pounding Excitement at Mononoke Girls' Academy), a yuri manga drenched in Japanese obake (monster) lore, was a real treat.
Tokimeki begins with Arare, a seemingly normal human girl whose mother is a rain woman (a harmless youkai that causes rain). As Arare cuts through a cemetery on the way to her first day of high school, she gets intercepted by Rokurokubi-sensei (rokurokubi = a youkai with an extra-long neck) who drags Arare to Mononoke Jougakuen, an all-girl's boarding school for youkai. After Arare finds that she can't leave the school, she has to pretend to be a youkai, which involves hiding her belly-button from the other students since real youkai aren't supposed to have one. Two students discover Arare's secret early on and help her fit in- Pero, Arare's roommate who is an aka-name ("filth licker", a youkai that licks, uh, filth in public baths and dilapidated houses), and Kiri, Arare's eventual love interest who is a neko-mata (a youkai that was once a cat, and gained a forked tail after becoming a youkai). Further complicating things, even though Arare and Kiri do fall in love, they can't do a certain sex act because if a human does it with a youkai, said human will become a youkai as well. Crazy stuff, isn't it? ^_^
I don't even need to say that this is one of the more "out-there" manga titles around- within both the yuri genre and the comedy genre. Banana Nagoku has a rich imagination, pulling off some seriously weird, yet hilarious gags- like Arare and Pero's method of making peace with their classmates after Arare gives them a terrible makeup job, or Arare's solution to her classmates asking her to make it rain on the day that they have to run in gym class.
The characters are all likeable, and the camaraderie among the youkai students at Monoke Jougakuen is quite pleasant, compared to the usual snarky rivalries/angst found in many high school shoujo manga (setting aside the threat of what would happen if Arare's belly-button were discovered), especially the different dynamics that appear when Arare interacts with carefree, slightly air-headed Pero versus down-to-earth, reliable Kiri. Kiri and Pero's laid back dispositions also make an amusing contrast with Arare's (normally) understandable confusion and situational blunders in her new setting.
I really like Banana Nangoku's art also. Her characters designs, especially, are an appealing blend of pretty and weird/surreal/eerie, and the physical comedy gags are done with great timing.
With Nangoku's fecund imagination and a cast of likeable characters in a host of funny/weird situations, one would think that Tokimeki would be a fan favorite among Yuri Hime readers on the level of Strawberry Shake Sweet, or Miyabi Fujieda and Akiko Morishima's work. It partly isn't for me because Arare unequivocally isn't "disposed towards yuri" (as Nagoku herself notes at the end of the tankoubon), if you catch my drift. I always look forward to new chapters, but... I prefer my yuri protagonists to be disposed towards yuri. Or at least, not denying disposition towards it. And the forbidden scissoring plot point doesn't work the way, say, a fictional straight couple not being able to do intercourse, would, which is what it feels like it's supposed to. But I still want to see what ultimately happens to Arare and Kiri. (And Rokurokubi-sensei.)
This manga isn't a must-own, but it's still recommended- especially if you want a fun yuri comedy that doesn't rely on gags that have already been done multiple times.
Speaking of the supernatural, even though it's 5 days late, Happy Obon! (Obon is a Japanese holiday lasting from August 13-16, in which people honor their dead ancestors and the spirits of the dead are said to return to earth to visit their families. It's my favorite Japanese holiday. ^^)