5 Days Left to Become an Okazu Hero!

January 26th, 2015

SubscribeepsThere are five days left in the 2015 Okazu Patreon Campaign!

Subscribe to Okazu and get early access to translated articles from the “Current State of Yuri Culture” issue of Eureka – and our eternal gratefulness. (Well, “eternal”, y’know. ^_^) . And you’ll get us that much closer to launching the new Yuricon Shop (which is looking awesome, btw. We’ll be doing beta-testing soon. It should launch early Q2 at this rate.)

All patrons who join through January 31 will receive access to the articles. Patrons from $5/month and up will get nifty badges and recognition on the Okazu Hero Roll on Okazu! It’s on the right sidebar there. –> Down a bit. Yeah, all those medals. That. ^_^

Thanks very much from everyone at Yuricon and Okazu!



Yuri Manga: Yuri Kuma Arashi, Volume 1

January 25th, 2015

yurikuma1Today I wanted to talk about something that has been much on my mind…

Picasso.

You know, Pablo Picasso, painter. Mostly famous for his Cubist paintings, but he was a prolific artist and evolved throughout his life, so while his work is undoubtedly his, it changed as time went on, as he changed, aged, evolved.

He’s on my mind a lot as I read and watch Yuri Kuma Arashi. And we’ll get to the “why” in a bit, but first, let’s just talk about the manga.

In Volume 1 of the Yuri Kuma Arashi manga (ユリ熊嵐), we meet Tsubaki Kureha, a shy, retiring student, who has recurring dreams of being rescued by a bear princess who, coincidentally, looks just like her popular and outgoing classmate Yurishiro Ginko. Ginko takes a liking to Kureha and starts to cultivate her friendship and develop her personality.

Kureha admits that she knows Ginko is a bear and all about the tragic backstory of her planet, but Ginko’s reaction is to fall apart in laughter a such a preposterous story!

Ginko lives with her late father’s sister as her mother is forever overseas (and unbeknownst to her, maybe, is her aunt’s lover). When a new girl transfers in claiming to be in love with Ginko, it throws a wrench in Kureha’s emotional gears; she was just deciding she “liked” Ginko, you know. If it weren’t enough that Lulu is a love rival, there are persistent rumors that Ginko and the Student Council President (male) are going out. Kureha doesn’t know what to believe, honestly.

When Lulu, Ginko and Kureha accidentally burn down their dorm cooking, Ginko has both of them come live with her. And, at last, we learn that Kureha may have been right about Ginko all along. Kureha swears to protect Ginko as the volume comes to an end, with many questions and few answers.

As you know, if you have been watching the Yuri Kuma Arashi anime and/or are familiar with Ikuhara Kunihiko’s style, these questions may not have any answers.

The manga is very much Morishima Akiko-sensei’s brand of cute/sexy art, with slightly more typical fanservice than usual. Unlike the anime, which has so much fanservice it’s actively crowding out the plot (if there is one) at the moment. And, if you are familiar with Ikuhara’s work, it’s important to remember that the repetitive scenes may never have any meaning per se, just visual impact, that we will later layer with meaning. The best way to approach his work is to not try to guess what it all means, but simply go along for the ride and see where it takes you.

Which brings me back to Picasso.

One of the things Picasso was seeking to do in his Cubist portraits was show two or more angles of a person simultaneously.  His masterwork Guernica takes this to another level, in which he is simultaneously showing us all three dimensions at once, among other things. And this is why he has been much on my mind. If you treat the simultaneously released versions of Yuri Kuma Arashi as two unique perspectives on the same story, there is still no guarantee that it will make sense, but it gives you a completely different understanding of the whole.

It’s unlikely that Yuri Kuma Arashi is Ikuhara’s Guernica, but heck it might yet be, we won’t know until it’s over and we can see all the angles. And the relics of other series that echo back at us like blood red buildings by day, have started to be integrated into – maybe – a new stylist tic, as they turn blue at night. Indicating what? Who knows…yet. Or ever.

