Friday, November 25, 2011

Hiatus this week

I won't be posting anything this weekend, because I'm home for an all-too-brief vacation and don't want to cut into what time I have here more than necessary. (e.g. For school work.) I'm sorry about the abruptness. Thanks for your patience!

Unrelated, but here's some cute fan art.

Yes, I am looking forward to Seven Seas' release of Girl Friends. ^_^ I'm really happy to see something A) yuri-centric (Cardcaptor Sakura is excellent for what it's supposed to be- a magical girl series- but it will never satisfy me as a yuri fan) and B) really honest-to-goodness good (I really enjoy Strawberry Panic! for its fun, knowingly deep-as-a-teaspoon trashiness, but can't honestly call it good) being published in English. Definitely getting it when it comes out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More Shimura Takako Goodness: the Hourou Musuko anime

This series was a joy to watch... and re-watch. Even though I was initially surprised by its not opening with the beginning of the Hourou Musuko manga's storyline, I think that change was a good move. Like the Aoi Hana anime, the Hourou Musuko anime feels like it was made by people who really respect the source material they're adapting, and that's all that any fan could hope for.

Nitori Shuuichi and Takatsuki Yoshino (who became close friends after each found out that the other is transgender) are entering their first year of middle school with their friendship on the rocks because of a love triangle involving their friend Chiba Saori (the first person who recognized that Nitori prefers girls' clothing). Chiba likes Nitori who likes Takatsuki who doesn't like anyone.

Nitori and Takatsuki quickly repair their friendship, and Nitori gets over Takatsuki and starts dating a model named Anna. While Nitori's preference for girls' clothes doesn't bother Anna, it evokes hostility from Nitori's older sister Maho, the only member of Nitori's family who knows. Thankfully, Maho's bark is worse than her bite. She's much more supportive than she likes to think she is. Conversely, Anna breaks up with Nitori after Nitori shows that she really wants to live life as a girl (as opposed to being a boy who dresses in girls' clothes as a hobby he'll eventually tire of) by going to school one day in the girls' uniform.

Predictably, even though no one kicked up a fuss about Takatsuki and the flamboyantly eccentric Chizuru wearing the boys' uniform to school previously, Nitori couldn't reach the school gate without being sent to the principal's office- and then sent home. Nitori's mom doesn't freak out as badly as she might have (Yuki, the transsexual woman who acts as a friend and role model for Nitori and Takatsuki, got disowned by her family), but Nitori's dad deserves the Parent of the Year award for his reaction.

The biggest theme in this show is coming of age, as Nitori and Takatsuki have to deal with (and becoming more capable of dealing with) their bodies changing in ways that they really don't want for obvious reasons. Ironically, Chiba becomes closer to Takatsuki than Nitori because her still-unrequited feelings (compounding her general awkwardness in dealing with people) make it harder for her to comfortably interact with Nitori. By the end, Nitori, Takatsuki, and Chiba are friends as a group again, and the bullying reaction to Nitori wearing girls' clothes to school dies down. (I'm really glad that the bullying Nitori goes through isn't as bad as it would be in real life, although I'm also glad this series acknowledges that worse can happen via Yuki's school background.)

So yeah, great series. Great character interaction and development, freaking gorgeous art, and perfectly cast seiyuu. I thought it was a nice touch that Hatakeyama Kousuke, the seiyuu who plays Nitori, was more or less the same age as Nitori when the series was made. And regarding how yuri-relevant this series is...

