Yuri Manga: Comic Lily Plus, Volume 1

June 10th, 2010

Given my recent issues with a number of less than stellar Yuri manga anthologies, you might forgive me if I’ve become a bit twitchy. I opened Comic Lily Plus, Volume 1 (which takes the place of Comic Lily, Volume 4. I don’t know why the name change, as it otherwise is pretty much the same. It could be any number of reasons) with some mild concern.

While nothing in this volume made me cringe, it didn’t break new ground, either. Not that I need every anthology to push the envelope. This volume had a surprising number of continuing stories, which might confuse anyone picking this anthology series up for the first time, thinking this is truly a first volume. And there was a rather nostalgic return of the razor-wielding hair-cutting lesbian stereotype, which I haven’t seen in some time.

There a few kisses in this volume, and some vaguely satisfying endings as Girl A and Girl B agree to start liking one another simultaneously – a nice place to start but kind of a maddening place to end. Other than one story about loli catgirls with big breasts in bloomers (a story I skipped, you will not be surprised to learn) there was nothing here particularly objectionable. So, why do I object?

Needless to say, I read a *lot*. Not just Yuri manga, not just Japanese books and comics. I read pretty much nearly every waking moment I am not sleeping. I read when I eat. I read, no kidding, when I walk. I read as obsessively as Yomiko Readman reads and have since I was old enough to read.

What the hell is it that I am looking for in these anthologies?

Last night, as I reread some of Takemiya Jin’s doujinshi, it dawned on me – I’m looking for conviction. It’s not that some of these stories are retellings of the basic Story A, it’s that so many of the stories I read lack conviction. They don’t know who their characters are, so of course we don’t, either. The situation is thin, sometimes barely in existence. We never see the characters explored outside the setting of the story, which would work if the creators were adhering to Aristotelian rules… but that’s rarely the case.

The creators I like best – whether they are creating a fanwork or an original work, have conviction. They write and draw it into every line and every panel. In 10 pages, we learn volumes about each character – and what we don’t learn is begging to be filled with our imagination.

For example, let’s look at Takemiya Jin and Nishi UKO. Both of these artists do really great fan work and they also do fantastic, compelling original work.

Fan work is often easier, because one doesn’t have to explain much. The reader knows why and how and where and who. But really exceptional fanwork doesn’t just explore the known, it explores the unknown – the time off the screen, the stuff left out, the holes in the story. In order to create fanwork that stands out, the artist or writer needs an accurate grasp of the characters, the setting and what makes scenes work between them.

In the case of the above, I’m reminded specifically of two doujinshi in my collection. One, a Maria-sama ga Miteru doujinshi, in which Takemiya Jin creates a Rosas so cynical and cruel that they becomes absolutely sublime. It’s totally out of character – only, it isn’t.  Because the characters’ actions are composed with conviction, it works. In a Hayate x Blade doujinshi, Nishi UKO has a short between Hitsugi and Shizuku that is so exactly true to their characters that I’m still kind of shocked that it hasn’t been stolen and used in the actual series.

In an original doujinshi, Takemiya Jin takes builds an entirely new, original and fresh character from the kind of characters created for the fan works. The protagonist is cynical, and therefore fragile. She is realistic and therefore an idealist. It’s a great series and there’s a terrific sense that the characters are, even before they are drawn, alive beyond the confines of their medium.

For Nishi UKO, I’ll refer to her works that have been collected in Yuri Monogatari or in the new Rakuen Le Paradis anthology. In either case, not only do we see the main characters interact, but the reactions of the people around them and how it affects them. They are, almost instantly, real people we might meet. Again, real beyond the fact that they are 2-dimensional representations of women in love with other women.

So, when I read stories about these Girl As and the only thing they have to themselves is a vague longing to be with their Girl Bs, it fails. Not everything I write is genius, but I try to give my characters more depth than that, even in a throwaway fanfic or original work. So, it pains me to see characters created with so little motivation beyond, “this is a Yuri story.” I can’t tell you a thing about the characters in “3 Lies,” from this collection, because outside their love triangle they don’t exist. There’s nothing to them. There’s no reason to care if two of them get together or not. There is no conviction. Most of the time, I can’t remember their names after I finish the story.

My point here is not that the people who write for these anthologies are inferior – everything in life has a distribution curve. My point is that this anthology is on the largest part of that bell curve. It is “mediocre” in the sense that it is okay. And if “okay” is okay with you, then I recommend it. :-)

Ratings:

Overall – 7

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2 Responses

  1. LeVar says:

    Wow! That’s a very profound angle on storytelling that I’d never really thought about before. As someone who writes, I do try to grant my characters with something beyond “This is my name and this is what I do”. It’s difficult sometimes to figure how mow much is “too little” or “too much” when it comes to information about a character, though. Your article struck a chord in me and just might help me find a balance in expressing a character.

    I realize this isn’t a “fiction writing” column, so I apologize for this being out of place. I just wanted to say that your article (as a lot of them tend to do) made me think. Thanks.

  2. @LeVar – I’m glad it made you think. It was slightly more profound than I set out being, and it made me think, too!

    There is a fine balance between too much and too little – and the extremely short story format of most anthologies poses challenges to many. But, even if you don’t tell me that Girl A is also a cheerleader who loves oranges, in manga you *ought* to be able to communicate it visually. So I’m less patient with manga artists who spend hours showing us just the right amount of thigh, but neglect to communicate anything about the person attached to that thigh.

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