Friday, January 6, 2012

Manga Review: Gunjo volume 1

Nakamura Ching's Gunjo is one of the more difficult manga titles to review. It's utterly different from what most people usually look for in yuri (romance, sweetness, some measure of prettiness or cuteness) and most people would find its premise off-putting. But give this series a chance, and you'll find that it's a perfect example of the phrase, "It hurts so good."

In the opening scene, a blonde woman in a phone booth calls the brunette standing nearby to tell her that she has killed her husband.

The brunette only married her husband to repay her debt to the blonde, but he abused her, and she saw a way out by seducing the blonde and convincing her to kill him.

The blonde is a lesbian who fell in love with the brunette in high school. The brunette came from an abusive home and only got into the private school that the blonde attended because of a track scholarship. The blonde comes from a filthy rich family.

They struck up a tenuous friendship as classmates because they were different (the brunette for being poor and the blonde for being an out lesbian), and now they're bound together by their shared responsibility for the brunette's husband's death. The brunette offers to go on the run with the blonde, but tells her that their staying together will only cause problems for the brunette. The blonde decides to stay with her anyway.

Later when the brunette lies that she called the police and told them where they are, the blonde hits her with a beer bottle and trashes the house they are in. After she finds out that the brunette lied, she admits that she behaved that way so the brunette would look convincingly scared and the police would believe that she was held hostage by the blonde. The brunette later screws up her chance of using that excuse to avoid blame for the murder when she tackles a police officer to save the blonde from being arrested.

I'm making this story sound sweeter than it is. Even though the blonde is the only person the brunette can completely depend on and vice versa, they both would have been better off if they had never met. The brunette tells the blonde that she should have died also, but when the blonde douses herself with gasoline, the brunette sits next to her and they both hold their hands around a lighter. The blonde randomly attacks the brunette with a knife to make her see what she looked like when she killed the brunette's husband. Adding to the fun, we see that the blonde had a successful job and a wife who wanted to introduce the blonde to her parents. The brunette takes the injured blonde to her and her wife's apartment thinking that it's the blonde's cousin's place, and finally learns how much the blonde threw away for her.

We briefly see that the girl who loved the blonde in high school and subsequently hated the brunette now has a successful career and a girlfriend. She knows why the blonde did what she did for the brunette, but doesn't tell anyone about it.

As you can see, the protagonists' names haven't been revealed. They may be in the final tankoubon. One of the reasons Nakamura Ching provides for keeping her characters nameless is:
Also, BL[the blonde]'s feelings, BN[the brunette]'s feelings, are not only theirs.
Their feelings resemble the feelings of many people in the world.
BL's or BN's feelings might resemble the way you feel,
Gunjo is not only a story for BL and BN, but it is a story for you.
Therefore, BL and BN (and also BL's former lover) in the manga don't really need to be called by a specific name.
You only have to read to think that you are them.
When BN calls "Hey" looking for a reply, it's not to BL, it's you.
If BN uses BL's name, then you won't be able to respond.
When BL calls out "Hey," the reply isn't from BN, it's from you.
If BL uses BN's name, then you won't be able to respond.
Nakamura's reason for not naming her characters reinforces Gunjo's theme of empathy. The story repeatedly makes us empathize with people who do things that make them (arguably) irredeemable, as in the second chapter when the blonde and the brunette meet a woman who wants to drown herself with her baby's ashes in the ocean because she accidentally let him drown. The blonde and the brunette try to talk her out of it, but they eventually let her go.

What denouement will the blonde and the brunette face at the end of Gunjo? We'll just have to wait and see.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A


Yukimi said...

It sounds very intense. It's going to my to read-list for sure ^__^ I like stories about people messed up by the circumstances or messed up in general.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Yukimi- Then this is definitely the story for you. Hope you like it!

P.S said...

I hate to say this but I don't think this series is my cup of tea, despite the praise from Okazu and this site.

Don't get me wrong it's good that there is a series, like Gunjo, that does something different from regular yuri manga.

The problem is I just don't think I could stand reading something where the main charcters are unlikeable.

Which bothers me because I have heard/read SF/Fantasy stuff where the main charcters are, at best, anti hero's.

It could be that Gunjo has a more realistic (?) feel to it, or that it is a more challenging read for me to handle.

Katherine Hanson said...

@P.S.- Nothing wrong with this series not being your cup of tea. I find the characters interesting (it helps that even though the blonde and the brunette have sympathetic sides, the effed up things that they do are still presented as effed up instead of sugarcoated), but I can understand someone else finding them offputting.

Ade said...

I need to read the 2nd and 3rd vol, but I can't find!! Can you give me a website where I can read it in english? Or the raws, I don't care.I really love this history, I cannot wait anymore! Please help me!
Thansk soo much!!!