Saturday, January 28, 2012

Manga Review: Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan volume 2

This series has been running in Yuri Hime for so long that saying goodbye to it is like saying goodbye to to a friend...only it isn't quite goodbye, because of the Gold and Silver Tips continuation coming soon. Anyway...

With a push from her friend Sumire, Seriho finally realizes that she's in love with Sarasa. Sumire speeds things along by setting up a surprise date between Sarasa and Seriho.

Sarasa shows up two hours early to check out the shops and restaurants in the area so she can play it cool and show Seriho around. lol Seriho unwittingly floors Sarasa when she buys them a pair of matching rings, making it quite clear what she means by it. Sarasa defers answering because she feels awkward doing it in front of so many people. The entire date is awkward, in the adorable way that it would be between two introverts who like each other but aren't completely sure about where they stand.

Later at the Amber Teahouse, Sarasa prepares tea and scones and accepts Seriho's proposal...only to find a gaggle of people cheering them on from outside the shop. I'll admit that I teared when Sarasa accepted Seriho's proposal. And I love that the elderly lesbian couple who gave Seriho advice in volume 1 returned for this scene. We get an epilogue featuring some cute couple time with Sarasa and Seriho.

The three chapter Otome-iro Stay Tune series, about two seiyuu who become a couple, is in this book as well. It's cute (and a must-read if you want to see where Manabe-sensei, the yuri mangaka who patronizes the Amber Teahouse, first appeared), but not as good as Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan. (The afterword in Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan volume 1 shows that Fujieda Miyabi was pretty much pushed into adding Otome-iro Stay Tune to his list of projects when his heart was really in drawing AKK.)

My one complaint for the ending of AKK is that Sarasa and Seriho, while undeniably together forever and very snuggly, don't kiss. I anticipate seeing a kiss in Gold and Silver Tips. I'm looking forward to even more of Sarasa and Seriho's post-Happily-Ever-After.

Story: B for the Otome-iro Stay Tune chapters, A- for the Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan chapters.
Art: A- Fujieda's art has really grown on me.
Overall: A-

I can't review the Blue Christmas drama CD that comes with the special edition of Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan volume 2 because it's in my laptop, which I stupidly left at home in Florida.

My new rule for any drama CD packaged together with a tankoubon is that if it's an original story, I'll give it its own separate review. If it's a re-enactment of the manga it's based on, screw that, it'll just get a brief mention at the end of my review of whichever tankoubon it comes with. For now, at least, I can say that the Blue Christmas CD is great- perfectly cast seiyuu, sweet story, totally worth it if you want to spend more time with these characters and can understand (or plan to understand) Japanese well enough.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Manga Review: Ariyoshi Kyouko's Bruges (Updated)

Ariyoshi Kyouko is best-known for her long-running ballet drama, Swan. She also wrote a six volume yuri series, Applause.  

Applause is about Shunack and Shara, two girls who fall in love at a boarding school in Belgium before they become estranged and reconnect years later as actresses in New York City.

After ending Applause, Ariyoshi wrote a one-shot prequel called "Bruges," about how Shara and Shunack fell in love shortly after Shara transferred to Shunack's school. (Shara is Japanese. She lives in Belgium because her father works for the Japanese embassy there.)

While Shara, a tomboy, finds her elegant new school alien and overwhelming (think Noriko's reaction to Lillian in Marimite), Shunack practically embodies the school. She's feminine and refined- and at first seems unreachable. At the school's annual spring break get-together for its twenty top students, Shunack announces that they'll be playing a murder mystery game based on the unsolved murder of a student several years ago.

One of the teachers who was around during the murder gets jittery, playing the red herring quite perfectly.

A shadowy figure climbs into Shara's room at night and she screams, causing them to run away. When the other students rush in and find out what happened, Shunack tells Shara that the intruder isn't part of the game. I won't spoil how the characters find out the truth about the murder.

All the while, Shunack and Shara get closer and closer, angering the other girl who likes Shunack. Shunack also gets jealous when she sees Shara embrace a teacher she has a crush on. By the end, Shunack and Shara are obviously smitten with each other.

I liked this story a lot. It's an interesting blend of sweet and creepy, with some eye-poppingly gorgeous art. Here are a few examples.


This tankoubon has two more one-shots, including the yuri "San Francisco Monogatari" ("A San Francisco Story"). 

