Yuri Manga: Maka-Maka, Volume 1 (English)

November 6th, 2008

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it more these days – “Yuri” stories can be defined as having lesbian content without lesbian identity. Maka-Maka, Volume 1 is pretty much a perfect example of this. There is undoubtedly lesbian content, but it is also made very *very* clear that these two women are not lesbian in any way. Nor are they bi. They are two straight women who happen to enjoy sex with one another. That’s it. Just, “friends with benefits.”

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the first volume of this, since it’s been four years since I first reviewed it in Japanese. Each chapter is a simple “Plot, what plot?” type fanfic. “Nene and Jun get naked,” “Nene and Jun feel each other up in the CD store,” “Nene and Jun have sex for some other reason that really doesn’t matter much.” There’s a little character development, and it becomes increasingly clear that the two actually, honestly do care for one another, as the book goes on. But…no, they aren’t a couple. In fact, they are both seeing guys who, we are told repeatedly, pretty much suck as lovers. (I will refrain from making a snarky remark here. Insert one that satisfies your own levels of paranoia about your abilities as a lover.)

The reproduction is stellar. Kitty Media, the adult imprint of Media Blasters, did a fantastic job of bringing this book over here. There’s honestly nothing to complain about. The dual cover, the fold out two-sided poster, the undercover gags, all remain intact. The translation feels right. Nene and June aren’t made to sound “Omg! Rad!” as some feared. They sound like women in college, who have different personalities and issues.

While I’m praising Kitty – and in the interest of disclaimers that might point to bias and or open corruption ^_^ – let me once again thank Frank, who not only shepherded this book so beautifully into English, he gave me the first copies of both volumes off the press. They really do look lovely. Nice job, everyone.

Art – 8
Characters – 9
Story – 9
Yuri – 9
Service – 9

Overall – 9

As a tale of two adult women who find comfort in each other’s company, and pleasure in sex with each other, Maka-Maka is a realistic, entertaining “adult” manga.

This would make a great gift for someone looking for something with adult content that isn’t squicky, loli or fetishy.

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13 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yep, this is high class porn and there’s not much else you can say about it. Oh, and Jun is really hot, lol.

    The book looks awesome and I’m just so glad we’ve managed to get some Yuri manga and anime in the West. Not really sure how much more we’ll be getting though – poor sales of Seven Seas’ Yuri line and the economic downturn are not exactly hopeful signs.

  2. Seven Seas has repeatedly said that with the Strawberry line have nothing at all to do with poor sales, in fact, sales are fine – check their forums for more details.

    ALC books are selling better than ever, as well. The Yuri market is not doing badly in any way. There are many issues, suchs as licensing, timing, distribution, that have nothing tat all to do with sales, that can cause delays.

  3. Filo says:

    I realize titles like Maka-Maka are escapist fantasies, but I still fail to understand how one can say the two main characters aren’t lesbian or at least bi in any way possible. How can two women readily and willingly be intimate like this if they didn’t have those tendencies to begin with? How often do straight men get together as ‘friends with benefits’ without any trace of those tendencies (Again, I know ‘Maka-Maka’ is a porn fantasy, but still)?

    Here’s another question I’m curious about: is a Yuri character to you *never* a lesbian unless said character *says* she’s a lesbian? Solely my opinion here, but if two characters are clearly romantically attracted to each other, be they hetero or same-sex, I think that says enough what they are without having to spell out anything, especially if you just want to sit down and read what’s supposed to be escapist fantasy to begin with.

  4. Filo – Your point is valid, but we are quite clearly told that these two are friends with benefits and no more.

    The idea that a same-sex relationship might fill in the spaces between “real” heterosexual encounters isn’t western, but it’s not at all unheard of in Japan. And I’ve met several young people who feel the same way. Bi Until Graduation is not a new thing, really.

    Attraction to the oppostie sex is not equivalent to lesbian identity. If a woman has sex with other women but clearly states that she is straight, who are we to insist she is not? In the same way, if a woman who is married with children indentifies as a lesbian, who are we to tell her she is not? Self-identification is all we really have in this world.

    I think your quest remains unanswerable, since I’m taking every character on a case-by-case basis, much as I take every human I meet. There are not specific fixed criterai for anything. :-) In this case, I’m going by what the book tells me. They are not gay. They are not bi. They are straight friends with benefits.

  5. And let me just add that the conflation of lesbian behavior with lesbian identity is *exactly* why I think that lesbian identity is so important. :-) Two completely straight women kissing to turn on straight guys really *doesn’t* mean they are “lesbians.” lol

  6. punistation says:

    “Maka-Maka is a realistic, entertaining “adult” manga.”

    Or, as some people call picture books that are all sex and no plot… a “porno book”.

