Sunday, March 29, 2009

Conbust 2009 Yuri Panel: Post-Panel Report

Yesterday at about 8:00 p.m., I went to Conbust to set up for my panel. I really needed that hour, because I needed to transfer my PowerPoint and clips from my laptop to another computer (after running back to my dorm to get a flash drive), figure out how to use the DVD player in the room so it would play on the projector screen, etc. I'm really thankful to the con staffer who showed me what to do when I had problems.

When 9:00 rolled around, I was a little surprised to see that, aside from one rather loquacious guy who left halfway through the panel (he only really irritated me when he spoke during my Devil Lady clip...he asked if the ending was as bad as the one in Devilman or something, and I was like, "I don't know, I haven't seen it," and turned back to watch Jun and Kasumi), all of the people there were women. One attendee was even taking notes throughout the panel ^^;; (Ack...pressure...), although I noticed a few others writing when they saw something that particularly interested them. ("What's that series called again?" "Kannazuki no Miko." *scribbles*)

I started out explaining "What is Yuri?" along with the basic history and influences, like Nobuko Yoshiya, Takarazuka, Riyoko Ikeda, Go Nagai, Yuri Shimai, Yuri Hime, etc.

Then I presented, in chronological order, slides of yuri anime series worth checking out, with accompanying clips. The series I presented were: Oniisama E, Sailor Moon, The Devil Lady, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Azumanga Daioh, Maria Watches Over Us (I used the U.S. release title on the slide), Kannazuki no Miko, My-Hime (and even though My-Otome didn't get a slide, I showed a clip of it), Simoun, Strawberry Panic, Blue Drop, and Mouryou no Hako (although I wasn't able to show a clip from Mouryou no Hako). Finally, I gave the upcoming Aoi Hana and Sasameki Koto anime series slides of their own to shamelessly promote them. ^^

Then I presented my top yuri manga must-reads: Strawberry Shake Sweet, Hayate x Blade, Sasameki Koto, Girl Friends, The Conditions for Paradise (I actually like Hanjuku Joshi slightly more, but I decided to use this title instead to weed out any potential panel-goers who watch and read yuri for service instead of stories and characters), Aoi Hana, Octave, Heart-Pounding Excitement At Mononoke Girls' Academy (this isn't really one of my top favorites, but it's still good, and I wanted to include something really weird and different), and Free Soul.

Finally, for fun, the panel ended with a very brief section called, "Yuri To Show To People Who You Despise." :) The two titles that earned the distinction of being placed in this section were Fight! Iczer One and Project ICE. I didn't show any clips of them, but told the panel-goers to feel free to seek these titles out at their discretion. Then I answered any extra questions anyone had, and that was the panel. :)

Honestly, while doing the panel was fun, I wasn't crazy about Conbust. It mostly wasn't the con's fault, though. It's a smaller con than any I've attended before (a grand total of three), which made it kind of underwhelming to me. Plus, while I've gone to medium-large cons like Jacon and Yasumicon (which rocked my socks last summer) before, they've also been anime-only cons whereas Conbust is a mixed sci-fi/fantasy/anime/gaming con, which meant that I didn't get 90% of what people were saying (it felt like). ^^;;

Plus, I've always gone to cons with at least one friend or a group of friends, so going to Conbust by myself was kind of a drag. And I hate to sound like a snob, but I'm going to right now. Earlier in the day, as usual, I took a shower, brushed my teeth, put on a nice, clean outfit, brushed my hair, etc. I was a little repulsed (yes, repulsed) by all of the people who looked like they don't understand basic hygeine or grooming (guys and girls alike). Even though I'm an anime and manga fan, I don't "look" like it, and take pride in looking nice and having a real life outside of my anime and manga hobby.

So, to con-goers and fans of generally nerdy hobbies, feel free to do what you want in your own homes, but when you plan on socializing with people outside, take a damn shower, wear clean laundry, and brush your hair. Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed a lower proportion of those types of people at the anime cons that I've attended previously, and more people who go with their friends to have fun, but look like they have lives. But maybe I was just lucky.

So basically, the yuri panel was fun, but Conbust itself was kind of a bust.

I'm really looking forward to Yasumicon this summer, though.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yuri Manga: Kannazuki no Miko volume 1 (English)

This week I've had this and that and a million other things going on. Instead of easing back into the college academia pool, it feels like I've been pushed headlong into it from behind (but that's college)- and aside from my hour long panel at Conbust tomorrow (and I'll make time to check out one or two other panels and stop by the dealer's room- I really need some Pocky a.s.a.p.), this weekend will be owned by homework. Nothing like resuming my bloggerly duties with this fine specimen of a manga.

