Saturday, July 26, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 14

At the beginning of this episode, we are back in the clock tower, with Nanako discovering the awkwardness of being embraced by the girl she has feelings for, while said girl hallucinates that Nanako is the girl she loves who she once made a suicide pact with. We've all been there, Nanako.

From Rei's perspective, we see that she and Fukiko are in a flurry of pink shoujo petals
with Fukiko acting to fulfill the pact by cutting her wrist
so Rei tries to "fulfill" it on her side, but after she stabs the wall trying to do so, she comes to her senses, sees Nanako crying, and appropriately feels like shit. (My girlfriend Amy after I mentioned this scene to her: "That [a tortured backstory] is the kind of thing I would have found romantic in high school, but now I'd be like, 'I don't have time for this bullshit.'" I was like "This storyline works better in execution than when you just hear about it, but I'm not entirely sure why." When Amy asked if I would actually date someone like Rei, I was like "lol no" though, although I too probably would have in high school or early college. I do think she works as a character I can like- and ultimately like with Nanako, regardless of whether they would have worked in the long-term instead of being each other's first girlfriends- through some alchemy of writing, though.)
On her way home, Nanako processes what Rei said to her while thinking she was Fukiko and what it says about Rei and Fukiko's relationship and history.

The next morning, Nanako sees that Rei isn't in her homeroom and Fukiko is like "Whatchu doing?" Fukiko points out that she hasn't been attending the Sorority study sessions for the midterms, and is very subtle about her real reason for being vexed at Nanako.
The funny thing is that she has a point. I think this episode knows that Nanako should be focusing more on her midterms, even though it also knows that Fukiko's motives towards Nanako are dubious.

After school, Nanako stops by Rei's place and finds the front door not only unlocked, but ajar. She finds Rei lying motionless less to a mound of partially empty pill packets and is relieved when Rei wakes up. She warns Rei about someone dangerous entering with the door left open, but Rei is like "Eh, they can kill me for all I care."

The next morning on the way to school, Nanako impresses Tomoko with the mnemonic devices she learned from the Sorority for the exam. Tomoko picks up on Nanako having another secret thing, so she's like "lol Here we go again" and Nanako doesn't quite get how much Tomoko knows about how her school life rolls now.
Nanako falls into the all-too-common mistake of being too distracted by her crush to concentrate in class, so Mariko nudges her into jotting down what she needs for the exam. (Amy when she read my draft of this recap at this point: "Why does Nanako have a crush on Rei?" Me: "Because she is us in high school." Amy: "Well I was stupid in high school, and so were you." And then we laughed for no real reason.)

After class, Mariko tries to find Nanako to ask her something about French, but finds Kaoru in their classroom instead. Kaoru makes her day by offering to help her out instead.
This scene is too easy to make a double entendre about.

Back at Rei's place, Nanako enjoys watching Rei eat decent food and goes into the kitchen, where she sees yet more pills and tries to throw them away, before Rei is like "MY BABIES."
Rei is like "Leave me alone, I never asked for your help!" so Nanako runs away and heads to the beach to be sad.
This message brought to you by Oniisama E. Don't pop pills and leave expiring shit in your fridge, kids.

We also learn from Nanako's humming that she knows her own theme song.

Somehow Rei knows that Nanako is at this beach, so she shows up and says something about looking at the sea, and they have tea at her apartment, and even Rei is like "Thank you for seeing me home, but shouldn't you be focusing on your test right now?" Rei says that, at least for today, she won't take any more pills, and Nanako asks her about the doll. Rei hesitates, so Nanako decides to leave.

On her way to the elevator, Nanako runs into that guy who is Takehiko's friend and they briefly re-introduce themselves. We already know he knows about the Sorority and Nanako and Takehiko being pen pals, and he says he's here to meet "a friend" before saying bye to Nanako, before we see Rei be like
The significance of him referring to her that way is awfully sad knowing what their relationship is. I won't spoil it, although someone who has only seen this far can probably sort of guess if they eliminate romance based on Rei being gay.

Inside Rei's apartment, she and Takehiko's friend have a rather awkward conversation.

Takehiko's friend asks how she's doing, and she responds like someone who is inured to people pretending to care but not following through on actually showing it. I feel like she tests the patience of people who care about her because of that- sort of pre-empting the abandonment she expects by being flighty and distant herself.