    It’s that the very definition of a porno? Just sex, no plot (or the flimsiest). Or does a porno gain respect by being “unapoligetically” without plot, therefore “proud” of it’s sellf-awareness and therefore “cool”?

    And can this “comment” fit in “more” quotation marks?

  7. JazzCat says:

    The two women in Maka-Maka could easily be called bisexual, since that is technically true: they enjoy having sex with men and women. The fact that their escapades occur between relationships with men only serves to underline that. But is it that important though what label they or other people put on their relationship?

    I feel you have a tendency to attach such labels liberally. What is a “lesbian identity” anyway? Do you really feel that people’s sexual or romantic preferences are the ultimate indicator of their personality? I feel I have to thoroughly disagree with you on this one.

  8. My working definition of porn versus erotica (porn is when the characters implicitly or explicity acknowledge the third party watching, erotica is when their actions are for them only) would lay this manga as exactly right on the line between the two, I think.

  9. Dash says:

    While I completely agree with your statement about the importance of self-identification, Erica, I do know that some people never question what they are told.

    I think the creator’s intention of Maka-Maka was always the ‘friends with benefits’ line, and I am the last person to say the creator does not have the right to declare the motivations of their characters, however, if for an instant we look at these characters through their actions, I can’t help but think they are bisexuals or lesbians who have never let themselves think they are anything but straight.

    Nene in particular seems tragically infatuated with Jun, as seems to be indicated by the end of this volume and and the several issues in volume two (not the least of which is her ‘very special episode’) where Nene expresses grief that she needs Jun so very much more than Jun needs her.

    Can that neediness exist between friends? Absolutely. But when I’m reunited with a close sexually compatible friend after not having seen them in over a year, my first instinct isn’t to jump into bed with them. I would say, in my unprofessional opinion, that when sexual and romantic interests coincide, that’s a pretty good definition of your sexuality.

    Of course, this being nearly porn, it’s possible it was never intended to be deconstructed in this manner. We never do see Nene interact with any of her boyfriends aside from the one night stand shmuck at the end of vol 1. It’s possible she’s this needy with most of them.

    And of course, I’m a straight married male, who probably doesn’t have the right to speak on homosexual identity. So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

  10. When I was in Cairo, I had a guide who was absolutely, unequivocally gay.

    However, he was married, with children, and there was no question in his mind that he was not. Despite his constant rendevous with men, his almost obsessive need to have sex with them, he was straight. There are very very few gay men in Cairo.

    In much of the world, men and women live entirely separate lives, and what one does to get one’s rocks off has absolutely *nothing* whatsoever to do with what one is or is not.

    The author intends for us to see Jun and Nene as straight women who enjoy sex with each other from time to time. Overanalyzing that…well, let’s just say that I’m sticking with the author. There’s nothing in them other than their lesbian sex acts that makes me seem them as lesbian. :-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    That seems to make for some pretty arbitrary and not terribly coherent definitions of the relevant terminology, however. It would appear to me that if one is going to employ the classifications “hetero-“, “bi-” and “homosexual” at all in any analytically meaningful sense one needs to first define them in a reasonably consistent and objectively applicable manner. And to me at least it would seem that the only meaningful criteria that doesn’t get mired in metaphysical hair-splitting and – if you’ll excuse the slight hyperbole – absurd arguments to the tone of “not gay enough” is who one (voluntarily) has sex with.

    What people define themselves as is pretty much meaningless in this context; after all, that topic is pretty much universally Dissonance City, population one. People will merrily convince themselves a square thing is round and black white for no other reason than sheer personal comfort and habit, and cheerfully discount any amount of patent evidence to the contrary if they feel like it.

    Standard “human condition” stuff that, but it does inconveniently make people’s own statements concerning themselves least said unreliable when you’re trying to work out any kind of cohesive and tolerably objective analytical criteria. (Anthropology 101 was pretty emphatic about not taking your informants at face value *especially* concerning themselves.) And in this particular context, given the functionally universal cultural defitions of homosexuality as to a greater or lesser degree “aberrant” from the social norm, the motives for such reflexive self-deception aren’t exactly difficult to find.

    Ergo, you need to work up from how people actually behave rather than how they claim to. Or as one chestnut has it, “your walk walks and your talk talks, but your walk talks more than your talk walks.”

    As such IMHO the only reasonably objective criteria is one’s choice of sexual partners; the rest is really just window-dressing. After all it’s not like you need to consciously define yourself as heterosexual, live in a specific form of relationship with your partner(s) or suchlike to be (reasonably objectively) classified as “straight”; what it really boils down is the sex of your partners, no?

    Mutatis mutandis the criteria for bi- and homosexuality should be no different. Double standards are the bane of any meaningful analysis after all.

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