Sunday, July 31, 2011
Clover is a collection of one-shots featuring four sisters' "yuri adolescence." The sisters' ages vary widely, but each one is in high school in her respective chapter.
"Next to Her" is about the youngest, Uzuki, the straight-laced representative of her class who is caught trying to climb onto the luggage rack of an empty train car by a girl named Shiho. To Uzuki's chagrin, Shiho turns out to be a transfer student in her class. Shiho keeps getting in trouble for not adhering to her new school's stuffy dress code (no nail polish, no earrings, hair elastics must be black, navy, or brown, etc) and the other girls avoid and gossip about her. But Shiho doesn't care, she and Uzuki become best friends (and Uzuki becomes more of a non-conformist), and they share a ride on the luggage rack of a train. Not really yuri (although the ending hints at the possibility), but a great friendship story.
"Bitter Girl" stars the second youngest, Midori. Midori works at a bakery, where a girl named Seiko comes every day to buy sweets. They become friends after Midori offers Seiko a job there, and when Midori bemoans not having a boyfriend on Christmas, Seiko offers to have a pretend relationship with her until they find boyfriends. Midori eventually realizes that, on her side at least, it's real- and when a boy asks her out and Seiko ends their relationship, Midori runs after her and they both admit they love each other. (It also turns out that Seiko hates sweets, and only visited the bakery for Midori.)
In "Spring Love", second oldest Fuuka gets her heart broken when the girl she likes turns out to be in love with a different girl, who likes her back even though she doesn't know it yet. Fuuka encourages the girl she likes to confess her feelings, and gets comforted later by her big sister Ichige.
"Entranced" focuses on Kazuyo, the girl who's been in love since childhood with oldest sister Ichige. Kazuyo learns that Ichige's reason for dating her loser boyfriend isn't at all what she thinks it is, and even though Ichige still isn't interested in Kazuyo, Kazuyo wants to always be there for her as her friend.
The "Happy Days" epilogue focuses on Midori and Seiko as adults. Seiko is feverishly working to become a lawyer and Midori feels like they're becoming more and more distant. (It doesn't help that they have a harder time acting like a couple in public now that they're out of high school.) Of course, they get a squee-worthy, but realistically resolved ending. Otsu Hiyori includes a bonus drawing showing both of them in wedding dresses when they get married after the events of "Happy Days."
Clover is strong all-around, but "Happy Days", Otsu's most mature story so far (as much for being about a long-term relationship as for how old the characters are), bumps it up a notch. Cumulatively, Clover is less of a straight-up romance collection than a look at the variety of relationships between women. And as with most of her work, Otsu reads like someone who is very aware of genre conventions- usually subverting them for the better as a result- and expects her readers to be also.