Yuuko is a Japanese writer visiting her out lesbian friend Megumu, who lives in San Francisco. Yuuko came to San Francisco thinking that she's straight, but nope, she has loved Megumu since they were high school classmates. Megumu already has a girlfriend, Chelle, who is fighting cancer in the hospital. While Megumu visits Chelle, her friend Tracy (who loves Megumu) and Yuuko attend the city's gay pride parade. Tracy tells Yuuko about her feelings for Megumu there, and Yuuko realizes that she has the same feelings. Before Yuuko can confess to Megumu, Megumu drops a bombshell- that she's breaking up with Chelle and entering a marriage of convenience. Yuuko mourns what might have been, and is shocked (but not comforted) when Chelle tries to comfort her.

So- the marriage of convenience plot device is "blah," but I really like the gay pride parade full of happily out gay people (it's neat to see the American gay community portrayed in a manga), and the way the story contrasts common Japanese and American attitudes about same sex attraction is interesting. I might be overly optimistic here, but I don't see the story as completely sad since Yuuko acknowledges the nature of her feelings for Megumu after having explained them away for years. Despite her initial heartbreak, it's a lot better for her in the long term. Update: Whoops. Uhh...I attributed the final lines to Yuuko, when they were really Megumu's reaction to Yuuko making plans to get married earlier. Man, I'm glad that was pointed out. (See the comments.) So it's a happier ending! Yuuko now knows that she loves Megumu and Megumu tells her that she loves her and only started dating Chelle because she thought Yuuko was getting married. She still has to decide what to do about Chelle...but Yuuko and Megumu both like each other! And Yuuko was never really into the idea of getting married, so that takes care of that. I'm changing the grade for "San Francisco Monogatari" from a B to a B+.

Story: B+ for "Bruges," B+ for "San Francisco Monogatari"
Art: A for "Bruges," A- for "San Francisco Monogatari" (The latter is just as well-drawn, but its setting doesn't give Ariyoshi as much of an opportunity to indulge in opulent character renderings.)
Overall: B+

Friday, January 20, 2012

First Impressions for Winter

Thank goodness, the new anime season is better than it seemed like it would be.

Ano Natsu de Matteru (1 episode watched):
Boy meets alien girl, who ends up living with him. Ano Natsu actually isn't bad, which means that it's amazing for its subgenre. Ano Natsu's lead character isn't annoying, his love interest is kind of charming, and it just the writers are putting in a little more effort than they need to for an audience that would probably eat Ano Natsu up regardless. I don't see myself following this show- and I can't call it good- but it's a cute, non-obnoxious example of a story that could have easily been bad.
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Another (2 episodes):
I really wanted to like this show. I liked the first episode for its atmosphere and the questions it raised. But two episodes in, Another still hasn't done anything to make me particularly care about its characters. The doll shop scene in episode 2 was creepy, but it isn't enough. I can get my horror fix elsewhere.
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Kill Me Baby/Baby, Please Kill Me! (1 episode):
Boring. If you want a comedy, you're better off watching...

Daily Lives of High School Boys (2 episodes):
Funnier than the manga it's based on, probably because of its director (who helmed School Rumble) and its seiyuu's comic timing. (Especially Sugita Tomokazu- Kyon's voice- as one of the leads.) Each episode is made up of several stand-alone scenes. Most of the segments revolve around the same joke (someone tells a lie or makes up a fantasy scenario that spins out of control- like the three leads acting out how one of them would ask out a cute girl- say, one in their class- until they remember that they attend an all-boys' school), but there are some funny moments. I'm being picky again this season, so I don't see myself following this one either, but it would be a fine choice if you're looking for a comedy that doesn't suck.

Moretsu Pirates (2 episodes):
The best surprise of the season. I didn't expect anything good from a show based on a light novel series called Mini-Skirt Pirates, but Moretsu Pirates (as far as I'm concerned, there is no English title) is the most fun show airing this season. Marika isn't ditzy or bland as the lead, and it's refreshing that she really has a choice whether or not to become captain of the Bentenmaru (her deceased father's space pirate ship) instead of being forced into it or told that she kind of has a choice but HORRIBLE things will happen if she doesn't. Since Moretsu Pirates is striving to be a sci-fi adventure series with...a story and everything, I'm excited about seeing where it goes.
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Natsume Yuujin-chou Shi (3 episodes):
Season 4 of Natsume is more of the same. In this case, that's a very good thing. This season kicks off with a dramatic two episode arc involving the exorcist Matoba, and then settles back into the familiar narrative of Natsume encountering a new youkai and resolving a problem involving it within a single episode. These episodes did a great job of highlighting how the characters have developed since the first season (especially how Natsume has become less isolated and how Nyanko-sensei's reasons for protecting Natsume have become increasingly less mercenary, even though he's still insisting that he's only in it for Natsume's book of youkai names), while promising more great development to come.
All four seasons of Natsume are streaming on Crunchyroll.

Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki (2 episodes):
The producers of this series wisely decided to make each episode only three minutes long. It's a simple story. An OL finds a cat and brings it home. The cat is hideously adorable as it interacts with the OL and her family. Unlike this past summer's similarly cat-themed Nyanpire, Poyopoyo succeeds at being cute- and doesn't feel like it's just trying to sell character merchandise.
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Recorder and Randsell (1 episode):
Not even a three minute episode length (or a cameo by Morita-san's Mayu and Hana- seen running away from Atsushi's awful recorder-playing above) could save this show from being meh. Har har, Atsushi is a grade schooler who looks like an adult, and har har the irony, his seventeen year old sister Atsumi looks like a grade school kid. And OMG since he looks like an adult, he can't  walk to school with one of his classmates without looking like a pedophile, resulting in a neighbor calling the police on him. It seems like that will be an ongoing gag in this show. Sigh.
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rinne no Lagrange (2 episodes): 
The first episode didn't do anything for me- it just seemed like Evangelion with a spunky girl instead of a depressed boy as the lead. The second episode wasn't any more original, but I liked it a lot more, somehow. A friend mentioned that she liked how the lead's family (well, her older cousin) really doesn't want her piloting a mech, instead of the usual "You pilot that giant robot, you teenager, you!" The lead, Madoka, is likeable, the plot has become unexpectedly entertaining, and Noto Mamiko is playing Madoka's cousin Youko, so I'm in.
Streaming on

Senhime Zesshou Symphogear (3 episodes):
The gayest thing airing this season. (Hence my extra-long write-up on it.) Miku invites her best friend Hibiki to a concert by her two favorite idols, red-haired Kanade and blue-haired Tsubasa, but isn't able to make it. Hibiki has a blast at the concert anyway, until...aliens attack! Kanade and Tsubasa transform into armored magical girl-like fighters who attack the aliens while singing dance music. Yup, the premise can't get any campier.

Kanade dies protecting Hibiki because Hibiki, for some reason, didn't run out of the concert stadium with everyone else. Before Kanade dies, the "relic" that she needs to transform shatters and a few pieces of it get lodged in Hibiki's chest. (Hmm, wonder where this will lead.) Two years pass and Tsubasa transfers into Hibiki and Miku's school. Hibiki runs into the aliens and tries to save a little girl from them. When the aliens corner them on a rooftop, Hibiki starts singing and transforms. Tsubasa rides up on a motorcycle and kills the aliens.

After being whisked away by the government, Hibiki learns that her singing triggered the relic fragments in her chest, allowing her to use the fighting armor that Kanade wore. Now she's Tsubasa's fighting partner. But Tsubasa hates Hibiki because the only partner she wants is Kanade. She really only wants Kanade. Like, she blushes and goes googly-eyed when Kanade hugs her from behind in episode 1 and obsesses over her in a way that has made me add her to my Characters Who Remind Me of Chikane (Dear God, I'm Seeing Her Everywhere) List. Hibiki keeps digging herself deeper by telling Tsubasa things like, "Tee hee, I just got in your way, but I'm looking forward to fighting with you more!" and "I'll work hard to replace Kanade!" The third episode focuses on Hibiki trying to adjust to her new life. I couldn't care less about Hibiki, so...yeah, blah. More Kanade, please. Poor Miku likes Hibiki, who obliviously shares a bed with her in the dorm room they live in. Symphogear is crap, but it's crap that I don't hate- the kind that I'm willing to stare at when I'm eating breakfast or something.
Update on 02/12: Streaming on Funimation's website.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Manga Review: Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi volume 2

I was in the mood for reviewing something fluffy and fun today, and Nobara fit the bill.

