Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Manga Review: Sailor Moon volume 6

At long last, a Sailor Moon review. Specifically, of the first volume of the S arc, which introduces the wonderfulness that is Haruka and Michiru.

I won't bother summarizing Sailor Moon up to this point. If you're considering reading the sixth volume of this series, you should already know what Sailor Moon's premise is. I will say that the volumes up to this point (covering the first two arcs) are excellent. And Haruka and Michiru are one of the most enduringly beloved, mega-popular yuri couples for good reason.

Just to be up front, although I've written about it here before, Sailor Moon is my gateway manga and anime and holds many sepia-tinted memories for me. For what it's worth, on re-reading this series as an adult, I still find it well-written and enjoyable, although naturally, some aspects of it read differently now.

As for what is in this volume...

A new arc, a new set of baddies. And a new pair of Sailor Soldiers who we know will be allies, even if Sailor Moon and the other Inner Soldiers don't yet.

Yes- kyaa!- this volume introduces Haruka/Sailor Uranus and Michiru/Sailor Neptune in its first chapter. Haruka being mistaken for a guy plays out less comedically here than in the anime, and there is more confusion on Usagi's part over her fleeting attraction to Haruka. And one... surprisingly creepy line from Haruka to Usagi. And there are a lot of helicopters. Helicopters seem to be to Haruka and Michiru in the manga what fluttering flower petals are to them in the anime.

We first see Michiru emerging from the swimming pool in her penthouse and Haruka wowing everyone at a racetrack before they fly together in their private helicopters to the elite school they attend. Strawberry Panic!, eat your heart out. One of the funniest moments in this volume is when a character Haruka and Michiru track for a bit (because she entered the villains' headquarters without realizing it) emerges outside and is like, "Oh wow, it's dark, and I need to get home. Kind of dangerous to walk after dark from here, isn't it," and they suddenly swoop down in a helicopter and are like, "Oh hey, we were just passing by in our helicopter. Want a lift home?" I also question the extent to which Haruka and Michiru desire to keep their Senshi identities a secret from the Inner Senshi, given that they give a big hint about it to Chibi-Usa and Haruka nicknames Usagi "Dumpling" (after her hairstyle) when she encounters her as a Senshi and as a civilian.

The Sailor Moon manga is darker and less campy than the SM anime, but it still has some comedic gems- this is the origin of attack names like "Jupiter Coconut Cyclone!", "Tuxedo La Smoking Bomber!", and my favorite, from a later arc, "Star Gentle Uterus!" (Poor, poor Taiki.)

Mugen Academy, the elite academy that Haruka and Michiru attend, is a towering glass skyscraper where preschoolers through graduate students are cultivated to be the leaders of tomorrow. Mugen Academy and its affiliated lab are owned by Professor Tomoe, a mad scientist who acts as the ringleader of this arc's villains.

While the head villains in the previous arcs had fantastical backstories, Tomoe is just a widowed man with a sick young daughter named Hotaru. Hotaru doesn't know what her father is up to, although she notices that his behavior is strange and his hands colder than they used to be. Tomoe and his lab assistants, the Witches 5, create creatures that latch onto to people and turn them into inhuman things, which Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Soldiers vanquish when they encounter them, returning the possesed people to normal.

My one criticism of the villains in this arc is that the Witches 5 aren't as... well, entertaining in the manga as they are in the anime. Physical appearance and attacks aside, they're pretty interchangeable. The manga's pacing doesn't give it as much room to give them individual quirks as the anime does, but one still misses how much of a hoot their anime counterparts are.

Another downside of the manga's tighter pacing is that we don't have time to see Haruka and Michiru being playful and lovey-dovey in this arc the way we do in the S anime- although we will get that itch scratched later in the manga, when Haruka and Michiru don't have their hands full trying to prevent the apocalypse by themelves. Despite their current lack of lighthearted couple moments, they're very cool and display plenty of badassery while indubitably being an item.

The Inner Senshi come to distrust Haruka and Michiru for understandable reasons, but Usagi still believes they can be allies. More like Usagi than she thinks, Chibi-Usa believes that Haruka and Michiru are trustworthy also.

Chibi-Usa also meets Hotaru, who is reticent and reclusive and a little floored by Chibi-Usa's desire to befriend her. One of the nicest developments in this volume is Hotaru opening up to Chibi-Usa.

Towards the end of this volume, Neptune and Uranus save Mercury from an enemy attack and a familiar face pops up in Mugen Academy's university science department. How will these elements tie together? Keep reading and see! ^_^

The glitches in Kodansha's early translation of this series have smoothed out by now- but don't be mistaken, it has always been good and made me weep with joy compared to the old localized Tokyopop version. For a softcover release, Kodansha's edition of Sailor Moon has very good production values, with sturdy binding (another aspect I can't helping contrasting with Tokyopop's release from eons ago) and (in this case, somewhat spoilery regarding Hotaru) glossy color art pages at its beginning. There are translation notes in the back and a preview of the next volume.

I especially appreciate the color art pages because I love Takeuchi Naoko's ethereally pretty artwork. Takeuchi has some really freaking beautiful drawings, especially in color. The best aren't in this volume's color pages. I want to send Kodansha flowers not only for re-releasing this series in English, but going the extra mile by planning to release a snazzy new Sailor Moon artbook in Japan, the U.S., and five other countries (not sure which ones right now) in 2013, since the Sailor Moon artbooks have been long out-of-print worldwide. (I actually have the German release of the first Sailor Moon artbook, since I spotted it while traveling in Germany years ago.) There may be some artistic inconsistencies in the Sailor Moon manga, but Takeuchi's art style still delights me to an extent that few series match, just as her storytelling does.

Story: A-
Art: A- (A for the color art.)
Overall: A-, but even with its flaws, no less loveable than any other other series.

As a bonus, a cute Haruka and Michiru Christmas fan art by one of my blog's readers, Kori! (Who I know some of you know as the person who pens Prince of Cats, which I still find adorable.)
Her DeviantArt page (where I got this fan art) has a lot of other good Haruka x Michiru/general Sailor Moon pics.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Manga Review: Himawari-san volume 1

This book was originally intended to stand alone, so nothing on its cover indicates that it has subsequent volumes. After it came out, it sold well enough that it got green-lit to keep running in Comic Alive, the same magazine Sasameki Koto ran in.

Himawari-san is a pleasant, laid-back slice-of-life series about Matsuri, a high school girl who has an undisguised crush on the owner of the old-fashioned Himawari ("Sunflower") bookshop located across the road from her school. Everyone in town nicknames Himawari's owner "Himawari-san" after her shop. Himawari-san is a little gruff, but genuinely cares about her customers (who like her quite a bit in turn) and comes to have a soft spot for Matsuri- but not in a romantic sense, Matsuri's age being what it is.

Like many a manga heroine, Matsuri is cheerful and good-hearted but none too bright, so when she studied for her high school entrance exams, no one gave her much encouragement. Himawari-san believed in her, however, and that was the start of her crush.

Himawari-san helps a few other customers out with their problems in this volume- including Matsuri's younger sister Fuuko, who, amusingly, develops a crush on Himawari-san also, although she's slow to admit it since she was initially kind of a jerk to Himawari-san. My favorite chapter is the Jinbocho chapter, since it perfectly captures the appeal of browsing the stacks at a bookstore, especially when you find a book that unexpectedly captures your fancy.

It turns out that Himawari-san's older brother Kuroizato-sensei, who kind of reminds me of Fruits Basket's Shigure, is a light novel author, and there's a rift between him and Himawari-san. Matsuri pieces together the misunderstanding between them after reading his latest novel and, in a nice example of things coming full-circle, helps them patch things up.