Kannazuki no Miko is the story of two high school girls, innocent, naive, bubbly blonde Himeko Kurusugawa, and cool, reserved, dark-haired ojousama Chikane Himemiya. On their 16th birthday, they are attacked by the followers of the evil god Orochi and each one, respectively, discovers that she is the priestess of the sun or moon. But while Himeko has no idea that Chikane is the lunar priestess, Chikane knows everything, including the darker reasons behind the priestesses' existence. As the Orochi followers continue to target the priestesses, Himeko and Chikane's classmate and Orochi-follower-turned-good Souma protects them (read: Himeko) with his mecha (which all Orochi use) because he is in love with Himeko. Chikane is also madly in love with Himeko, and Himeko unknowingly vacillates between the two of them.

In theory, the plot sounds like it could be a great story, but in Kaishaku's hands Kannazuki no Miko comes out as merely a lightweight, mindless yet entertaining read that packs in just about every otaku cliche possible. (Catgirl nurses! Mecha! Moe! Long-haired bishonen!) That's hardly a damning critique, however. While virtually every plot element in this story has been cobbled to satisfy otaku tastes, it does so with enough energy and sheer, B-movie-like entertainment value that it makes for a pleasant way to relax from, say, a busy work or school week for an hour. The pacing never drags and constantly keeps the reader pleasantly, if mindlessly preoccupied, until the plot complication from hell arrives in the last few pages.

As a former drooling fan/multiple-viewer of the KnM anime it was nice to revisit the same familiar story, with some aspects shaken, not stirred. The manga pulls off a few things better, like providing more exposition for the origin of Himeko and Souma's deep friendship and cutting down the Chikane-angst.

On the other hand, the manga doesn't provide nearly as much insight into Chikane's mind as the anime did, making her sudden switch to the dark side somewhat more jarring, even though it was still shocking and terrible in the anime. And while the art is fine (smooth and cleanly drawn), the manga character designs seem slightly more rounded than those in the anime, the latter of which I prefer. And the events of the final scene felt more exploitive than they were in the anime (Chikane smiling at the viewer?). Typical Kaishaku.

Kannazuki no Miko is, as far as I know, the third yuri-focused title published by Tokyopop, but the first non-OEL. Kudos to them for bringing over more yuri manga, but I primarily bought this A) out of my old sentimentality for the anime, and B) to encourage Tokyopop and other U.S. manga companies to license other, hopefully higher quality yuri titles. I already own two (count 'em, two) copies of each of the Japanese tankoubon. -_-;;

Story: C
Art: C+
Rating: C+

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Yuri Manga: Girl Friends volume 1

While Milk Morinaga's Girl Friends is a current fan favorite among yuri fans, the first volume was fairly hit or miss with quite a few people, primarily for the first five or so chapters. Rereading it after reading the latest installment, the first volume seems better and worse in different ways than it was the first time I read it.

Girl Friends
is about Mariko Kumakura, a very intelligent, introverted first-year high school student who gets approached and instantly befriended by the vivacious, if academically-challenged, "Akko," who begins to call her "Mari-chin" right off the bat. The day after they become friends, Akko takes Mari to a salon (her first time not getting her hair cut at the barber with her mom), where Mari gets her long hair cut into a stylish short, layered style. With her new friendship and new haircut, Mari begins to socialize more and make friends with Akko's group, Satoko Sugiyama (or "Sugi") and Tamami Sekine (or "Tamamin"). Sugi's a sensuous, hyper-confident playgirl (she later remarks at a mixer that she's "still looking for a main boyfriend" ^^;;), but she defies expectations for characters of her type by never condescending to the people she knows, getting good grades and planning for her future, and genuinely caring for her friends. Tamamin is the blithely carefree hardcore otaku, who likewise defies her character stereotype by being socially adept and meshing almost perfectly with Sugi. Meanwhile, Mari becomes Akko's best friend.