To recap: Cheerful blonde Hatsumi and her best friend Sakura are new students at the elegant Otowa Girls' Academy. They are roommates. Sakura loves Hatsumi, who has a crush on the head of her dorm, popular butch upperclasswoman Izumi, who has a popular femme girlfriend named Mayuko, who surprises Izumi with the news of her fiancé.

The set-up for this series always cracks me up. Not just because it's...well, it's just reminds me of a pearl of wisdom that the upperclasswomen in my dorm house- at a women's college- impress on the new residents each year: "House booty is bad booty. You'll always think you're the exception, but you're not." And for the Head Resident, "First-year house booty is off-limits booty." Eh, Izumi?

Even though the other students fangirl over Izumi and Mayuko, they clearly don't take them seriously as a lesbian couple because they squeal over the news of Mayuko's fiancé and don't notice how pained Izumi is by it. (Of course, Hatsumi does. This plot point implicitly differentiates Hatsumi's and Izumi's feelings- and by extension, Sakura and Mayuko's- from the "not real," man-free-environment-induced lesbianism traditionally ascribed to the characters in girls' school yuri titles.) When Izumi confronts Mayuko about her engagement at the student ball, Mayuko (who isn't the least interested in her fiancé; her family arranged the whole thing) slaps her and runs away. Izumi leaves to be alone in the school garden, and Hatsumi follows her and confesses her feelings for the second time. Mayuko sees them, and...!

Sakura withdraws from Hatsumi because she can't stand seeing her swooning over Izumi, but she protests that she's just creeped out by the idea of two girls as a couple. The other girls start bullying Hatsumi in revenge for her trying to steal their precious Izumi-sama from Mayuko.

Mayuko, of all people, tells off the bullies, and she recruits Sakura to make Izumi hers for good in front of Hatsumi in a...very weird plan that ends with Izumi telling Mayuko off for expecting her to choose her over Hatsumi despite her recent behavior. Mayuko reacts by jumping out of a window, only breaking her ankle because she was on the first floor. Mayuko continues to be all "Give me back mah woman!" so she and Hatsumi have a fight. Hatsumi ends it by slapping Mayuko. (Wouldn't you love to see something like this in Marimite?)

The path to love never does run smooth, to paraphrase the Bard, and despite their attraction to each other, Hatsumi and Izumi realize that they really love Sakura and Mayuko, respectively. Izumi and Mayuko resolve their problems and become the school Prince and Princess again and Sakura achieves what Yaya and Tamao failed to do- be preferred by her best friend over her older, much more popular rival. We catch a glimpse of a new student who seems befuddled by how gay Otowa is. The end of the book also has an amusing series of 4-koma strips about Izumi and Mayuko's childhood together.

Volume 2 of Nobara is, like the first volume, a lively romp through girls' school yuri tropes, with a hearty helping of soapiness and a healthy amount of self-awareness. Izumi and Hatsumi seem most closely modeled on Amane and Hikari from Strawberry Panic! (with influence from a handful of other characters), but unlike Amane and Hikari (especially Amane), neither is dull, thankfully.  

Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi simply wants to give its readers a fun time, like the manga equivalent of a puppy that just wants to play, and in that aim it succeeds.

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

BGM: 『蛍火』by ダウト

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mini-Reviews: A Smattering of Lesbian Movies I've Seen

These aren't all of the lesbian movies I've watched, but I thought I'd write about some of them, for something a little different here.

But I'm A Cheerleader:
Saw this movie in high school, but the campy humor didn't do much for me. Re-watched it this past summer and thought it was hilarious. So YMMV, definitely. Megan is a perky, good girl cheerleader with a jock boyfriend, who doesn't know that she's gay even though everyone else does. They break the news to her in the worst way possible- by sending her to a "reparative therapy" camp, where she finds a girlfriend and lots of gay friends. :-) This movie satirizes the reparative therapy-pushers- and homophobes in general- and is chock full of gay stereotypes- but it delivers the gay stereotypes in an inoffensive wink-wink, nudge-nudge way that lets gay viewers in on the joke. Keep an eye out for RuPaul playing one of the reparative therapy camp counsellors.

Haven't seen this movie since high school. I thought Lucy (the villain and love interest for Amy, the main character) was hot, but was kind of bored otherwise. Too bad, because I liked the the concept- a spy falling for the crime syndicate boss she's supposed to thwart. Sadly, Amy was the least interesting character in this movie.

