Friday, January 27, 2012

Manga Review: Ariyoshi Kyouko's Bruges (Updated)

Ariyoshi Kyouko is best-known for her long-running ballet drama, Swan. She also wrote a six volume yuri series, Applause.  

Applause is about Shunack and Shara, two girls who fall in love at a boarding school in Belgium before they become estranged and reconnect years later as actresses in New York City.

After ending Applause, Ariyoshi wrote a one-shot prequel called "Bruges," about how Shara and Shunack fell in love shortly after Shara transferred to Shunack's school. (Shara is Japanese. She lives in Belgium because her father works for the Japanese embassy there.)

While Shara, a tomboy, finds her elegant new school alien and overwhelming (think Noriko's reaction to Lillian in Marimite), Shunack practically embodies the school. She's feminine and refined- and at first seems unreachable. At the school's annual spring break get-together for its twenty top students, Shunack announces that they'll be playing a murder mystery game based on the unsolved murder of a student several years ago.

One of the teachers who was around during the murder gets jittery, playing the red herring quite perfectly.

A shadowy figure climbs into Shara's room at night and she screams, causing them to run away. When the other students rush in and find out what happened, Shunack tells Shara that the intruder isn't part of the game. I won't spoil how the characters find out the truth about the murder.

All the while, Shunack and Shara get closer and closer, angering the other girl who likes Shunack. Shunack also gets jealous when she sees Shara embrace a teacher she has a crush on. By the end, Shunack and Shara are obviously smitten with each other.

I liked this story a lot. It's an interesting blend of sweet and creepy, with some eye-poppingly gorgeous art. Here are a few examples.


This tankoubon has two more one-shots, including the yuri "San Francisco Monogatari" ("A San Francisco Story"). 

Yuuko is a Japanese writer visiting her out lesbian friend Megumu, who lives in San Francisco. Yuuko came to San Francisco thinking that she's straight, but nope, she has loved Megumu since they were high school classmates. Megumu already has a girlfriend, Chelle, who is fighting cancer in the hospital. While Megumu visits Chelle, her friend Tracy (who loves Megumu) and Yuuko attend the city's gay pride parade. Tracy tells Yuuko about her feelings for Megumu there, and Yuuko realizes that she has the same feelings. Before Yuuko can confess to Megumu, Megumu drops a bombshell- that she's breaking up with Chelle and entering a marriage of convenience. Yuuko mourns what might have been, and is shocked (but not comforted) when Chelle tries to comfort her.

So- the marriage of convenience plot device is "blah," but I really like the gay pride parade full of happily out gay people (it's neat to see the American gay community portrayed in a manga), and the way the story contrasts common Japanese and American attitudes about same sex attraction is interesting. I might be overly optimistic here, but I don't see the story as completely sad since Yuuko acknowledges the nature of her feelings for Megumu after having explained them away for years. Despite her initial heartbreak, it's a lot better for her in the long term. Update: Whoops. Uhh...I attributed the final lines to Yuuko, when they were really Megumu's reaction to Yuuko making plans to get married earlier. Man, I'm glad that was pointed out. (See the comments.) So it's a happier ending! Yuuko now knows that she loves Megumu and Megumu tells her that she loves her and only started dating Chelle because she thought Yuuko was getting married. She still has to decide what to do about Chelle...but Yuuko and Megumu both like each other! And Yuuko was never really into the idea of getting married, so that takes care of that. I'm changing the grade for "San Francisco Monogatari" from a B to a B+.

Story: B+ for "Bruges," B+ for "San Francisco Monogatari"
Art: A for "Bruges," A- for "San Francisco Monogatari" (The latter is just as well-drawn, but its setting doesn't give Ariyoshi as much of an opportunity to indulge in opulent character renderings.)
Overall: B+


Erin said...

I enjoyed this collection a lot, too! I think there are only three stories in it, though (the afterword is listed by a title instead of as "Afterword").
One correction: the narration on the final page is actually dialogue: it's Megumu talking to Yuuko about how upset she was when she found out Yuuko was planning to get married. In hindsight, I probably should have thrown in another "Yuuko" to make that clearer.

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- You're right- thanks for catching that! (Just fixed it.) I got the impression that Yuuko's narration on the last two pages is internal dialogue directed at Megumu- kind of like Resine's "I will never love anyone again now that I have lost you, Simone!" speech at the end of Shiroi Heya no Futari. But yes, it could be dialogue that she spoke out loud to Megumu some time after hearing Megumu's news.

Erin said...

@Katherine: No, I mean that the narration on the last page is Megumu's next lines in their current conversation (hence why she addresses Yuuko by name in the final line). I'm not sure why Ariyoshi chose to do it that way rather than continuing to use dialogue bubbles--perhaps for a fade-out sort of effect? In any case, Megumu isn't getting married. It's mentioned earlier in the story that Yuuko is planning to marry her boyfriend, and Megumu is now telling Yuuko that she was upset back when she found out the news, and that she realized that she loved Yuuko more than Chelle because Chelle's attempts to comfort her didn't help. So she decided to break up with Chelle, but then Chelle got sick.
So it's a happy ending of sorts, though we don't know what Yuuko and Megumu will decide to do now that they know their feelings for each other are requited (or what will happen with poor Chelle).

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erin- Oh, shoot. Whoops. I really mixed that up. You're right. But also- yay! because it's a happier ending. Thank you for clarifying that!

Erin said...

@Katherine: No problem. It confused me the first time I read it, too, since it's such an unusual technique.
And yes, yay for a happier ending!

Rosa_Gigantea said...

Thank you for reviewing this collection. I'm glad you liked it. It is one of my favourite yuri stories. The art is really pretty. For me, Ariyoshi managed to perfectly update the typical classic shoujo art.

I don't know if you already read the main series (Applause) but I can tell you that the story becomes more josei and even better as it progresses. It strays completely away from the typical high school setting.

As for the San Francisco side story, I was very surprised when I found that in my copy of Bruges Applause. Especially because of its age. I still don't understand why nobody wrote about this before in the yuri community. I'm glad we finally got around releasing this. Unfortunately from what I heard a lot of people don't realise or appreciate the importance of this story. However, I'm glad some people do :)

Katherine Hanson said...

@Rosa_Gigantea- "Ariyoshi managed to perfectly update the typical classic shoujo art." I agree. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's some of the prettiest art I've ever had the the pleasure of perusing.

Ah, yes- that was the hook for me. ;-) I read the reviews on Okazu a while ago and have read the early part of the main series (haven't gotten to the cool part yet), but couldn't resist skimming ahead. It does look great. (Although the early portion is enjoyable too.)

When I thought about it more (after getting the ending right- d'oh), I did realize how groundbreaking "San Francisco Monogatari" was for its time. (Not just for how its handling of lesbian identity, basically happy ending, and subtle skewering of conservative expectations involving akogare and marriage- I can't think of any earlier manga aside from Moonlight Flowers that depict life in the queer community.)