This is the hardest part of writing this review- not helped by the fact that there's no way not to directly address it on this blog and my chronic over-thinking of things. Nitori = girl. Nitori likes girls, e.g. Anna. I would say that Nitori's bisexual, since the idea of liking Takatsuki as a boy didn't put a damper on her feelings for him at all. (Being rejected did.) Anna might be also. I will be shocked if she and Nitori don't wind up together in the manga, considering how long she has been set up as The Love Interest. At one point in the manga Nitori even brings Anna to Yuki and her boyfriend Shi-chan's apartment, which feels a lot like a Meet the Parents visit. (Despite my speculation above, whatever they are- bi, gay, straight, queer, pan, unlabeled, etc- doesn't affect my opinion that they're cute together.) She basically dumped Nitori at the end of the anime for being too much of a girl, but later in the manga, she seems to be gradually, gradually gravitating back towards the idea of them having a relationship. At this point, I don't feel like I can label Anna's feelings "yuri" (I don't think she would either), but I can confidently do so for Nitori, just as I wouldn't label Yuki's feelings for Shi-chan "yaoi." And to be completely honest, even though Nitori is a girl and her feelings for other girls are lesbian, I do agree with the idea that as long as she's in a male body, any relationship she has with, say, Anna, isn't straight, but isn't really lesbian either; the queer label makes the most sense to me. I'm convinced that Momo has a crush on Chi-chan also, although I'm much less confident that that will work out. (Or that Momo's even aware of it.) And there you have it. Like the rest of Shimura's work featuring GSM characters, Hourou Musuko has an unambivalent "There is nothing wrong with liking whoever you like" message, which we can all agree on.

Massive over-thinking on my part as a reviewer aside... this series is poignant and brilliant and lovely and you should at least try it.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

This will be my only post this weekend.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Something much more obscure than most of what I've reviewed lately: Kyoumei Suru Echo

Kigi Tatsumi's Kyoumei Suru Echo ("Resounding Echo") is another one-shot collection, from Tsubomi magazine. Half of this collection is pleasant but forgettable, while the other half is excellent.

In "Runner's High," Yuki stopped participating in track because she accidentally pushed Touko, the girl she likes, down a flight of stairs, causing Touko to injure her knee and drop out of track. Yuki runs into Touko, who tells her that she never blamed her and she's getting her knee fixed so she can compete again. Yuki decides to compete again also.

"Unbalance" is about the cool track team captain Asami, her secretly crushy friend Sato, who is the student council president, and Hibiki, the curmudgeonly student council member who unexpectedly melts at seeing Asami with long hair.

"Asymmetry," shows a typical evening at home for Hibiki, her twin sister, her mom, and her older sister Ritsuko.

The three part story titled "Lonesome Echo" is about Ritsuko. Ritsuko is a music teacher who has just started working at a new high school. She hems and haws when asked why she left the school she used to teach at, but no one pries too much. In the room that's meant to be her new office, she finds a student named Youko who's used to cutting class there. (Correction: Youko isn't exactly a student. See the comments for this post for more details.) Ritsuko and Youko become friends over their shared love of music. Ritsuko plays the piano and Youko plays the violin.

One day when they're chatting outside the school, a well put together but obviously sketchy woman appears and tells Ritsuko that she's "found" her, and to get into her car. Despite Youko's protests, Ritsuko leaves with the woman. Ritsuko doesn't show up at school for a few days, and returns saying that she was out sick, and oh, that creepy woman was just her former music teacher. The woman keeps picking Ritsuko up when she's done working. You can guess what's happening, right?

After finding out about Ritsuko's bruises, Youko confronts her and Ritsuko admits that she's in an abusive relationship with her former music teacher, who tracked her down after she tried to get away by switching schools. It's obvious that her fear of an "Ewww, lesbian! You shouldn't be a teacher!" reaction hasn't exactly helped her come forward to anyone about it. Because of her connection to the school chairman and general bad assery, Youko protects Ritsuko and helps her get her abusive lover arrested. The ending was kind of pat, but in this case, I really didn't mind.

First thing I liked about "Lonesome Echo": Youko. Great character, has more presence than anyone else in this book, and I quite like the interaction between her and Ritsuko. Second: I can count the stories I have consumed that deal with domestic violence well on one mangled hand. (Last Friends, you botched it. "Oh Michiru, I will selflessly kill myself, but my presence will continue to haunt this show because you can't stop romanticizing me even though I raped and beat you and terrorized your friends when they tried to protect you." Argh.) Not a whiff of exploitation or gratuitous lingering over the abuse, but no sugarcoating of what it does to the assaultee either. And Ritsuko's emotions felt real. Youko was a little superhuman, but likeable enough that it didn't bother me.