Drifting Flowers:
This is a great movie. The narrative intertwines the lives of three different generations of women. Little Meigo falls for her older sister (and guardian) Ging's new girlfriend Diego, and her jealousy causes her to do something that threatens to break up her family. Lily is an Alzheimer's patient who spends most of her time remembering her dead love "Ocean." She finds support in her friend Yen, the gay man she married years ago as a beard, who returns to live with her because his lover cheated on him. The last storyline is about Diego's first love (Lily) and her coming out to herself as a teenager. It might not sound like much, but it's...really well done. I'm kind of embarrassed that I still haven't seen Zero Chou's other highly-acclaimed lesbian movie, Spider Lilies.

Awful title aside, I like this movie. Anora lives in a small town with an abusive husband and a teenaged son and daughter. She unexpectedly falls for her new neighbor Imogene. When Anora's husband comes home from work early, he catches Anora and Imogene in bed and tries to kill them. Anora panics and shoots him, killing him. Anora reports her husband missing and she, Imogene, and her kids go on the road to dispose of the body. The premise might sound off-putting, but if you like dark comedy (which I do), you'll like this movie. It's one of the more underrated lesbian movies.

Imagine Me & You:
After marrying the man who she has always loved like a brother, Rachel finds herself really falling for the woman who created the flower arrangements for her wedding, Luce. This is a cute movie. I like how similar the premise is to Moonlight Flowers. lol Even though I liked Rachel and Luce together- and Luce was a hottie- I felt bad for Heck. My favorite part was when Luce used the line "Lily means 'I dare you to love me,'" on Rachel. (Squee!) This movie also gets points for skewering men who knowingly hit on women who aren't interested in men and for casting Anthony Head (Buffy's Giles) as Rachel's dad. ...I have to share this stupid, wonderful parody of Imagine Me & You's trailer.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee:
Another comedy by Jamie Babbitt (director of But I'm A Cheerleader), this time a homage to riot grrrl feminism. Anna's college of choice rejected her and her girlfriend just broke up with her. She gets a secretary job at a plastic surgery clinic. She joins a feminist activist group and falls in love with its leader Sadie...who has a girlfriend but sleeps with any woman who she thinks is hot. I just...didn't like Sadie at all and couldn't understand what so many women saw in her. After Sadie broke up with her girlfriend, I wanted Anna to give her the same treatment that Elle gave Warner at the end of Legally Blonde, but alas. The rest of the movie was fun...but blegh, Sadie. She ruined it for me.

Saving Face:
I love Saving Face. Love love love. If you haven't seen it, you should watch it. Wil is a doctor. Her girlfriend Vivian (mmm, Vivian...) is a dancer. Wil's homophobic mom Gao willingly ignores her daughter's gayness and pressures her to date men- but when she turns out to be pregnant and she refuses to name the father (she's a single widow), her parents disown her and she moves in with Wil. It sounds sad, but it's actually a funny movie. And squee! Will and Vivian.

The Fish Child:
Lala is the daughter of a wealthy family in Buenos Aires. She and Ailín, her family's maid, are in love. Lala kills her father after she finds out that he has been raping Ailín, and goes on the run expecting to meet Ailín in her hometown in Paraguay. She finds out that Ailín has been arrested and convicted of the murder, so she returns to save her. I expected this movie to be a lot better than it was because of the review of it I read beforehand. The bits about the classism among the upper class in Latin America rang true (from my meager experience with it- my mom's side of the family is from Bogotá), but while I felt bad for the two main characters, I wasn't feeling them as couple.

The Watermelon Woman:
A mockumentary by director Cheryl Dunye about an indie filmmaker named...Cheryl who decides to make a film about a black actress from the 1930's who played the nameless "Mammy" role in whichever films she was cast in. When I watched this movie, I forgot that the actress Cheryl was researching wasn't real, so she certainly made it convincing. Some people might be put off by this movie's low budget (it shows), but I didn't mind it. (It didn't try to compensate by being overly experimental- and giving me a headache as a result- like the similarly super-low budget Sugar Sweet.) The meta concept (we learn more about "Cheryl"'s life as she learns more about the actress- who was a lesbian also) made it interesting.

So, yup. Just some movies I've seen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Manga Review: Gunjo volume 1

Nakamura Ching's Gunjo is one of the more difficult manga titles to review. It's utterly different from what most people usually look for in yuri (romance, sweetness, some measure of prettiness or cuteness) and most people would find its premise off-putting. But give this series a chance, and you'll find that it's a perfect example of the phrase, "It hurts so good."