Eventually the girls enter new classes in their second year with Mari and Akko in the same class, but Sugi and Tamamin placed in separate classes. Mari and Akko immediately make new friends (largely due to Akko, whose intense interest in her new classmates reminds Mari of when Akko befriended her), grounded tomboy Kuno and her air-headed counterpart Taguchi. The manga really begins to find its direction when Taguchi and Kuno invite Mari and Akko to a mixer, but when the group is on its way to the mixer Mari begins to cry at the thought of Akko getting a boyfriend. Akko understands that Mari doesn't want to go (although not why), and claims that Mari's sick and needs to be taken home. She's gets Sugi and Tamamin to attend the mixer in their place, which allows them to reconnect after they started drifting apart after being placed in different classes. When Mari and Akko get to Akko's apartment, Akko serves them both alcohol and falls asleep because of her low tolerance. Mari impulsively kisses her, then ends the volume shocked at what she's just done. (Even though the reader could see it coming chapters away. ^^)

While the bulk of the plot happens in the 6th and 7th chapters (changing classes, the mixer, etc), the first five are largely "plotless" slice-of-life segments that serve to establish the characters and the "how"s and "why"s of their relationships. Like Akko, Sugi, and Tamamin taking Mari shopping and Mari buying her own clothes for the first time, Mari and Akko dieting together over winter break, Akko seeing how different outfits look on Mari, etc. In these chapters, there is a ton of clothing/make-up related content, which didn't bother me as much as it did some people, but for people who don't care for such things, these chapters will probably be hard to read. ^^;; (I'm pretty surprised that this runs in a "shoujo" magazine for guys, honestly.) Nevertheless, in chapter 6 Morinaga begins to take the story in a solid direction that develops into the addictive romance-drama that fans of the series know and love (and agonize over) from volume 2 on. And at that point, the make-up and clothing become incidental instead of the driving elements of the plot.

As for the art, it's pretty, polished, and clean with pretty/cute character designs and pretty outfits. :) It's also nice that the characters dress in a way that reflects their personalities when they aren't in uniform. Plus, Morinaga manages to do appealing shoujo-style art without drowning it in screentones.

This volume sets the foundation for what will become an arresting, slow-cooking romance. Highly recommended as a series to begin for those who like introspective romantic dramas.

Story: B-
Art: B+
Rating: B

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Official Website For Aoi Hana ("Sweet Blue Flowers") Anime

Good news: the Aoi Hana anime website is up!

It's pretty, if simple for now. The website graphics convey the mood of the manga very well, with plenty of blue flower imagery (subtle :) ) and a promo video in the middle of the page. (Just press the blue "Play" button.) It's a nice promo, even though it only uses images from the manga. I want to see an anime picture or animated trailer of some kind. (Soon!! ;_;) But to the credit of the people who made the promo, they chose really nice images from the manga and edited them together well. ^^ And it further whets my appetite for the series.

Better still, Kenichi Kasai is directing Aoi Hana! XD With two other highly lauded romantic dramas with a similar aesthetic sensibility to Aoi Hana under his belt, Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile, I think that he's the perfect choice to direct this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sasameki Koto Anime Announced: Time to party!!

Wow. *recovers from blissful stupor* The Anime News Network just posted an article officially confirming that a Sasameki Koto anime is being made!!!!! XD

As with the Aoi Hana announcement, here is my reaction from the ANN forum:
Oh my freaking god, YESSSS!!!! Very Happy I love this series!! It's one of the best romantic-comedy manga titles I've read, period. It's a yuri title that can be appreciated by people who aren't fans of the genre. 2009 looks like a fantastic year, indeed.

I am transcendentally ecstatic!! ^_____^ As excellent and realistic as Aoi Hana is, Sasame Kikoto, out of the two, is the title that leaves me simultaneously shaking with laughter and mindlessly fangirling the most over the wonderfully weird romantic antics the characters engage in. There are also a few things that especially please me about the anime announcement for this series:

1) Unlike the ANN announcement for Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto is being promoted as a yuri series. No need for fans in the forums to do the work.

2) The announcement says that "
Sumika hears that Ushio is also "a girl who like girls," but Sumika's feelings have yet to be reciprocated." This distinguishes Sasameki Koto from series like Kashimashi that use the tired old "Pure love that transcends gender! So the girl doesn't really like girls, just this girl," shtick that quite a few people seem to find charming. I don't, however, so that description being used in the advertising made me a happy little fan.

3) This series doesn't take place in an all-girls' school!! Yaaaaaaaaaay!!!!!!! So no deluded fanboy can convince himself that the yuri is a result of the academic environment the characters inhabit. (Which is b.s. anyway. ^^ For evidence, see the lines of students at the women's college that I attend who take the weekend buses to party at the co-ed colleges in the area.)

4) I really like the line "school drama manga depicting a fresh look at bittersweet adolescence." It just sounds really cute and slightly nostalgic. XD It reminds me a little of the U.S. advertising for Ai Yori Aoshi- except that this is way better than Ai Yori Aoshi.

Here's a pic of the promo flier that somebody posted on the forum. Thanks to the user "plaid skirt" for contributing this:
And since the ANN article had Sasameki Koto written as two separate words instead of one, that's how I will spell it on this blog from now on, unless I see reason to do otherwise.

