For today’s review, I would like to thank 828-san, who let me know that there was a novelization for the “Escalation” arc from the classic hentai series, Cream Lemon. (Here is a synopsis of “Escalation” and the other Yuri(ish) episodes of CL.)
(BTW, when I use quotes around the title, i.e., “Escalation,” I am referring to the anime or the story in general; when I put the title in italics, Escalation, I am referring to the novel. Just to be clear.)
In and of itself “Escalation” is not a particularly unique or worthy story, but when you consider that it is, in all likelihood, the direct ancestor of both Maria-sama ga Miteru and Strawberry Panic, it’s worthy of note. Plus, it wasn’t too bad, as porn goes. :-) The novel pretty much follows the story of the three “Escalation” anime episodes, with a bit more depth for each character (except for Midori. She gets one line of character development.)
Okay, so the story follows Komatsuzaka Rie, as she leaves her home where her tutor has broken her heart by sleeping with her mother, and transfers to St. Azaria Jogakuen, the typical private Catholic (or Mission) school for rich girls. Instantly, she is captivated by the Student Council president and classic Japanese beauty, Hayakawa Naomi.
In the anime, the bit with Rie’s tutor is recounted in two still frames. In the novel, we get a bit more detail about Rie’s feelings for the college student who is her tutor, along with a gratuitous masturbation scene, just so you know it’s desire, and not just a crush. When she discovers her mother and tutor, of course we get more detail, but ultimately, it’s not her mother’s or tutor’s betrayal that bugs Rie…although it does…it’s her mother’s relationship with her father that just fills her with gall. She realizes that her father knows, and yet both parents act like there is nothing wrong. She can’t stand it, and feels that she MUST leave the house. And yes, the tutor’s behavior makes her swear off men.
When she arrives at St. Azaria, we learn a few things of significance, all of which were in the anime. Rie is an excellent student and a brilliant pianist. But the one thing I liked that was different – and pretty much the *only* difference between the novel and the anime, was that Rie is no shrinking violet. She sees Naomi up there addressing the class and her thought is something to the effect of “I want one of those for a lover.” And from that point on, she actively pursues Naomi. It’s a small change, but a cool one. In the anime, she’s passive, but amenable. In the novel, she knows what she wants and gets it. She wants Naomi. And she gets her.
As in the anime, we are introduced to weirdo Midori in class, where she “saves” Rie by answering a problem that Rie is too distracted by lustful thoughts of Naomi to solve. And, as in the anime, Rie’s first full night with Naomi includes Midori, some light bondage and a dildo. So romantic. ^_^; I have to mention this – in the scene where Rie is “assigned” to Naomi’s room and Mari, her temporary roommate, is sad that Rie is leaving now that they have become friends, Rie is out the door while Mari is still talking. It was absolutely hysterical.
The second episode of the anime covers a special invitation after a piano competition from Naomi, who has graduated. Rie is taken by Midori to the Hayakawa family summer home and immediately involved in a BDSM scenario that includes her ex-roommate Mari and Naomi’s boring little brother Akira, while Naomi’s father watches and uses Midori as a sex doll.
We also learn that Rie is now not only a successful pianist, but also the top student in the school and the incoming President of the Student Council.
I need to set that all up for you, because it’s the outcome of what I actually thought was the best scene in the book. Naomi goes to her father to ask for use of the summer home. Her father is a bit put out because, since Naomi’s mother died no one has used it. And here’s why – Naomi’s mother was a S&M ojou-sama who had orgies there, with young men to service her. Dad knew about these, but he loved Mom, so he didn’t try and stop her. Mom was deeply unhappy and drank herself to death. Dad did love her, but he loathed her too, and didn’t try and save her, so he avoided the summer house and had women of his own in their main house. Okay. So. Naomi says to him, I’m just like both you and Mother. Like Mother, I enjoy BDSM and multiple partner sex. Like you, I prefer young women. You two made me what I am. And so, I want the summer house for *my* kind of party. Not surprisingly, Dad nearly has a heart attack at all this frankness.
Naomi continues: Midori, who has a serious father complex, has the hots for you and wants you to be there. (There it was – all of Midori’s character development, right there) and I want you to bring Akira, because he’s a spineless nothing and we both can’t stand him. Maybe – although probably not – I can make a man out of him.
It’s probably not a good thing that I thought this was the best scene in the book. LOL No, seriously, I loved Naomi just laying it out on the line like that.
So the “party” proceeds as in the anime, with crashing thunder and lightning as a backdrop.
The end result of all of it is that Naomi leaves Japan and goes to Paris to find herself and leaves Rie to have her school life without complications. Mari, Midori and Rie become close friends. Mari keeps trying to throw hersef at Rie but she, still obsessed by Naomi, doesn’t bite. Midori (who seems to favor sloppy seconds) is glad to pick up the slack. Although we don’t see them on screen, as it were, Mari and Midori become an item.
