Sunday, October 9, 2011

Go, Fumi, go!: Aoi Hana volume 6


It's official. No protagonist can surpass Fumi in loveability.

In the aftermath of Fumi's confession to Ah-chan, Fumi, Ah-chan, Mogii, Pon-chan, and Yassan go on a trip with Haruka to her grandfather's ryoukan during summer vacation. Haruka's older sister Orie brings her girlfriend Hinako along on the trip. This works out beautifully when Fumi passes out in the ryoukan's hot spring and, after waking up with Orie and Hinako looking after her, asks Hinako for advice about her feelings for Ah-chan.

Fumi makes it clear yet again that she deeply loves Ah-chan, and Ah-chan responds as one would hope- by suggesting that she and Fumi start going out. Fumi is simultaneously happier than she's ever been and afraid because, unlike her relationship with Yasuko, she has a lot to lose if things don't work out between her and Ah-chan.

When Pon-chan, Yassan, and Fumi are in the school library one afternoon, Pon-chan asks Fumi if she's gay. Yassan can't believe she asked that and Pon-chan backtracks and apologizes, but Fumi steadily replies that yes, she is. (What a difference from when she first came out to Ah-chan.) Because Pon-chan and Yassan genuinely care for Fumi, it doesn't make a difference to them.

Fumi and Ah-chan spend Christmas together alone at Fumi's house, with Christmas cake and a bottle of champagne. In the best scene in the book, a drunk Fumi decides to lay all of her feelings bare to Ah-chan and tell her that she's afraid that Ah-chan doesn't love her in the same way she loves Ah-chan. Ah-chan clearly loves Fumi, although the nature of her love is less clear. I'm on pins and needles waiting to see how this plays out.

This volume's "Little Women" stories are especially strong. One follows a closeted teacher from Fujigaya. The other follows a student at Fujigaya who gets bullied by her school mates after they find out she's a lesbian, and comes out to the friend who gets outraged on her behalf. Like the homophobic gossip about Hinako-sensei in volume 4, these stories establish that, despite the Fujigaya student body's tittering fascination with Sugimoto and the Class S ideal of girl-girl romance, knowing women who unabashedly like women is a different story to most of them. This reinforces the fact that the people in this series live in the real world- not an Astraea Hill-like fantasy land.

Story: ❤
Art: A-
Overall: ❤❤❤A❤❤❤

While there are writers who "get it" as much as Shimura Takako, nobody surpasses her level. The people accusing her of homophobia because of the Kyouko arc that's being serialized right now can go jump off a cliff.

But yes- yay, Aoi Hana! ^____^

21 comments:

eli-la said...

Wait, what? People are accusing Shimura Takako of homophobia because of the Kyouko arc? WHY!?

Katherine Hanson said...

@eli-la- Because they're breathtakingly stupid. (See some of the comments here: http://www.shoujoai.com/forum/topic_show.pl?tid=44251;pg=5) I've learned that no matter how idiotic or nonsensical an idea is, there is going to be someone, somewhere who thinks that it makes perfect sense.

eli-la said...

... *headdesk*
So basically, there's too much het in their yuri? Their loss, I guess xD

Katherine Hanson said...

@eli-la- Haha, exactly.

Erin said...

It seems to me that the current focus on Kyouko is meant to draw out the suspense for the FumixAkira storyline and to flesh out one (two counting Kou) of the minor characters.
I wouldn't rule out the possibility of heteronormativity and non-malicious, subconscious homophobia/heterosexism affecting any creator's work, though, since we're all basically swimming in the stuff. Even someone who "gets it" can be drawn to one preference over another because of (subconscious) bias. There's a lot of middle ground between "such-and-such is homophobic (and therefore a terrible person)" and "there's no possible way that homophobia could ever be a factor in this."
It's like when someone who would be horrified to think they could be racist just happens to kill off all the minority characters in their story in order to further the character development of the straight, white main characters. We can question the motivations behind that creator's decisions without thinking they're a white supremacist or a racist/homophobe/transphobe/whatever. (Unfortunately, such concerns are often dismissed and the people who raised them are accused of "playing the race card," "looking for things to get offended about," and so on, because the author in question "could never be racist.")

