Yuri Manga: GUNJO, Volume 1

April 9th, 2010

(Note to people looking for scanlations of this book. The author does not work herself to the bone and pay money out of her pocket so you can steal her work. Scans are not cool – they are theft. You want the book, click the picture and go buy it. Otherwise, you’re devaluing her time and effort and there is no justification for it, other than you are selfish.) 

“Is it settled?”

“It’s settled.”

With these few words begins one of the most profound, most emotionally engaging manga I’ve ever read.

Gunjo, Volume 1 (羣青 上)by Nakamura Ching is a journey from madness to madness, from profound misery to profound misery and from derision and fear into depths of despair where there is respect and even love.

It begins in the moments after a horrible crime has been committed. A woman has asked someone to kill her husband for her. She has asked someone she knows she can use – another woman, a lesbian, who has been in love with her since high school. The woman who requested the death is abusive, derisive. The woman who committed the crime is passive, almost apathetic. She flinches in the face of the other’s harsh words, but doesn’t fight back.

In between incredible, sudden violence, at moments when their existence is most tenuous, there is tenderness. No, it’s more like that there is only tenderness in the moments when they are most fragile.

We only learn later that the one woman has been serially abused by her husband, after a life with an abusive father. And we only learn later that the other woman walked away from a relationship and a life to commit this act of violence for her.

There is no real moral ambiguity here – these two women are violent and broken. They are insanely bad for one another and have together done something unspeakable. And yet, in the darkest moments, they realize they want to live and try to create something like a life out of the chaos they’ve created.

Nakamura-sensei’s art is detailed and realistic – and in those moments of terrifying violence it reaches the level of sublime. Her writing is subtle – and painful and hurtful – and breathtakingly beautiful especially when the situation is uncertain. There is a mastery of tension of just about every kind in every word and line of this story.

Moving, brutal, sublimely gorgeous and profoundly disturbing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say this – Gunjo is the best manga I have read to date.

Ratings:

Art – 10
Story – 10
Characters – 10
Yuri – 7
Service – 1

Overall – 10

I would love to hear from those of you who bought Volume 1 of Gunjo – what did you think of it, now that you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself?

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8 Responses

  1. Mara says:

    I had just re-read Gunjo this week and I noticed one major thing.

    regardless of all the characters faults none of their antagonistic acts ever ellipse their acts of kindness or humanity. As a result I never stopped seeing the two main characters as redeemable people and not murderers. Instead I felt that they had been forced unfairly into their situation. Glasses out of fear and desperation and Sensei out of her incredible love for Glasses and thus her weakness for her.

    As a result the fundamental tragedy of Gunjo is that these two people where clearly built to live within society but where forced into a situation that they had a minimal skill set for. Thus with their inexperience they can only dig their hole deeper.

    This massively inflates their minor cooperation and victory at the end of the book. Although it does not solve their problem; seeing them united gave me more hope than if they had been acquitted in court.

  2. Simon B says:

    I bought Gunjo because of the chapter reviews here, and particularly the interview you published with Nakamura-sensei. After all the frustration of what Yurihime could be but isn’t, Nakamura is the kind of artist I’d want to support with my last yen. It’ll be a long time before my Japanese is good enough to completely follow the story, which means I can only comment at a shallow level, but that’s OK: I don’t plan on dying any time soon and unlike e-book downloads the printed page won’t become obsolete.

    My experience of Gunjo has been picking up bits of the text but mostly following the artwork. Even at this basic level I find it stunning: beside from the detail, there’s a barely-restrained brutality that just oozes out from even the most mundane scenes (and my god, the shower scene in Chapter 7…). I like to describe Noir to my friends as being a very “Catholic” anime – oppressive with the weight of sin and history, but ultimately about salvation. To the extent I can understand it, this volume of Gunjo feels like the darkness without the light. (Although your and Mara’s comments suggest otherwise.)

    I’ll keep buying Yurihime as an act of faith, but this is the real thing. Even though I’m missing so much, Gunjo shines as what manga should be. Thank you for so tirelessly promoting it and making it accessible to the rest of us.

    P.S. I also grabbed ChinMan when I was in Tokyo and just wanted to comment on the cover. Although the girl is simply standing with her hands in her pockets and her face is covered by the subtitle text, every time I look at it I get this fleeting sensation she’s blindfolded and bound. I don’t think that’s because I’m a (complete) pervert, I also got a few odd looks flicking through it on the train. Add the faux pixelization and the fact that the words in the background are all sexual terms (which I hadn’t noticed until just now, d’oh), and I find it a cleverly disturbing piece of design.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Scanlation teams are not stealing; they put forward no claim that any work is theirs and all translation of any manga ceases immediately following a English language licensing, regardless of limited international availability.
    Foolio.

  4. @Anonymous – that may make you feel less guilty about participating in violation of copyright, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t. You don’t buy her work – you don’t have a right to it. When you take her work without paying her for it, you are stealing.

  5. NB says:

    @Erica: You’re entitled to your hate. But I think it’s kind of funny that you have no qualms associating with Erin S. (you even hired her to do translation work for ALC IIRC), the leader of Lililicious who has pirated hundreds of Yuri works and keeps doing so without remorse. Now Kotonoha has scanlated one Yuri manga and you came down on them like they’re child molesters or something.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I also want to point out that Lililicious was going to scanlate this manga as well and had been announcing it on their website for months. They even linked to this blog. Yet I never saw you chastising them for committing copyright violations. The only possible explanation is that you are biased.

    One more thing: Gunjo was available on the web for free viewing before. Since I never paid for those chapters I guess I didn’t have the right to browse them either.

  7. @NB, @Anonymous – Please see http://okazu.blogspot.com/2010/05/my-point-of-view-on-scanlation.html for a reply.

    I have changed the note to reflect the point of view in the reply.

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