So, like I said, this is a pleasant, pick-me-up kind of series. You're going to be disappointed if you go into it for the yuri (which I didn't, although I liked how no one reacts to Matsuri's obvious crush on Himawari any differently than they would to a teenaged girl who has an obvious one-sided crush on a guy), but if you're looking for a yuri-friendly slice-of-life with likeable characters and no fanservice, this is a solid pick.

As a bonus for folks learning Japanese, like Sasameki Koto, this series is chock full of furigana, so it's easy to read for a seinen series.

Story: B (But B+ for the Jinbocho chapter.)
Art: B+
Overall: B

Monday, December 10, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 3

We ended the previous volume of Paros no Ken on yet another cliffhanger- but this time the threat is real.

The contestants in the sword-fighting tournament are whittled down, and Yurias is one of the semi-finalists. Erminia hopes he'll win because they have sparred together since they were children and she has never lost to him. At this point, Yurias is competing not with the aim of marrying Erminia, but of freeing her to choose whoever she wants.

However, Yurias's next opponent not only defeats him, he slashes his right eye and exults over it. Technically, the man who blinded Yurias is still allowed to compete.

Enraged, Erminia rushes into the arena to challenge him, and the livid spectators cheer her on. Erminia holds her own to the point that the folks who had wanted her to be a delicate flower are really impressed. But then her opponent knocks her sword out of her hand, her uncle Alphonse throws her another sword, and Erminia finds, too late, that she has walked into a trap.

Long story short, Erminia's father dies, Kauros takes over Paros's capital, and Erminia wakes up imprisoned. The third prince of Kauros is there when she wakes up. He confirms what happened and tells her she will be his bride. The prince of Kauros is a sewer of a human being ("You may act like a man, but that does not change the fact that you are a woman! And women must submit to men." After being rejected by her: "Erminia... what a pity it is that such a beautiful woman holds men in such disdain. I shall cure you of that illness."), and tries to rape her, but thankfully, doesn't go through with it. He figures he'll have plenty of time to break her after she marries him in Kauros.

The procession escorting Erminia to Kauros stops at a town overnight, where Fiona and Erminia are reunited.

How did Fiona get there after what happened in volume 2? After being raped, Fiona threw herself into the river nearby and was rescued downstream by a nice older couple who live in the countryside. While living with them, she recovered somewhat.

After learning what happened to Paros's capital and Erminia, she organized the other youths in the area into a rebel group (in case you're wondering, Fiona is sixteen; Erminia is eighteen), helped Yurias leave his captivity (he was much less stringently guarded than Erminia; and somehow, knew what happened to Fiona), and hatched a plan to get Erminia to safety.

While the people who attended the sword-fighting tournament easily bought Alphonse's reason for indicting Erminia for her father's death, most of the citizens of Paros recognize that Alphonse's argument for Erminia's guilt is bullshit and are still willing to resist the Kauran military under her. Their loyalty to Erminia and Paros is so moving, in fact, that I felt pretty awful for them re-reading this volume, knowing how things would pan out.

In a nutshell, Fiona, Erminia, and Yurias all ultimately sacrifice everything else for love, and Fiona and Erminia get to be together.

The ending is pretty abrupt and leaves Paros's fate more ambiguous than I'd like. I suspect Kurimoto Kaoru wound up not having as much time to resolve things as she wanted, and had to do the best she could given the page count she had left. But, erm, despite the ending's problems- especially considering this series's context and the fact that Kurimoto could have easily written an unhappy ending for Erminia and Fiona for perfectly valid reasons- I'm glad Kurimoto was like "lol Nope" to ending things with Erminia accepting Fiona's sacrifice and sacrificing her own happiness with her, and made Erminia save Fiona anyway.

Despite its flaws, this is a very worthwhile series, both for its value to the yuri genre and simple entertainment value- especially if you're in the mood for a romance that is more plot-oriented than most.

Story: B+
Art: A
Overall: B+

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 2

Couldn't find a picture of this volume's cover online and my scanner's being funky, so I'm just posting a photo of my copy of it.

Volume 1 left us with a masked Yurias breaking into Erminia's room and covering her mouth before she could scream. He only snuck in because he wants to play fairy godmother and give Erminia the chance to go to Paros's capital city Paro's annual carnival with Fiona. Yurias made sure Fiona had the night off so she could go. Erminia gives Fiona a beautiful gown, dons a dapper outfit herself, and promises Yurias that she will return before midnight. If she doesn't fulfill her promise, Yurias will be found out and executed for helping her leave.

This series' artwork is always lush, but the carnival pages are especially vibrant and eye-popping.

The revelers admire how good Fiona and Erminia look together. (Granted, because Erminia is wearing a mask, they don't recognize her as their princess. They think she's some random guy.)

When Fiona and Erminia step away from the crowd, Fiona shares her fear that that night will be as good as it gets for them and she'll never see Erminia again. Not knowing how little Fiona has to look forward to in her day-to-day life (or how little hope Fiona had of seeing Erminia again after being demoted to an even more menial position than laundry maid because her co-workers are all assholes), Erminia has a more optimistic view of things. Erminia asks Fiona if there aren't any dreams she wants to fulfill, and shares her dream of traveling the world. Erminia is thrilled Fiona takes her dream seriously, because the only other person who has is Yurias. She is surprised when Fiona tells her that her only dream has been to meet the prince from her childhood, and that prince is her.

They kiss, but their moment is cut short when a tipsy masked man with a villain smirk shows up and hits on Fiona. He persists, so Erminia challenges him to a sword duel and kicks his ass. His reaction to losing makes Erminia think he might not be so bad after all. He reveals that he has been living the dream, traveling the world as a sailor. Erminia tells him that Fiona is an aristocrat who has seven days to choose a groom to marry, and Erminia cannot marry her because her status is too low. The stranger proposes a solution, which Erminia puts into effect when her time to choose a groom is up.

Erminia's suitors must compete in a sword-fighting tournament, and the last man standing must win a sword fight against her before he can marry her. Erminia, of course, expects to win- and then (although she doesn't mention it as a condition to her father), expects to be free to publicly make Fiona her bride as a result. Awww/nothing can possibly go wrong, right? ^^;

The part in which we see people in the various classes of Paros preparing for the tournament is cute- especially the cameo by Candy Candy's leads.

Erminia's uncle Alphonse, whose interests would be served by Paros being absorbed by Kauros, reminds Erminia of the very real possibility that she will lose and gives her a way to cheat. Erminia dismisses him, but can't bring herself to dismiss his plan completely. When she thinks that she would be willing to dirty her hands for Fiona's sake, you know the story isn't going to let that go.

Additionally, Erminia worries about an old legend saying that Paros will have its glory restored if it is ruled by one who is both a man and a woman, and will be destroyed if ruled by one who is neither a man nor a woman. The people of Paros are anxious to see if Erminia will turn out to be the former or the latter. Yurias freaks out about the legend after Erminia rejects him. You're more of an ally than an ass, Yurias, but please stfu about how if Erminia could just "regain a woman's heart" and like guys/you, you would be happy.