A Day Without Me said...

Smells to me like a lot of folks are biphobic, based on reaction to Kyouko's current storyline. I wish this sort of behavior surprised me, but it really does not.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- Those are good points. I realize that I've run the risk of doing the same thing that has annoyed me with other entertainment reviewers who have argued that a certain writer/director/creator-of-whatever-kind whose work they've enjoyed can do no wrong, even if the person they're defending produces something problematic. But in this case, I really don't feel like Shimura is doing anything problematic. (Not that you said that she has.) Since she hasn't, as far as I've read, made any missteps in her depictions of sexual and gender minorities, I have as much faith in her as a writer as I do in anyone else, but recognize that she isn't a superhuman who is 100% resistant to the negative influences of society and could produce something problematic in the future. I completely agree with the reason you mentioned for the current focus on Kyouko- that it's "meant to draw out the suspense for the FumixAkira storyline and to flesh out one (two counting Kou) of the minor characters."

@A Day Without Me- Agreed on both counts- especially going by the people who think that if she isn't a lesbian, she must be a "fake-lesbian" or straight.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- An addendum to when I said, "she hasn't, as far as I've read, made any missteps in her depictions of sexual and gender minorities." <- I recognize that I'm definitely not an expert/authoritative voice on every sexual and gender minority just because I belong to one sexual minority group. It would be better for me to say "as far as I've read and can tell" Might be nit-picky of me, but I thought I should add that.

Erin said...

@Katherine: Shimura hasn't done anything that's bothered me either (she leans toward the "predatory queer person" thing from time to time, but since that's not limited to her GSM characters and not all of her GSM characters are like that, it doesn't really stand out), but I can see how there have been some let-downs for yuri fans in Sweet Blue Flowers, especially ones who were hoping for more lesbian characters and feel like it was a bait-and-switch situation. It all worked within the story, and I like that there are characters who are attracted to multiple genders and/or are unsure of their sexuality, but I can see how someone could make a case that heteronormativity played a part in the shaping of the story.
If it turns out that Akira doesn't love Fumi in the same way that Fumi loves her, and they break up in the end, I'm sure a lot more of these discussions will happen. (Also rage. Much, much fan rage.)
I think the whole situation is exacerbated by the fact that people are reading the series chapter by chapter, once every two months. And as A Day Without Me said, biphobia could certainly be playing a part. The competition between bi and lesbian characters for a small slice of media pie only makes things worse.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- "I think the whole situation is exacerbated by the fact that people are reading the series chapter by chapter, once every two months." That's certainly true. As one poster in the forum thread that I linked to quoted: "And like I've suggested before, these can be pretty disastrous conditions for the serial intake of a story. But honestly, there is no other way to do it. To strive to satisfy serial readers all the time is to do nothing but make something terrible in the long run. It means you can't do much to set up anything sophisticated with deferred payoff, as you perpetually submit what will immediately gratify. I can't tell people that reading serially is the "wrong" way to read it, because this is not true. But there's no escaping the fact that having pages leaked out so slowly radically warps your perception of what is happening, sometimes for the better (community discussion, noticing details etc), but often aggravates (arc fatigue, rushing to judgment...) Try to imagine watching your favorite movie, for the first time ever, but only a minute at a time, every day. Sound frustrating? How often do you think you might get irritated with the director for his pacing decisions? Or his "plot twists", which are really just the products of scenes cut short before fully paying off? How often do you think you might want to insist he move it along? What about reading your favorite book, but only receiving about a paragraph or two every day? And what if the author/director was tuned into the responses to this daily output? Is there anything he could do to outrun the impatience of the reader for plot points he's carefully set up to be evaluated in the minute-space of archival read-through, which the reader labors over in the month-space of serial digestion? Can he do anything to deflect or mitigate their rush to judgment of incomplete arcs? Should he? Probably not."

You and I agree on the same point in the debate (that Shimura hasn't done anything wrong); the big difference between your point-of-view and mine seems to be our approach to addressing the people who argue that Shimura has done wrong.

Erin said...

