Today it is my very sincere pleasure to welcome back Guest Reviewer Katherine H. of Yuri no Boke. Katherine is an Okazu Superhero, a YNN Correspondent, a Yuricon supporter and a terrific lady. Thank you Katherine – the floor is all yours!
Yoshida Akimi, of Banana Fish fame, also made a short classic Yuri manga called Sakura no Sono, (櫻の園) which ran from 1985 to 1986 in Lala magazine and was adapted to film twice by the same director, Nakahara Shun, in 1990 and 2008. (The obi on the re-print being reviewed here advertises the 2008 movie.) While Sakura no Sono is noteworthy for when it came out, it isn’t especially groundbreaking or memorable in any other respect.
Sakura no Sono is the Japanese title for Anton Chekhov’s Вишневый сад (“The Cherry Orchard”). Sakura no Sono means “Garden of Cherry Blossoms”, which is apt given that SnS’s characters attend an all-girls’ school, Oka Academy, surrounded by cherry trees, and the idea of a girls’ school as a “garden of maidens” is well-established in Yuri. Additionally, sakura blossoms, which appear throughout this manga, represent ephemerality, as in the state of adolescence the characters are in.
SnS is divided into four chapters (followed by a bonus, unrelated story), each spotlighting a different student participating in the Oka Academy theater club’s annual production of “The Cherry Orchard” for the anniversary of their school’s founding.
The first chapter focuses on Nakano Atsuko, whose older sister is getting married soon. Natsuko’s boyfriend Shin-chan, who attends a nearby boys’ school, wants to have sex, but she isn’t ready yet. (To his credit, he’s good-natured and non-pushy about it, even after she slaps him after his initial overture.) One evening when Natsuko is alone with her sister, her sister talks about the guy she fell in love with in high school- and never stopped loving-, who she recently bumped into and caught up with. (Natsuko’s sister attended Oka Academy and the boy she liked attended Shin-chan’s school.) With her sister’s regrets haunting her, Natsuko decides to sleep with Shin-chan. Her two best friends tease her good-naturedly after she tells them about it, and life continues the same as always as they prepare for their school’s performance of “The Cherry Orchard.”
The second chapter follows Sugiyama Noriko, who is apathetic towards her classmates, her school, her parents, and her role in the school play. She enjoys going on dates with her boyfriend Shun-chan, but won’t kiss him because she’s afraid of going any farther. She and her friends get caught playing hooky and smoking, and after getting in trouble for it at home, she cries while thinking about when she got her first period, when the sakura were in bloom, of course. She invites Shun-chan to her house when her parents are out, and he warns her about how she shouldn’t go out at night because she might encounter guys, who only think about one thing. She doesn’t take his warning seriously until he jumps her. He backs off after she screams “No!”, but then yells at her that she’s a jerk who doesn’t think about other people’s feelings. At school, she finds out that people are spreading a rumor that she and her friends prostitute themselves, but she waves it off and decides to be more considerate of other people’s feelings by letting her boyfriend make out with her and becoming more like a “normal” girl. This was my least favorite chapter.
The third chapter stars the theater club’s president, Shimizu Yuuko. Her mature, put-together demeanor causes the other students to respect her, but prevents any of them from getting close to her. When she hears some girls gossiping about Noriko, she sticks up for her, and they become good friends. Noriko quickly pegs Yuuko as having a crush on Kurata Chiyoko, the reluctant prince of the theater club who draws the akogare of the other students and is playing a female role in this year’s performance of “The Cherry Orchard.” Yuuko and Noriko talk about the advantages of being in a girls’ school (that there aren’t any boys around to tease them for wearing bras or bringing pads to school), before Noriko kind of bizarrely points out that all of the cherry trees at Oka are male. It turns out that Yuuko partly has a crush on Chiyoko because she wants to be more boyish, like Chiyoko, but mostly because Chiyoko reminds her of her first love, an older guy named Akira. Before leaving school one afternoon with Noriko, Yuuko quickly writes a poem on Chiyoko’s desk, comparing her to sakura petals.
At the beginning of the fourth chapter, Chiyoko sees the poem and wonders who might have written it, not getting that it was meant for her. One day Yuuko gets in trouble for coming to school with a perm, and tells Chiyoko that she plans to quit the drama club. Just as Yuuko wants to be more boyish like Chiyoko, Chiyoko wants to be more girly like Yuuko, so she can get the attention of the guy she likes. Yuuko tells Chiyoko that she likes her (“Suki yo”, “Daisuki yo”), and even though Yuuko doesn’t return her feelings, she’s happy that someone cares that much about her when she’s so boyish. Yuuko’s just happy that she was able to tell Chiyoko how she felt. This was the high point of SnS- how Chiyoko responded to Yuuko’s feelings as nicely and non-homophobically as she could have, given that she didn’t return them. The theater club performs “The Cherry Orchard”, which Atsuko’s older sister has come to watch with her fiancé. She reminisces among the blooming cherry trees about how she performed “The Cherry Orchard” in the theater club when she was in high school.
Even though I really didn’t like how the situation with Shun-chan was resolved and having the “horny boyfriend x reluctant girlfriend” dynamic for two chapters in a row was overkill, this was mostly an okay manga. As a title from the 80’s, it doesn’t have the over-the-top melodrama and “Yay, we’re breaking new ground!” energy that the 70’s wave of Yuri has but, while it isn’t tragic (unlike Yuri from the 70’s), not much actually happens. (I would rather read a well-written story about two girls who are actually interested in each other and have chemistry, but have a tragic end – like Maya no Souretsu- than a bland one-sided crush that’s largely explained away as having nothing to do with being interested in women.) Sakura no Sono came out when Yuri was shifting towards happier endings in the 80’s, before unambiguous happily-ever-after endings emerged in the 90’s, a generalization that Yuuko’s story supports.
As a whole, SnS feels like a four-part after school special on “things teen girls need to deal with“, brushed over with a heavy coat of nostalgia for “days gone by.” For Atsuko’s sister, the one significant adult character, it’s the good old days of high school; for the teenaged characters, it’s their prepubescent years; nobody really seems to be looking forward to the future.
Sakura no Sono isn’t bad, just too tepid and wistfully nostalgic for my taste. It was worth reading to make the “early Yuri” catalogue in my head more complete, but the impression it leaves is as light and fleeting as the clouds of sakura petals fluttering across its pages.
Art – 7 (Good, but not especially eye-catching. I appreciate the “realistic” character designs, complete with hairstyles that girls were actually wore in the 80’s.)
Story – 6 (Aside from chapter 2, which is a 4.)
Character – 6 (5 for chapter 2.)
Fanboy – 0 (It does take place at a girls’ school, but it doesn’t frame the experience in a manner that I can imagine appealing to Fanboys.)
Fangirl – Sadly, 0
Erica here: Along with the translated and reasonably well-known Banana Fish, Yoshida is probably known best in Japan for her classic BL and GL collection, Lover’s Kiss – click the link to read my 2006 review of that classic.
Thank you again Katherine for the great review!