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?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anime Review: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon season 2

So apparently, Horizon is planned to run for several more seasons, to cover all of its light novel source material. (Provided that it keeps selling well enough. The Horizon anime is popular among the otaku in Japan.)

You know what's a good sign that you don't like a particular show? Feeling happy at the idea of not watching more when there is going to be more. The idea of not sitting through another season of Horizon makes me feel... like a bird flexing its wings and soaring into the bright blue sky... like a college student waking up the day after finishing finals and remembering that, yes, I can do whatever I want today... like this persistent Goodreads user, after forcing herself to finish the Fifty Shades trilogy... FREE.

So, while I still have a song in my heart and an extra spring in my step, let's get cracking on this review!

This season continues where season one left off, with our heroes' floating home Musashi, Horizon's equivalent of 16th century Japan, being attacked by Horizon's equivalent of 16th century Spain, Tres España. As in Musashi, the men in Tres España get to wear shirts and pants while the women get leotards and shiny tights.

I truly, truly appreciate the loving care that has been put into the character designs and renderings in this series. Every ass shot is like a painting, brimming with unspoken meaning. Every crotch shot has a story behind it. Every heaving pair of breasts is clearly Horizon's way of telling us to look closely for the unplumbed depths of character development they convey to those willing to pay attention.

This season, going plot thread by plot thread, we have:

Felipe II, an old war veteran from Tres España, who saved a little girl once when he was deployed. She has sent him letters since then. He eventually finds out that Juana, the woman he works with whose boobs are squarely in the "How can she stand?" category, is the orphan and in love with him. I paid the least attention to this subplot. It was easily the most superfluous one.

Having lost his fight against Musashi's Futayo last season, Tres España's Muneshige loses his title. Muneshige's wife Gin seeks out Futayo for a fight, so she can win back Muneshige's title.

Moving on to the Musashi characters...

Most of this season takes place in Horizon's version of England. Masazumi is still the political glue holding everyone's shit together in the Musashi faction as they deal with Queen Elizabeth I after their ships land in her territory. I like Masazumi's personality, despite Horizon's handling of gender issues re: Masazumi.

Neshinbara meets a girl he knew in the orphanage he used to live in. They'd promised each other they would fulfill their dreams of becoming great writers, so Neshinbara feels bad when he sees that she fulfilled her dream while he hasn't. She curses him, he breaks the curse, and she turns out to be tsundere for him.

Malga's weapon device broke during her and Margot's cool battle against that mech last season, so she can't fight effectively for most of this season. She feels like crap because of it. For the most part, she still decently holds her own against opponents, even protecting Tenzo when he's on his way to save the woman he loves, Mary. She gets her full fighting ability back in this season's final episode, and she and Margot fight alongside each other again in a physical position I imagine would be much more awkward for them if they weren't already doing it. It was nice to see Malga and Margot fleshed out more as individuals this season- especially Malga. I still wish I could cut them out of this series and paste them into a show I like.

Tenzo falls in love with Elizabeth I's sister Mary Stuart, who is due to be executed soon. (Tenzo chose the wrong British royal. Elizabeth is loads better than Mary.) Like Horizon last season, Mary passively accepts her fate, until the man who loves her arrives to rescue her. Two damsels-in-distress in a row as the focal point of each season? Are future seasons going to feature any men passively resigning themselves to a horrible fate before being rescued by a woman? Doubt it. Is one of Horizon's many active female characters going to be the focal point of a season? Maybe, but I won't know first-hand since I'm not sitting through another season. ^_^

Now we're at the spine propping up this series. As with the previous season, this season culminates in Horizon's protagonist Toori giving Horizon (an android containing the soul of the dead girl Toori loved as a child) the ability to process a new emotion by giving her another hard-won (by Neshinbara) piece of the Armor of Deadly Sins. I assume that's how it's going to be for any new season- a lot of stuff happens, resulting in Toori giving another piece of the Armor to Horizon. Toori is less obnoxious this season than he was last season, but that isn't saying much. Most of the Musashi characters are decent, competent people. I'm not sure why they're all willing to lay their lives on the line for such an obnoxious twat.

