Lesbian Manga: KOOLS

April 6th, 2008

KOOLS is a collection of three one-shot josei manga stories. They make a perfect lead-in to today’s digression – the difference between josei manga and Ladies’ Comics.

For some reason, the source of which I don’t know, here in the west josei manga is categorized as manga targeted towards women 18-30. However, if you look at Japanese publisher websites, you’ll see that they often market their magazines in three flavors only – “For children” “For women” and “For men.” Even Nakayoshi, which everyone here assumes is shoujo, is labeled as josei. So, in reality, shoujo magazines target an audience of (roughly) 7-12 year olds and anything older than 12 becomes josei. In other words, teen, older teen, mature readers all are lumped under “women,” not “girls.” The upper age limit for josei is also approximate. For many years I read Feel Young magazine, in which there were constantly comments by readers much older than 30 – sometimes even as old as me. ;-)

Now, while josei manga can be translated as “Lady’s Comics,” they are in no way the same things as Ladies Comics, which is an entirely different genre in Japan. Ladies Comics are “adult” titles, by which I mean that they are smut. Aurora Publishing, which is the western imprint of Oozora Shuppan (the publishers of the lesbian-themed Ladies Comic Mist,) are putting out the first translated Ladies ComicLuv Luv. Here’s what Aurora has to say about the title: “Aurora Publishing, Inc. brings “passionate manga for women” to America with their new Luv Luv imprint. Extremely popular in Japan, but never before available as a genre in the U.S., Ladies Comics, or Redikomi, are romantic, hot and sexy manga about modern women and the men they love.” (I love the use of “modern” there – the codeword for post-sexual revolution women who think sex is fun and not just a marital obligation. The term is so 70s. ^_^)

To sum up, most of what we think of shoujo, is actually josei. And josei manga is in no way the same thing as Ladies Comics.

Which brings me to today’s topic, KOOLS. This book came out under the imprint KC Dessert comics – all of which are targeted towards older teens, but have “adult” situations. Because high school girls like to read about sex,too. These are josei manga, not Ladies Comics. KOOLS is, as I mentioned, a collection of three stories, all of which are sincere, have genuine moments of sweetness and are about as “After School Special” as I’ve ever read in a manga.

The first story, “KOOLS,” which stands for “Kiss Only One Lady,” is the story of Sae, who slowly, but steadily comes to grips with the fact that she is lesbian. She meets, fall in love with, joins a softball team with, moves in with, breaks up with and then gets back together with Tomo, who is quite possibly the best lesbian ever in the history of manga. The subject matter is told as a story, but there’s a definite edge of educational about the thing – the moral of the story is, “it’s okay to be gay.” Along the way, the audience is also introduced – gently – to other sexual minorities, and the unique forms of discrimination that can occur, even within a small community.

Sae is not a bad person, Tomo just has the misfortune of being her first, so when she all of a sudden has a crisis of identity, its Tomo who bears the brunt. But Sae, with the support of their softball team, (named the KOOLS,) comes to grips with herself and we are lead to believe that the end looks bright and rosy for them. It’s a very pleasant ending to what, ten years ago, would have been a tale that ended in tragedy or marriage.

The two stories that follow are gritty reminders that we genuinely cannot confront issues of rape and abuse enough times. In the rape story a party girl is gang raped, but does not report it, because she is sure that no one will believe her or that they will make it out to be her fault. Through the tough love and friendship of a total stranger, she moves through the pain, and into a new life, where she is able to once again face the idea of being with a guy. Eventually, she finds the strength in herself to testify against the men who raped her, when they are arrested for another rape.

The last story is set in high school, where a nice girl is going out with the hunky guy – who beats her. The story covers all the ways women lie about their abusers, to themselves and to other people. The violence escalates, but again, someone else intervenes. In this case, as the abusive boyfriend goes off the clock and starts to take it out on the woman who has stepped in to protect the girl, she is told to run and get the police.

The last two stories are rough. Nothing is held back. There’s no implication or whitewashing – these are brutal situations told brutally. And the advice is stated just as brutally – it’s up to you to stop it. Now. Hotline phone numbers and crisis center information is given plainly and simply in the notes.

I admit to finding the first story less satisfying since it was lumped in with the latter two. It gave the whole book a sense of it being a “things girls might have to deal with” handbook. For obvious reasons, I would prefer to simply see a story about two women who fall in love, with no teacher’s guide for discussion attached. However, as an educational story, it was a pretty good narrative with characters that didn’t stand out as silly stereotypes or behaviors. No Takarazuka butches, no lipstick lesbians behaving like old men – just a bunch of women, who happen to love other women.


Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 10
Service – You know, I really don’t want to think about that. In a perfect world, 0.

Overall – 7

KOOLS a refreshing contrast to Yuri series and makes a nice story to give a friend or relative without sounding too preachy. Once again, thanks to Erin who pointed this out to me.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for that heads up!

  2. Anonymous says:

    “(I love the use of “modern” there – the codeword for post-sexual revolution women who think sex is fun and not just a marital obligation. The term is so 70s. lol)”

    I heard that in Japan there’s still more pressure than in the U.S. on women to quit working outside their homes as soon as they marry, so using a term that’s so 70s for the U.S. may be apt.

    “It’s a very pleasant ending to what, ten years ago, would have been a tale that ended in tragedy or marriage.”

    And to what, ten years from now, could have been a tale that ends in same-sex marriage?

  3. @Anonymous – We’ll hope so!

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