Like most people, I don't look for stories like "Lonesome Echo." (However well-done, I wouldn't want to read too many stories focusing on "Lonesome Echo"'s theme.) But it was still good.

Story: B+ for "Lonesome Echo," B- for "Runner's High," C+ for "Unbalance" and "Asymmetry."
Art: B
Overall: B

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another 70s shoujo title? Why, yes.: The Ace wo Nerae! movie

The Ace wo Nerae! (Aim for the Ace!) movie is Dezaki Osamu's second adaptation of Yamamoto Sumika's popular Ace wo Nerae! manga, which ran in Margaret (same magazine that ran Futari PocchiRose of Versailles, Oniisama E, Claudine...! and, much later, Marimite) from 1973 to 1980. Ace wo Nerae! has gotten a dizzying number of adaptations, including a drama. It has the least yuri out of the old titles that I've reviewed, but it's good and has some subtext, so why not check it out?

Ace wo Nerae! is about Oka Hiromi, a first-year who has just joined her high school's Tennis Club along with her best friend Maki. Hiromi's idol is the Oneesama-like star of the Tennis Club, Ryuuzaki Reika, nicknamed "Ochoufujin." (You can see her looming behind Hiromi in the picture above.)

Their school gets a new tennis coach, Munakata Jin, nicknamed "Oni coach" because of how tough he is on players. When he tests all of the players to choose the elite handful that will represent their school in future competitions, he chooses Nanako Hiromi, to the chagrin of Misaki Aya Kyouko, the girl who expected to be picked for the last spot.

Everyone, including Reika, makes it clear that they don't think Hiromi deserves to be chosen. Hiromi tries to quit, telling Munakata that even if she tries her best, she isn't good enough. Munakata challenges her to run 5km every morning before school. If she's willing to do that, he'll acknowledge that she is trying her best, and only then will she be able to back up her argument. Seriously, this man is such a scary bad ass that he could give Tsukikage Chigusa a run for her money.

So Hiromi trains and trains and decides that she does want to prove herself. In a game against another school, she finally convinces Reika and everyone else that she belongs with the elite players.

Reika and Hiromi compete for spots on the tennis team that's going to represent Japan in an international competition taking place in the U.S. Reika easily qualifies, but Hiromi's position is still dubious. Hiromi can represent Japan if she beats Reika in a game. They both give it their all in yet another wonderful display of competitive bad assery, but no surprise, Hiromi wins. Reika gracefully loses, looking forward to competing alongside Hiromi.

Here, Coach Munakata tells his half-sister Ranko why he went out of his way so much to help Hiromi. I might be a horrible person for doing so, but I giggled at his reason. But when I got over the soapiness of it, I thought that it was sweet. I will also admit that when Munakata died from his terminal illness after writing a letter for Hiromi to do her best in the international competition, I wasn't able to keep a dry eye- especially since he never told her about his illness before saying goodbye. Hiromi flies to New York with Reika, and the credits roll.

Yuri? "Flying to America" is code for Happily-Ever-After in Japanese lesbian fiction. I don't object to applying that interpretation here. lol The random suit Hiromi wears on the flight doesn't hurt either. The scene in which Hiromi gets roses for Reika, complete with an apology note (sealed with a red heart-shaped sticker, if I remember correctly) is also subtexty. My favorite bit o' subtext, however, is Ochoufujin shouting that giving her all in her final game against Hiromi is her way of expressing her love. (She uses the word "ai.") The subtext isn't a major ingredient in Ace wo Nerae, but it adds a nice garnish.

