Of the very many Yuri anime and manga series from which the Strawberry Panic anime series “borrowed,” Himitsu no Kaidan, (The Secret Staircase), is the one least likely to be familar to western Yuri fans. So, I thought I’d introduce you to the series. (And my thanks to Erin for originally pointing out the stolen meme!)
I know you will be absolutely *shocked* to learn that Himitsu no Kaidan takes place in a private girls’ school. Where the girls all live in dormitories. I know, I know, revolutionary, isn’t it? But, as with so many other things new fans don’t realize, this *particular* meme began, not with Strawberry Panic (Maria-sama ga Miteru doesn’t count here, btw, the girls there mostly live at home) nor did it begin with say, Revolutionary Girl Utena, which for most Yuri fans is stretching back into ancient history. The history of this meme goes even earlier than Shiroi Heya no Futari, the manga that is one of the earliest example of the Yuri. No, this meme goes back at least as far as Yoshiya Nobuko’s Yaneura no Nishojo, a novel that established so many of the tropes of not only later yuri works, but the entire shoujo genre that it’s quite remarkable. The novel takes place in a girl’s school dorm. I don’t know that it was the first one to ever do that, but for our Yuri genealogy, it’s fairly significant.
In any case, Himitsu no Kaidan are random tales of life, friendship, jealousy, joy and ghosts in a really old dorm. The title is not symbolic – there is an actual ghost stairway that occasionally pops up in the dorm hallway, tumbling students down itself. Ghost students then help the current students out, disappearing when they reach a certain part of the hallway.
The first volume introduces us to several denizens of the dormitories, all of whom appear to be fun-loving pleasant young ladies. The dorms all appears to be “no high drama” zones, because the stories contain little conflict.
One notable exception is Marie, a student who had transferred because her aunt wanted her to – and she hates it. She rudely rebuffs all attempts to include her in activities, meals, study, – you know, “school life” – and writes her aunt about how nasty and unfriendly the other girls are. Her isolation continues until one day she enters her classroom to find it *completely* empty. This goes on for days. She goes back to grump in her room only to find it occupied by a cheerful group of girls having a tea party. This wouldn’t be so odd, but she had just closed the door on the empty room a second ago. The ghosts invite her in for tea. A magic fairy helps Marie find happiness…but the fairy turns out to be a future dorm-mate dressed for a play. Eerie.
(Oh and by the way – they are not really ghosts, we learn, they are the memories of “dorm life” left behind by the residents. Yeah…but that doesn’t explain the stairway, does it? )
More eerie – possibly the freakiest moment of the book to me, was when Na-chan (if there’s a protagonist of the series as a whole, it is Na-chan) and some other students see themselves walking down a hallway. Clearly the hallway enjoyed the happy moment, and was replaying it for its own hallway enjoyment.
Despite all this otherworldliness, the story is really quite light-hearted, fun and tension-free. Well, the there *is* the moment Na-chan and her friends are grounded because Na-chan climbs out of the window to sneak in some fried chicken, falls out of the tree and gets caught…but that’s about how tense it gets.
In a story towards the end, we see some mild bullying, as well, but in general, it’s nothing like the physical, verbal and emotional abuse of say, Oniisama E.
So…Yuri. Not much, but enough that with good Yuri goggles you can see it. The president of the “Mystery” club, (of which Na-chan is a…maybe the only…member) Maki definitely has a soft spot for Na-chan. (I’ve seen some fan art of them by UKOZ which is one of the first things that ever interested me in the series, in fact.) Also our beautiful, yet initially morose Marie, reads Yuri in a way I can only define as “wishful thinking.” And a sempai named Hanano is a boyish girl who is, to her great annoyance, often the subject of underclassman adoration. (One of the best lines of the book, as students compete to give Hanano lunches and things is a student guiding a new transfer around the dorm. She points out the interaction, labeling that kind of thing the “Takarazuka-world” part of dorm life.)
The *only* and I mean *only* problem I have with this series is that I have a hard time telling all the characters apart, even after reading it twice through. However, I have just found a nice page with the character names and info, like which dorm they are in, what clubs, grade, etc. This ought to set me (and you) straight.
In every other way, Himitsu no Kaidan, with its eerie dorms, ghosts of happy memories and midnight tea parties is a very pleasant read.
Art – 7
Story – 6
Characters – 7
Yuri – 3 (enough to ping, enough to base fan work on, but nothing really real)
Service – 1 (Girls! Dorms! Uniforms! They must all be lesbian…)
Overall – 7
As a Yuri fan, it is clearly your duty to become familiar with the source of every single stolen meme from Strawberry Panic. Add this to the list soon.