Nanako and Tomoko are silly on the way to school, and Rei gives her the memorization cards she accidentally left at her apartment at school.

Kaoru shows up for their usual banter
and Rei responds in turn
and all is right with the world. Or something.

And it's time for midterms, which will determine whether Nanako stays in the Sorority. I wonder how much Nanako's lack of concern for the Sorority's exam requirement has to do with how little good the Sorority actually seems to be doing her.

The next episode involves Fukiko telling Nanako ~secrets~ on a Sorority party aboard her private ship.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Manga Review: Poor Poor Lips volume 4

I originally meant to review this volume in the form of JManga's release. But then JManga folded and my paper copy of this book was in a different part of the country from where I was, then I picked it up in my hometown and brought it when I moved to Seattle and, uh, just didn't get back to it until now. So here, finally, is my review of it!

You may remember that previously on Poor Poor Lips, our impoverished protagonist Nako got a job at a jewelry store belonging to a woman from a filthy rich family named Ren, who is a lesbian who developed feelings for her. Ren lost her store and other assets to her homophobic mom Nei, moved in with Nako, and grew from realizing how sheltered she was. Ren found out Nako was perpetually scraping by because her uncle made her think she was indebted to him. Ren got Nei to use her clout to stop him, at the cost of agreeing to an arranged marriage. After realizing she is head-over-heels in love with Ren, Nako got a job as a maid at Ren's family's mansion so she could stay by Ren's side. It is obvious to everyone they know that they are in love, but they still don't get that it's reciprocal. And raise curtain on volume 4, this series' final volume.

Nako sees Nei watching some movies of Ren as a child, and learns that her motive for trying to stick Ren in a marriage to a dude is a little more sympathetic than it previously seemed, although this series knows that her plan is horrible regardless. 

Nei tries to speed her plan for Ren along by introducing her to the heir of another rich family, Kenmochi. While not really attracted to Kenmochi, Ren finds herself not actively repulsed by Kenmochi the way she has been by her other suitors, which is an awkward way of foreshadowing that Kenmochi is a pre-op trans man. He wants to find a wife from among the ladies considered suitable for him and figures he can do a Princess Knight scenario by making Ren fall for him when he dons a long wig and dresses the way he occasionally has to to please his transphobic grandpa who thinks he's delusional. Thankfully, the storyline with grandpa is resolved satisfactorily, as is the Final Boss to Ren and Nako's love that is Nei. Just as basically every character who isn't Ren has been learning what being gay is since volume 1 (including Kenmochi), now Ren and Nako (and Kenmochi's grandpa) learn what being transsexual is, in this series' characteristically goofy manner.

Further misunderstandings happen, and Nako turns in her resignation because she is afraid of the Princess Knight plan working and doesn't want to see it. Ren, wanting to make Nako happy in some capacity one last time, tells her she will give her anything she wants. This leads to what everyone who likes this series has been waiting for.

Ren still needs to deal with the engagement, though, and I won't spoil how it resolves, but things turn out happily and the epilogue is wonderful.

If you rooted for Ren and Nako, you will find it immensely satisfying to see them get the hard-won happiness they deserve. I didn't expect Ren's fiancé's being a transsexual man to be a major plot point in this volume, but I thought it was handled mostly well. Ren sensing Kenmochi's pre-op-ness before Kenmochi is outed is problematic for the emphasis it puts on Kenmochi's body versus his gender early on, although that changes later. I know I'm not the best judge and could be wrong about the getting-it-wrong-to-getting-it-right ratio for how Kenmochi is written, though. As with the previous volume, this volume is angstier than the first two (tangent: spellcheck tried to make "angstier" into "gangster"), but it works because it isn't overwhelming and this series' author Goto Hayako still uses humor liberally. This is still a 4-koma, however unusually plotty it might be for its genre. 

As it has been from the beginning, this series is a sweet romance that is unusually blunt about lgbtq identity, starring a likable pair of leads. I am glad I tried it despite volume 1's cover, and you will probably enjoy it also if you're looking for a good romance starring adults.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 13

This episode begins by replaying the previous episode's confrontation between Kaoru and Fukiko. Kaoru shouts "Who's there?" and Nanako conspicuously runs away. Fukiko turns to leave, but Kaoru is like "Wait wait, we're not finished here" and Fukiko is like "Mind your own business." The way she says it has some blink-and-you'll miss it implications about Kaoru and Rei's friendship that are extra-interesting in the context of this episode.