In the third section, Rie is now a third-year and is the object of desire of first-year Kurimoto Arisa. As Rie had with Naomi, Arisa now pursues Rie with vigor. Rie finds herself taking the lead, but they are interrupted by Mari who drives Arisa out of their room in a fit of jealousy. She admits that she’s been sleeping with Midori, but she really wants Rie. After they sleep together, Mari confesses that she’s leaving the next day for LA, because of her family situation. She leaves and Rie hopes to see her once again, but probably not.
Rie moves on to graduate, and is excited beyond belief to find an invitation from Naomi, who has returned to Japan, waiting for her. Rie goes to her home to find that her graduation present from Naomi is Arisa. Rie enjoys her present, then retires upstairs with Naomi, while Midori and Arisa continue. All of this is in the anime, as well. The only difference is that the evening ends with the four of the sleeping (well, snuggling and sleeping) in one bed, until dawn.
Before they make love, Naomi and Rie talk. Naomi confesses that she won’t be returning to Japan anymore. Being here – being around her father and brother – brings out bad things in her and she doesn’t want to be that person. She’ll be returning to Paris, where she is very happy. But that she looks forward to following Rie’s career as a pianist and one day, when they meet up again, she can introduce Rie to the people she knows as her lover.
As in the anime, Rie goes on to be a splendid Student Council President, with many fans, Arisa chief among them. When she graduates, she leaves behind a legacy for Arisa to continue. The anime ends there, but the novel goes on just a bit, so that we can see Arisa, now President, admired and desired by all the underclassmen, but also with a special pet, to whom she passes the legacy. It’s kind of dumb, but I liked that we got to see that this whole cycle continues as a tradition. I have no idea why I liked it – I just did. :)
The language of the novel is flowery. Literally. They play with each other’s “buds” and they blossom and bloom all over the place. The author is a woman (or at least uses a woman’s name) so the prose used for the sex is both sensitive and slightly purple…or should that be florid? Anyway, it tends towards girly melodrama instead of stark porninshness. I think it fit the story rather well.
The novel has both color and black and white pictures. These are very in the style of Cream Lemon and so, pretty awful art. ^_^
Now, in the beginning, I made the comment that this series is the direct ancestor of both Marimite and Strawberry Panic. That might seem an outrageous claim to make, although anyone who knew of “Escalation”s existence assumed it was an antecedent of Strawberry Panic, so I thought I’d mention a few similarities. Aside from the obvious lesbian relationships at a private school for rich girls. Because that didn’t originate with “Escalation,” it originated with Yoshiya Nobuko’s Yaneura no Nishojo. (As far as I know. There may be an earlier example and if you know of it, do tell me!)
Let me just pull out a few points to consider. None of these are definitive. Here are *some* of the reasons why.
In Escalation, we see a strong tradition of the upperclassman/lowerclassman relationship at Azaria that is passed down, which is very similar to both the soeur tradition of Lillian and the Etoile tradition of Astoria. But that is merely a pastiche of the larger, more common sempai/kouhai tradition in Japan. Hardly significant.
In Escalation, the first significant scene where Naomi shows interest in Rie is in the music room where Naomi comes in to watch Rie play, sits down next to her and makes her explode with desire. In Marimite, as Yumi avoids the other students because she is torn by her desire to become Sachiko’s soeur and her desire to not be forced to become her soeur, Yumi is sitting at the piano when Sachiko comes in and they play a duet, while Yumi’s heart pounds as Sachiko touches her. Likewise, in Strawberry Panic Shizuma and Nagisa share a tense attraction as they play a duet in the middle of the night at the piano.
The music room scene leads Naomi to take Rie on a tour of the school. In the chapel, she fiercely embraces a very willing Rie – and gets pretty far pretty quickly, until they are interrupted. Naomi decides at that point that she must make Rie hers. In Strawberry Panic the outcomes of the tour are different for anime/manga and novel, but in all cases Shizuma attempts to kiss Nagisa. In the library, not the church. But they do tour the church, while Shizuma seduces Nagisa. In the SP novel, it is during this end of the school tour where Shizuma determines that she will make Nagisa her partner for Etoile. In Marimite, it is *in* the church that Sei attempts to kiss Shiori and fails, receiving a slap for her efforts. But they do kiss, eventually, outside the church – and don’t think that Konno Oyuki did that accidentally.
Now it’s true that these are broad examples of what appear to be similar tropes and easily refuted. But I am confident enough in Oyuki’s writing to believe that she knows “Escalation” and I am 100% convinced that “Escalation” was being directly parodied by Strawberry Panic as much as any other of the dozens of Yuri series it clearly parodied.
Art – 4
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Yuri – 10
Service – 10
Overall – 7
So…when I read Escalation I had to take my hat off in respect for an elder of the genre.
Plus, as I said, it was pretty good for porn. ^_^