Btw, despite the context for this series, the effect I know its setting would have on how its characters conceptualize and discuss sexual orientation and gender (i.e. not how we do) and its awesome progressiveness and skewering of sexist and heterosexist social conventions, I'm annoyed by the weirdly conservative correlation drawn at points by the story between Erminia's lack of interest in men and her gender being possibly male/not-female. Claudine...!, which I compared to this series in my review of Paros no Ken volume 1 for having a protagonist who could be read as a butchy cis lesbian or a straight trans man, actually succeeded at pulling off that ambiguity without drawing that correlation. I remember a similar correlation coming up briefly at one point in Rose of Versailles also, and it annoyed me there, as much as I love RoV. (Like, to the point of having a PVC figurine of Oscar in uniform, brandishing her sword.) Ribon no Kishi plays with a similar idea (its protagonist Sapphire being cool and competent and actiony when she has her boy heart, but weak and damsel-in-distressy when she only has her girl heart), but takes it to the point that I dislike Ribon no Kishi.

Erminia cannot see Fiona until after the tournament. Unbeknownst to her, something horrible happens. Some knights from Kauros find Fiona and rape her, thinking she will be ashamed enough of it to never approach Erminia again.

On the last day of the tournament, Kauros's army crosses the border into Paros.

While volume 1 focused on setting up character relationships, this volume sets up the plot denouement that will take place in volume 3. What will become of Erminia and Fiona!? Tune in next time and see.

Story: B+
Art: A
Overall: B+

Speaking of portrayals of lgbtq folks in Medieval Europe-inspired fantasy stories, this two part blog post series, "Heteronormativity, fantasy, and Bitterblue", is really worth reading for its discussion of writing sexual minority characters in such settings.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another Serving of Yuri Christmas Fan Art

It being December again, I'm posting a batch of Christmas and winter-themed fan art based on yuri and yuri-ish series. ^_^ My previous Christmas fan art posts are here and here. Without further ado...

Saber and Irisviel still make me giddy. I have a ridiculous amount of fan art of them at this point. XD
Can't find the original source for this image. If you do know it, please let me know so I can link! (The X's in this post are all links.)
For anyone wondering, I am fangirling over a certain pair in Urobuchi Gen's newest series. Bless his heart for writing another cool, hyper-competent suit-wearing woman and making it surprisingly obvious (more than once) that there's... some sort of relationship between her and one of her female co-workers. I'm dying to find out more about them.

A cute moment with one of our classic couples. D'aww, Himeko.
Squee, NanoFate! Speaking of subtext couples that I have a ridiculous amount of fan art of.

No yuri Christmas fan art post would be complete without MariMite's loveable characters. Coincidentally (in all honesty), most of what I found features the White Roses again.

I don't ship Yumi with Touko, but I still thought this was cute.
Man, Sei, you player.
If, like me, you ship Sei with Kei, you should visit this Pixiv account.

The pic below is technically not a Christmas pic, but the star makes it feel Christmasy.

The pic below was drawn to celebrate the New Year. The joke is that Yumi and Yoshino are giving Sei (whose birthday is on Christmas) a belated birthday present. In response, Sei's like "Woah, this is kind of late!! But thank you~"

Good times with the ladies from Noir.

And of course, some Madoka Magica.

Below the cut at the bottom of this post, you'll find a sweet but spoilery Madoka x Homura picture.

Yumi and Momo- definitely my favorite Saki couple.

I also still like Saki and Nodoka as a couple.

Yay, Haruka and Michiru! ^__^ Wonderful, as always.
Last but not least, Alpha and Kokone, a pairing I like from another excellent classic series, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 1

Paros no Ken (The Sword of Paros) is a three volume fantasy series written by Kurimoto Kaoru (Guin Saga's author) and drawn by Igarashi Yumiko (Candy Candy's artist). It ran from 1986-1987 in Monthly Asuka. It is, as far as I know, the earliest example of a yuri romance that doesn't end with either half of its couple being killed off, committing suicide, or marrying a man. Incredible progressiveness for its time aside, it holds up today as a ripping good yarn.

Paros no Ken begins and ends described by an unnamed wandering minstrel to us as a legend based on events from long ago.

The kingdom of Paros was once in a dark period, in which it was threatened by a militant neighboring kingdom called Kauros.

Although Kauros could have gained control of Paros by invading, its leaders tried to save themselves the trouble by uniting the two kingdoms through marriage. Paros's King Aldius doesn't want his kingdom to lose its independence to Kauros by any means and tries to politely decline them. But he's running out of excuses, so he pressures his only heir, Erminia, to pick a Parosian man to wed. Unfortunately for him, Erminia isn't interested in men and makes no secret of it.

Erminia spends most of her free time riding horses with her best friend since childhood Yurias. One day Erminia saves one of the castle's laundry maids, Fiona, from being run over by a runaway horse. Neither can stop thinking about the other after that- Erminia because Fiona's her type, and Fiona because Erminia reminds her of the "prince" she met once as a child who she has always wanted to meet again. Of course, the person from Fiona's childhood is Erminia. I've mentioned before that I find the "I have been in love with you since we were kids, even though I haven't seen you at all since then!" trope stupid, but I actually don't mind it here. Fiona has had such a godawful life that it sadly makes sense that she would cling like a drowning person to a memory like that. 

But anyway, Erminia's sex doesn't make any difference to Fiona, and Fiona and Erminia spend more and more time together. Erminia becomes further smitten because Fiona is not only kind, she's the only person Erminia knows who isn't like "You're a woman, so you should do this and that and this! And be interested in these things!" Yurias, who is in love with Erminia, instantly pegs where things are heading between Erminia and Fiona. Some knights from Kauros attack Erminia when she is with Fiona. After Erminia and Yurias fend them off, Erminia notes that the Kaurian knights had several chances to kill her, but didn't. They were just testing her, for some reason.

Erminia's father finally gives her an ultimatum to chose a groom within ten days' time, and has her confined to her room until she chooses. This volume ends on a cliffhanger.

Erminia, who has justifiably been compared a lot to Rose of Versailles' Oscar, is a charismatic, ass-kicking lead- and, of course, groundbreaking for avoiding certain negative tropes and being happily outspoken about who she likes. In a high fantasy setting, but still. Erminia's out-ness is a big deal within the world she lives in because Paros no Ken's world is brimming with heterosexism, not to mention sexism. It can be incredibly, wonderfully refreshing to read something like Malinda Lo's Ash (one of my favorite novels), in which the characters live in a world where homophobia is nil and being openly interested in other women/other men need not come with any potentially negative consequences (because, you know, that's how things should be and will be someday)- but stories in which the characters work through (or have worked through) the less pretty aspects of coming out are, in a way, more... Well, let me put it this way. As a high schooler in the "What do these feelings mean!?" phase, I loved how utterly not a big deal the romances between Strawberry Panic!'s characters were. But for its much lower amount of out-and-out yuri, I found Maria-sama ga Miteru more comforting because the one canon lesbian among its leads, Sei, dealt with the less pretty aspects of coming out and ultimately came out happy even though she didn't get the girl she liked when she was questioning.

The point of that rambling tangent is that, even though Paros no Ken takes place in a high fantasy setting, it's written in such a way that Erminia's development parallels a lot of folks' real life experiences with coming out/being out as lgbtq, for better and worse, such as when Erminia tells Fiona (after mentioning that Yurias called her selfish for her time spent romancing Fiona), "If I express anything of a free will at the castle, I am accused of being selfish. One day, I simply realized that I needed to be true to myself, even if it caused others to curse my existence. I have just one chance... One chance to live a life that belongs to none but me."