Since this movie was directed by Dezaki Osamu, who also helmed Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E, it has a lot of the same visual flourishes as those two titles. Ace wo Nerae!'s soundtrack also sounds an awful lot like Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E's. In Oniisama E, I saw the aural similarity as a nod to it being by the same creator as RoV, but here... maybe it's a homage to RoV as Dezaki's earlier work? Maybe Dezaki thought that he had found the ultimate dramatic shoujo soundtrack in RoV's? It works well for the drama in Ace, so it isn't a negative. Just a little surprising.

But. The point is that this is a great sports movie. A cast of likeable characters pouring themselves into the sport that they love while the strains of dramatic music highlight their GUTS and DRAMA = good times. I've seen a couple episodes of the original Ace wo Nerae! TV series, but decided to switch to the movie for the nicer visuals. While the movie is great, its story could use a little more room to breathe. But the movie, of course, doesn't have that luxury by virtue of being a movie adaptation of a hefty chunk of a long series.

In any case, if you like classic shoujo or competitition-themed series, you should try Ace wo Nerae!

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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A realistic look at lesbian life in Japan: The Plica-chan movie

The Plica-chan movie is a bit of strange beast- not for its story, but its storytelling format. It was produced by the folks at the Love Piece Club (a woman/GSM-friendly sex shop in Tokyo), who wanted to adapt a story by, about, and for the Japanese lesbian community.

The cover of the movie is as seen above because the DVD comes in a CD case instead of a DVD case. When you start playing it, the first thing you'll see is a menu with the option to watch the movie in 日本語 ("Japanese") or English (as in, with English subtitles). I wonder how many people outside Japan have bought this movie.

The first part is titled "Blue Sky in the Window," featuring scenes of Plica and Mari after they've started dating. In the opening scene, Plica stops holding Mari's hand when they're outside because she's nervous about the stares they get for it. She berates herself and swears that she won't let go again. I don't think that this scene was in the original comic, not that that's a negative.

This movie isn't animated. It sequentially shows the panels from different comic strips sans text, with seiyuu voicing the characters and sound effects (people milling in the background, sipping, a knife chopping food on a wooden board, etc) and background music playing. It's like reading the comic while listening to a drama CD. (There is a little animation in one scene.)

At about 9 minutes in, the movie switches to a Q&A that over a dozen women participated in. The questions are: "When do you feel you are lucky being a lesbian?," "How did your parents react when you came out?," "What do you like most about women's bodies?," and "Do you want to 'marry' your girlfriend?" This part alone makes the movie worthwhile.

The next part is inexplicably titled "Useless "How to Sex" Tips for Lesbians." More cute scenes with Plica and Mari. ^_^

The next part is "Stop Multiplying Machiko, Please," starring, you guessed it. This part is mostly composed of new story material.

The voices in this movie all fit. Plica sounds perfect. Mari has a deeper voice than I'd expected, but it suits her. Machiko's seiyuu gets extra points for delivering her lines in a way that makes Machiko a little more amusing.

"One day next summer" returns to Plica and Mari, yay! The story in this part is unique to the movie also. Plica and Mari make a soumen dinner and Plica thinks about how she wants to still be with Mari when the next summer comes. ^_^

Next, the movie provides a description of Plica-chan's history. Then the credits roll, followed by an epilogue titled, "Let's Go to the Parade!" in which the characters attend a Pride parade. The entire movie, including the credits, is a little over 31 minutes long.

Like the manga it's based on, this movie is a realistic look at the day-to-day lives of a group of lesbians living in Tokyo. Plica and Mari are great characters, Machiko is "meh" but too realistic to dismiss entirely, and the other characters (the closeted teacher Saki, Machiko's butchy friend Roku, Plica's mom, various other acquaintances) serve their roles well. I'm glad that the people who produced this movie decided to make it a mix of the story that readers of the manga are familiar with and new material.

Like the Plica manga, this movie is highly recommended for anyone interested in what it's like to be a lesbian in Japan.

