Hatsumi and Sakura are best of friends. They have done everything together for years, including studying for and being accepted to the prestigious Otoha Academy where, because of the wild roses that grow around the school, the students who study there are known as the Maidens in the Forest of Wild Roses.
Otoha Academy buildings are luxurious, the dorm rooms are spacious and the furnishings are gracious.The students are polite, graceful and well-mannered. The elite of the school are a beautifully groomed couple – Top Star Otokoyaku Izumi-sama and her Musumeyaku companion, Mayuko-sama.
Hatsumi and Sakura are walking around the grounds, enjoying the rarified atmosphere into which they have been admitted when they come across Izumi and Mayuko in the garden. Unseen by the older girls, they can tell that Mayuko is crying and unseen, they watch as Izumi and Mayuko kiss.
Overheated, Sakura and Hatsumi go back to their room where after a tense moment of recollection, Hatsumi finds herself shockingly close to kissing Sakura. She pushes her friend away and they laugh it off as a moment of overstimulation.
But now Hatsumi can’t take her eyes off Izumi-sama, and it appears that she is of some interest to Izumi. Hatsumi and Sakura are asked to be year representatives in the dorm association and find themselves involved in the school festival (the Maria-sai) planning. More importantly, Hatsumi finds herself in the company of Izumi more and more… and even though she’s said she can’t like Izumi that way, because they are both girls, it’s becoming apparent that she does indeed like Izumi, that way.
Sakura, for her part, has become morose and possessive. She challenges Hatsumi about her feelings for Izumi-sama, and is belligerent when she discovers Hatsumi alone with her.
Hatsumi and Sakura draw lots and end up being the ones to shop for materials for the school bazaar. But Sakura goes down with bad menstrual cramps and Izumi accompanies Hatsumi…their first date, she calls it. They get caught in the rain, and end up back in Izumi’s room, drying off. The lights go out. Hatsumi finds herself in Izumi’s arms, and she’s moved to confess her feelings for Izumi…. When the lights go back on, Mayuko-sama is standing there. Hatsumi runs back to her own room, but won’t tell Sakura what happened – except to say that yes, she does like Izumi-sama! Sakura looks sad, but says nothing.
The school festival comes. Hatsumi learns that Mayuko is being accompanied by her fiancée and suddenly, Hatsumi is obsessed by the need to protect Izumi from the news. She runs Izumi around the school trying to avoid the issue, until they run into Mayuko and her fiancée in the hall. Izumi greets the young man with the air of someone who knew all along and Hatsumi is mortified, realizing that she knows nothing about either of them.
That night at the dance, Mayuko and Izumi make the perfect couple…until Izumi congratulates Mayuko on her engagement and is slapped for it. Hatsumi runs after Izumi…even after Sakura asks her not to go. Hatsumi finds Izumi and tries to comfort her. Before she knows it, Izumi kisses her. In the shadows, Mayuko watches them.
Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi （野ばらの森の乙女たち）is definitely the lesbian love child of Maria-sama ga Miteru and Strawberry Panic!, with shades of aunt Himitsu no Hanazono at the table. Izumi is Amane and Shizuma and/or Sei all rolled up together, while Hatsumi is Hikari and Yumi smooshed into one character. The parallels are not exact, but are striking enough, all with a Yuri coating so thick (and not getting any thinner as the story progresses!) that even if we resolve one of these relationships straightly, there’s just about no way that all of these couples go away. Our only question, really, is whether we root for Hatsumi and Sakura or Hatsumi and Izumi.
The plot thickens in the next chapters, so I’m just *dying* to see the current volume!
Of everything I bought while in Japan, this was tops on my wish list. And it was this volume I opened up on the plane to read, which prompted the nice Japanese woman next to me to ask if I understood Japanese (“Enough to read children’s manga,” I said.)
This manga is great so far. Even if they do something stupid, like Izumi’s really a guy, that doesn’t lessen by one iota how gay this story is. ^_^
Art – 8 It’s the art that really reminds me of Himitsu no Hanazono, has that 90s shoujo manga look
Characters – 8
Story – 9 You know this one
Yuri – 8
Service – Unintentionally, probably a 5 or so
Overall – 9
Another candidate for this year’s Top Ten. It has all the bells and whistles and is targeted at a young female audience for added oomph.