Sunday, October 7, 2012

Manga Review: Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo volume 2

"Cherries For Your Lips" and "Real Love", two of the Kuchibiru stories that ran in Yuri Hime, are in the back of this volume. But I'll cover them first.

In "Cherries For Your Lips" Chiharu is in love with her best friend Eri. She noticed Eri for her beautiful flute performance, and stuck with her after she injured her right arm and quit playing. Chiharu justifies her not confessing to Eri as not wanting to give her something else to worry about, but eventually admits that it's her own pain she's avoiding. She tells Eri there's something she wants to say to her before the story ends. One gets the impression that whether Eri reciprocates or not, she'll respond gracefully to Chiharu's confession, which is a relief. And I find it refreshing that, unlike in most girl-pining-after-her-best-friend-thinking-it's-hopeless one-shots, Eri works up the gumption to confess. (Kinda helps when you know the friend you want to confess to won't be weirded out in response.) For its story type, this one-shot is pretty feel-good.

"Real Love" is about Nosaka, an introvert who has never dated and writes het romance as a member of her high school's literature-writing club. Her kouhai Michiru, a beauty who reminds Nosaka of her ficitonal heroine, asks Nosaka out. The difference between Michiru's behavior when they date (pretty much what Nosaka expects from a romance hero) and the behavior Nosaka expects from Michiru based on her girly romance heroine appearance throws Nosaka off kilter. This story, like "This Love From I Can't Remember When", leaves me lukewarm for a Kuchibiru story, since Michiru is the most obnoxious of the Kuchibiru love interests and Nosaka's rationalization of how she rejected Michiru's kiss irritated me. If someone keeps trying to kiss you after you tell them no, a slap is justified. ^_^

And nowwwww...the main attraction, the new Nana and Hitomi chapters! ^_^

Nana and Hitomi's story in volume 2 picks up where it left off in volume 1.

After five volumes of Girl Friends, Morinaga has honed her ability to write cliffhangers to a science. Gone is the gentler, more easygoing tone of her Yuri Hime stories. Not that I'm complaining. Morinaga has been waiting to draw this story for years. She planned it knowing that she had several chapters to spend on one couple, unlike her work for Yuri Hime, where her position as a contributing mangaka was more tenuous.


Hitomi's basketball team kouhai Kagami has an obvious thing for Hitomi but suffers from internalized homophobia-itis. ("My feelings aren't dirty like that!") Kagami anonymously posts a message on the basketball team's online message board, snarking about how Nana always sits on the bench with the team at invitationals. Fearing someone may pick up on her relationship with Nana by watching their interaction at games, a shaken Hitomi asks Nana not to come her next game, but doesn't tell her why.

You may remember that at the end of the last Nana and Hitomi chapter that ran in Yuri Hime, Hitomi resolved to "protect" Nana. While the Nana and Hitomi stories that ran in Yuri Hime focused on Nana's insecurities about her and Hitomi's relationship, Hitomi's desire to carry the entire burden of protecting Nana from whatever threatens them, and her insecurity at the root of it, is ultimately the central conflict of this series.

As in their pre-Comic High! story, Nana and Hitomi just need to be honest and talk about whatever relationship issues they're having to resolve them, which they do- overly simplistically at first (I found it kind of troubling that Nana's argument against Hitomi always protecting and supporting her while she doesn't do anything to protect either of them or contribute money to their future household is simply that they're both girls; if Hitomi were a guy, I would hope Nana wouldn't just be like "Oh well, you're a guy and I'm a girl, so okay"), but then really touchingly. Now, with Hitomi knowing she doesn't need to emulate society's ideal of masculinity to make Nana happy and Nana rejecting the lofty pedestal Hitomi put her on, they can plan their future as equals.

Which brings me, backtracking, to this story's second major conflict, coming out. As lovely as Girl Friends is, it doesn't address coming out as much as I would have liked. I would have loved to see Mari and Akko come out to someone (someone supportive, of course), because it does suck to hide that area of your life from friends and family. When I saw, in this series, that Morinaga was going to address that issue, I did a little dance. And for the most part, she does a great job with it.

At first, Nana and Hitomi tell themselves that being in their own little bubble just makes their bond stronger. But they come to admit that, as happy as they are with each other, they want support from others also. Hitomi comes out to her friend Chie, debunking a bullshit argument some would make about her and Nana's relationship, and gains an ally. Nana doesn't come out to anyone, but at least she wants to. I like to think she will come out to someone soon- say, Abe- and be pleasantly surprised. ^_^ Until then, Nana, there's this magical place called the internet, where there are lesbian websites and blogs and forums (and 2ch, if you're Medley) and everything for support. It isn't a substitute for being out to people in real life, but it's a boon for the closeted teen- or adult- who doesn't want to feel as much like they're out at sea.

This series doesn't achieve everything it wants as well as it might have. (Consider my critique of it a form of tough love.) Nevertheless, it's a great sequel to Morinaga's original Kuchibiru stories with a heartwarming send-off for its leads. I would be happy to get another continuation, further along in Nana and Hitomi's lives.

Story: Variable, as in the previous volume. But as in Kuchibiru volume 1, I'm counting the non-Nana and Hitomi stories as bonus stories, set apart from THE story.
Art: B+
Overall: A-

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