Morishima Akiko draws whimsically realistic, slightly angsty and decidedly delightful stories of love between women. Rakuen no Jouken is a collection of her stories from Yuri Hime magazine. This collection does not include her Yuri life illustrated column, just her manga.
Rakuen begins with the mini series about OL Sarina and her “friend with benefits,” freelance writer Sumika, as Sumi drops by unexpectedly. They immediately pick up where they left off, but Sarina realizes that she kind of likes having Sumi around. She asks Sumi to live with her, but you can’t cage a free bird, so Sumi returns the favor by asking Sarina to come with her on her next assignment to Malta.
This is followed by a story in which Sumi is unhappy because she has always loved Sarina, but knows that Sarina is more interested in getting a boyfriend. When Sarina breaks up with her current beau, she’s there to comfort her, but the relationship turns much more serious.
The next story picks up with them in Malta, enjoying living together, house and cat-sitting. Sarina angsts slightly over their relationship, because it seems like she’s getting more serious about Sumi than she expected. Since she forgets to use her inside voice, Sumi is able to hear it all and it’s too late to put the cat back in the bag so to speak. Sarina’s fallen in love with Sumi, too. Surrounded by light, love and cats, they look forward to a very happy future together.
The next two stories deal with a really cute couple, Keiko, a 30-year old art teacher and Emi, her 20-year old student. Emi asks Keiko out, and since she doesn’t have a boyfriend and Emi’s kinda cute, Keiko says yes. But Emi isn’t just cute – she’s young, perky, sparkly, bright-eyed, luminescent with life and youth and immediately, Keiko finds herself suffering a crisis. How could this prime example of youth and energy want her old, flabby aged body? (30 is old…. Yes, in 10000 BCE, 30 was old. Welcome to the 21st century, Japanese women! If you’re old at 30 – what do you do for the next 50 years? Sit around and moulder? Crichey.) Anyway, Keiko’s crisis is resolved when she realizes that her real problem is that she’s been in love with this girl since day one. This is followed by a night-over date, which is sadly on a very bad day for Emi. You know – *that* kind of bad day. Emi is full of wide-eyeness, so Keiko can barely take no for an answer. ^_^ I hope we get more of them – the age joke is exhausting, but I like them anyway.
Lalaa is a cosplay-wearing 29-year old loli and her 25-year old lover Shinobu is a editor and flute player. They’ve known each other – and pretty much been together – for 12 years, since they were young. The story revolves around Shinobu’s emotional breakdown in the rain, and Lalaa-sempai’s deep understanding and caring for Shinobu.
“Momo no aji” is a short story about a girl’s confession to an upperclassman and a response that involves a peach-flavored lolipop.
And the final story is a that of Sakura-hime and her guardian tree spirit Fubuki. The story is no less bittersweet than the original that ran in the magazine. A sort of classic melancholy, fitting for the historical setting.
Morishima is not afraid of service – she gleefully has her characters in various states of undress, costumes, and partial nudity for your viewing pleasure. But her art is so sweet and round and soft, and her characters so feminine, that it never feels like “service.” The sex tends to be on the snuggly side, with a blessed lack of gouting bodily fluids. Her humor tends to make me snort, rather than laugh, if you take my meaning. And her work is cute, cute, cute, all the way down.
If you’re looking for non-schoolgirl Yuri stories, especially ones that reflect actual women’s daily experiences, Rakuen no Jouken is just about perfect. (Even if there aren’t any lesbians in it. ^_^)
Art – 9
Story – variable, averaging out at about 8
Characters – an almost universally likeable 9
Yuri – 9
Service – 4
Overall – 9
Of all the Yuri Hime collections, this is one of the very best so far. I look forward to seeing it in English one day. ^_^