I’ve only seen two episodes of the anime as of yet, but I do want to say that of all the random repeated elements, the one I actually like is “Kuma Shock”, which @twiitar has turned into a nifty ringtone. Thanks Phil! ^_^

The service in the anime is off-putting for me, as it’s not nearly at the level of creeping horror subtlety we’ve become used to. It feels a bit slap in the face-ish.  The one element that I truly do not care for is the use of the word “Yuri” and the image of the lily as a bludgeon, for no apparent reason. Yes, yes the girls are all named Yuri something, got it. Yuri and honey imagery. Yuckers.

I hold no hope that the “trial” scenes will ever make sense.

The one thing about the anime that I genuinely find appealing is that the character designs are very much Morishima-sensei’s art, animated. ^_^

Ratings for the manga only:

Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 8 They appear more coherently formed than in the anime
Yuri – 9
Service – 6

Overall – 8

By the time Volume 2 comes out, if indeed it does, the anime will likely be over and I’m sure we’ll have concocted meanings for all the things that don’t mean anything at all. ^_^



Yuri Network News – (百合ネットワークニュース) – January 24, 2015

January 24th, 2015

YNN_Lissa

Yuri Manga

Sparkler Monthly is a friendly kind of English-language manga magazine. And the folks at Chromatic Press, think you’ll like it back, if you get a chance to know it. So they are making all back issues of Sparkler Monthly completely free to read in hopes that they’ll be worth a Happy Meal/month from you. They have several Yuri shorts, and stories guaranteed to appeal to the Utena fan aesthetic, as well a fair chunk of BL. This is our own homegrown women-focused josei manga industry. Help your local manga ecosystem. Build your future industry, support comic artists, read great comics. Support Sparkler Monthly! ^_^

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Yuri Anime

Blast from the past, Bubblegum Crisis has been put out by licensee Animeigo as an Ultimate Blu-Ray edition. It’s probably a good chance that this is the last release this classic series will see here in the west. Chris Beveridge takes a look at the set on Fandom Post. It’s tempting, but my old DVDs work so I’m hard-pressed to justify replacing them. If you’ve never seen this series, it’s definitely worth watching once. (In early Yuricon days, Priss was voted best anime lesbian which absolutely enraged fanboys. It was the first of many opinions Yuricon fans had that enraged fanboys and made us, for many years, the enemy. ^_^ Good job us.)

Comic Natalie reports that the first Yuri Kuma Arashi DVD and BD disks are hitting Japanese shelves in March, and will include original illustrations by Morishima Akiko-sensei. Crunchyroll has a look at manga artist Tanemura Arina’s artistic tributes to the series.

Fandom Post reports that Bandai Visual has added another older title to their Hulu properties, Tsukikage Ran. It wasn’t really Yuri, but there was plenty of fodder for fanfic, if you take my meaning. ^_^ What the series does have, however, is a cool, competent, broken female warrior lead. It’s nice to see it back in circulation and as a 13-episode series, it’s a fun watch.

ANN tells us that the theme songs to the upcoming Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid anime will be performed by Tamura Yukari and Mizuki Nana.  And Crunchyroll has the promo visuals with Vivio and her friends Rio and Corona.

From Komatsu-san on Crunchyroll, a commercial video for the Yuru Yuri OVA release on Blu-Ray/DVD and a live event from last year.

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Other News

On Magazine no Mori, I take a look at a now-discontinued magazine, Waai!.

Just FYI, the full pilot for the not-optioned 2011 Adrian Palicki Wonder Woman TV series has been made available online. ^_^

ANN reports that a musical digest video promo for the second new Sailor Moon Musical  – Petit Etranger – is available for the watchin’.

The New Yorker looks at pre-war Berlin as a “Gay Capital”. History buffs take a look! Also of interest to LGBTQ history buffs, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin talk about what it was like to be gay in the Civil Rights movement. Just remember, at the time, gay people had no right to be gay, to have relationships, to keep their jobs. Crossdressing was a punishable offense We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.

