Back in June, I reviewed Free Soul, by Yamaji Ebine.
Last week, I received the collected edition of this series and let me just say that it is a definite must-have, all the way around.
The story hasn’t changed since June, but my reading of it has, so please forgive me as I go over it once more. The first time around, I began reading it in Feel Young magazine at the sixth chapter, and so was unaware of several issues. Most importantly, Angie, the black, skinhead, lesbian, jazz singer (very like Me’shell NdegeOcello) whose story fills the book, is not real, but a construct of the heroine’s imagination. Keito is a mangaka who spends much of the book writing and drawing Angie, speaking to her – and learning from her – as she deals with her own real-life problems.
Keito’s story begins shortly after she has run away from home at the age of 22. Her mother, a bitter woman, was extremely unhappy to learn that her daughter is a lesbian, so she has left. Keito meets Rui, an unconventional 80-something author, and is taken in by her. Keito does go back to talk to her mother, but her mother is never fully reconciled to her daughter’s “lifestyle.” Keito’s father, divorced from her mother some time earlier, seems a pale and shadowy man – he appears primarily to be told by Keito that it is not his fault that she is gay.
Keito, despite her less than happy family life, is a pretty cool kid. She gets a job at a jazz music record store and fits in quite happily among the primarily black male clientele.
At the record store Keito meets Niki, a bisexual trumpet player for a funk band. She loses her heart, but Niki explains that she’s not at *all* interested in having a relationship – but is perfectly willing to have sex. Keito’s pain as she fails to win Niki is touching, but not traumatic, and her quiet triumph as she regains Niki is enjoyable, but not ecstatic. As always, Yamaji Ebine’s work slides by comfortably, with a realistic and mature atmosphere – without hysterics or melodrama.
Yamaji Ebine’s art is stellar – everyone who sees it is moved by the simplicity, starkness and fine line work. I have, to this day, never seen anything else like it. As is also usual with a Yamaji story, the background music is jazz and blues.
What can I even say about the “Yuri quotient”? It’s a 100% Yuri story – written by a lesbian mangaka for an audience of adult women, about a young lesbian who falls in love with another woman. Period. With a sub-story about a lesbian jazz singer and her philosophies on life and love.
Art – 10
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – 10
Overall – a very strong 9.
If you aren’t reading Yamaji Ebine’s work…you are seriously missing out on the best yuri being published in Japanese right now. Run, don’t walk, to Amazon Japan and buy Yamaji Ebine’s work. You won’t regret it.