I am so covering this series here, along with Aoi Hana. After the yuri drought of 2008, this is fabulous news for yuri fans, or any anime fan who wants to watch a good romantic comedy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

2 More Fictional Yuri Fangirls: Back-to-Back Kaishaku

Whoops, two more.

My thanks to Kaishaku for creating this series, as well as the guy working in the CD section of the Fululu Garden department store in Japan who ordered in the KnM drama CD for me. Himeko's the character on the left.
7. Himeko in Kannazuki no Miko by Kaishaku (manga, anime, and drama CD): Even though Himeko only reveals herself to be a gushing yuri manga fangirl in the drama CD, her fan enthusiasm is very well played out. There's an especially great scene in which Chikane gets Himeko to read a portion of her yuri manga to her- twice. XD I don't much care for the anime anymore, because it's dripping with angst and crippled by mediocre execution, but the drama CD (and the Ayako Kawasumi CD I got in Akiba *cough cough*) still makes for a fun listen. Seriously Kaishaku, make an OVA out of this CD as your next project. ^^

Same thanks to Kaishaku for creating this hilariously crappy series.
8. Kozue from Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora by Kaishaku (manga and anime): The Makoto to Kuu's (the protagonist) Himeko, the Wakaba to to Kuu's whiny Utena, her fannishness isn't shown directly in the show, but it is alluded to by Kuu. When Kuu sees Kaon and Himiko (who are based off of Kannazuki no Miko's Chikane and Himeko) kissing, she not only realizes that they're in love, she realizes that she's seeing the same thing she's seen in her roommate Kozue's manga collection. lol

2 More Fictional Yuri Fangirls

D'oh, in my original list of yuri fangirls in anime and manga, I listed the obvious examples, but I forgot two more very fun characters.

Many, many thanks to Akiko Morishima-sensei for creating Hanjuku Joshi. Update on 03/20/2009: I'm not including a pic of Chie because there aren't any available, and I don't want to post any scanlated manga pages here. A chapter title page is okay, if nothing else is available.
5. Chie from Hanjuku Joshi by Akiko Morishima (manga): She seems to be more of a yaoi fangirl, but her starry-eyed meta-fictional lecture about the character dynamics in yuri to her little sister Chitose (who is one of the two protagonists of a girl's school yuri manga lol) makes her a fun addition to an already enjoyable story.

A plethora of thanks to Milk Morinaga-sensei for creating Girl Friends. Tamamin's the one on the right.
6. Tamamin from Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga: A hardcore otaku friend of the two protagonists, Mari and Akko, who deserves this spot for giving Milk Morinaga an excuse to create a meta-fictional parody series titled Revolutionary Pretty Girl Marriage (which draws influence from what I call the unofficial holy trinity of shoujo yuri- Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Maria-sama ga Miteru), further cementing the fact that Mari is definitely gay, while raising a few questions about Tamamin. Her fangirl antics provide effective comic relief in what is otherwise a very drama-heavy series.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yuri Fangirls in Anime and Manga, and Con Season

Tralala... con season is rolling around again. Pocky galore, ridiculous-looking doujinshi to snicker at with a friend (Kyon x Itsuki was rather popular at the last con I attended; just putting that out there), tables of anime merchandise to drool over, and the sheer energy to be found in milling around a room full of Haruhi Suzumiyas and Vash the Stampedes. Good times. Plus, like at last summer's Yasumicon, I've got another yuri panel coming up at Conbust, Smith College's annual fantasy/sci-fi/anime/gaming con which distinguishes itself by focusing on "the female members of the participating community. While the various realms of geekdom remain stereotypically male-dominated, ConBust is held to celebrate the work of women amongst these genres." (As quoted from the ConBust website.) Granted, at anime cons, based on the few I've attended, the demographics seem to be split pretty evenly, with perhaps slightly more female attendees. But sci-fi/fantasy/gaming fandoms seem to be more predominantly male. It'll be interesting to see what the audience for my yuri panel at ConBust will be like, though. ^^ At Yasumicon, it was mostly guys (who were all nice, pleasant-to-socialize-with guys aside from one kinda creepy old guy), with a small yet healthy enough proportion of girls also. So I wonder how Conbust might be different. It's a general geek hobbies con, unlike Yasumicon (which was anime-only), so there might be some curious people at the panel who barely know what anime is, let alone yuri.

