Notes on the Third Maria-sama ga Miteru novel, Ibara No Mori, Part 1

March 8th, 2005

I’m incredibly busy with work, Onna!, Yuricon in Tokyo and ALC Publishing stuff, so I will be posting this entry almost exactly as it was sent to the Yuricon Mailing List. I hope to catch up a bit in the next few days, but please forgive me while I cheat a bit.

My first thought upon reading Ibara no Mori, (Forest of Thorns) was that Sei’s thoughts – and therefore her sentence structures – are significantly more complex than Yumi’s. (Of course, the irony is that, if this had been written in English, it would have taken me maybe 2 hours to read – it’s really not a long book and I’m a very fast reader.)

I took approximately 10 pages of notes as I read this – really too much for the few changes that were made, but there were so many scenes that were worth noting that I got carried away. ^_^

My initial overview is this – the anime, with some really minor exceptions, was very faithful to the book. The manga was slightly more faithful, but also had changes. One change was in both and I am still slightly perplexed as to why it was made…but I digress.

Was anything major cut out? One scene – one monologue – from Shiroki Hanabira, was. It wasn’t major, really, but it was significant. But other than that, the changes were mostly minor. All in all, the anime (I’m assuming that few of you have read the manga) was pretty much a decent retelling, and captured the story quite well. But after my write up, you can decide for yourself. I’ll do this in two parts, because I have *a lot* of notes. ^_^

When I finished the novel, I thought three things. One, Konno Oyuki is a really good writer. My belief in that grows with every novel I read. She may be writing light novels, but she is no lightweight as a writer. Two, this was NOT an easy novel to read. The second half is really raw, and not at all “light.” I think almost anyone who had a tragic love affair would sympathize with this story…but I’m betting gay and lesbian kids all over Japan who read it were crying their hearts out – this book should be on school’s reading curriculums, I swear. Three, I thanked the gods once again that my story didn’t end the same way as Sei’s – after I finished reading, I went upstairs and kissed my wife and thanked her for not making my first love a tragic one. ^_^

***

I. Ibara no Mori/Forest of Thorns

1) The beginning of the novel is really stark. After the usual history and description of Lillian Academy and the happy Christmas season, the book begins with a really harsh excerpt from the novel “Ibara no Mori” in which the protagonist talks about wanting to die. It’s really effective and shocking.

2) Yumi’s classmate Katsura shows herself to be a full-blown gossip-monger in this novel. She’s been prominent in the background of the other two…but in this one, we can see that she’s really a nosey parker. ^_^

3) Tsutako – Tsutako is *clearly* the author’s favorite character…and she’s rapidly becoming mine, as well. Tsutako has the clearest grasp of human nature of everyone in the book. Because she is outside all the usual connections, and a voyeur, she sees what’s going on around her…because she is a smart cookie, she understands the bigger picture. She was the one who called all the copycat soeur dissolutions “playing at being Yoshino”. She’s your go-to for important exposition.

In the beginning of the book, Tsutako gives Yumi a wonderful meta-discussion tutorial about the world of teen novels, (all of which explains things that happen in the novel we are reading.) For instance, she discusses how often there are novels that are ostensibly teen novels, but are really written for adults. That different genres get different color covers, and that stories with Boys’ Love don’t have illustrations (which later explains why there are none in the Shiroki Hanabira section.) This was a BRILLIANT bit of expository writing.

4) We’ve seen this before, but it’s made plain that, when Yoshino gets excited or angry, she completely falls out of Keigo, (the formal speech level that is used at Lilllian) and calls Rei, “Rei-chan” in public, instead of “onee-sama,” among other slips (BTW, one of the reasons Yumi is always hemming and hawing is because she sucks at Keigo and is hesitant when using it. Also, btw, Sei doesn’t speak in Keigo, unless she’s being ironic.)

5) While discussing the rumors going around the school with Sachiko, Rei and Yoshino, Yumi watches Yoshino go all pouty at Rei. Yoshino complains that Rei never tells her anything, Rei becomes placatory and Yumi thinks, Hey now, you two…this isn’t the time for flirting (sharing sweet nothings). Then Yumi wishes that she could get all pouty at Sachiko. Sachiko then catches her eye and Yumi is mortified (because we all know that her thoughts show on her face….)

6) In a scene that was left out of the anime and manga, Sachiko and Yumi go into the bookstore to buy “Ibara no Mori” – Sachiko accosts a store employee, addresses him in Keigo and asks him to, basically, lead them to the right section, get the book for them, and generally assist them. Yumi wonders if this guy has ever been treated like this before and laughs when the guy starts responding in Keigo – she bets he’s *never* done that before! Yumi spends the scene marveling at Sachiko’s ability to handle “the help” and her general wow-ness.

7) Ah hah! Yuuki, Yumi’s brother, tells Yumi that “a sempai” (we can bet that it’s Kashiwagi, I’m thinking) told him that he looks like a Tanuki (raccoon-dog supernatural thing. You see lots of fan art of Yumi as a Tanuki) and that he is a “natual fool”(in the sense of a jester-type fool.) Yuuki basically lays it down that Yumi and he are the same in that respect…so that’s where the whole Tanuki thing comes from. (Later, Tsutako is, naturally, described as a fox/kitsune.)

8) Yoshino comments to Yumi that Rei told her that last year Sei was a pretty scary person, so she was really surprised to come to school and find that she was different.