One thing that does date this series is the ambiguity between trans male and lesbian identity in it. To quote what I wrote about that ambiguity in my essay on lesbian identity in yuri:
In some early works like Ikeda Riyoko’s Claudine…! and Kurimoto Kaoru and Igarashi Yumiko’s Paros no Ken, there is some ambiguity between lesbian identity and transgender identity. Oniisama E’s Rei is an example of a character whose description of being like a man—having the aura of a man, as Nanako [Oniisama's E's protagonist] describes her—was pretty obviously the closest thing that you were going to see to the word “butch” (or the Japanese equivalent) in a 70’s shoujo manga. That may have been the case with Claudine (the lead in Claudine…!) and Erminia (the lead in Paros no Ken) as well. Sailor Moon’s Haruka is described by creator Takeuchi Naoko, as having the “heart of a guy,” although when Takeuchi Naoko was asked if Haruka had been a man in her past life, she said no, and affirmed that she intended to create a relationship between two girls.  Just as the concept of akogare in Japan has a Western historical parallel in the idea of “smashings” between Victorian schoolgirls, the association between lesbian and transgender identity in older examples of Yuri has a parallel in the numerous historical examples of lesbians who passed themselves as men or adopted a masculine identity in order to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities men enjoyed, like La Maupin.  Some characters are clearly butch, but for some, like Claudine, one can’t be certain whether they are asserting themselves as transsexuals or as lesbians who want the privileges exclusive to men. Yuri fans have fondly dubbed cool, butchy yuri characters “Girl Princes,” partly because their earliest ancestor (who actually isn’t a Yuri character) is Ribon no Kishi’s Sapphire, who is literally a girl prince.
In short, like Claudine, you can read Erminia as a butchy lesbian or a straight trans man (or genderqueer, since the text leaves room for that), whatever suits you. That ambiguity is actually a plot point in this series, but it doesn't come into play majorly until later on.

I should also, finally, mention that Erminia and Fiona are sweet as a couple, but Fiona is more passive and damsel-in-distressy than I'd like for the first two volumes of this series. Thankfully, she moves away from that in volume three and (SPOILER!) saves Erminia from the biggest threat she faces- and Erminia likes Fiona's heightened competence, even if the risk Fiona takes because of it scares the shit out of her. But I'm getting ahead of myself. More romantic intrigue and political skulduggery coming in volume 2~

Story: B+
Art: A LOT of beautiful detail. A
Overall: B+

Monday, November 19, 2012

Manga Review: Concerto

Concerto is an all-yuri series of one-shots that Hattori Mitsuru (better known to anime fans as the creator of Sankarea... which I haven't seen or read) published in Young Animal magazine from 2005 to 2011. The quality of Concerto's stories is highly variable, but overall, I like it.

Ino plays the guitar and Hitomi plays the piano. They've been best friends since they took music lessons at the same place as small children. They've kissed, but their relationship is still in the gray area between friends and lovers. In "Concerto", Ino and Hitomi's school asks them to perform together at the end of their graduation ceremony. A crisis crops up when Hitomi and Ino question the nature of their relationship (or put less sentimentally, Ino: "After we graduate, we'll always be friends!" Hitomi: "I don't just want to be friends. IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT. *bow chicka wow wow*" Ino: "Wait, what? *runs away*" Hitomi: ";_; ..."), causing Hitomi to stop showing up at school. After Ino tells Hitomi that she returns her feelings (shouting from outside Hitomi's house while strumming a guitar, which I thought was cute in a dopey romantic comedy movie kind of way), Hitomi makes it to the ceremony and she and Ino make up by performing, capping it off with a kiss in front of the entire school. Despite the ham-handedness of its confession scene, this is a cute story- helped by that especially nice ending. :-)

"Longing" wins the Story That Feels Like It Should Be a Skit in the Vagina Monologues award. At Ino and Hitomi's school, a few years after their graduaton, Kyouko is in love with Touko, her cool, stoic sempai in the kyuudo club. Kyouko learns that Touko hates her body for being "manly." Touko has always felt that way, but has been beating herself up more over it and slumping in kyuudo since her boyfriend dumped her for the same reason. Kyouko tells Touko that she has always thought Touko was beautiful and doesn't understand her self-loathing. They get together. Touko pulls out of her slump and publicly dedicates her next competitive kyuudo win "to my beloved Kyouko!" As you can imagine, I liked that ending also. :-) Kyouko and Touko's connection isn't as developed as those between the other couples in this book (excluding the characters in "Spice"), but it's still a cute story.

"Spice" is a dumb, PWP-ish story about a glasses-wearing plain Jane named Kotori, and Rui, the hot young teacher who everyone wants.

"Innocent"'s couple is my favorite. Fumiko, a high school first-year, is in the art club. One day after painting in the art room, she looks at a painting discarded by a third-year she hadn't seen there before. The painting is a realistic rendering of a naked woman.

A friend of Fumiko's tells her that the third-year, Ritsu, has been a school pariah since she unwittingly outed herself in her third year of middle school. Despite Fumiko's friend's warning to stay away from Ritsu and Ritsu's obvious distrust of her schoolmates, Fumiko befriends Ritsu, bonding over their love of painting.

Fumiko falls in love with Ritsu and, remembering her friend's warning about how folks reacted to Ritsu's outing, agrees to pose nude for Ritsu's graduation project. As Ritsu paints Fumiko, the tension between them, as expected, becomes thick enough to cut with a knife. Fumiko finally tells Ritsu she is "of the same mind", and they kiss. As much as I like the public coming outs in "Concerto" and "Longing", this private one made me squee the most.

Fast forward two years, and we see Fumiko looking at Ritsu's graduation painting in the art room. Smiling, Fumiko plans to do a painting of her "beloved" for her graduation project. This book's bonus art confirms that Ritsu is the subject of Fumiko's graduation painting.  ^_^

In "Rendezvous," Chizu's girlfriend Yayoi is temporarily living with Chizu and her family. When Chizu's mom catches Chizu and Yayoi kissing, Chizu and Yayoi run away. They return home after running out of money, expecting to be separated but ready to show their parents they're serious about each other. But. When Chizu's mom sees them, she goes all blushy and nostalgic and tells them that she'll keep their relationship a secret from Chizu's dad since she gets how they feel, because she dated some girls when she was young. That works. lol I agree with Erica that this plot point has a potentially problematic reading, but I'm choosing not to read it that way and just taking it as a lucky break for Chizu and Yayoi. So anyway- now that Chizu and Yayoi have returned, there are rumors about them at school, but they don't care and are confident that the god of marriage will always watch over them. :-)

So like I said, this collection is a mixed bag, although really, it's only the third story that I wouldn't miss. For its problems (including some obvious male gazeyness; see the magazine it ran in), I still enjoyed it overall.

Story: I'll give "Innocent" a B+, "Concerto" and "Rendezvous" a B, "Longing" a B-, and a plain old "blah" to "Spice."
Art: It's fine. Starts out pretty sketchy, gets much more polished by the fifth story. C+
Overall: B

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Manga Review: Butterfly 69

Like most Yuri Hime tankoubon, Natsuneko's Butterfly 69 is a collection of one-shots. Most yuri manga aim for a delicately pretty or cute look, but Natsuneko's work, while still festooned with pretty characters, goes for a more hard-edged, sleek, occasionally punk-flavored aesthetic. Her strong linework and heavy use of black and white contrast really make her artwork pop. Thankfully, most of the stories in this collection are at least as enjoyable to read as they are to look at.

