Yuri Visual Novel: Flowers -Le volume sur printemps- (English)

September 27th, 2016

flowers_dvdIf you like — or would like to like —  Flowers -Le volume sur printemps– the newest Yuri Visual Novel from Japan available in English, you may wish to re-read the fantastic review of the Japanese language version by Jye N. Before play, I re-read it myself just to be prepared.

 

With that said, I began Flowers-Le volume sur printemps- with no expectations. It is available on Steam, directly on the JAST USA website, or as a physical edition on J-LIST.

Immediately I realized that I had been thrown into a tale that was being marketed completely, utterly wrong. It’s not a Yuri VN. It’s a lesbian VN with a lesbian main character suffering from crippling social anxiety and PTSD from an abusive family situation put into a world so strange and incoherent that it’s a bit like a nightmare scenario.

Suoh has, we learn very quickly, no social skills, because of circumstance, a painful past, a bad home life and plot needs. But it becomes immediately apparent that “poor social skills” is not nearly sufficient to describe the excruciating pain and suffering this girl goes through to eek out a “Good morning.”

I was prepared to not like Suoh, but, when a week into the story, she was making minor progress, I decided to keep at it a bit longer. I played her straight, that is to say, I chose paths that fit the character we were given as a written and thought I was doing well when the game came to an end. ??? So, I went back and made a different decision. And then another. All of them ended in one of two ways, either, I screwed up or ruined everything. So I backed up again, and serially replayed every possible combination of the two questions …and there was no way forward. At which I grew bored and stopped. I consider it the story’s job to compel me to continue. As I has yet to feel anything other than pity for Suoh, and mostly to very much disliked everyone else, I did not feel so compelled.

Apparently I needed to have backed up to an earlier decision and changed my methods, but my nature doesn’t allow me to play characters out of character. A girl with crippling social anxiety is not going to suddenly be rude or loud. It makes no sense, and if the game requires me to act out of character for the character to proceed, they did a crappy job of writing, I say. ^_^;

Jye wrote that the art is beautiful. It is – if blandly but prettily realized imaginary westernish Christianish schools and schoolgirls is your thing. It’s a reasonable assumption if you read my blog, you know that, for me, it is not, in fact, my thing. ^_^ Again, if St. Miator appealed to you in a way that Lillian did not, you’ll probably like the art.

Technically, the game was relatively simple. The window-size made it impossible for me to access the controls, but once I shifted my configuration to fullscreen, there was no further difficulties. Jye noted that choices were colored red or green to indicate suitability, but all I noticed was green – even when I hit my dead end oubliette. All the choices were green and they were all wrong. And the negative ending didn’t honestly make all that much sense. But oh well…

The voices are pleasant but, as so often with VNs randomly distributed. Clearly I missed some important memo about having every fifth line voiced…and never particularly important ones, but always every “…” and “ah” and breath. I apologize if I sound peevish here. This makes no sense. At all. I expect the important things to be voiced. Not the unimportant ones.

Which leads me to the translation. It was pretty good. The dialogue is stilted, and the writer had an odd obsession with throwing in “current” movie titles, which will quickly date the game, but in most cases, I felt that the translation was decent. There was even a surprisingly interesting conversation about the sexism and Christian themes in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. I would have liked the story so much more if it had more of that, and less of the ballet lessons and stressing about being partnered with one or another character. The only problem with the translation was that there was something in the original that made the language puzzles make sense that were lost in translation – or, to be fair, I just completely missed them. But usually, I’m pretty good about that and the obvious connections did not work, so I don’t know, ultimately what I missed there. The kanji might have been more evocative than the English.

If you enjoy the stylized narrative of a impossible Christianish school in which girls act like no humans actually act and speak in mysterious ways, in order to pair them up as romantic and sexual partners, then Flowers is definitely for you. Not so much if, spoiled by the ridiculously well-written characters of Kindred Spirits, you were hoping for something similar.

In short, if Kindred Spirits is the Maria-sama ga Miteru of Yuri VNs, with compelling characters and decent dialogue, then Flowers is very much the Strawberry Panic! of Yuri VNs, with unreal overblown dialogue, characters who function as types, rather than people, designed to be viewed with suspicion and distrust.