Horizon's setting is rich in potential, and its plot has some neat ideas woven into it. Its execution this season isn't as messy as it was last season- as I said earlier at some point in this blog, there's more of a method to Horizon's madness in this season. But it still doesn't gel well as a whole or compel me to care about its plot- and it still has the irritating habit of not sufficiently explaining some references and plot elements for those of us who haven't read the Horizon novels. This series puts a lot of thought and detail into its world-building and politicking, but its execution still leaves me feeling like I've consumed empty calories after finishing each episode.

Story: This series has a hardcore contingent of fans who think it's the most brilliant piece of speculative fiction since Lord of the Rings. I'm not one of them.
Art: Same as last season. Obviously good budget, wasted on lousy character designs.
Overall: C Better than last season, but still not good.

If Yuru Yuri gets a third season, I'm not watching it either.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some rambling on Yuru Yuri season 2

Who would've thought it- Yuru Yuri season 2 was the least irritating show of yuri interest that aired this past summer. (The other two being Lagrange season 2 and Horizon season 2.) I still can't call Yuru Yuri good, but I liked its second season more than its first.

Our "protagonist" Akari is the same as ever. She gets some character development in Yuruyuri's penultimate episode, but it's ultimately passed off as part of a story Kyouko wrote. Oh well.

This show uses the fake-story-within-a-story idea more successfully in other episodes- the first episode, which imagines what it would be like if Akari were the most popular girl at her school, in a parody of the girl-who-all-the-girls-want character type in yuri that was actually kind of amusing; and the final episode, in which the Amusement Club members, the Student Council members, and Ishigaki-sensei act out Snow White, in their own way, in their school play as their bewildered older and younger siblings watch from the audience.

Speaking of siblings- one moment that I quite liked was Himawari, after hearing Sakurako's older sister Nadeshiko speaking kind of intimately with someone on the phone, asking Sakurako if Nadeshiko has a girlfriend, to which Sakurako responds by indignantly asking Himawari if she drank the orange juice that she wanted to drink herself, since Himawari's breath smells like oranges. Sakurako isn't evading the topic- it's just one of many examples of her being spacey and food-obsessed. But the point is that Himawari isn't curious about Nadeshiko having a girlfriend because "Omg, it's a girl!?"- it's because she wasn't aware that Nadeshiko was in a relationship. And that's pretty nice.

Chinatsu's wondering about whether it is weird for her to go out with a girl during her and Yui's "date" stood out to me because, other than that brief moment, the characters in this series don't have any anxiety at all over whoever they like being a girl also. The marriage registration form from the flashback to when Himawari and Sakurako were little kids is divided into a "Husband" side and a "Wife" side, suggesting that Yuruyuri's version of society is heteronormative, but you wouldn't know it by how the characters behave. Even though I know better than to credit Yuruyuri's creator with being progressive regarding real life lgbt rights simply because of that- that it's just Yuruyuri's creator, Namori, wanting to write some light, mindless, not-reflective-of-real-people-at-all fantasy entertainment for an otaku audience, I do like the lack-of-conflict-stemming-from-liking-another-girl aspect.

I still don't care about Yuru Yuri's characters- although thankfully, this season improved on them by including some evidence of genuine affection between Himawari and Sakurako instead of just showing them snarking at each other and expecting us to see it as true love. We also learn that Chinatsu's older sister Tomoko has a crush on Akari's older sister Akane, poor Tomoko. Otherwise, the yuri is the same as in season 1.

As a slice-of-life comedy, it's still not all that funny. But I got a little more amusement out of it this season than I did last season and it worked as something bright and colorful to watch when I wanted to shut my mind off. So for what it was, it was okay.

Story: *shrug*
Art: C+
Overall: C

A rant- err review of Rinne no Lagrange season 2

Am I the only one watching this season who ultimately felt kind of...lukewarm towards it?

Lagrange season 1 exceeded the expectations that its lame set of opening episodes gave me. Ironically, Lagrange's first season improved enough for me to expect this season to pay off more than it did.