In the opening scene, a blonde woman in a phone booth calls the brunette standing nearby to tell her that she has killed her husband.

The brunette only married her husband to repay her debt to the blonde, but he abused her, and she saw a way out by seducing the blonde and convincing her to kill him.

The blonde is a lesbian who fell in love with the brunette in high school. The brunette came from an abusive home and only got into the private school that the blonde attended because of a track scholarship. The blonde comes from a filthy rich family.

They struck up a tenuous friendship as classmates because they were different (the brunette for being poor and the blonde for being an out lesbian), and now they're bound together by their shared responsibility for the brunette's husband's death. The brunette offers to go on the run with the blonde, but tells her that their staying together will only cause problems for the brunette. The blonde decides to stay with her anyway.

Later when the brunette lies that she called the police and told them where they are, the blonde hits her with a beer bottle and trashes the house they are in. After she finds out that the brunette lied, she admits that she behaved that way so the brunette would look convincingly scared and the police would believe that she was held hostage by the blonde. The brunette later screws up her chance of using that excuse to avoid blame for the murder when she tackles a police officer to save the blonde from being arrested.

I'm making this story sound sweeter than it is. Even though the blonde is the only person the brunette can completely depend on and vice versa, they both would have been better off if they had never met. The brunette tells the blonde that she should have died also, but when the blonde douses herself with gasoline, the brunette sits next to her and they both hold their hands around a lighter. The blonde randomly attacks the brunette with a knife to make her see what she looked like when she killed the brunette's husband. Adding to the fun, we see that the blonde had a successful job and a wife who wanted to introduce the blonde to her parents. The brunette takes the injured blonde to her and her wife's apartment thinking that it's the blonde's cousin's place, and finally learns how much the blonde threw away for her.

We briefly see that the girl who loved the blonde in high school and subsequently hated the brunette now has a successful career and a girlfriend. She knows why the blonde did what she did for the brunette, but doesn't tell anyone about it.

As you can see, the protagonists' names haven't been revealed. They may be in the final tankoubon. One of the reasons Nakamura Ching provides for keeping her characters nameless is:
Also, BL[the blonde]'s feelings, BN[the brunette]'s feelings, are not only theirs.
Their feelings resemble the feelings of many people in the world.
BL's or BN's feelings might resemble the way you feel,
Gunjo is not only a story for BL and BN, but it is a story for you.
Therefore, BL and BN (and also BL's former lover) in the manga don't really need to be called by a specific name.
You only have to read to think that you are them.
When BN calls "Hey" looking for a reply, it's not to BL, it's you.
If BN uses BL's name, then you won't be able to respond.
When BL calls out "Hey," the reply isn't from BN, it's from you.
If BL uses BN's name, then you won't be able to respond.
Nakamura's reason for not naming her characters reinforces Gunjo's theme of empathy. The story repeatedly makes us empathize with people who do things that make them (arguably) irredeemable, as in the second chapter when the blonde and the brunette meet a woman who wants to drown herself with her baby's ashes in the ocean because she accidentally let him drown. The blonde and the brunette try to talk her out of it, but they eventually let her go.

What denouement will the blonde and the brunette face at the end of Gunjo? We'll just have to wait and see.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Yuri Manga Highlights of 2011

As with my anime list, I decided to list the titles in this post alphabetically (well, alphabetically within each category) rather than worry about ranking them.

Top 5 Finished Series: 
Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan by Fujieda Miyabi (2 volumes + drama CDs):
A Happily-Ever-After ending to a very sweet, very gay series. (The Amber Teahouse is simply awash with women of the yuri persuasion.) May we continue to see Sarasa and Seriho cameo in many more Fujieda series.

Even though this isn't manga-relevant, I'd like to mention again that I really appreciate Fujieda for writing a new story for every single drama CD based on his works. Excluding the Marimite drama CDs, my face falls a little every time I find that a drama CD I've gotten re-enacts an already existing story.

Blue Friend season 1 by Eban Fumi (2 volumes):
This story incorporates some of the less positive tropes of yuri but, in a way, transcends them. Blue Friend's themes about overcoming the past and the fear of opening up about the bad experiences in one's life to someone whose opinion one deeply cares about were poignant and well-integrated with the yuri between its two leads.

Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi season 1 by Shirasawa Marimo (2 volumes):
This story is a love letter to many of the fun tropes of yuri, made for a shoujo audience with nods to the older folks who know what series Nobara owes its heritage to. Even though I know that "yuri" isn't synonymous with "lesbian," etc, etc, I love that something like this (or Blue Friend, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, etc) can come out in Japan without the homophobes collectively getting their panties in a twist over "protecting" children from being exposed to the idea of same-sex relationships.

Octave by Akiyama Haru (6 volumes):
We loved it, we hated it, we loved to hate it. But really, we mostly loved it. I would have loved to see Yukino come out to her family (she seemed like she was just about to before this series ended), but the ending to this series was still great, and we know that Yukino and Setsuko will be happy. As not only a yuri series, but a series about growing up and sorting out one's life as a young adult, Octave was excellent.

Renai Joshika by Morishima Akiko (2 volumes):
Morishima Akiko knows how to hit all of the right buttons. She loves writing about cute, lovey-dovey adult couples, and I love her for it. Arisu was a hoot to follow, and I'm glad she got a Happily-Ever-After with the girl she wanted. (Among the other cute couples this series has covered.) I also love Renai Joshika for making same-sex marriage a prominent point of discussion.

Honorable Mention: 
Sweet Little Devil by Nanzaki Iku (1 volume):
My most "subjective" inclusion in this post. This was a highlight for me because it's the first time I've bought a tankoubon by someone whose doujinshi I have liked for years. For a very particular niche of the yuri fandom, this book's publication was a huge "OMG!" moment.

Top 5 Series That Have Been Collected Into Tankoubon This Past Year But Are Still Ongoing:

Aoi Hana by Shimura Takako (6 volumes so far):
For Fumi coming out as a lesbian to her straight friends- showing how much she has grown since she first came out- and Orie and Hinako getting married and coming out to Orie's family. I still love this series to pieces.

Fu~fu by Minamoto Hisanari (1 volume so far):
For being an sweet look at domestic bliss, starring Suu and her wife Kina. (Plus Komugi and Hayase, the lesbian couple next door, and Kina's sister Kana, the lesbian Don Juan who finally meets her match.) Watching Kina and Suu just makes me happy, the other characters are fun, and I love Minamoto Hisanari for making a case for two women to be able to use the term "wife" for each other.

Gunjo by Nakamura Ching (2 volumes so far):
Speaking of transcending negative tropes...but in this case, tropes that are ascribed to queer women across different media rather than simply yuri. Gunjo is a challenging read (in more than one sense), and that's refreshing when- as in this case- it's done well. I cried for the character who died in volume 2, and I'm on pins and needles waiting to see how things end for Gunjo's nameless lesbian protagonist and the woman she threw everything away for.

Omoi no Kakera by Takemiya Jin (1 volume so far):
Out of all of the titles I've read for the first time this year, Omoi no Kakera easily has my favorite protagonist. Mika is a loveable, intelligent, refreshingly self-aware lesbian, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her life. 

Sasameki Koto by Ikeda Takashi (8 volumes so far):
Sasameki Koto occupies a gray space between this category and the first category because it has ended but its final tankoubon hasn't been published yet. For its loveable characters and depiction of what it's like to be a gay teen in a way that rings true again and again, Sasameki Koto always deserves a spot on this list. I'm really looking forward to getting that final volume.

Series That Haven't Been Published As Tankoubon Yet:

Collectors by Nishi UKO:
Collectors is about Shinobu and Takako, two women who are complete nerds for very different things. Shinobu loves books and Takako loves fashion. They love each other despite, and to some extent because of their different passions. (Someone who isn't passionate about anything wouldn't make someone who is happy, imho.) I love the premise and look forward to seeing it in tankoubon form.

Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo by Morinaga Milk:
The return of Morinaga Milk's first (and arguably most) popular couple! And it addresses an issue that Girl Friends, realistic though it was, tiptoed around- coming out! (Four for you, Morinaga Milk! You go, Morinaga Milk!) The announcement of Nana and Hitomi's return was the best yuri news of 2011.