"Butterfly 69" is about a half-Japanese rocker named Maria and her girlfriend Ageha (pictured on the cover), who attend a Classical music academy for proper young ladies where Maria doesn't fit in. A U.S. record label offers to sign Maria's band, Butterfly 69, but Maria is willing to turn them down so she can stay in Japan with Ageha. ("I can sing anywhere! Who cares about my dream if it means I have to leave you...?!") Ageha feels icky about being the reason for Maria sacrificing her dream, and roundly tells her so. At the school cultural festival, Maria plays one last concert before leaving for Los Angeles, promising she'll come back for Ageha. Time skip a few years ahead, when Maria and Ageha reunite with a kiss (to squealing from some of Maria's fans) after Maria's band returns to Japan to tour after becoming popular abroad. ^_^

"Quilt Queen" is also very squee-worthy. In high school, Sakura and Dahlia promised each other they would be a famous designer-model duo someday. Sakura would create a prêt-à-porter fashion line and Dahlia would be her #1 model. Years laters as adults, they're still in love but their dreams have panned out very differently. While Dahlia's modeling career has taken off, Sakura's designs are still obscure. Dahlia's manager urges Sakura to break up with Dahlia, insisting that she's holding her back, and Sakura complies. Sakura decides to throw in the towel for trying to be a famous designer, until she sees Dahlia wear a dress she gave her on TV. (This story's one significant handwave- you'd think having a world famous super model girlfriend who publicly wears your designs would give you some fame as a designer, but... eh. I love this story anyway. XD ) At a major fashion competition, the model who was hired to wear Sakura's final design isn't able to do it, so Dahlia steps in and models it. Sakura and Dahlia reunite with a big old kiss on the runway, Sakura's designs win the competition, and Sakura's clothing line finally becomes famous.

"Beautiful Pain" is the only story in this collection that I wouldn't miss at all. Lily and Hokuto are half-sisters from a rich family. As the family's only legitimate child, Hokuto is being pressured to enter an arranged marriage. She and Lily decide to run away together, but like, five minutes into running away, Hokuto gets hit by a truck. Hokuto is now paralyzed, so the arranged marriage is off. Lily's glad the engagement is off, and Hokuto's glad the aftermath of her being hit by that truck panned out exactly as she'd hoped. So, uh, I guess they're meant to be.

Where "Beautiful Pain" is closer to what I'd expect from Yuri Hime S, Yuri Hime magazine's now defunct/partially absorbed offshoot that pandered to the Megami magazine crowd, "Rooftop Miracle", the other story in this collection that ran in Yuri Hime S instead of Yuri Hime, is good. (Yuri Hime S had some quality content, like the early chapters of Fu~fu and most of Kurata Uso's earlier work and this story, but really, the vast majority of it was disposable. That said, I... I did like Otome Kikan Gretel...)

So, "Rooftop Miracle." To Kyouko's irritation, another woman, Mirai, chose the same building to jump off that she chose, on the same day, at the same time, for the same reason- a horrible experience with an ex-girlfriend. Happy to meet someone who understands her feelings, Kyouko stops the other woman from jumping. They realize they have the exact same engagement ring, given to each of them by an ex who conned them out of their savings. They laugh about being tricked by the same woman, marvel at the odds of their meeting just in time to prevent the other from dying, and start going out. Definitely one of the more unique approaches to a new relationship starting. Like the story following it, "Rooftop Miracle" effectively puts a cracked, humorous spin on a potentially grim situation without making light of it.

"Spicy Sweets" blends yakuza, coming out, and romance into a tasty confection. (Couldn't resist.) Coming out to a homophobic parent may be scary, but can you imagine coming out to one who runs a yakuza syndicate? Yuu, the daughter of a yakuza family, is hiding the fact that she's gay from her family and what her family does from her girlfriend Aki, since all of her past girlfriends dumped her once they found out what her family does. When Yuu's mother visits her apartment (along with some scary underlings) while Aki's there... well, her mother already knows about Aki, and isn't pleased. And! Yuu has to come clean with Aki and tell her mother to piss off and stop trying to drag her into the family business. Against all odds, things turn out happily, and Yuu and Aki look forward to their future together. Aki aims to run her own patisserie someday, while Yuu decides to enter law enforcement.

Finally, "Butterfly Effect" shows how Maria and Ageha stayed in touch when Maria's band was still abroad. Not even a big-shot producer could keep them apart. ^^ (Maria punches him out when he's like "You're not agreeing to meet with me tomorrow because that's when you're meeting your lover? Oh yeah, you're a lesbian. You should break up, since I'm sure she's just some gold digger.") Of course, Maria meets up with Ageha, and the story ends on a perfect note. ^_^

Great collection. Do read, if you want a strong yuri collection featuring a variety of ages and settings.

Art: A good-looking, but not-as-strong-and-confident-as-the-rest B for Natsuneko's earliest story, "Spicy Sweets." B+ to A- for the rest. "Quilt Queen" and the "Butterfly" chapters are the stories that give Natsuneko the greatest opportunity for visual flourish.
Story: Highly variable, because of one story. But I'm ignoring it.
Overall: A-

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Manga Review: Tears of Thorn (Ibara no Namida)

Rikachi's Tears of Thorn is about a lesbian college student finding love after learning not to let opportunity pass her by. As I mentioned in my review of Fujieda Miyabi's wonderful Kotonoha no Miko to Kotodama no Majyo to, I love seeing fairytale tropes given a lesbian spin, which Tears of Thorn does with its influence from Sleeping Beauty.

Basically, Tears of Thorn is full of win.

On their first day of college, Maki and her best friend Lilia meet another freshman named Kanna. Maki and Kanna hit it off, and Maki gets a crush on Kanna. Kanna asks Maki out, but in her surprise (and momentary stupidity), Maki blurts that she doesn't feel the same way. Maki wants to apologize and tell Kanna she didn't mean what she said, but when she finally works up the nerve to do so, she realizes Kanna has been snagged by another girl. Rubbing salt in the wound, the girl Kanna likes resembles Juli, the girl who Hiromi, Maki's first love and former best friend, fell in love with several years ago.

As Maki remembers the words Juli taunted her with ("Have you heard of Briar Rose? She just lay in wait, safe behind the briars."), the story flashes back to how she fell for Hiromi. Maki was always timid, and Hiromi saved her from bullies and brought her into her circle of friends in grade school. In middle school, Hiromi saved a new transfer student named Juli from isolation also. Juli pursued Hiromi, quickly making her her girlfriend and rubbing it in Maki's face.

After that, Maki went to a high school far from where she and Hiromi attended school, where Lilia became her first new friend. Lilia silently pined after Maki while Maki silently pined after their friend Yuki. Maki misread Lilia as being in love with Yuki also, and realizing Lilia noticed her feelings, worried about possibly looking like an interloper/another Juli to Lilia. Until she and Lilia saw Yuki kiss her new girlfriend.

When the story returns to the present, Maki and Lilia are having dinner at a restaurant, Maki ordering lots of booze to drown out her frustration at how she screwed up her chance with Kanna. When Maki dozes off after Lilia makes sure she gets home safely, Lilia gives her a kiss, not realizing that Maki was still awake. (SUBTLE HINT FOR WHAT THE KISS REPRESENTS: When they're riding to Maki's place in a cab, Maki slurs "I... wish I'd been born a princess" while leaning against Lilia and Lilia says "...You are princess." And then there's what Lilia says when she leaves Maki's apartment.)

Maki has a hard time acting normal around Lilia now. She never thought of Lilia in that light before, but now that she knows how Lilia sees her... Lilia keeps acting the same- but one day she stops attending class and Maki can't reach her. The more time she spends without Lilia, the more she realizes how much she really misses her.

She finds out why Lilia disappeared from Yuki, who, kind of hilariously, thinks they're already a couple. ("Go bring her some Valentine's chocolate, or something. She's crazy about you, y'know.") Seeing that Yuki knows a lot more about Lilia's situation than she does (Lilia's misguided attempt at giving Maki as little to worry about as possible), Maki wonders if Lilia still cares about her.