Still shocked by what Kaoru said, Nanako makes her way to Rei's apartment, pondering what a sad and mirror-filled life she leads. She finds the picnic basket still outside Rei's apartment with the food untouched. Back home, she tries calling Rei and has an internal monologue about not wanting to intrude too much on Rei's life, just make sure she's alright, which you know means she's going to get very involved in Rei's life.

Tangent: If you haven't watched this show's theme song in a while, you might want to replay it after seeing the objects in Rei's apartment, especially the ones in the doll screencap above. I still think they primarily symbolize this show's coming-of-age theme. Re symbolism in the opening theme, you have a lot of childhood inconography, like the doll (which we now know is the doll Rei has) and the Cinderella imagery (you'll see a miniature version of the coach in Rei's apartment), with even the people in the Cinderella imagery who aren't supposed to be dolls posed in a doll-like way. The imagery of the necklace breaking, beads flying everywhere past the doll and the doll being shrouded in shadows at one point, along with the image of the doll in a puddle in front of what appear to be soldiers evokes the lessening of innocence that comes with growing up. The contrast between the childish-looking doll and the fully grown Cinderella, who look similar to each other, also fits the growing up theme, IMO. In short, Oniisama E's opening animation's theme seems to be letting go of the past. As my girlfriend pointed out, it's interesting to consider in the context of the events of this show (like the Nanako's storyline with Rei, Rei's storyline with her issues, Mariko's storyline with her issues, Takehiko's storyline with his issues, Fukiko's storyline with her... you get the picture) as a whole.

Getting back to the episode, Nanako ponders the why's of what she learned about Rei and Fukiko. We see Rei stopping in front of Fukiko's gated mansion while Fukiko plays piano inside, before walking away while downing more pills. Kaoru pops out of a cab that she must owe a ton of fare, since she's been looking all over for Rei.
In the cab, sadly, Rei still wants to apologize to Fukiko for not waiting longer under the elm tree, and Kaoru gently argues with her about it, but just wants to get her home.
I guess Rei's electricity that was never really gone is still working, because Kaoru turns on the light in her chandelier before tucking her in, and her cordless phone continues to function as Nanako calls. Kaoru answers, and Nanako is hugely relieved that Rei isn't alone. Even though it's late, Nanako decides to sneak out to get some food at a convenience store for Rei. I relate to Nanako being kind of fussy about making sure people eat properly. When she asks Kaoru what Rei likes, Kaoru isn't sure because she's never seen Rei eat anything with an appetite, which to me speaks volumes about how happy she is as someone who ate like a bird as a teenager at some hugely stressful points.

Anyway, Nanako makes it out of the house. Rei wakes up, hearing the piano song that she and Fukiko frequently play. She runs screaming to the shower and turns it on without removing her clothes, making her self-hatred abundantly clear.
Kaoru dries her off, Rei tells her she's cold, and I guess they are comfortable being naked in bed together.
(My girlfriend when I pointed it out: "That's weird. It's weird unless it's gay.") The Kaoru x Rei fodder in this episode is interesting, because I don't remember the manga having any.

Nanako arrives and doesn't seem to think anything of Kaoru still buttoning her shirt when she answers the door. Nanako helps Kaoru get Rei into her old-timey pajamas, and she and Kaoru leave. Kaoru and Nanako watch the sun rise and bond over being in Rei's harem. They both want to be there when Rei is ready to stop trying to deal with the shitty aspects of her life on her own, although Kaoru isn't sure she'll live long enough for it.

Nanako's outfit and body language in this portion of this episode are noticeably butchier than normal, which is interesting. I'm not sure it has any significance beyond whoever is in charge of the characters' gajillion outfits thinking it'd be neat to see her like that, though.
Anywho, Nanako compares her friendship with Tomoko to Kaoru and Rei's, and feels like there's not only more maturity between them, but a sense of destiny.

That day at school, we see Nanako, Tomoko, and Mariko having lunch together, and it feels a little creepy that they're getting along so well.