Must-Read Manga of Yuri Interest Published in English:
Cardcaptor Sakura omnibus 2 by CLAMP:
For continuing to re-introduce Tomoyo, one of yuri's most iconic classic characters.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anime Review: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon season 1

The first season of Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon (Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere) is mostly based on the prologue of a long fantasy novel series by Kawakami Minoru. (From what I've heard, it moves beyond the prologue at the very end.) I'm going to be lazy and quote Wikipedia's description of Horizon's world:
In the far future, humans abandon a devastated Earth and traveled to outer space. However, due to unknown phenomenon that prevents them from traveling into space, humanity returns to Earth only to find it inhospitable except for Japan. To accommodate the entire human population, pocket dimensions are created around Japan to house in the populace. In order to find a way to return to outer space, the humans began reenacting human history according to the Holy Book Testament. But in the year 1413 of the Testament Era, the nations of the pocket dimensions invade and conquer Japan, dividing the territory into feudal fiefdoms and forcing the original inhabitants of Japan to leave. It is now the year 1648 of the Testament Era, the refugees of Japan now live in the city ship Musashi, where it constantly travels around Japan while being watched by the Testament Union, the authority that runs the re-enactment of history. However, rumors of an apocalypse and war begins to spread when the Testament stops revealing what happens next after 1648.
Yup. In the first episode, we meet a group of high school students from the upper class of Musashi, who all have random super-powers and abilities (including two witches, a half-dragon- although I couldn't tell he was a half-dragon until I looked at his Wikipedia description-, a cyborg, an incubus who doesn't act like an incubus at all, and a talking blob). The fantasy elements don't really gel with the sci-fi elements (see: To Aru Majutsu no Index for an example of how to integrate fantasy elements into a sci-fi setting in a way that makes sense), but I can make it work by imagining the world of Horizon as the futuristic version of an alternate fantasy world- kind of like what the world of Koihime Musou is to ancient China. That doesn't change the fact that Kawakami Minoru's method of writing seems to be "I'll just pull whatever I feel like out of my ass as I go along," but it makes the story's sloppiness easier to swallow. The basic concept for the setting is interesting, and the story throws out some fun fantasy ideas- like Musashi's inhabitants being able to do battle using spells provided by Musashi's central shrine in exchange for offerings- but put it all together in this series and it's a mess.

For the first four or five episodes, we see a single day play out from the perspectives of just about everyone in the show, culminating in the insane leader of Musashi setting off a nuclear reactor (or the Horizon equivalent, whatever), killing himself in the process. Before he dies, he broadcasts to everyone that the android P-01s has some WMD technology that nobody thought Musashi had inside of her, blah, blah, blah, she's now his successor, so she has to take the blame after he dies by committing suicide. Why does he want her to commit suicide? Who the hell knows? (Cue a pissed off Horizon fan commenting to tell me that it's OBVIOUSLY because blah blah blah. I don't care.) The doofusy protagonist Aoi Toori, He of the Habit of Groping Women Before Being Punched Away, doesn't want P-01s to commit suicide because she resembles Horizon, the girl he loves who died in an accident when they were kids- and it turns out that, somehow, P-01s has Horizon's soul and emotions, but not her memories.

Long story short, Musashi declares war on Italia, the country that has taken away Horizon to make her commit suicide. They invade to save her and bring her back to Musashi. This series becomes more entertaining from this point forward. Of course, the characters each get the chance to show off their fighting skills, including the show's established yuri couple, Margot Knight and Malga Naruze. Margot is cheerful and blonde and bubbly and Malga is quiet and dark-haired, and while we don't know much about them as people (aside from the fact that they jointly run a goods transporting business), they are cute together. And thankfully, Toori never hits on or or lays a finger on either of them. (Sad that I need to note that.) They're the only reason I'm watching this thing.

Of course they save Horizon and Toori confesses his love to her in a way that ends with him accidentally declaring that he'll literally conquer the world for her. The characters return to Musashi, we last see Malga and Margot snuggling in each other's arms, and all seems right with the world until Italia invades, dun dun dun.

With good execution, this series could have easily been quite fun. The setting is potentially interesting, the fights are slickly animated, and there are some moments of enjoyable chemistry among the cast as a group. But just about every time I find myself enjoying a scene (like Masazumi's debate with the Pope), this show reminds me that it was written by and for man-children (or, for those who get the reference, like it was written by Girls With Slingshots' Tyler- "Boooobies!"). The only thing that I can really laud Horizon for is its being the only anime of 2011 to have a happily-in-love yuri couple.

Story: Heeheehee
Art: Sunrise gave this show a good budget. The characters are well-rendered, but the actual character designs stink, especially for the large-breasted women.
Overall: D+