But she finds Lilia anyway and gives her a lovely confession. ^__^ The entire scene is really squee-worthy.

Then the story wraps up, and Happily-Ever-After. Unlike the Happily-Ever-After in Rikachi's other yuri series, Sky-colored Girlfriend, it's a Happily-Ever-After I feel happy about. There's also a short bonus chapter, giving a little more insight into Lilia's perspective.

So, yeah, I really enjoyed this series- SO much more than Sky-colored Girlfriend. I like Maki and Lilia, and I like them as a couple. The college aspect and the fairytale-influenced aspect are selling points for me, but both of those things are moot if I'm not sold on the characters and story. (See: The awfulness of Kimi Koi Limit, which features college students, and Sky-colored Girlfriend, which plays with fairytale tropes also.) I also have a soft spot for stories that follow their leads' growth through different phases of their lives- like Ashihara Hinako's Sand Chronicles, Ikeda Riyoko's Rose of Versailles, Takahashi Rumiko's Maison Ikkoku, Umino Chica's Honey & Clover, and so on. Tears of Thorn has a lot less length to work with than those series, but it makes great use of what it does have. Highly recommended, if you're looking for a good romantic drama. Reaaaad it. XD

Tears of Thorn is another JManga release. ALC worked on it, so, as expected, the translation reads smoothly and naturally. No complaints there again.

Story: A-
Art: B+
Overall: A-

*still doing cartwheels over the election results*

BGM: "Darlin'" - Beni

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's Election Day! Nanoha and Fate Want You To Vote (UPDATE 2)

Hey my readers in the U.S.,

You know what would make puppies weep and and cause the sun to crash into the Earth in a fiery blaze? Your not voting if you are eligible to vote.

Please don't make puppies sad, or cause the apocalypse. If you haven't voted and you are eligible to vote, please be sure to vote before Election Day voting wraps up today.

If you aren't registered to vote, you can do so at the polls today in Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Washington D.C., Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Here is a great resource for finding your local polling place, and finding out what each state's ID requirements are. Here is the Spanish version. (Not every state requires a state-issued ID- in Pennsylvania, for example- despite what some voter suppression efforts may lead people to believe. ^_^ )

Last but certainly not least- marriage equality is on the ballot in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, so be a love if you live in those states and support marriage equality (or in Minnesota's case, no greater obstacle in the push for equality) with your ballot! ^_^

Update: If you have a problem at your polling place, you can call 1-866-OURVOTE for support. Also, best not to photograph your vote in some areas.

Update 2: As long as you are in line before the doors close at your polling location, you must be allowed to vote. Again, 1-866-OURVOTE is the number to call if you have problems with that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Manga Review: Sky-colored Girlfriend (Sora-iro Girlfriend)

Rikachi's Sky-colored Girlfried, originally titled Sora-iro Girlfriend, is...hmm, well...

Hiromi has always been tomboyish. When she was younger, she loved the Princess Knight anime, because she wanted to be a prince like Sapphire. She didn't just want to be princely- she wanted to get together with the witch Heckett instead of Prince Charming. Cute, but that's where the cuteness in this story ends. ^_^;

A girl named Juli transfers into Hiromi's class. Her brusque manner causes the other girls to ignore her, but Hiromi tries to befriend her anyway because she hates bullying. Her friends follow suit. Juli immediately decides that Hiromi must be the prince to her princess, the Romeo to her Juliet...so she only calls her "Romeo." Hiromi is visibly uncomfortable with this, but has feelings for Juli despite that, while Juli is dazzled by her fantasy about Hiromi- and never moves beyond that fantasy.

As Hiromi and Juli spend more and more time together, Hiromi's best friend Maki, who is in love with Hiromi, starts to worry that Juli's delusion of her and Hiromi being a couple won't be a delusion for long.

Hiromi and Juli play Romeo and Juliet, respectively, in their school play. Hiromi shoves Juli away when Juli kisses her in the final act, and stays home from school for several days after that.

When Hiromi returns to school, she learns that Juli has been bullied by homophobic classmates since the school play. I felt bad for Juli, while feeling that this story's bullying plot point is an emotionally manipulative move by the author to drum up instant sympathy for a previously not very sympathetic character. Hiromi feels bad for Juli and admires her for holding up under the bullying, and then and there decides to be her girlfriend.

The only character I liked in this series is Maki. After Hiromi and Juli become a couple, she confesses her feelings to Hiromi- not because she expects anything, but because she wants closure as quickly as possible. ("I realized it when I saw you hugging her- after the cultural festival, as she cried in our classroom- that there was no room for me in there at all... I even kind of hoped that if I went out with a boy, you'd get jealous... and come after me... But I knew it was futile... That's why I wanted to come out and say it and get dumped. I love you, Hiromi...") Hiromi still loves Maki as a friend, but as we later see, they don't stay in touch as the years go on. Rikachi felt there was much more she could do with Maki's character, so after writing this series, she gave Maki her own series, Tears of Thorn (Ibara no Namida), following her love life in college. Thankfully, Tears of Thorn stands perfectly well on its own.

Back to Juli and Hiromi. Juli finds out that her dad's company is transferring him again, so she has to move soon. Fast forward a few years, when Hiromi is attending an all-girls' school, having lost touch with Juli a while ago. She has been cast as the school Prince and everyone's calling her Romeo- it's never explained why. A new transfer student arrives, and what do you know, it's Juli. Juli and Hiromi run away from everyone else's view to kiss. Juli tells Hiromi that "I came here because I wanted to see you" and "I never forgot about you for one second." Happy-ever-after...

I'm probably beating a dead horse at this point, but yeah- I didn't like Juli, and I didn't like her with Hiromi. At least the art was nice.

I'm reviewing JManga and ALC's release of this series- hence my referring to it by an English-translated title. While the story is not my cup of tea, I have no complaints about the translation. It's up to par with ALC's usual.

Story: ... : \
Art: B
Overall: D+

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kimi Koi Limit: A Guide to Life

I wanted to like Kimi Koi Limit because its three leads are of college age (two of them being college students- really, how many yuri titles focus on college students?) and its protagonist likes women and knows it. But alas, Kimi Koi Limit feels like the manga equivalent of watching a friend start dating a horrible ex again, blindly thinking that it can work out this time. Meaning, Kimi Koi Limit's characters are really stupid when it comes to their love lives.

In high school, Sono fell in love with her friend Satomi. When she asked Satomi out, Satomi said she wasn't interested, but continued to treat Sono like a friend. Sono never got over her, and after high school, followed her to Tokyo.

Being a shitty stalker, Sono had no idea where Satomi was and ended up crying her eyes out at a lesbian bar. There, she met Hiroko, a student attending the same university Satomi got into. Sono went home with Hiroko and never left, spending her time eating and playing video games and not looking for a job, while continuing to get friendly texts from Satomi that she mooned over but never replied to. Hiroko stayed with Sono knowing that she was still in love with Satomi.

After Sono says Satomi's name while having sex with Hiroko, not for the first time, Hiroko snaps and kicks her out with no possessions or money beyond three thousand yen.

Sono loses her money right away and starts sleeping under a bridge until Satomi finds her and invites her to stay in her apartment.

To her credit, Sono realizes that she should have looked for a job when she lived with Hiroko, and starts job-hunting right away.

Conveniently, Satomi and Hiroko have the same shift at the same part-time job. Satomi starts talking about her roommate, who became homeless after being kicked out by her ex, and Hiroko is reminded of her ex, who she recently kicked out, and they put two and two together when Satomi sees Hiroko's cell phone wallpaper of her and Sono. When Sono sees them together, she faints because of a fever and wakes up at Hiroko's apartment. Like Satomi, Hiroko finds Sono charming for some reason, and wants to win her back.

