I cannot tell you how happy I am to be able to review the first volume of Strawberry Shake Sweet. Here are some of the reasons why I think that this manga is particularly important:
1) It’s the first time that Hayashiya Shizuru has professionally published a volume 100% Yuri story, for an audience of Yuri fans. It’s not like she hasn’t written tons of Yuri into her works, both professional and doujinshi, but this is the first time that a professional story by her has Yuri as the target genre.
2) This volume is explicitly *marketed* as a “Girls Love” comedy, with a cover obi that reads that “Girl falls in love with girl at first sight!!” Yuri has, of course, been marketed as Yuri in the past…but that was and is usually explicit Yuri for a primarily male audience – this is fun Yuri for a primarily female audience. (I got that info firsthand from the editor of Yuri Hime, so you’ll have to trust me on that.)
3) This is one of the first manga volumes put out by Yuri Hime Comics, collected from the body of Yuri Shimai and Comic Yuri Hime magazines. It’s a very decent showing. Large-size format makes it easy to read, the color pages that appeared in Yuri Hime are reproduced (instead of that yucky dark black look that many color pages turned B&W get.)
All in all – this volume marks a significant movement forward in establishing Yuri in Japan as being both *by* women and *for* women. Something that I feel fairly strongly about. :-)
Okay, so let’s move on to the actual manga. I’ll pretend that neither you nor I am familiar with the story, just as an exercise. Strawberry Shake Sweet is the story of young pop idol Tachibana Julia who, at 16, is both popular and busy in her entertainment career. She is asked by her agent (a dorky little guy) to take a new upcoming talent under her wing, show her the ropes, etc. Julia objects flat out. She’s no dummy – and this new kid would be her rival. There’s no *way* she’s going to train up the person who might end up stealing her career!
That is, until she opens the office door and finds herself face to face with Asakawa Ran, the tall, attractive upcoming new talent. Julia does a complete 180 and demands to be the new kid’s mentor.
The next few chapters cover the utterly psychotic way in which Julia, tormented by her desire to be near Ran, but also to keep herself distant, treats her poor junior. Ran, luckily, is a little doofus-y, and starts to assume Julia’s mania is really a form of tough love.
It’s not until their overstressed manager, Saeki Ryouko points out that Julia’s in love with Ran (after carefully pointing out that a girl/girl scandal would NOT be good for anyone). Julia, who had no idea that she was in love, is both relieved and energized. Now she has a name to put to this insane feeling! Saeki immediately regrets mentioning it at all.
Saeki is the series’ constant “straight man”. She fends Julia off of Ran, beauty parlor owner/operator, lesbian and former classmate Shinjou Kaoru off herself, and generally is the butt of many a gag. I quite like her – and the fact that she’s clearly a lesbian magnet. Not only is Kaoru openly desirous of her, Saeki’s junior in talent management is also wanting her pretty badly. Surrounded by lesbians as she is Saeki starts to wear down…eventually. But we’ll get there later.
Also contributing to the high lesbian quotient is Ryou, the lead singer from “hyper visual band Zlay.” Zlay has four members, all female, split into two couples. Ryou’s partner is Goth-Loli Reki, the creepy cute doll-like synth player. Ryou pops into the story suddenly and quite literally sniffs out Julia’s desire for another woman. But later, when she meets Ran, crushes Julia’s hopes by saying that Ran does not have the scent of onnadoushi. (Don’t worry – Ran later tells Julia that she is an important person to her. And let’s face it – it’s a girls love story. They’ll get together…*eventually.* lol)
Last, and kind of least, is babydyke Haruna, who is another idol, but a year younger than Julia. She is out and out in love with Kaoru, who doesn’t dislike the attention one bit. (In fact, in the most recent chapter from Yuri Hime, it’s fairly obvious that Kaoru and Haruna have a genuine thing going on, as Kaoru shows up drunk at Saeki’s door to complain about her relationship with Haruna.)
By the end of Volume 1, Ran has made Julia happy, sad, pychotic and elated about a thousand times, and the two of them are so inevitably growing closer, that you can just *see* Saeki wilting and her ability to keep the two of them apart starting to break down. But more importantly, Ran’s big debut has arrived at last and both Julia and Ran are left alone, desperately desiring to see one another – but holding back to try to be strong. And the maddening thing is – this takes us to the last chapter but one, and I don’t know what’s going to happen!!! Arrrrgghhh!!! (The last chapter was a New Year’s gag issue, so we’re still waiting to find out how Ran handles her debut for an art magazine.)
Art – 8
Story – 8
Characters – 8
Yuri – 8
Service – 3
Overall – 8
If you’re familiar with, and like Hayashiya’s art style, you’ll be familiar with, and like Strawberry Shake Sweet. It’s the same kind of physical humor, gags, bops on the head, nosebleeds and the like that you’ll find in her doujinshi as Jesus Drug, and her professional art in series like Hayate Cross Blade.
Oh, and gosh – a story of a lesbian pop idol…now where have I heard THAT before? Just for the record, Shoujoai ni Bouken came *first*. ^_^
If there’s one down side to this story it’s got to be that Yuri Hime is, at this point, quarterly. Which means we can’t expect a new volume for at least two years! Sob…