Story: A-
Art: B-
Overall: A-

The Plica-chan movie is still in stock at the Love Piece Club website. They ship internationally.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The First Yuri Manga: Shiroi Heya no Futari

Yamagishi Ryouko's Shiroi Heya no Futari ("The Couple of the White Room") is the first manga that had the chutzpah to star a canon, no-bones-made-about-it yuri couple. It ran in Ribon in 1971, as part of a larger collection of one-shots. Naturally, it's a must-read for yuri fans.

The story is set in France. Resine de Poisson is an orphan moving out of her aunt's place to board at her mother's alma mater, a private girls' school. Petite, delicate, blonde Resine's roommate is tall, cool, dark-haired Simone D'Arc, who likes sneaking out at night to drink and perform with the theater troupe she belongs to. She gives Resine a poor first impression by teasing her for being a sheltered "princess," but it quickly becomes apparent that they like each other more than they- or really, Resine, is willing to let on.

Resine has a hard time figuring out Simone, but Simone's indifferent bad girl mask slips when she's called to translate a poem in class and, instead of reading it, she improvises: "Once I have known her, I must die. For that shining smile, that is so difficult to describe, I must die. For those light, delicate hands, I must die. For her sake, I must..." The teacher interrupts before she can finish, right when she starts looking at Resine.

In her school's production of Romeo and Juliet, Resine is cast as the Juliet to Simone's Romeo. They deliver a great performance (the audience thinks that gosh, they sure seem like real lovers), and Simone later confesses what Resine already knows- that she loves her. An observant classmate starts a rumor about them, causing Resine to panic. To calm Resine down, Simone takes her to the bar her acting troupe meets in to help her find a boyfriend- but Resine can only look at Simone. Resine tries to like Rounaud, the boy who likes her, but Simone jealously confronts her about her real feelings. (On a tangent, I can't be the only one who noticed that Simone's confrontation with Resine- "I won't entrust my heart to a stone statue as you have!!"- was referenced in Sei's confrontation with Shiori about her decision to become a nun in Marimite.)

Resine runs away to her aunt's, and Simone gets drunk and taunts the boy who loves her into stabbing her. She dies holding a rose while thinking of Resine, and Resine learns about Simone's death from Rounaud before receiving a final letter from Simone.

Another feel-good title from the 70s. ^_^ Because of its groundbreaking place in yuri history, it would be worth reading even if it weren't good, which thankfully isn't the case. It's definitely a product of its time, with its hyper-over-the-top melodrama and sparkly old school art, but that's what makes it kind of... fun. Even though Simone and Resine influenced later yuri couples like Chikane and Himeko, Sachiko and Yumi, Shizuma and Nagisa, etc, Simone isn't as refined as most of the later "onee-sama/Yamato Nadesico"-types in yuri, and Resine doesn't really idealize her- until she completely loses her. (Whose memory of a past love hasn't been exaggerated to some extent, for better or for worse?)

Unlike Ikeda Riyoko's also groundbreaking Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E, which will probably be reprinted until the end of time (RoV will, at the very least), Shiroi Heya no Futari is out of print and unlisted on Amazon JP, so it would be really hard to track down a hard copy of it if you want one. If you still really, really, really want one, your best bet is keeping an eye on the Yahoo Japan Auctions, by searching for the title or the author's name and hoping someone is willing to give up their copy at some point.

Anyway- if you read yuri, you've read something influenced by Shiroi Heya no Futari.

Story: 『彼人を叱ったからには死なねばならぬ。名状しがたいその微笑の輝きのために死なねばならぬ。その軽やかな双手のために死なねばならぬ。彼女のために。。。』
Art: B+
Overall: A

Fun fact: Hagio Moto's Thomas no Shinzou, the earliest well-known example of BL, takes place at an elite single-sex boarding school in Germany. I guess there was something about European boarding schools that screamed "Homosexuality!" to both Yamagishi and Hagio back then.

BGM: "Dear Future" - Coaltar of the Deepers