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Support Yuri News and Reviews –  Subscribe to Okazu withSubcribe with Patreon

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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!



LGBTQ Novel: Atashi no Kanojo (あたしの彼女)

January 22nd, 2015

anknWe’re very familiar with Mori Natsuko-sensei’s work here on Okazu.So, it comes as no surprise really that her newest Atashi no Kanojo (あたしの彼女) is another romp through various forms of adult play and BDSM.

Notably, this novel comes with a cover drawn by Morishima Akiko-sensei which, as far as it goes, actually is pretty good illustration of the content. There are no other illustrations in the book, as it is not a light novel.

Sae is a college student, in love with her classmate Hanano. Hanano returns the feeling, but in a private conversation, explains she is not interested in sex, only masturbation. If Sae wants to be her “lover”, she’ll use Sae’s sexual exploits as masturbatory fodder. (The word in Japanese for this, btw, is “Okazu”. That was one of the meanings I had in mind when I chose the name for this blog. Okazu is more commonly use to describe little dishes of various food items, as well, which fit into the idea that the blog covers this and that. And, finally, it’s a nickname for lesbian sex, as it’s not “the main course”, but a “side dish.”)

Sae agrees to Hanano’s term and find herself torturing a nice, attractive male classmate, Eiji, for Hanano’s pleasure. Hanano also sets up a session with a butch lesbian Midori. Sae becomes increasingly unsatisfied with her “relationship” with Hanano, as she never gets to so much as touch the other woman. When she meets up with Midori on what she thinks is her own, she finds that Hanano is already there and is watching them.

One last time, Sae is the top to pretty (and rather sweet) Eiji, but Sae’s thoughts stray towards Midori. She’s attempting to break away from Hanano, but finds that her “lover” is two steps ahead of her. Midori straps Sae down, then calls both Hanano and Eiji to join them, As Midori directs Eiji to have sex with Sae, Sae suddenly realizes that all along, Hanano was the sadist and she, like Eiji, has always been a masochist.

Like Sae, I grew a little tired of the “relationship” about halfway through the book. It was an easy read and I suppose it was sexy, if that’s what one is into, but there was never any kind of emotional development for any of the characters that convinced me to like them. This was very much a case where I would have liked to see Sae be plucked out of this book and find someone nice in another story. ^_^

Ratings:

Overall – 6

It was okay. All of Mori’s typical fetishes, without any of her fabulous outrageous humor or geeky wonderfulness. In the end I decided that the one thing I never, ever want in my porn is an ironic ending. ^_^;



Yuri Visual Novel: Flowers: Le Volume Sur Printemps, Guest Review by Jye N.

January 21st, 2015

FlowersJanuary 2015 has now officially advanced from being “amazing” to being “intimidating.” I am already sure that there is no way to surpass this month in any future month of effort and feel very much like I ought to give it up while I’m on top. But no, I am nothing, if not stubborn about the sisyphean labor of blogging. Good thing I have an ace up my sleeve. But, I digress. ^_^

Today, we welcome back Jye N, who has already given us a very enlightening view of Winter Comiket this year. Today Jye returns with a review of a Yuri Visual novel, one that I have heard so much about and am terribly glad someone else has gone ahead and experienced it so I can enjoy it without effort on my part. And so, please welcome back  Guest Reviewer Jye N!  /applause/

Flowers: Le volume sur printemps is an aesthetically splendid introduction to a cycle of four planned works and a good Yuri story in its own right.  But it should be thought of as very strictly a visual novel and not as a game.

This is not tribalism – of course it’s a game, I bought it in a Sofmap from a rack of games and played it on a VITA! – but a matter of calibrating expectations.  Enjoying Flowers beyond its gorgeous art and soothing music is easier when you’re not at cross-purposes with the software or the intentions of its authors.