I want to come back to Suoh one more time before I wrap up. There is nothing at all that reads more like a character who is a closested lesbian written by a guy than a hyper oversensitivity to touch and sight of any portion of another girl. Suoh spends so much of her first week averting her eyes from even so much as glancing at a classmate in the changing room that I made up a little image of her walking through her days peering carefully through a hand over her eyes. Clearly, her painful past included a confession, although I never got that far.

Ratings:

Art – 7
Story:  6 I agree with Jye, it’s not very tight. It’s trying to be too many things at once
Characters: 7
Service: I’m going to quote Jye here directly: “5 – I bought it as demonstrating the girls’ attraction to each other.  Bump it up if you really like skinny sixteen year-olds?” I’d add sixteen year olds with oversensitivity to being seen as lesbian.
Yuri:  5, as I couldn’t find the apparently appropriate route.

Overall:  6

None of this is to say it’s a bad VN. It’s targeted to a portion of the Yuri audience that does not include me. If you’re an avid VN reader, and like the challenge of bringing Suoh out of her shell and into the arms of a partner who will love her, you will probably enjoy Flowers-Le volume sur printemps- very much.

Many thanks to JAST USA for the review copy!



Light Novel: GIRLS UPRISING

September 26th, 2016

fmkguIt only took me 6 years to finish GIRLS UPRISING, the collaboration between science fiction writer Fukami Makoto and illustrator Kazuaki. The story ran inside the cover of the 2010 reboot issues of Comic Yuri Hime, and the illustrations captured my attention. Unfortunately, I found the small type and weird color choices of the original an actual barrier to reading.

When the story was printed as a collection in 2014, I snapped it up…only to find the type just as small on pages about the same size as the magazine. That meant four 2″ tall horizontal rows of vertical text per page. My intentions were good, but it was just a hard book to read, physically. And the story (which is rather messy) didn’t make it compelling. It kept falling to the bottom of the pile.

And now I’m here to tell you, for once the reviews on Amazon JP and I agree. This book is not Fukami’s best work.

In a post-apocalyptic world, at a school for girls where the discipline/security committee assures the students’ safety by carrying around lovingly described guns, we end up following a character so unlikable I actually waved goodbye as she head off to certain death.

Chisato and Kotono are gun-bearing members of the disciplinary and student council.  They are best friends and lovers. Kotono is a bit moody. Chisato is a jerk. She leaves Kotono for Sayaka, then proceeds to be a jerk to her, too. Kotono finds solace in the loyalty of her vice president, Megumi. And while we spend oodles of time following these young ladies arguing and buying bathing suits, a completely different story is happening across town.

In the tower across town, lives an evil scientist, Musaki Origa and her lover/guinea pig Hyouko. Hyouko is cared by for by the android Chanel who predictably, is the 5th of her kind. What, exactly, the experiments are for, are vague. Something about an elixir of youth, but really, it’s just torture porn. Hyouko is determined to escape from the tower. Chanel, who seems to have fallen in love with her, is willing to help.

Somewhere else in this war-torn town in which shopping malls that sell bikinis and bottled water still exist, another girl Tatsuki, meets and saves a girl in a wheelchair, Kiriko. Tatsuki, we learn, was Kotono’s former lover.

As an aside, I always find it a little silly when high school aged characters speak of “long ago” or “former lovers” as if they are 47 instead of 17. ^_^

Tatsuki relays to Chisato that her sister is the girl in the tower and Chisato tells Sayaka that her only true love is her twin sister, Hyouko. She runs off to save her sister/certain death. Bye, Chisato! You’re a jerk! I said, waving. But, no, Sayaka, Megumi and Kotono head after her.

In a crappy no-malls or bikinis part of town Chisato saves a little girl from rapists, but they are both captured by the bad guy pedophile who had never been mentioned until now, who wants to rape the girl. Chisato and the girl, Midori, are tortured a bit, then the guy’s hands are blown off. The cavalry has arrived. We kill all the bad guys and… the book ends.

Um, but what about Hyouko? Dunno. She escaped but…

This story, which was originally presented as a series of standalone chapters just didn’t work all that well with the new, final, messy chapter. In retrospect, the only two chapters that worked on their own at all were Hyouko’s story “Rapunzel” and Tatsuki and Kiriko’s brief flash of happiness.

