Yuri Manga: Houkago or "After School, Part 2

June 1st, 2004

Well, last week I told you that I’d tell you if Houkago was worth your time – and now, after a fortuitous trip to the manga store, I can safely say that it is. ^_^

Houkago, if you remember back a few days, is running in Cookie monthly, and was the story of Itoi, a girl who was finding herself alientated from the people around her at school. When she is invited to go shopping in Shibuya by Ariyoshi, a cool, loner girl in her class, Itoi’s “friends” want to come along. When Ariyoshi denies them the right, they retaliate by bullying Itoi with increasing viciousness. To escape this, Itoi and Ariyoshi find themselves together more and more, until one day, they simply decide not to go back at all. That was the end of Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 finds them hanging out in Shibuya, closing the shops, then the cafes, and ultimately having to avoid police and unsavory types who stalk the night. They find short-term refuge with a girl gang in a bathroom, and after that, a late-night cafe. When morning comes and the trains start again, they can’t bring themselves to go home, so they rent a karaoke box. Ariyoshi starts to look bad, and get woozy, so Itoi uses the last of her money to get them a hotel room.

In the sex-charged atmosphere of the room, and given the tension between them, it’s natural that they should kiss and that the kiss might become something more…but one of them leans on a button which starts a stereo blaring and they’re both scared witless and collapse on the bed with exhaustion once they manage to turn the noise off.

Although their “moment” has passed, they admit that they do love one another and decide to be together as long as they can. In the first chapter, it was Itoi who broke down and admitted that she was unhappy – in this chpater Ariyoshi is the one who opens up and cries.

When they finally return to school, rumors abound, but both of them, buoyed by their love for one another, make light of the rumors…and show the bullies that they simply don’t care anymore. In the end, they will spend their days at school waiting until it’s over – then go out and have fun, together.

There are several notable qualities in Houkago…most important, the angst in this story is not about their love. Not one ounce of it. The girls’ attitude is very much “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” Any angst resides completely with their dissatisfaction with school life and the people they are forced to endure. There is no sense of the ephemeral here, either – unlike Blue, we can actually believe that maybe Ariyoshi and Itoi have at least a while together, even thought that’s not important – this story is not about one single perfect moment, nor is it about forever. And it does not link lesbianism and mental diease.

There’s a very emancipated, modern feel about the love in Houkago. The girls aren’t shocked by it, they aren’t traumatized or terrified. They *are* relieved by it, and draw strength from it and ultimately, find immense happiness, not even in a sexual way, but in a close bonding way, in their relationship. So for that, Houkago is a kind of groundbreaking work. It’s a LOOOONG way away from Shiroi Heya no Futari and not just in years.

Maybe that should be the moral of today’s story: Houkago may not read like a groundbreaking piece of work, but the fact that none of the usual stereotypes apply is a sign that things have changed. Perhaps is is a quiet sign that things will never again be the way they were and from now on, we’ll see more and more of this “happy ending” thing in our Yuri.

I guess we’ll just have to stick around and see. ^_^

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