9) Sei, on being called into the Student Guidance Room sees Yumi and says, “Oh, I guess we’re being called in about our illicit homosexual relationship?” which is obviously ironic considering the circumstances of the year before. Yumi is, of course mortified, because the entire first-year student body is huddling in the hallway and hears this. I think this line was in the manga, but I’m pretty sure they cut that line out of the anime! ^_^;

10) Sitting at the Yamayurikai meeting just before Sei tells Yoshino and Yumi about Shiori, Yumi is daydreaming, mostly about Sei and the rumors and why there’s a connection at all. She gets hit in the forehead with a balled-up chocolate foil wrapper and looks over to see Sei grinning at her. Sei makes a gesture of 10 fingers, crosses her hands at the wrists, then does 10 again, then touches her face. Yumi is totally confused until Sei writes it down… 10 x 10=100. 100 faces – Hyakkumensou. In other words – everything Yumi is thinking is showing on her face again. Yumi gets all indignant and and draws everyone’s attention to herself by crying out. Of course no one noticed Sei, and she’s hysterical as Yumi gets nailed for misbehaving. ^_^

11) Sei reads 1/2 of “Ibara no Mori” while Yumi and Yoshino are cleaning the council room. When she gets to, presumably, the parts that are going to be more difficult for her to read without reacting, she sends them away. This makes more sense than just sending them away right off. She sends them to the college cafeteria to get ramen. The college cafeteria is pretty far away, and it will take a while to get and eat ramen, so she’s giving herself a good hour or so to read the rest of the book. (Yumi is amazed she can read that quickly at all…but Japanese teen novels aren’t very long and, we learn later, Sei spent *a lot* of time reading when she was younger and less social, so she’s a fast reader.)

This is Yumi’s and Yoshino’s first time eating in a cafeteria, (as opposed to getting food from their milk hall and eating it in their classroom) so it’s like an adventure.

12) After Sei’s confession, Yumi thinks to herself that Sei’s love is like a burning flame, and that Sei must want to stay away from Shiori to keep her from getting burnt.

13) Yumi is filled with a desire (non-sexual – the author bothers to TELL us that) to see Sachiko. Sachiko actually seeks Yumi out and gives her a ride home in her big, black car. Uncharacteristically, Sachiko comes right out and asks Yumi what Sei told her, then interpolates from Yumi’s silence (Yumi is uncomfortable telling Sachiko without Sei’s permission.) Sachiko tells Yumi, again, surprisingly straightforwardly, that she didn’t *know*, but she guessed what was going on. She was Shiori’s classmate, after all and knew that she and Sei were friendly. Then, after Shiori went away, not only did Sei cut her hair, she grew “thin and empty.”

As Sachiko fixes Yumi’s hair ribbon, Yumi decides that she really enjoys the “skinship” Sachiko has with her.

14) During break, when Yoshino invites Yumi over to figure out who “Suga Sei” really is, Yumi watches Yoshino bully Rei into cooperating and comes to the conclusion that Yoshino is “a lion at home and a mouse abroad.” Poor Rei – someone should have told her that the femmes always get their way!

15) And there is an actual *reason* that Cosmos wasn’t giving out the Suga Sei’s bio. Kasuga-san had two reasons for hiding her identity: 1) She is the president of a company, and it wouldn’t really do for her to be writing this book under her real name, and; 2) She was concerned that the readers wouldn’t want the image of an old lady as the author, since it’s obviously a teen angst novel.

Here’s the one thing that was changed for the anime and manga and it REALLY bothered me – in the book Yumi figures out that Kasuga-san is Suga Sei. She just puts two and two together, which makes all the daydreaming about it worthwhile. In the anime and manga, the secret is given away by someone else, which really annoyed me.

16) Finally, for this section of the novel, as Yumi watches Kasuga Seiko and Satou Sei walk away together, she thinks to herself that she is actually *seeing* Yoshino’s time machine – two women, separated by decades, with amazingly similar experiences.

17) This was in the manga, but not the anime, and it was a separate little illustrated manga that ran in Cobalt Shueisha, as well:

After Yumi leaves Sei to walk Kasuga-san to the Principal’s office (and how creepy would it be if you suddenly realized that your school principal, who is a nun, had tried to commit suicide because of a tragic lesbian love affair when she was your age???) Yumi meets up with Sachiko, who gives her a Christmas present of a handkerchief. Yumi is upset because she has nothing to give her onee-sama, but Sachiko tells her that it would be nice if she could have one of Yumi’s hair ribbons – which she takes from Yumi’s hair and ties it into her own. (You gotta give Sachiko credit for being uber-romantic there…)

Yumi and Sachiko walk off to the Rose Mansion hand in hand and Yumi thinks that she is so happy that she almost wants to cry.

And there you have it, my thoughts on the first part of Ibara no Mori.

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8 Responses

  1. J says:

    Thank you so much for doing these. I’m nowhere near being able to read the novels yet, so I’m very very very grateful ^^;;

  2. punistation says:

    2) “She was concerned that the readers wouldn’t want the image of an old lady as the author…”

    That, and it wouldn’t do to drive away all the boys reading the book one-handed. -_-

    Kisses XXOOXX
    Jen

  3. Anonymous says:

    Please PLEASE don’t think you made too many notes! To echo j, I really, *really* appreciate the effort you put into bringing all these other little bits out for us, while we Japanese-illiterate foo’s try to flail our way through a course…when we have the time for it. x.X

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wooow, your notes on Ibara no mori were almost as interesting as a novel itself. Good job :)

  5. Amy says:

    This is very interesting ^_^. I have one question though, do you really mean “skinship”?

  6. Amy – yes. That’s a word the Japanese made up that combines the English “skin” and “relationship.”

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