I approached Flowers as a standalone game in which it was my job to guide the heroine, Suou, into the arms of whichever of her classmates I judged best; naturally a strategic approach would be necessary, as interaction with other girls could swiftly result in being locked to the wrong path and the wrong girlfriend.  While the game very clearly positioned Suou’s roommates Mayuri and Rika as the core love triangle, from my casual understanding of the visual novel market and games with related mechanics (such as Persona or even Bioware titles) it seemed obvious the other half-dozen beauties would have paths of their own.  Thus any time Suou spent with anyone other than the delightful Mayuri was marred by my impatience to get back to her, and Rika became the enemy.

 This ended poorly!

Flowers: printemps tells one very particular Yuri story in the context of immersing the reader in the impossible beauty of its Catholic girls’ school setting, where it plans to keep you for three further games.  Suou’s classmates are not all absurdly pretty because they are potential girlfriends designed to cater for a variety of tastes, but because the setting is yet another iteration of the mythical maidens’ garden school where ugliness does not exist and the character designer is apt only to produce beauty.  They are no more intended to intrude on the core love triangle than the endless parade of exquisitely rendered people in Collectors are intended as rivals for Takako or Shinobu.  Likewise when Suou spends time with the mischievous twins, the dashing senpai or the pretty young teacher it is in service to the narrative of the timid main character emerging from her shell in her school life.  If we are to see these side characters in love, it will be in their own games – and indeed I’ve since learned that one of Suou’s classmates is a main character in Le volume sur ete.

The impossible private girls’ school is a setting very familiar to Yuri fans, and while this iteration does not fall far from the Maria-sama ga Miteru tree it is skillfully executed.  The opening is representative and worth watching:

This aesthetic extends to the text, which surfaces a major caveat to this review; my Japanese is far from strong and Flowers is a demanding work for the beginner.  In service to its refined air it prefers kanji to hiragana in all circumstances (I did not know there were kanji for arigatou, anata and the like), and given the choice of two kanji it prefers the more obscure.  While easier than a novel thanks to its illustrations and voiced dialogue, as a visual novel it draws from a limited palette of images and thus offers less visual context than a manga.  Suou is prone to extended internal monologues, which are unvoiced and thus more difficult again.  As a Yuri fan and manga reader I never lost the flow of events or the context, but I would often lose details.  I would not suggest a Japanese beginner should be intimidated by Flowers, but you will likely find it an exercise in reading up.  Following along with context and inference would be preferable to attempting a strict translation, as the weight of material would swiftly render the exercise a chore, but keep a dictionary handy.

The novel is a single route moderated by two mechanics; while there is alternate content for going against the tide of that route, the alternate ending is comparatively vestigial and not Yuri.  The first mechanic governs most decisions in the game, and tracks compliance to the main route.  If a decision is correct, a green glow surrounds a lily attached to the dialogue box, which grows closer to blooming.  Otherwise, the glow is yellow and the lily contracts; this is necessary for the alternate ending but unless a very particular choice is made even the most stunted lily will simply deliver you to a bad end of the main path.  A blooming lily is not difficult to maintain and will almost certainly deliver you to the main ending of the novel, unless you’re being a real jerk to Rika because you’re convinced this is the only way to secure happiness with Mayuri.  In retrospect I do not recommend that.

The second mechanic is the most gamelike part of the work, where Suou must deduce the answer to various mysteries that crop up in the story from some reasonably esoteric clues.  While the game veering into Yuri detective territory is entertaining (I would dearly love to see Shirohane Suou: Private Eye as a post-graduation sequel), it’s extremely difficult at my level of Japanese.  I brute-forced most of these segments with trial and error based on the few clues I could figure out, and I would begrudge no-one for turning to a walkthrough.  On the plus side, it is these segments where the shy Suou becomes a main character worthy of the admiration lavished upon her for reasons beyond her physical beauty: they successfully sell her as extremely intelligent and insightful, even if she’s prevented from being so bold and clever in the rest of the story (the game would have been a good deal shorter if there was a “go talk to Mayuri” button).