Kazuaki’s illustrations still hold up well enough, but the novel just felt forced and fetishy without any of Fukami’s typical skill in weaving a good story.
Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 5
Characters – mostly 6, but Chisato was a jerk – 3
Yuri – 9
Service – 9 Practically nothing but

Overall – 6

Making the unlikable Chisato the protagonist was a terrible idea. But there were still decent moments. So not unreadable, just not great.



Yuri Drama CD – Grand Stage Daiundokai (グラン・ステージ 大運動会 ドラマCD)

September 25th, 2016

gsutk Welcome back to a joyful, squeeful look at one of Japan’s Yuri-est exports, The Grand Stage series of Drama CDs. Today we’re looking at the final CD of the first “season” Grand Stage Daiundokai (グラン・ステージ 大運動会), in which the otokoyaku of the Grand Stage Sora-gumi compete in a sports festival against the other groups. (Groups that, until just now, we didn’t know existed.)

There any number of goofy contests, including the bun-eating race, which poses a huge problem for Ryoya, who is disgusted by such low-class food. The otokoyaku are required to read romantic lines into a microphone for the service of the female fans and, of course, there is a relay race in which dramatic things happen and despite injuries and because of sacrifices…they win. Phew! It’s even okay that they don’t win the contest, because they gave it their all and two of them won special achievement awards and they bonded as a team, as nakama. Niji-gumi can have the trophy.

As promised, we meet Kohaku Minami’s older sister Kurea (Claire) who is voiced by Kitamura Eri, who also does Kohaku Minami. In fact, every time we heard the female fans cheering I giggled, knowing the the otokoyaku VAs were voicing the fans, as well.

In between the events, thy “boys” performed a song. And as we are at the last  CD of this series I really wanted to take a moment and tall about the music and the singers.

Every other CD has begun with a song called “Yume on Stage”  (夢 on Stage) which I have repeatedly described as the most musically predictable song ever. I’ve found a link to it on what admittedly is some really shady site. Scroll down to click the green “play” button to smile at a song so musically predictable, you’ll know every note that is coming, right down the flourish in the final line. ^_^ It’s not hard at all to imagine a Takarazuka-like revue troupe singing it.

In this drama CD, they take a completely different tack. Last spring when I was in Japan, we spent a day walking around Sunshine 60, because we had nothing else to do particularly and randomly ran into a boy idol group performance. It was surprisingly pleasant. Well, the song from this Drama CD, called “Hisshou ~WE CAN FLY~” (飛翔~WE CAN FLY~) was something you can totally imagine a boy band singing. And you know what? They sing it *really* well!  So I found you a link on a shady site, so you can enjoy at least part of the song. And I want to apologize to Toyoguchi Megumi. Because in Maria-sama ga Miteru, as Sei sits at her graduation ceremony, she murders Aogeba Toutoshi, the song always sung at high school graduations in Japan, I assumed she couldn’t sing. She can. I offer my sincere apologies for not remembering actresses act.

Physical extras with the CD this time is a card with all five of the characters in street clothes (as opposed to costume.)

Before I wrap up, I want to mention the gags built around Akabara-no-kimi, Suoh Yui. She is positioned as the senior otokoyaku of the group, to whom everyone defers. And she is also presumesdto be the most cultured and elite of them, even more than the aristocratic Ryouya. So when she asks to join her teammates for lunch, you can imagine the scene as the ranks of waiters carrying trays and  trays of French cuisine across the field. ^_^

After the relay, in which Hiou Akito has been hurt, among other calamities, Akabara-no-kimi offers to help Akito get to her personal physician, I had to laugh again, as Ryoya commented that if the fans saw Yui holding Akito like that, it would be mayhem. ^_^

Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable CD and great way to end the series.

However, it played more with the maleness of the otokoyaku more than was “Yuri.” There’s never any sense of irony as the otokoyaku read romantic lines to “girls” or speak of their partners. They are largely playing the part as boys, rather than as women who play boys.

Ratings:

Overall – 9

I’m more bummed than ever at the thought of losing Saiga Mitsuki as Akabara-no-kimi if they continue, since that is the plot of the live action stage event.  Oh well, I’ve got a bunch more of these to go, and I can always go back and enjoy them all over again.

