Yuri Manga: Free Soul

January 21st, 2004

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Part 2

I want to tell you today about something new.Very new. Very, very new. And because it’s a josei manga currently running in josei monthly magazine Feel Young Comics, I have never seen mention of it anywhere – but you *should* know about it.

Free Soul, by out lesbian mangaka Yamaji Ebine is, perhaps, the first mainstream lesbian manga running in a monthly comic magazine, with openly gay characters and fairly explicit lesbian sex. This is as yuri as shoujo yuri gets, by which I mean, its 100% yuri. No punches pulled, no holds barred. No encoding, no symbols, no subtext. This is a story about a lesbian, by a lesbian, with lesbian sex. You see why you need to know about it? :-)

Free Soul is the story of Keito, an  aspiring mangaka. At some point in her life, she met a woman called Angie – an African-American lesbian singer – who radically altered her life. In homage to Angie, Keito has been searching for people who knew her, to learn more about this woman who affected her so strongly. As she meets these people, she relates them and their stories to what she knows of Angie, collecting all these stories into a manga. As the story progresses, so does Keito’s manga.

In a sense, Free Soul is a meta-story, the story about the creation of a story.

As she researches Angie’s life, and interacts with the people who knew her, Keito finds herself attracted to more than a few of the women she meets. But it is Nikki, a mysterious and evasive, but incredibly sensual, woman who captures Keito’s heart. Nikki is the “free soul” of the title. She can’t be pinned down and, for all the time they spend together, Keito knows almost nothing about Nikki’s life or nature. Nikki’s open sexuality and desire for Keito make this one very hot manga series, but Keito’s reactions are very down-to-earth and realistic. I give this the very highest recommendation I can give to yuri fans – you *need* to get this manga. Not only will your purchase make a point (hey, publisher – this rocks!) but you’ll be supporting one of the few out lesbian mangaka in the business.

Yamaji Ebine’s characters are very real, their stories believable, their reactions make sense. Very few conventions of shoujo manga apply here, even her art style is pared-down and minimalist. You’ll never find bubbles in the background, but you will be given a strong background music track – Yamaji-sensei’s writing is bound to western jazz and lesbian/bi singers and artists. Musical artists and their albums appear
over and over in her writing, giving it a smooth, mellow sound (especially if you know the music.)

Free Soul is on-going, but the author favors pleasant – if occasionally ambiguous – endings, so it is unlikely to end tragically, another quality that sets her work apart from earlier yuri entries. Yamaji Ebine is a name you’ll see here quite often, so keep your eyes open for her work!

Ratings:

Art – 9
Story – 8
Characters – 9

Overall – 9 out of 10.

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