Saturday, March 23, 2013

Manga Review: Asagao to Kase-san volume 1

Takashima Hiromi's Asagao to Kase-san (Morning Glories and Kase-san) hails from Pure Yuri Anthology Hirari, a relative fledgling in the admittedly not very big world of yuri magazines. (You've basically got Yuri Hime and Hirari. Tsubomi recently stopped being printed, but its publisher has continued its unfinished series online.) Asagao to Kase-san doesn't travel any ground that hasn't been tread many a time, but it's a sweet, sincere falling-in-love-in-high-school series that I look forward to seeing develop beyond the point it reaches in this volume.

Yamada is the plant appointee at her school. She loves gardening, so this duty suits her to a tee. Every morning, she comes to school to water the plants. One morning she sees popular, attractive Kase, the star member of her school's track and field team, taking care of the morning glories she planted. After their conversation that morning, Yamada can't get Kase out of her head. It's made apparent to us that Kase likes Yamada back. They start hanging out, neither quite realizing that their interest is mutual.

When Yamada's best friend notices that she's spending an awful lot of time with Kase, she tells her that rumor has it Kase is gay and her ex is on the track and field team also. (But oh, don't worry, Kase's standards are probably too high for your level, Yamada, she half-jokingly adds.) Yamada gets jealous of Kase's rumored ex and can't bring herself to mention it to Kase. I would like to see the gossip about Kase being gay addressed further in this series.

Kase, tipped off by Yamada's worried best friend, saves Yamada from a karaoke outing with some of the other girls in her class, who don't make any bones about how much of a loser they think she is and make fun of her singing. As someone who sucks at singing but enjoys doing it anyway, I sympathize with Yamada. lol This chapter's resolution is really cute.

Later, Kase helps Yamada buy sneakers and train for the race at their school's athletic festival so she won't lag behind too badly. (My favorite moment in this volume, btw, is the semi-hand holding scene after they go shopping.)

Yamada gets injured in the race. Kase panics when she sees her all bloodied and bandaged up in the infirmary window and forgets the race to run to Yamada. As a result, they finally become a couple. ^_^

So yup, this is a cute series so far. :-) Yamada and Kase are both pleasant, likeable people, and their tentative, none-too-complicated steps towards coupledom make for some enjoyable reading. Although this series is a good example of solid character writing making well-trodden territory still entertaining, I count the expressiveness of Takashima Hiromi's character renderings (which come close to being precious, but manage not to cross that line, imho) as this series' biggest asset so far- particularly how she draws Yamada's reactions.

This volume isn't going for anything ambitious- a feel-good look at two people who like each other- but it does what it is trying to do well. I look forward to seeing where this series goes in its next volume's worth of content, which will focus on the much less-covered territory of two girls who are already going out moving forward.

Story: B
Art: B+
Overall: A smile-inducing B

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Some takeaways from the news about ALC Publishing

You surely are familiar with this news. (Sorry for the slowness in posting this. Was under the weather earlier this week, and the original draft of this thing was kind of messy and all over the place, so I decided to wait and come back to it.)

In the comments of my previous post, on JManga, I commented on how, even though I like and appreciate JManga, I would have liked it more if their titles had been available as download to own- even knowing that licensing manga is a complicated process that I know little about, having never worked in it, and there's only so much a licensor has control over when negotiating with the (not necessarily forward-thinking or reasonable) company that holds the rights it wants. I know, even typing this, that I'm just an armchair quarterback commenting on the pros.

ALC did with the excellent yuri manga Rica'tte Kanji!? what I (and many others) consider the ideal means of selling manga digitally- making it available as a downloadable, DRM-free ebook. The digital Rica omnibus (with more story material than the original print version) was priced lower than the original print version at $4.99 and $5.99, the $5.99 version coming with more nifty extras than the $4.99 version. With enough digital copies of the Rica omnibus sold, ALC could put out a print version of it, which is what a lot of people held off buying the digital version for. It's a catch-22 that didn't translate into good sales. (Btw, the Rica omnibus is still purchasable electronically, and one can still read it online for free.)