Its three leads- Madoka, Lan, and Muginami- are still a good trio in this season. My favorite character, though, was ultimately grumpy Youko, with Muginami in second place. "Blasphemy!" some Madoka/Lan shippers might think. Lan was never a favorite of mine, but as I said in my review of season 1, she was more interesting than I expected. And I expected Madoka to annoy the shit out of me, but there was more to her than was first apparent also. Despite her dumb blonde act, Muginami is the sharpest one out of all of them and she was was pretty kick ass when she saved Madoka this season, so she emerges as the strongest of the three.

My verdict on the yuri in this season? Sorry folks, I can see why some shippers are still shipping, but I ultimately see Madoka and Lan (and Madoka and Muginami) as bffs. I was never interested in the OT3 thing that some yuri fans got excited over- I used to see Madoka x Lan, but have always seen Muginami and Madoka only considering each other close friends.

The first eye-rolling thing this season was the episode that turned into a loooong, unnecessary joke about how much of a blushing virgin Madoka really is. A male version of Madoka- some hotblooded high school boy piloting a mech and doing good deeds in honor of his dead parent's memory- would NOT have had the spotlight shone on his virgin-or-not status like that. What a piece of shit that episode was.

After that, the plot gets back on track.

Body switches usually bore me as a plot point, but the one in this series held my interest. Until its lame resolution. I won't spoil it, but...well, I guess I'm not romantic enough, because I thought it was an incredibly lazy solution, contrived to make Dizelmine and Villagiulio quickly arrive at a truce.

Dizelmine and Villagioulio's truce serves a purpose- to lull our leads into a false sense of security- but its execution bothered me also.

I'm glad it turned out Novumundus wasn't stupid enough to take Dizelmine at his word. I would be concerned if Earth's crack team of military strategists accepted a truce easily given by a Machiavellian inter-planetary colonizer who is armed to the teeth at face value. I can see why certain civilian characters would believe in the truce- although I question Lan not being disturbed at all by the fact that her brother Dizelmine was willing to subject her to painful, possibly mentally disabling experiments for the sake of the war but was willing to end the war after learning that it made Yurikano sad.

When the show revealed that Dizelmine broke his promise- don't complain about this being a spoiler, you should be able to see it coming from a mile away- it's treated like this big, shocking reveal. Characters who really should not be shocked are SHOCKED. Oy.

Everyone who called out Moid as a villain in season one? Yeah, we all called it. As long as I'm bitching about Moid- how did he manipulate Dizelmine so effectively? I would have loved to learn more about how Villagiulio supposedly betrayed Dizelmine, just to understand what Moid used to turn him against his best friend since childhood. Let me contrast this plot point with a similar one in Fushigi Yuugi. In Fushigi Yuugi, Miaka and Yui had been best friends since they were small children. As teenagers, they were spirited away to an ancient China-like fantasy world, but Yui got spirited back home right away. Miaka eventually got spirited back also, but found that Yui was in the pseudo-ancient China world again. When she went back to save Yui, things turned out badly, as Yui had been turned against Miaka by Fushigi Yuugi's equivalent of Moid. Fushigi Yuugi revealed why, exactly, Yui felt betrayed, sufficiently enough that I understood Yui's perspective. Lagrange does not give us sufficient information about what Dizelmine perceives as Villagiulio's betrayal, and what Moid said to manipulate him, for me to buy his perspective.

And Moid's ultimate fate was stupid- although I quite liked that Youko punched him out first.

Lagrange season 2 has a sweet ending, although I wish the subplot of what Madoka plans to do with her life had been more sufficiently resolved. As much as I'm complaining about it, this season entertained me- and was genuinely good at points- but it dropped the ball a lot.

Story: Oy.
Art: B+
Overall: C

Thursday, October 11, 2012

5 More Great Coming Out Examples in Yuri Manga

In honor of National Coming Out Day, in no particular order, here are some more excellent examples of manga characters coming out as women who love women. My previous Coming Out Day posts are here and here. This post is also of interest.

1. Omoi no Kakera by Takemiya Jin:
The funniest example on this list.

When Mika leaves a lesbian bar in Shinjuku Nichoume ("I come here once a month. I'm not out of the closet, so it's like a paradise to me."), she sees her classmate Harada breaking up with his boyfriend. (The boyfriend decks Harada before running away, so good riddance.) Harada assumes Mika is one of his fans from school, and she's like "...Seriously? We're in a building full of gay and lesbian bars in the gay district. I'm here because I'm gay."