Fukiko's guilt starts catching up with her as she imagines seeing Rei under the elm tree.  The students make up some spooky rumors about the school (hi, every later girls' school series featuring supernatural school mysteries), including one that hits a little close to home for Nanako,

and Mariko explains that they do that every year before exams.

Then Mariko explains the spookiest rumor from the previous year.

It's basically about a butchy suit-wearing girl and a refined, ladylike girl who were students long ago being seen playing the piano together and going up and down a particular stairwell holding hands. The students the rumors are based on felt the weight of society against their being in love, 
and apparently committed suicide together under the elm tree.

Nanako's commentary on this story is interesting in light of how her romance with Rei turns out. It feels a little meta, and I wonder if that is intentional.

Nanako and Fukiko both hear Rei playing the piano in the clock tower and rush there. Fukiko doesn't see Rei there and thanks she's hallucinating again, but Rei pops up again.

Rei confronts Fukiko about her lying about meeting at the elm tree, and Fukiko falsely comforts her, Nanako watching all this in bewilderment and a little horror.
It isn't a coincidence that Fukiko's face is blacked out as she laughs while leaving. The direction of this scene in general is effectively creepy.

Rei jumps off the balcony, into a tree. She safely lands like a besuited cat and dashes off while Nanako calls to her. Nanako follows her to the clock tower, and finds that she is too hopped up on pills to distinguish her from Fukiko. Rei is like "Remember when we promised to die together?" and Nanako is like "What in the ever-loving fuck" and the episode ends there.

I was mistaken that there are daggers in this episode- they are in the next episode, along with more drama surrounding the layers peeling back from Rei and Fukiko's storyline.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Manga Review: Gakuen Polizi volume 1

 I still love that all of the English language releases of Morinaga Milk's books tout her status as a yuri icon. She is a hard-working mangaka who has been drawingand helping pioneer the growth ofgood yuri for over a decade, and she deserves all of the success she has gotten. I am thrilled that her work has sold well enough in English to warrant multiple licenses of her work, so even though this series wrapped up sooner than I (and most readers) expected at two volumes and I am a little worried about it not getting the breathing room to satisfactorily conclude the slow burn it seemed like it was going for when I first read it (review here), I am still happy to be reviewing this volume. Fingers crossed for that second volume.

Anyway, I don't have much in the way of new thoughts about this bookI last read it a little over a year ago, and enjoyed it as Morinaga Milk trying something different while indulging her love of police dramas, with dashes of her other favorite things, magical girl shows and yuri.
I still appreciate this volume's on point social commentary about stalking, law enforcement's failings in response to stalking, and creeps in general, especially given the incredibly male gazey magazine this series ran in. Social commentary has been a thing in Morinaga's work since Girl Friends, as GAR GAR Stegosaurus's Day and I discussed about Girl Friends here, and as I mentioned here in my review of the Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink omnibus.

This volume is very pre-yuri- it has a lot of set-up for the relationship that should develop between its leads Sasami and Midori later, following your classic "they don't get along, but warm up to each other" model, unlike most of Morinaga's famous work, in which her leads tend to have a fondness for each other right off the bat. That works for the buddy cop dynamic Morinaga is going for as a starting point, though.

As expected, no complaints about this as a physical release either. Seven Seas' translation and editing is strong as usual. If you're wondering why Seven Seas went with Gakuen Polizi for this series' English release title instead of School Police, it's because they figured Gakuen Polizi would grab more attention than School Police, and its starting with a G would allow it to be placed closer to Girl Friends in bookstores.

In short, this volume is a light buddy cop school comedy with hints of darker characterization ahead that becomes a kind of kick ass social commentary by the end, with a good amount of set-up for a potential relationship between its characters. I enjoyed rereading it, and look forward to seeing what volume 2 has in store.

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 12

This episode enters right where we left off again, with Rei hugging Nanako then sinking to the floor because she still has a fever. Nanako is like "????" so Rei shows her the doll, and I guess she is at least aware that Nanako isn't the doll. Rei clearly hasn't read Love Vibes if she thinks this approach is going to win her over.

Then because, at this point, Rei fainting is like Old Faithful, she faints again and Nanako pulls her up and tucks her into bed, wiping her face with some water.

