Yuri Manga: Claudine

July 30th, 2007

In the late 1960’s, women began entering the manga industry in Japan with a vengeance. Until then manga – even manga for girls – was drawn by men. The women best known for making a splash in the manga market are known collectively as the Magnificent 49ers, because they were all born in the year 1949. The 49ers made a huge impact, and they are frequently credited with the creation of shoujo manga, that is, comics by women for girls.

In the early 1970’s many women experimented within this new genre – it is at this time that the first manga that would later be seen as the origins of today’s Boy’s Love (Tomas no Shinzou) and Yuri (Shiroi Heya no Futari) were drawn. Following these were many manga in which gender roles, crossdressing and same-sex love were dealt with. We now look at many of these stories as early examples of the Yuri genre.

Ikeda Riyoko, the author of two of those manga, Oniisama E and Rose of Versailles, was clearly fascinated with gender. In both of the above there is a main character who is a woman, but dresses and acts like a man. In both cases this character is seen as physically attractive to the women around her. Both Sainte-Juste and Oscar have tragic endings, but both die free from regret and in love – Oscar with her long time friend and lover Andre’ and Rei, known as Sainte-Juste, with the young girl Nanako, who had freed her from the bonds of an abusive relationship with her half-sister.

Ikeda wrote another series dealing with a women who dresses like a man, Claudine. It is quite possible to call this a manga about a transgender character, as much as it is a Yuri manga. There’s no way to know whether Claudine’s desire was to be able to love women freely and dress in the clothes of and have the prerogatives of a man – like many butch women of her time – or whether she truly wanted to become a man. Either way, this classic Yuri manga is a pretty amazing, but painful, character piece.

The manga begins as a doctor of psychiatry discusses the case of Claudine, a patient of his for many years. She was brought to him as a young child, when her proclivities for dressing and acting like a boy were already well established. The doctor is very sympathetic – he never really tries to “fix” her, instead providing her with a non-judgmental ear for her to vent to.

Claudine’s first love is a servant, Maya, who returns her love unconditionally. But they are discovered and Maya is sent away, leaving Claudine to begin to loathe herself and her attraction to women. As a young woman, Claudine heads to the city where she once again falls in love with a woman and is once again betrayed – this time by the girl herself. Claudine, who comes from a family of power and wealth longs only for love. But she will not find it and in the end, she can only see one way out. The doctor learns of her suicide on the phone and mourns the passing of the tormented girl.

It’s a very Well of Loneliness type story, in which the “moral” of the story appears to be that women who love women will die horrible deaths. An ending that was stock in the world of lesbian romance until … erm … okay, it’s still pretty stock. But for any women who were loving women in the middle of the sexual revolution of the 70’s, reading Claudine must have come as a “whoo-hoo!” moment. Think about it – what’s the one thing everyone wants from the universe? Everyone wants to see themselves reflected in some form of media. Whether it be TV, movies, song, manga, what have you – the one thing we all want is to see some sign that we *exist.* That’s why gays and lesbians trawl through media pointing out even the “are they or aren’t they?” characters. Because the more examples of our selves we can find, the more validated we feel.

And in the 70’s, in the middle of a burgeoning wave of manga for girls, to those women who had loved or did love another woman, something like Claudine would be a life-line of external validation.

No, it didn’t have a happy ending – manga rarely had happy endings in the 1970’s, regardless of the romance. Or at all until the 90’s really. And even now, the majority of anime and manga favor ambiguity and resets over actual happy endings with resolutions. (There’s all sorts of cultural reasons for this that I won’t get into here. Ask me about them some day when we meet.) The bottom line is, Claudine probably made a bunch of early otaku lesbian and transgender (or those who wished they could transition) folks very excited.

So, whether you perceive Claudine as a lesbian narrative or a transgender one, it’s a pretty significant manga. Personally, I like it. Like Well, with which it has so much in common, it holds a special place in my heart.

Ratings

Art – 8
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Yuri – 8
Service – 2

Overall – 7

I like to think that, when young Satou Sei was combing literature for reflections of her own feelings and she came across Well, she might have also come across Claudine and, like myself, rejected the tragedy, even as she acknowledged its place in her personal history…. Us Comp. Lit. majors must stick together after all. ^_^

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9 Responses

  1. Shoujofan says:

    I’m a great fan of Ikeda’s work, but I did not enjoy Claudine as much as I’ve expected. She is very impressive, the main character, and we feel her strugle to survive and live, but the tragedy in the end is like a shower of cold water. Well, the four great Ikeda’s women are in that order for me Oscar, Saint Just, Claudine and Julius… this last one is the weaker, and Claudine is the most tragic, Saint Just charm place her in better ground… But I’m missing the point.

    I think Ikeda was not really into Yuri thing, and her portraits of lesbian or transgender are very pessimist. All right this was the tone of the 70’s but she was very courageous in other topis. For that reason, I see Paros no Ken as a great relief, a kind of Berubara lesbian parody.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I totally understand that Well is an important artifact in lesbian literature, but when i finished reading it I just wanted to throw it in the fire! Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by happy endings :)

    – Lill.

  3. Mag says:

    This is actually one of my favorites, XD. I know it ends badly and has a pessimistic look at lesbian love, but I enjoyed it for what it was; a look at what lesbian love was probably like for women in Japan in the 1970s– very pessimistic and ending badly. Perhaps I enjoyed it a lot because I myself have gone through a lot of gender issues, even when I was young, so perhaps I could just relate to it? I would have liked if Claudine had lived in the end, but it was very solid for a one-shot type of story. Before I start blathering, though, I’m glad you reviewed it, even if it wasn’t your favorite :)

  4. Vivian says:

    Nice review :)
    I myself thought “Claudine..!” was a beautifully written sad story. The only other manga from Ikeda that I’ve read so far is Berubara (which I loved) but “Claudine..!” seems tighter wound, with nary a panel wasted.

    As for Claudine her/himself, I think there’s strong evidence that she/he is more transsexual than lesbian.
    Claudine has a strong male identity as a child and declares herself to be a boy; it’s eventually the lack of a possibility of ever being “fully equal” as a male that leads to the sad conclusion in my opinion. This combined with Sirene’s betrayal (the latest in a long line of disappointments with life) was too much to bear for a romantic like him.
    The psychiatrist, who would seem to be the voice of interpretative authority, declares Claudine to be transsexual directly as well (though I can see how the work became a Yuri icon).

    The unwritten happy story would have been for it to work out with Rosemarie, who seems to be the only one that accepts him as he is, but then again the heart wants what the heart wants.

    Rest in peace, Monsieur Claude.

    -Viv

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