I'm focusing on the low sales for the digital release of Rica in my reaction to the news about ALC here because I- apparently naïvely- expected its sales to be better than they were, and saw it as a model for how manga (and books, period!) should be sold digitally. That is, as close as possible to what it is like to buy a print book, with your purchase not dependent on whether whoever you bought it from remains in business.

Anywho, thanks to ALC, I got to read some great yuri by mangaka who would not be sought out by other manga publishers, being josei and independent. I also saw Poor Poor Lips and a bunch of Yuri Hime titles licensed thanks to ALC's partnership with JManga. Yeah, it didn't work out, but better to try and not succeed than not try at all- something that a lot of people fail to grasp.

In short, I am thankful for what ALC has done during its years in business, appreciate the effort Yuricon has put into events in the past (a lot of people talk about wanting a yuri panel or event where they live, but few take action to make it happen; if you really want one and there isn't one in your area, stop talking and walk the walk, unless you live in an area where holding an event focusing on fictional lesbian relationships wouldn't fly), and look forward to continuing to read Okazu.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

News: JManga Shutting Down

Wow, didn't expect to see this announcement today. I'm definitely sorry to see JManga go, especially since they have been friendly and open to responding to customer feedback (like pushing to make their titles available worldwide), and their partnership with ALC Publishing has given us a number of yuri manga licenses- including a bunch of titles I like.

It does suck to see them go, but they don't deserve our getting angry at them, and they aren't "betraying" us. If a restaurant that serves food you like goes out of business, are you going to walk up to the owner and rant at them for closing down? I hope not, because that would be assholish. Same deal here. I'm not happy about seeing JManga go either, but am not going to act like a baby about it. That rant concluded (btw, feel free to disagree with me, but arguing with me about this won't change my mind, and likely won't change yours if you still feel that way this point), I am, again, sorry to see JManga go. I appreciate how much they promoted their yuri titles and got some good entertainment out of their releases.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Manga Review: A Transparent Orange in the Lip

I've been slow to try this collection. Tried some of Rokuroichi's other work, didn't like it, and her(?) art's kind of ugly. But I gave this collection a shot, and... didn't like it either.

This series' protagonist, Chizuru, is a girl who used to be part of a trio of unpopular girls. Kae, a stylish girl from Tokyo, transferred into her class and gave her two friends makeovers, making them popular. Chizuru effectively became the odd man out, quietly tagging along with Kae and her two "friends" as they proceeded to pal around, mostly ignoring her. Without ever speaking to Kae, Chizuru built up a godly image of her in her head and proceeded to get a crush on it.

One day Kae- gasp- talks to Chizuru (and to her credit, is more pleasant than Chizuru's friends are when they do address her), so Chizuru celebrates by buying the same orange lipstick she sees Kae buy at a make-up store. (Hence this collection's strange title, originally Kuchibiru ni Saketa Orange.) This isn't the first time Chizuru has bought something just because Kae did. Chizuru also buys a wig that looks like Kae's hair and secretly wears it and the orange lipstick in her room while imagining Kae having sex with her.

One day Kae's two friends need to stay at school extra-late, so Kae and Chizuru hang out. They don't have any chemistry, but we are meant to believe that Kae thinks Chizuru's something special. The next day, Kae visits Chizuru's house and sees the wig and they have sex and are supposed to be in love.

Then there are two bonus one-shots. "Close to Your Heart, Okay?" is about two cousins who are being raised together, in case you wanted some eau de incest on top of the boring and awful that already is this book. They have sex, one is afraid the other is going to dump her, and that doesn't happen. "Don't Know If This Is Love" is about two best friends who get together and have sex.