In short, Hiroko fails, Satomi realizes that she loves Sono (she has never been interested in a woman before, and cringed at the idea of having lesbian sex when Hiroko brought her to a lesbian bar, "but if it's Sono, then..." EDIT: I may have misread the bar scene- see the comments for more on that), and Sono runs away from everything to return to the place where she slept when she was homeless. Sono and Satomi get together, and Happily-Ever-After... I guess.

Hiroko came out of this situation better than anyone- but I don't like any of them, really. While Kimi Koi Limit's characters made me cringe, I'll guiltily admit to having become morbidly curious, about halfway through, about how these three dumbasses would resolve their love triangle, despite the fact that who would be paired off with who was obvious from a mile away.

Story: D+
Art: Actually pretty nice. B+
Overall: D+

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Manga Review: Candy volume 2

Volume 2 of Candy picks up right where volume 1 left off- with Chiaki meeting Tamaki after receiving her note. She handles the situation like a champ, and it seems like she and Kanan can finally just be happy.

But of course not. Chiaki and Kanan have to deal with something even more frightening than rumors and Tamaki's wrath...codependency, wooooooooooo~

Chiaki's graduation is coming up soon, and Kanan asks her if they can live together after she (Kanan) graduates. Kanan's seriousness about their relationship makes Chiaki happy...until she finds out that Kanan's grades and kyuudo performance have been slipping lately, because she's been focusing on their relationship at the expense of the other areas in her life ever since they first had sex. Kanan becomes afraid that Chiaki's feelings have cooled since she isn't spending as much time with Kanan as she used to because she's neck-deep in preparing for her college entrance exams.

Tamaki recommends that Kanan speak to the cool, young school nurse Eri-sensei about whatever's bothering her, since Eri-sensei gave Tamaki some good advice recently.

Unfortunately, Eri-sensei gives Kanan advice that just makes things worse.

This point is where the story took a detour into "Wtf is happening?" town. After Chiaki breaks up with Kanan for her own good (but without telling her why), she starts getting a lot of clingy texts from Kanan. Chiaki thinks that this isn't in Kanan's character, so there must be someone else manipulating her into doing it, but...really? Kanan acted codependent before Chiaki dumped her, and then, well, Chiaki dumped her without telling her why. But hey- Chiaki needs to follow that train of thought so she can relay her suspicions about Kanan being manipulated to Ichijou, so Ichijou can tell her that, hmmm, Kanan's been spending a lot of time in the school nurse's office, getting advice...

Things come to a head when Eri-sensei reveals her true colors to Kanan. This plot point wins the Most Ham-Fisted Means of Making a Character Realize What She Did Wrong in Her Relationship award. The other situations in this volume feel believable (or at least believable-ish), but I felt like I was reading something like Hot Gimmick when Eri-sensei started to reveal her true colors. On one hand, I'm very glad that the thing I was afraid was going to happen didn't happen; on the other, I was annoyed by how pat its resolution was, and the fact that Eri-sensei was, ultimately, just a lazy plot device.

But anyway, Kanan realizes that she needs to get it together.

She does so, but she and Chiaki remain estranged.

Graduation day arrives, and Kanan congratulates Chiaki on graduating. After some awkward conversation, Chiaki walks away, and it seems like this is it for them...but nope. Now well over her issues, Kanan asks Chiaki if she can fall in love with her again. Chiaki responds the same way she did when Kanan first asked if she could fall in love with her. ^_^

Hanging out at Chiaki's apartment later, Kanan gets the full story on why Eri-sensei had it out for them. I have mixed feelings about Kanan's reaction: on one hand, yes Kanan, way to finally come to the conclusion that Eri-sensei is messed up, on the other, Kanan's comment about not getting Chiaki's first kiss was really asinine, even if she was half-joking.

Then the ending becomes sweet again, and we get a pretty wonderful epilogue, showing what Ichijou and Tamaki end up doing as adults, before transitioning to Chiaki and Kanan's adult lives, in which they are both working and happily living together. ^_^

A short bonus chapter covers Eri-sensei's perspective, for the three people who care.

Another bonus chapter focuses on Tamaki getting closure for her feelings for Kanan.

The final bonus chapter (titled "Oyasumi") gives us more of Kanan and Chiaki's lovey-dovey home life. ^__^

Story: So variable. I hated the Eri-sensei arc and the fact that Chiaki never spoke with Kanan about their problems when it was obvious that Kanan had no clue what she was worried about. But I liked the rest of the story and loved what the story showed of Kanan and Chiaki's adult lives. I want a Candy sequel.
Art: B
Overall: B

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Manga Review: Candy volume 1

At two volumes, Suzuki Yufuko's Candy is a sweet, sincere look at a young couple in high school. High school romance has been covered loads of times in yuri- and in manga in general, although to a lesser proportion than in yuri manga specifically- but Candy's lead couple is charming enough to make this series one of the better examples of its premise.

Kanan is the tomboyish, popular ace of her school's kyuudo team. She attends an all-girls' school, so there's lots of "Kyaaa!"-ing over her among her schoolmates- you know how it goes with that set-up.

Kanan's popularity doesn't go to her head. Her poise when she's doing kyuudo aside, she's a bit of a space cadet, oblivious to the extent of how much her schoolmates like her.

Kanan is floored because Chiaki, the smartest student in her school, confessed to Kanan before the events of the first chapter.

Kanan and Chiaki get together by the end of chapter 1.

Having marked the beginning of their relationship with Chiaki publicly jumping for joy and wrapping her arms around Kanan's neck- not to mention Chiaki suddenly spending a lot of time with Kanan, when she'd never spent much time with anyone previously- they have to deal with some rumormongering, which they resolve more easily than expected.

Enter Tamaki, a classmate who has feelings for Kanan and tries to plant seeds of doubt about the validity of her feelings for Chiaki.

Later, Kanan's friend Sado is like "Herp derp, I don't care that you're dating a girl, but your relationship just exists 'cause you're in high school and going to an all-girls' school", but Kanan basically tells him he's full of it. Kanan and Chiaki have a good ally in Kanan's unsentimental childhood friend Ichijou.

Amusingly, the biggest threat to Chiaki and Kanan's relationship in this volume is their realizing how little they have in common when they go on their first date. But they (very sweetly and realistically) learn to adapt to each other's preferences and things end up going well. :-)

Finally, Tamaki tries to sabotage their relationship from Chiaki's end, but Chiaki responds by... Well, that's for volume 2.

A bonus chapter focuses on Ichijou's perspective of Kanan and Chiaki's relationship, complete with a cute flashback to her and Kanan as kids.

So...sweet story so far. ^^ Kanan and Chiaki are both warm, likeable people who deserve each other, and are easy to root for as they navigate the early steps and stumbles of their relationship. Despite the drama they deal with in this volume, they're still in their honeymoon period- the next volume's going to be a lot rockier (and weirder) for them, since someone from Chiaki's past shows up to screw over her current happiness.