Inside Rei's head, we see that she's swimming with her doll, and riding in a horse-drawn cart in what I assume is a French countryside because one of this show's Rose of Versailles-est music themes is playing.
We also see Fukiko, meeting her.

Then she wakes up and Nanako, unaware of the blighted wasteland that is her fridge, offers to make something. She shortly discovers that all Rei has to eat is some expired food that should no longer even be refrigerated because there no electricity (and yet somehow there is light in the fridge- that's my job, ruining emotional moments),
and starts tearing up imagining what it's like to live in Rei's situation.

Kaoru arrives because Nanako called her. She does not seem to find Rei's French greeting as charming as most women with any trace of queerness in them people would and slaps her, being like "Whatchu doing??? Fukiko hates you and likes toying with you and you should lose that damn bracelet that reminds you of her."
But before she can chuck it into the canal outside, 
Rei sure wants that bracelet. I've seen Fukiko described as an influence on Utena's Juri, and I can see it (much as I love Juri), but Rei's storyline is feeling more similar to Juri's, what with her having a jewelry memento of a girl who causes her a lot of grief that she can't quite get rid of.

When I replayed this scene to my girlfriend, after being like "wtf", she said "Could you imagine an actual seventeen year-old girl being like *imitates dagger-throwing*. Someone should totally reshoot the best scenes of Oniisama E, but with actual seventeen year-old girls." IMO, a live-action Oniisama E thing of some kind would be amazing.

Despite Kaoru trying to tell her her relationship with Fukiko is hurting her, Rei puts the bracelet back over the slits on her wrist and peacefully ensconces herself on her bed, reciting the first words she used to describe her dream of meeting Fukiko. It feels like this evening is not the first time she's cycled through it.

Kaoru tells Nanako to think of what just happened as nothing more than a dream,
but obviously it's a tad hard to forget your classmates having a mirror-breaking, dagger-throwing fight over the bracelet that covers the slits on one's wrist and reminds her of the girl who puppeteers her.

Kaoru cuts get-well apple slices for Rei, which is cute, and tells Rei off again for her masochistic devotion to Fukiko. As great a friend as Kaoru is, her approach to getting Rei to listen is clearly not working. If she wants to be process-y enough to function in a queer lady ensemble, she needs to bring over some appropriately angsty Tegan and Sarah to play, gently hold Rei's hands, and have a heart-to-heart with her about every nuance of what she is feeling. Bonus points for commiserating with her as a fellow "womyn" with a "y."

Nanako calls Fukiko and gives her a credible fake excuse for not returning to the study group, but Fukiko didn't become the head of the evil Yamayurikai with a bad bullshit detector.

Nanako wakes up early the next morning to make Rei a feel better picnic basket, and it's one of those sitcomy scenes where a girl is doing something special for a boy she likes and gives her parents a fake reason for it and her dad believes her but you can tell her mom caught on and is like "Aww, my baby has a crush", except it's a girl instead of a boy. =)
However tearjerky this storyline ultimately is, I can't help thinking how valuable Nanako's thoughts- and tone- during this scene might have been to some self-hating queer teenager watching it.

Rei doesn't answer the door, so Nanako writes and rewrites to compose the perfect note and leaves it in front of her door with the basket. She even leaves an origami crane as an extra "get well" touch.

At school, Mariko fills Nanako in on what happened at the study group after she left, and Nanako asks Tomoko to corroborate her fib that she got soaked and went to her house nearby the night before.

Nanako finds Fukiko in what looks like an equestrian country club on school grounds
to return her umbrella, and Fukiko calls out her fake excuse by telling her not to associate with Rei. Her slapping her own hand with her riding crop is a subtle bit of symbolism.

Nanako finds Kaoru to check how Rei was last time she saw her, and we see that Kaoru told Fukiko to meet her at the same time and place Fukiko told Rei to meet her. It would be funny if Kaoru never showed up.

We also see Rei lying in her apartment, her cordless phone (how did she charge it with the electricity cut?) counting the time next to her as the food lies untouched outside her apartment.

Nanako decides to visit Rei's apartment, but sees the Kaoru vs Fukiko confrontation. Kaoru tells Fukiko what you would expect, until she drops this.

Next up, we'll get a much better idea of why Rei's relationship with Fukiko is the way it is, and more daggers.