The only thing I can't complain about is the translation of this book's JManga release. ALC has done another quality translation, however lousy the story it's telling in this case is. It is possible to make a premise that has been done many a time (like popular girl x unpopular girl, or best friends who get together) good, or even excellent, through strong writing and characterization. This book doesn't do that. Every character is flat, every coupling contrived and devoid of chemistry, and I found my mind wandering off more than once. We have gotten a bunch of worthwhile yuri manga titles licensed in English lately- A Transparent Orange in the Lip isn't one of them.

Art: D
Story: F
Overall: F

Monday, March 4, 2013

Manga Review: Ameiro Kochakan Kandan volume 1

It's hard to resist food metaphors for Fujieda Miyabi's Ameiro Kochakan Kandan (Chatting at the Amber Teahouse)- warming and relaxing as a cup of chammomile tea? Sweet as a pastry? A lot of people were happy when this series was licensed by ALC and JManga, and for good reason.

Sarasa, a serious, responsible honor student, works part-time at the Amber Teahouse because she is in love with its kind owner, Seriho. Inept as she is at managing things on her own, Seriho should be a character who annoys me mightily, but by some alchemy of writing, I like her. She and Sarasa go together like, well, a tea cozy and teapot, as Seriho notes in a really cute visual metaphor.

When Sarasa leaves on a school trip, she unwittingly gives her two best friends (and Amber Teahouse regulars) Haru and Hinoka endless opportunities to rib her for her "Seriho-withdrawal." For her part (thanks to an older lesbian couple who patronize the Teahouse), Seriho realizes that she cares about Sarasa much more than she expected to. ... Like, "stay with me for the next fifty years" caring.

Sarasa decides to attend a culinary school where she will learn restaurant management and become a pâtissière. She tells Seriho her hope to remain by her side at the Amber Teahouse, and she and Seriho look forward to a future working together. They haven't quite come to the understanding that they want to spend their lives together in a different sense by the end of this volume. Here's looking forward to that. ^^

This volume also includes a bonus chapter showing how Sarasa and Seriho met, the chapter in which Sarasa, Seriho, Haru and Hinoka hold a Tanabata event at the Teahouse to save it from shutting down, and a short in which Sarasa and Seriho take a look at some possible new work uniforms designed by the characters from Alice Quartet (a fun, yuri-ish series about four fashion designers by Ameiro Kochakan Kandan's author).

As I said above, this is a sweet series. For now, it's pretty much a slice-of-life focusing on the gentle, romantic atmosphere Sarasa and Seriho have whenever they're together. Despite Sarasa not knowing that her feelings are returned, there isn't much angst. It helps that Seriho mentions gender not being a factor in who she falls in love with, giving Sarasa some hope that she has a fighting chance.

Like many a romance, this series runs a heavy risk of inciting cynicism at points- arguably, more than most romance fiction. When I first read through this volume, I was in college and angsting over what I wanted to do, and thought it was really foolhardy of Sarasa to just know where she should attend school/what career to choose based on who she is in love with. Which it is. (Although, I know, easier not to project a future with more idealism than one normally might when one isn't besotted with someone. I'm reminded of one of the bits of advice that is given to the first-years at my old college dorm: "House booty is bad booty. Everyone thinks they're the exception.") But this is a fictional romance- as much a fantasy, in its own way, as Fujieda's Kotonoha no Miko to Kotodama no Majyo to (I mean, this is also a story in which one of the leads becomes a two time lottery winner, right when she needs it most)- and it's executed well enough that I can roll with it here, like I do for the handwaves in other romances I like. Maybe it's just because I'm not at the point in my life I described above, but I felt less cynical reading this volume this time around even though I know the handwavey aspects are there.

Anyway, if you want to read a feel-good yuri romance with an unusual premise (have to give Fujieda credit for always coming up with premises that haven't been done before in yuri, and doing them well), this is a strong choice. It will get better in the second, final volume, which made me tear up at one point when I previously read through it.

As usual for ALC's releases, the translation is strong. I appreciated the extra note explaining the history behind the bonus chapters, since the average person reading this release is less likely to know that history than the average person who bought this series in Japanese.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Overall: B+