Now Mika has a friend she can be out to at school. ^_^ The bad news is that after Harada starts acting chummy towards Mika at school, his fans start bullying her. Thankfully, Mika doesn't let it get to her and Harada gets the bullies to stop asap.

Mika and Harada's mutual coming out isn't the only great example of coming out in this series, but it's the one that sets the series' gears in motion. Harada has a younger sister, who starts- to her chagrin- to develop feelings for Mika.

2. "Sweet Lovin' Baby" in Sweet Lovin' Baby by Yamaji Ebine:
Last year I praised Poor Poor Lips' Ren for being an out business owner, even though it meant having to put up with assholery from people like Furui and most of the job applicants who interviewed to work at her shop. "Sweet Lovin' Baby"'s protagonist Kyou is not an employer but an employee- an OL at a company who comes out to her co-worker Megu (who wouldn't shut up about getting Kyou a boyfriend before that) at the risk of, you know, Megu creating a Lonely Wolf, Lonely Sheep scenario and getting Kyou fired.

Given the risks of coming out at her job, I would completely understand if Kyou hadn't come out to any of her co-workers. But she did, and that's pretty badass.

3. Gunjo by Nakamura Ching:
In Gunjo, the ex-wife of one of the protagonists (let's call her "B", since she is nameless in the story) comes out to her mom, who responds wonderfully and brings some welcome levity to B's situation. (LISTEN TO HER, B.)

But B's dad's response to her being gay- specifically, to her feeling like she has disappointed her parents by not being able to have kids- is beautiful, and addresses an issue that I haven't seen dealt with in a satisfactory way before in manga. (Usually when the issue of gay couples not being able to have kids in Japan comes up in manga, it's in a "She's leaving me because she wants kids'" context.) He tells B that it's fine because he loves her more than he could love any grandchild.

4. "Ayumi & Aika" in Mermaid Line by Kindaichi Renjuuro:
After Aika comes out as a woman to her ex-girlfriend Ayumi, who she dated when she presented as a man, Ayumi assumes that Aika likes guys. Nope. Aika's gay, and makes it clear that she has always loved women as a woman. Aika only broke up with Ayumi because she figured Ayumi wouldn't want to be with her any longer. Ayumi realizes that she still loves Aika, and they get engaged. ^^ This series not only debunks the assumption that trans women's gender identities have anything to do with who they like, it's really sweet.

5. Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo by Morinaga Milk:
In last year's Coming Out Day post, I hoped that Morinaga would finally write a "grand coming out" in this series. And she did.

Hitomi comes out to her friend Chie and deflates a stupid idea some would posit about her and Nana's relationship. Despite her good intentions, Chie is insensitive for using that idea to bait Hitomi into coming out (although on the plus side, Hitomi's counter against it is excellent), but she later feels bad and apologizes for it and is otherwise a great friend and ally to Hitomi after she comes out. Most of all, it's great to see Morinaga explore what it's like to come out and why it can be such a relief to do it.

Fu~fu no Hon by Minamoto Hisanari:
I'm cheating here. Fu~fu's creator, Minamoto Hisanari, drew Fu~fu no Hon as a doujinshi side story to Fu~fu. Here we see how Kina and Suu started out, as high school sweethearts. Suu confesses her feelings for Kina, scared as hell and expecting to be rejected, but nope. ^^ The entire thing is adorable, but the most adorable bit is Kina's flashback to how blatantly gay her older sister Kana has always been, causing her to think of liking girls as no big deal. I do love Fu~fu, and I have a soft spot for yuri stories in which a woman who likes women has an easier time being herself because she has a role model.

The picture at the top of this post comes from Rica'tte Kanji!?, in which Rica meets her soon-to-be girlfriend Miho. I've listed Rica in a Coming Out Day post before because of Rica's coming out to her family. I don't want to list the same title twice, but I'm mentioning it again (as I did with Aoi Hana and Hanjuku Joshi last year) because that moment- Rica's first time being out to another lesbian, after going off to college- is wonderful also.

Agree with the titles I've mentioned? Disagree? Other recommendations? Feel free to share!

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-

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.