I wouldn't say we precisely agree (I think a case can be made that homophobia is involved, I just don't think it's a strong case), but close enough!
I switched to skimming the forum thread once people started arguing, so thanks for sharing that part with me!

Sheldor said...

Great post Katherine.

Hmmm, just one more example Yuri/lesbian elitism rearing its head in the fandom. As someone who does the majority of her reading and discussing Yuri manga with a straight man and a straight woman, these attitudes actually personally embarrass me.

I responded to these claims on shoujo-ai.com but my post was flagged as flaming. I wonder why lol.

Great review.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Sheldor- ありがとう!

I actually read your post before it got deleted, but didn't get to post a "Yes, I agree!" response before it happened. >_>; As apt as it was, it breached the "No insults aimed at any particular poster" rule on the forum. But c'est la vie. Yeah...the complaints lobbied against the Kyouko arc are not only...misguided, I shall say, they (as one example) make it harder to articulate valid complaints without the risk of (or being conscious of the risk of), "OMG, you're just being a hyper-sensitive/militant/elitist/whatever lesbian." Even though biphobia is a factor in this case and some women use their identity as lesbians to smack around other sexual identities (just as some people in every sexual identity do), I'm hesitant about using the term "lesbian elitism" because it has been used to dismiss valid complaints and paint lesbians as a homogenous bloc of angry bullies. Not that you did, of course. I'm just illustrating why I shy away from the term.

And it's great that you know two people IRL who are into yuri. They're hard to find offline. XD

Erin said...

@Sheldor: One person expressed an opinion that an entire thread of people disagreed with. I'm not sure how that's representative of yuri fandom in general or lesbian yuri fans in particular. I've seen a multitude of unpopular and/or disturbing opinions expressed by straight people and non yuri fans as well. And I'm not personally embarrassed by any individual's behavior just because we both happen to be bi or in the same fandom. There's a diversity of opinions in any sexuality or fandom, and confirmation bias can give us a skewed vision of how prevalent a given opinion is.

@Katherine: I don't think the credibility problem is really an issue since some people will still write off homophobia even if there's solid evidence of it in every single case. I agree with you that dismissing people's concerns by saying they're oversensitive or elitist is counterproductive. You can't get into discussion of more subtle and systemic forms of bias without people claiming that you're just looking for things to get offended about. It's one thing to disagree with someone's opinion, but I disagree with telling someone that they're going to make us look bad in front of privileged people anytime they bring up a case where the evidence isn't strong enough. I think that could discourage people from bringing up valid complaints because they're afraid of making the whole community look bad if their case doesn't have mountains of evidence backing it up. And don't even get me started on the "accusing someone of homophobia is worse than the homophobia itself" thing.

Sheldor said...

Oh you got to read it, how cool. You agree?!? Thank you, your opinion means more than a lot!! Writing that post at close to 5am after studying all night and in addition to - I’m sure you can tell - writing in the midst of utter rage haha, I wasn’t sure if it was even coherent.

I’ve been chastised by my friend for flaming, I know I was flaming and I even felt a little bad for singling someone out like that but they… *ahem* deserved it. If it sounded like I was taking it personally, it is probably because I was.

Shimura Takako is my hero.

You make a truly epic point and I appreciate the sensibility in not brandishing terms like Yuri or lesbian elitism casually. However, unfortunately, I feel in this case it’s not only warranted but the only reasonable explanation. The reasons I feel this are literally too numerous to post here.

To summarise, I just find this whole thing disappointing on so many levels.

I’m really happy and grateful to have someone as respected as you sticking up for Shimura and common sense like you have. Thank you again for always using your powers for good.

As for my IRL Yuri friends, well the female one I know in real life. I met her in Japanese class and after convincing myself I was the only Yuri fan in Australia, you can image my shock in finding she was a fellow fan lol. As for my male friend, I just know him online, we bonded over the lack of Aoi Hana fanfiction two years ago and have been partners in crime ever since! I credit him for teaching me everything I know about Yuri.

Sheldor said...

@Erin- That’s true it, it may have started with one member but even now the argument still persists on that board that Shimura has no business diverting attention any from the series’ gay characters.