Story: B+
Art: B
Overall: B+

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another Yuri Classic Revisited: A Discussion of Girl Friends Omnibus 1

Every yuri fan and their grandmother knows Girl Friends- Morinaga Milk's popular yuri romance about Mari, a shy, studious high school girl, and Akko, the outgoing popular girl who becomes Mari's first best friend and turns out to be her true love. :-)

For something different, I thought it'd be fun to review Seven Seas' release of Girl Friends volume 1 in an Off the Shelf-inspired conversation between myself and another blogger- the lovely Day from GAR GAR Stegosaurus. Day is a seasoned yuri fan and a fan of Girl Friends, and a generally awesome person, so I thought it'd be a good idea to discuss this book with her on Skype, before transcribing our meandering ramblings here. (With minor editing for some misspelling, lack of capitalization, lack of punctuation- basically, making it look less like a Skype conversation.) What better way to get a fresh perspective on a story I've read multiple times than to discuss it with someone else?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A review of something I like: Hana to Hoshi volume 1

Hana to Hoshi (Flower and Star) is about Hanai Sawako, a former table tennis prodigy who quit the game in middle school. After she lost a tournament match to a girl named Hoshino Shiori, she lost her confidence and had a string of losses, finally tossing in the towel.

Hanai enters high school, ready to put her past in table tennis behind her. To her horror, Hoshino is attending the same school, in the same class, in the seat next to hers.

Hoshino is nothing like the looming, larger-than-life image Hanai built up of her after their game. Like Hanai, Hoshino is bad at reading people. But while Hanai is prone to overreacting and assuming the worst about people, Hoshino is easygoing and inclined to assume the best about people. Where Hanai thinks Hoshino secretly looks down on her,  Hoshino...well, when Hanai wakes Hoshino up after she falls asleep in class, a half-awake Hoshino smiles and kisses Hanai, thinking she's still dreaming about her. Hanai freaks out and falls backwards, hitting her head and passing out.

Improbably but refreshingly, Hoshino admits that she was dreaming about Hanai the next time she sees her. Hanai, queen of the inferiority complex, explains it away, finding it more plausible that Hoshino would be trying to mess with her than have feelings for her. (Hanai's issues started with her parents, who always made it obvious that Hanai's older sister was their favorite.)

The more Hoshino proves that she genuinely cares about Hanai, the more Hanai's assumptions about her crack.

Enter Chika, an upperclasswoman and childhood friend of Hoshino's who is very obviously interested in her, causing Hanai to feel- gasp!- jealousy. That jealousy is the kick in the pants Hanai needs to realize Hoshino has never done anything ill-intended towards her. Not everything you might hope she'd realize, but it works. There isn't anything keeping her and Hoshino apart at this point except her own obliviousness, and if she got together with Hoshino as she is now, it wouldn't feel earned. She needs to grow more first. She can be hard to like at points, especially early on, but remains sympathetic enough to stick with in the interest of seeing where she goes. And her tendency to overthink things can be amusing.

Hoshino isn't terribly realistic, but is still a fun character. She quit table tennis prior to high school, but hasn't revealed why, so I'm curious about that.

Anyway, Chika notices Hoshino's feelings for Hanai and is jealous of Hanai. Hanai sees Chika kiss Hoshino in an empty classroom, and...!

Well, you'll see in volume 2.

I'm probably making this series sound more dramatic than it is. lol This series has a lot of dramatic plot points, but more often than not, it punctuates its scenes with broad physical comedy.

This volume also includes a short about Hoshino playing with the neighborhood dog she likes visiting since she can't keep pets at home and another short about Hanai's interaction with her family's grumpy cat.

Story: B
Art: C+ Sketchier than I'd like. The biggest positive is Suzukin Kario's knack for funny facial expressions.
Overall: B

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Anime Review: Saki Achiga-hen episode of side-A

What an awful spin-off.

When I first watched Saki's premiere episode, I didn't find it that interesting. I didn't care about its characters, despite the really yuri-ish moment between two of them, and didn't see why I should care about watching them play mahjong. But Saki improved from there and really came into its own after its eponymous protagonist and the other members of Kiyosumi High School's mahjong team started competing in tournaments, working towards winning the Nationals.

In addition to Saki's team, we got to know three of the other teams aiming to be #1 at Nationals. Saki's cast had an assortment of likeable personalities in addition to being one of the gayest casts I have ever come across, their preternatural mahjong-playing abilities made their games entertaining, and the entire thing simmered into a tasty tournament stew. (I didn't like its service, but think of that aspect as the celery pieces I had to avoid while enjoying the rest of the stew.)

In Saki we met Nodoka, a teammate of Saki's.

In middle school, Nodoka attended Achiga Girls' Academy. She joined Achiga's mahjong club and made friends with Shizuno, Ako, and Kuro.  

Saki Achiga-hen episode of side-A is about Shizuno's (and to a lesser extent, Ako and Kuro's) desire to play mahjong against Nodoka again at the high school-level Nationals after Nodoka moves away.

Shizuno, Ako, and Kuro revive their school's mahjong team in high school and get two more girls, Yuu and Arata, to join. Their coach is Harue, an alumna of their school who took Achiga's team to the Nationals in high school but lost, causing her to lose confidence in herself.

This series has about half the episode count Saki does, so by necessity, everything is compressed. But man, even taking that into account, its pacing sucked.

Achiga-hen's team gets to the tournament portion of this show after two episodes (five episodes in Saki), which I didn't mind since the tournament portion is what I really looked forward to. And two episodes is enough time to establish the personalities of the Achiga characters

Too bad they don't have personalities. They're bland. Really bland.

In fact, the final arc of Achiga-hen stopped focusing on the Achiga team in favor of a different team, contrary to what the build-up to it led us to believe. The Achiga girls are so dull, I think even their creator realized they were bland and thought "Screw it" at that point.

This series zipped through the nationals qualifying tournament that Saki spent fourteen episodes on in one episode, spent three episodes on the first round of the Nationals, and then spent four episodes on the first match of the second round of the Nationals. I don't know whether the wonky pacing is the manga's fault or a weird adaptation decision.

On the plus side, the final arc's greater focus on the non-Achiga players (Saki's older sister Teru, one of the players from Senriyama, and the girl who sounds like Railgun's Kuroko) made it somewhat more entertaining than this series' previous matches. I don't even remember Achiga's opponents besides the Senriyama team, Teru, and the girl who sounds like Kuroko. I rooted for Teru to kick everyone's asses, honestly. She was the only one who I wanted to keep see playing.

The characters from Saki showed up for some cameos. I know that it was fan-pandering, but it was a welcome respite from the dullness of the Achiga crew. I especially liked seeing Yumi and Momo, my favorite Saki couple, still being wonderful and coupley in the first half of episode 8. I replayed the scene in which Momo jumped into Yumi's arms upon seeing her again after I first watched it. ^_^

The Saki anime ended before its characters started playing in the nationals. It did not animate the entire story because it didn't have enough source material to draw from. But it still ended on a much better note than Achiga-hen. Saki's ending was cliffhangery in a "Kiyosumi kicked ass in the qualifying tournament. Look at all the awesome opponents they will face in the nationals!" way. Achiga-hen's ending was cliffhangery in a "This round hasn't concluded yet, but whoops, we're out of time" way. To the credit of whoever produced this series, Achiga-hen is going to get a three episode sequel at some point.

At the end of Achiga-hen's final episode, this series remembered that it's supposed to be about the Achiga team. I didn't realize how much I loathed spending time with the Achiga team until they saw Nodoka and had this exchange with her.

Sometimes friends lose contact because life happens- you no longer have enough in common with them to stay in touch or you didn't have a strong enough bond in with them the first place to keep in touch after you changed to a situation in which you wouldn't see them regularly at school (or work, in your neighborhod, etc) anymore, or one of many other reasons. It can be nice to reestablish contact with an old friend, but in this case, I wish the Achiga girls had let it go. For our sake, as viewers.

Story: D+
Art: C
Overall: D+

Where's my Saki season 2?