Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Second Look at a Yuri Classic: Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo volume 1

Once upon a time, a magical manga magazine named Comic Yuri Hime ran a series of one-shots that became legendary in the realm of Yuri, Morinaga Milk's Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo (Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink). The Kuchibiru stories focused on several couples, but one couple, Nana and Hitomi, emerged as the undisputed queens among their brethren. Readers and author alike adored them. After Ichijinsha published the Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo collection, containing two Nana and Hitomi-centric chapters, Morinaga wrote a continuation about Nana and Hitomi for Comic Yuri Hime.

But alas, a dark shadow fell over the land. Morinaga vanished from Yuri Hime in a puff of iridescent smoke after drawing two chapters of her continuation.

The Kuchibiru stories went out of print while every other Yuri Hime collection serialized in Kuchibiru's time remained perennially in print. Readers were left wanting more after those two uncollected chapters, and some wistfully wished to see a re-print containing all of Morinaga's Yuri Hime work.

Morinaga reemerged in the distant land of Comic High!, where she drew Girl Friends, a five volume romance featuring a Nana and Hitomi-like couple who captured many a heart.

And then, lo and behold! Nana and Hitomi appeared, like a phoenix rising from its ashes, in the land of Comic High! Birds sang from tree to tree, fatidic stars shot across the charcoal night sky, and yuri fans danced in appreciation. Morinaga drew five new chapters about Nana and Hitomi for Comic High!

Futabasha published all of Morinaga's Yuri Hime stories as well as her new Nana and Hitomi chapters in two volumes entitled Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo, and there was joy and peace in the land.

The first Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo volume Futabasha published includes all the Nana and Hitomi chapters Morinaga drew for Yuri Hime, along with "The Summer Closest to Heaven", "A Kiss, Love, and a Prince", and "This Love From I Can't Remember When." The second volume includes the Comic High! continuation of Nana and Hitomi's story, as well as "Cherries For Your Lips" and "Real Love."

"The Summer Closest to Heaven" ties with "Cherries For Your Lips" as my favorite of the non-Nana and Hitomi-centric Kuchibiru chapters. "The Summer Closest to Heaven" is a lovely little story about Katou, the ghost of a girl who died of illness in high school. When Katou was alive, spending most of her school time in the school nurse's office, she befriended and fell in love with a girl named Komatsu. Komatsu spent a lot of time in the school nurse's office because she didn't fit in with her classmates. Katou transferred out of school before she died, and Komatsu never learned what happened to her. Now an adult, Komatsu works as the school nurse at that same nurse's office, where Katou lingers. Katou possesses a healthy student, and you'll be shocked to know that Komatsu realizes it's her in there. Katou tells Komatsu what she has wanted to tell her for a long time, allowing them both to get closure.

"A Kiss, Love, and a Prince" is the goofiest of the Kuchibiru stories. I should mention that all the Kuchibiru stories feature characters who attend (or in Komatsu's case, work at) two different girls' school, which Nana and Hitomi attend separately. At Nana's school, Abe plays the princess in her school play, co-starring with the idolized prince of her school, Tachibana-sempai. Beneath her cool, lofty image, carefully cultivated by her fellow seniors in the Drama Club, Tachibana is thick-headed and doofusy. After Tachibana impulsively kisses Abe as they rehearse alone, Abe runs away and drops out of the play. Long story short, the curtain closes (har) on a happy ending.

"This Love From I Can't Remember When" is the weakest of the Kuchibiru stories. Suzuki has a one-sided crush on her classmate Mizuki, who takes it in stride when she finds out Suzuki likes her, although Suzuki never learns that Mizuki knows. I agree with Suzuki that her feelings aren't likely to last and she'll find real love later, but not the way she means. ^_^; She's infatuated with her image of Mizuki, not Mizuki herself, who she barely knows. If her crush were a straight crush, her feelings would be just as shallow but social norms wouldn't treat them as dismissively. Suzuki's rationalization of her crush is sadly realistic in its own way.

And now the meat of this volume, the Nana and Hitomi stories.

Nana and Hitomi used to be best friends, but they became estranged and went to different high schools after Nana rejected Hitomi's love, scared of her own feelings for Hitomi.

Hitomi reaches out to Nana again as a friend, and Nana apologizes and admits that she loves Hitomi. Thankfully for Nana, that ship hasn't sailed, and Happily-Ever-After for both of them.

The remaining Nana and Hitomi-centric chapters in this volume follow Nana and Hitomi's relationship's growth as they begin to move past Happily-Ever-After and think about what's ahead. ^_^ As Erica notes,
This was one of the first stories we - that is, the Yuri-reading audience - encountered that had more depth to it than just a kiss, or holding hands, or even sex. This was one of the first Yuri Hime stories that approached the concept of a same-sex relationship as a relationship, as opposed to a crush, or an immature love, "playing at" love, etc. As a result it was wildly popular with fans.
The original Kuchibiru stories (as opposed to their recent continuation) were a formative yuri manga for a lot of people, and they hold up today as an excellent representative example of yuri set in high school.

Once on Twitter, I told Morinaga that her stories are realistic (really referring to Kuchibiru- especially the Nana and Hitomi chapters- and Girl Friends) and she responded that that's what she's aiming for.

Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo and Girl Friends, Morinaga's most beloved titles, are fantasies to some extent, like pretty much all fictional romances, but they're fantasies that play out in a way that touches something in a lot of queer female readers, regardless of which magazine they run in. Realism in Morinaga's stories manifests in the emotional veracity she imbues her characters with, regardless of the probability or plausibility of the plot developments they undergo. (Like Nana conveniently running into Hitomi for the first time since middle school the day she starts to admit to herself that she loves Hitomi.)

I'm thrilled that Comic High! allowed Morinaga to resurrect Nana and Hitomi and that we have all of her Kuchibiru stories in print! ^__^ And I'm incredibly happy Seven Seas licensed this series in addition to Girl Friends.

Story: Variable from the lows of "This Love From I Can't Remember When" to the heights scaled by the Nana and Hitomi chapters.
Art: B+
Overall: A

I reviewed the original Kuchibiru collection here.

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