Years ago, when Ranma 1/2 dominated the world of anime/manga – related fanfic, authors quickly discovered something critical about writing comedy. Writing farce was impossibly difficult, as it relied heavily on visual gags. And, if authors took the other road and went all serious with the characters, they instantly encountered roadblocks like sustainable characterization and the drama of emotions.
Everyone knows that tragedy is easy, comedy is hard. It is especially hard when the comedy morphs into a drama, and things that were funny when it was a comedy now have to be integrated into a serious plotline. Someone switching genders as a comedy might be a hoot and a half…as a serious character point…do you go all maudlin and self-retrospective with them? Or do you deal with everyone else’s reactions? Or do you delve into the emotional life of not knowing who or what you are?
All of which brings us to Sasamekikoto, Volume 7, (ささめきこと). As I mentioned in my review of Strawberry Panic!, there comes a time when, as a writer, you have to just write, dammit. Comedy, potboiler episodic standardized whatever all have to be tossed out so you can make a strong story which characters that are real…or the readers will simply stop caring. (In reality, some will stop caring when you try to make your characters real, too, because they *liked* the two-dimensionality of the characters, but if you’re a writer, those people are an acceptable loss when weighed against your sanity and pride.)
Unexpectedly, Volume 7 begins with a look at Ushio’s brother and his lack of a life – and the choices he made that put him in that position. This story sets the tone for the rest of the volume, as the underlying theme is surely “choices made have consequences.”
We also meet a new “couple” – Koi and her friend Mayu, whose story somewhat echoes Sumi and Ushio’s, with a slightly different outcome. Their story segues into the story of the big Karate match, and Ushio joining the team as manager. Victory is not ours, but that’s all right, as not winning is a far more real experience for most than winning. Another indication to me that this series has shifted focus away from fantasy-comedy.
And finally, we are allowed some time alone with Sumi and Ushio…and we can see that having finally acknowledged their feelings for one another are the same, they are not jumping into bed, but are dating. Another sign that this series is taking itself rather more seriously than it was.
And then, reality…seriousness…*drama* strikes.
Sumi has decided to run for the student council. As class representative, a good student and excellent athlete, she’s a natural – her striking figure and height only help to sway the boys to feel that she is almost one of them. Until one of her opponents takes the low road and outs her as a lesbian. She and Ushio had not been hiding their relationship…it had never occurred to them to do so. Now Ushio, who remembers what it was like to be ostracized in middle school, says she’ll back off Sumi and the rumors will stop. After all, Ushio says, Sumika is the one “normal” member of the Joshibu. Sumika doesn’t know how to respond to this, and allows the moment to pass without comment.
In a misguided attempt to promote Sumi’s heterosexuality, Akemiya-kun is chosen as a beard for Sumi. He accepts happily because, as we remember from earlier chapters, he likes Sumika.
In the wake of the deaths of LGBTQ and other youth in part due to bullying, I can’t help but feel that this will not go well…not the author’s fault, per se, but I guess anything written about anyone being bullied or mocked for a sexual or gender identity right now will push that button.
For the first time, I find myself considering the next volume with trepidation. I realize that Sasamekikoto is still largely a comedy. But the possibility for comedy (in the classic sense of living happily ever after) is significantly lower than the possibility of tragedy (in both senses.)
Would I like Sumika to stand up in front of the student body and admit to liking Ushio and tell them to vote and be damned? Yes, of course I would, but I’m not delusional and I don’t *expect* it to happen. I want to trust the author to take that rein and tell the “right” story, the story about being whoever you are is okay…I really want to trust him.
What will happen?
I don’t know.
That’s why I keep reading.
Art – 7
Characters – 8
Story – 9
Yuri – 7
Service – 1
Overall – 8
Thanks be to Okazu Superhero Mari K. for her generous sponsorship of today’s review!