The story is quite long, and lavishes a great deal of time on concerns of clubs and classmates beyond the drama of the Suou/Mayuri/Rika triangle, and is further extended by the mystery segments.  The content itself will be of no particular surprise to Yuri fans – tea parties and dance class, libraries and dormitories, a bustling school in which we somehow only ever see eight students and one teacher.  Like most of its ilk we spend very little time on academics, preferring the extracurricular activities where the girls can talk freely in various combinations and vary their outfits somewhat.  School superstitions, a culture festival and cooking for birthday parties feature.  The reader should not expect to be surprised, but instead concern herself over whether those tropes work for her with this imagery to this music.

The imagery is strictly at a PG level, and the aesthetic does not match the stereotypical male-gaze moe or ecchi, but the novel is at pains to frequently visit the girls at ballet class, bed or the bath.  It misses no opportunity to get a blush out of Suou by bringing her into some kind of intimate contact with another girl.  This has the advantage that her hyper-awareness of her classmates’ bodies severely undercuts the “ambiguity” often associated with this brand of Yuri; there is no credible reading that Suou, Mayuri or Rika are straight.   And for what little I know this might reasonably represent the broad scope of opportunities to become completely flustered a young lesbian at a school for impossibly beautiful girls would enjoy.  But I certainly felt uncomfortable playing in an economy seat on a long flight when a still of young women in their underwear stayed on my screen for what seemed like a thousand lines of dialogue.

The characters are appealingly designed, though as you might expect not particularly diverse.  Their personalities had mixed success with me, no doubt influenced by a few strong performances by the voice actors (there were not many characters, but given the length of the work each had a great deal to say).  Suou is not a strong main character, but as mentioned was improved by the detective segments and the arc of the story, and in the end I could buy her as a full partner in a relationship.  Mayuri was excellent, coming across as an entirely reasonable person still at the mercy of her heart; not the designated tomboy but still a bolder character. Yuzuhira is the designated tomboy but is very entertaining, while the wheelchair-bound girl who stars in the second game appears as an acerbic off-sider and gives me great hopes for her in a main character role (amusingly, her name is a spoiler).  The Sasaki twins are less endearing, filling a more childlike role and taking up more scenes than I’d like, and the strength of the love triangle story is undercut by Rika, who comes across as possessive and emotionally unstable.  Towards the end this harmonises with the main route, in particular the way the love triangle is shown to be potentially closed (more Yuri should address their larger number of valid pairings than a strictly heteronormative story), but the damage was done: I didn’t like her.

Ultimately the main route is an iteration ‘Story A’ with elaborate decoration, but it is a good one, if not great.  It is legitimately a Yuri story, the opening alone makes it clear that these girls share a more intense attachment than the “romantic friendship” you might otherwise associate with Marimite descendants.  I found the ending to be almost entirely satisfying, with the caveat that it needs to be taken in the context of three more novels, not the last word on this world or its characters.  And indeed that is the core question for the reader – given you could get a similar or better story in manga and be done in a fraction of the time, do you find the aesthetic of this impossible school and its students pleasurable enough to luxuriate in for up to three times as long as this already lengthy novel?

For myself: I will be buying and playing Le volume sur ete.

Ratings:

Art & Music: 8.5
Story:  6 – it’s not bad, but it’s not tight.
Characters: 7
Service: 5 – I bought it as demonstrating the girls’ attraction to each other.  Bump it up if you really like skinny sixteen year-olds?
Yuri:  8 on main route.  5 otherwise.

Overall:  8

Erica here: Your comment about the kanji reminds me of a shirt a friend once made me with “monku” (complain) written all over the front and “urusai!” (shut up!) on the back, but as they had used the kanji for “urusai” no one understood the joke when I wore it. Some words one just doesn’t see presented formally, especially informal shouting to “shaddup!”. ^_^

Thank you for the delightful review, Jye. We look forward to your review of the sequels!