Perhaps you’re right, and I shouldn’t be personally embarrassed by unsavoury comments made by individual members - regardless if we share a sexual preference. If it were an isolated incident, I would be in total agreement with you. As it stands, I don’t feel comments of this nature are all together isolated and have felt for some time, that at least occasionally, certain language used by even prominent members of the community at times display an inherent sexism and elitism.

Because I do love and feel connected to this community, I enjoy feeling proud of its members who commitment and passion for Yuri are truly inspiring. In turn, when the ugly side of Yuri makes itself known, and less than inclusive comments are made, I admit to feeling shame/disappointment.

But really, I attribute this more to being a loser fangirl than a lesbian.

And because no one has said it yet, I will. I LOVED those chapters, I’ve been waiting for Shimura to touch on this since chapter 29. So, thank you so much Erin for all your efforts in delivering these chapters, when I spoke about Yuri fans whose passion and commitment I find inspiring, I was definitely referring to you and your team. I’m actually really happy to have the opportunity to give my sincere thanks to you.

Erin said...

@Sheldor I guess we're just coming at it from different perspectives. I've certainly had my share of "get off my side" feelings about various things people have said about any number of topics, and I'd be happy to see less biphobia from people in general and yuri fans in particular (again, because when two GSMs are competing for the same small slice of pie, things can get really ugly; even the shadow of wank over Willow (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)'s sexuality is kind of horrifying).

Thanks for your kind words about my/Lili's work! I was happy that Shimura focused on Kyouko and Kou again too. I've been curious about Kyouko's family since Shimura started hinting about them volumes ago.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- "I think that could discourage people from bringing up valid complaints because they're afraid of making the whole community look bad if their case doesn't have mountains of evidence backing it up." That is true. I was incorrect there. People shouldn't have to be afraid of that.

"some people will still write off homophobia even if there's solid evidence of it in every single case." And that's certainly true also.

"when two GSMs are competing for the same small slice of pie, things can get really ugly" And oh my goodness, is that true. Centuries from now, wide-eyed generations will be morbidly enthralled as their elders recount the epic and bloody battle of The Kids Are All Right, which will forever be etched into the annals of lesbian history. (Heh, sorry, I'm in a hyperbolic mood.)

As always, thank you for the feedback and insight!

@Sheldor- "Writing that post at close to 5am after studying all night and in addition to - I’m sure you can tell - writing in the midst of utter rage" You still sounded more coherent than 90% of the internet.

lol Thanks. Along with simple irritation at the anti-Shimura comments, I brought up the topic in my review because I really, really didn't want to wait until volume 7 to address it here. And I'm glad I did. The readers who have commented here have made some great points.

And I've been looking forward to the current arc also. Shimura has been doling out what I consider fascinating little hints and slivers of what's really going on in Kyouko's family life, and I'm glad it's being explored. (It's like seeing a dish that's been boiling on low for a long time reach the point at which the heat can be turned up, and now it can fully cook.) But of course, I'm looking forward to the return of Fumi and Akira as much as anyone.

Erin said...

@Katherine: I managed to miss most of the arguments over The Kids Are All Right, luckily.
I've enjoyed our conversation too!
Any other things you hope Shimura explores before the series ends? I'm looking forward to seeing them perform The Three Musketeers, and I'd love to hear more about Orie and Hinako's relationship, and how Haruka and her family are dealing with it.

yukimi87 said...

I agree with you. Shimura Takako is an amazing artist and I think she is receiving unjust flaming with repect to the Kyouko arc.

I really apreciate that she takes the time to give us the background of the secondary characters. My favorite shoujo manga from when I was a child Karekano has 3 volumes of 21 at least are for secondary characters and those side stories were great.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- Same here. The characters' performances in the play will be fun to see. (I just became a little sentimental thinking that it's their last one at Fujigaya. lol Aside from Haruka and Ryouko, of course.) And I would love to learn more about Orie and Hinako's relationship as well as how Orie's family handles it. Otherwise, for now, I can't think of anything else that I really want to see fleshed out.

@yukimi87- I'm glad you think so too.

And yes, as you pointed out, chapters that focus on side characters can be excellent additions to their series' canon- especially in series that span several volumes or more.