 



Yuri Network News – (百合ネットワークニュース) – September 24, 2016

September 24th, 2016

YNN_MariK Yuri Manga

Volume 5 of Anoko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo (あの娘にキスと白百合を) hit shelves today in Japan with various gifts and illustrations at different stores, Comic Natalie reports.

Himawari-san, Volume 7 (ひまわりさん 7) is also hit shelves today.

Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comic Anthology, featuring 15 comics about queer witches of color is heading into it’s final 2 weeks of a crowdfunding campaign and is about 2/3 way funded. I’m in on this fantastic-looking anthology.

According to Seikaisha the 6th volume of Marine Corps Yumi is going on sale October 10. Now that predatory lesbian Erica Bush is a semi-regular, we’ll just go ahead and call it “Yuri.” ^_^

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Other News

For your shelf of useful things you’ll never use, ANN has the word that a letter-opener size version of Sailor Uranus’ Space Sword Blaster is up for order.

The actresses for the five roles of Grand Stage’s live event have videos up on the official page. I’m not seeing it, just yet. They all look 12 years old and sound very girly to me. ^_^  The choice for Akabara-no-kimi, Yuuto Iriya, frankly puzzles me. Spoiled as I am with Saiga Mitsuki in the role, I cannot for the life of me hear or see this adorable cherub as the suave elder of the Grand Stage.

The Official Sailor Moon fan club is opening up it’s ranks to overseas fans for the very first time. Registration will run from September 23 through October 22, but…no surprise Tokyo Otaku Mode didn’t actually imagine that a lot of people would try to register and their system crashed, so they’ve delayed the registration. May I editorialize here for a moment? WTF? How did they *not* realize the system would be slammed? Seriously.

October 28 through November 4, will see a Rose of Versailles Rose Garden in the Ginza in Tokyo. ANN has the details.

We’ll wrap up with two interesting – and hopeful – articles on the place of LGBTQ themes in manga as ways of helping further LGBTQ understanding in Japan.

How Manga is guiding Japan’s Youth on LGBT issues from Dazed.com and The Evolving “Boy’s Love” Culture: How Rotten Girls’ Gloom Could Eliminate Prejudice, from an American and Japanese gay couple, living in Japan.

Know some cool Yuri News you want people to know about? Become a Yuri Network Correspondent by sending me any Yuri-related news you find. Emails go to anilesbocon01 at hotmail dot com. Not to the comments here, please, or they might be forgotten or missed. There’s a reason for this madness. This way I know you are a real human, not Anonymous (which I do not encourage – stand by your words with your name!) and I can send you a YNN correspondent’s badge.

Thanks to all of you – you make this a great Yuri Network!



Kimi no Tamenara Shineru, Volume 6 (姫のためなら死ねる)

September 22nd, 2016

kntns6-e1463843854978 Reading the 6th volume of Kimi no Tamenara Shineru (姫のためなら死ねる) is like slipping into a comfortable pair of old shoes. You can spread out and relax a bit and not worry about rough patches or sore areas. It’s all been worn pretty smooth and soft. And, at the end of the day, if you’ve done enough walking in them, you might have seen something new.

In Volume 6, Kuzushiro-sensei manages to do any number of interesting things with these well-worn areas. She manages a bathing scene, for instance. Something so tried and true and predictable in any other 4-panel gag comic is a bit of a stretch when that comic is set in a time when bathing was done more like annually than daily. But there we are, we have a bathing scene and a chance to watch Sei Shonagon overheat about Teishi-sama in a whole new way.

And we have a seriously unlikely, alt-historical moment, as Benkan suggests that Shonagon marry Teishi-sama’s other Number 1 Fan, her older brother Korechika. Ultimately it’s Teishi-sama herself who kills this idea. In reality, we actually know very little about Shonagon’s husband (or, possibly husbands) or whether she was divorced or became a nun in her later years…or, anything, really. Frankly we know pretty much fuck all about her, except for what she wrote, so I’m perfectly happy with whatever obscure Heian-period nonsense Kuzushiro-sensei wants to throw at me. ^_^ I have the Internets. I can do the research.

Ratings:

Art – 7 (Am I hallucinating or is it getting better?)
Story – 7
Characters – 8
Yuri – 2
Service – 5

Overall – 8

In other notable news, Shonagon actually gets to say the title line. Finally. But not yet to Teishi-sama.