On that note, for fun, I decided to make a little list of yuri fangirl anime and manga characters, simply because such characters delight me. (Just as yaoi fangirls enjoy seeing members of their ranks depicted in anime and manga, a la Renge from Ouran.) So, here goes:

A mountain of thanks to Takashi Ikeda-sensei for writing/drawing Sasamekikoto. ^^ Aoi's on the right, next to the awesome Sumi-chan.
1. Aoi from Sasamekikoto by Takashi Ikeda (manga; hopefully an anime, if the rumors are true):
Currently the best example. She not only demonstrates the fun and excitement of enjoying her nerdariffic hobbies (like writing fanfic and talking about titles with friends), she also exhibits the ridiculous, sometimes awkward aspects of being a fan (like getting carried away gushing about a title one likes -_-;; *guilty*), without being unlikeable or slipping into being a caricature.

2. Hiyori from Lucky Star by Kagami Yoshimizu (anime; not sure about the manga):
A doujinshi artist, like Aoi, who has some funny moments, but lacks Aoi's three-dimensional characterization or Marimite-esque light novel obsession. XD Still a funny character.

3. Arguably, nearly every student at St. Lobelia Girl's Academy in Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori (anime and manga):
St. Lobelia is an obvious, hilarious parody of Lillian from Maria-sama ga Miteru, with the Zuka Club (from "Takarazuka") as a parody of the Yamayurikai. And virtually every single student goes nuts fangirling for them. XD The ladies of Lobelia only show up in two episodes of the anime (9 and 19; I'm not really sure about how much they appear in the manga), but both episodes are a fabulously funny send up of yuri and the fans that love it (especially Marimite XD ). I have to stop making Marimite references, but it'll be really hard with the next one.

4. Kanako from Maria Holic by Minari Endou (anime and manga):
After deluding herself into transferring to a Catholic all-girl's school in the hopes of living in yuri paradise, Kanako has a few fun fangirl moments (with one involving...a certain light novel series), unfortunately tempered by some of the more odious aspects of the plot, as well as some seriously pervtastic behavior on her part. She often seems like a stand-in for the drooling otaku who primarily watch this show. Or, I guess one could see her as the yuri equivalent of the stereotypical hellishly annoying, squealing, "bishonen"-harassing yaoi fangirls one sees zipping around at cons.

That's all that I can think of so far. ^^ Hopefully the list will grow, with more delightful yuri fan characters to provide an extra wink-wink, nudge-nudge point of identification for fans. Along with Sasamekikoto's wonderful eventual-couple Sumi and Ushio, I'm looking forward to seeing what becomes of Aoi, in all her fangeek glory. Viva la fandom!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Midterm Week Hiatus

Studying for my next midterm on Friday.... I wish it were as fun as Ami makes it look. (Even though she's really holding a love novel. ^^;;)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Real First Post

Yay! ^^ This is my first post on this blog!! Since this past September, I've maintained a personal blog where I mostly posted about my life, with the occasional anime or manga-centric post thrown in when I liked or hated something enough to want to write about it. For organization's sake though, I decided to create a new blog where I can post my impressions of anime and manga separately. I normally write about a series that I love (like Strawberry Shake Sweet, Girl Friends, Maria-sama ga Miteru, or the upcoming Fullmetal Alchemist and Aoi Hana anime), loathe (like Candy Boy and possibly at least the first episode of the craptastic looking Queen's Blade), or consider a guilty pleasure that's fun to comment on (the Strawberry Panic light novel). I imported anime and manga posts from my older blog so that my newer posts on certain series I've already written about will seem less random. And as any thorough anime and manga connosieur may discern, I'm a yuri fan, so I'll be posting primarily on that. Douzo yoroshiku! ^^

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Yuri Fan's Dream Come True: Aoi Hana Anime!!

This morning the Anime News Network posted an article announcing that Shimura Takako's excellent coming-of-age drama/yuri romance, Aoi Hana, is being animated by J.C.Staff!! ^__^ To quote myself on the ANN forum:

OH MY GOD, YES!!!! Anime hyper Finally another good yuri anime!!! And it's canon, not subtext!! It isn't fan-sevicey or gimmicky or anything. Just a well-written high school drama with wonderfully realistic characters. Huzzah!!

I am ecstatic. It's been awhile since I last read Aoi Hana, and I started rereading it today. Great stuff. I think I like it even more now than when I first started it. The manga has so many little moments that made me smile, like when Yasuko's (literally) sparkling charm causes Fumi to accidentally sign up for the basketball team, Youko, Misako, and Miwa's (the girls in the Matsuoka Drama Club) goofy behavior, and so on. The relationships are organic, the characters are compelling and believable, and the drama and sprinkles of comedy blend together smoothly. What more could a fan ask for? For the anime to be an excellent adaptation of the manga, of course, but I'll just have to wait and see how it turns out. I'm really looking forward to this!