Yuri Manga: Seasons (シーズンズ)

February 12th, 2012

At the end of last year, I voted a trio of Takemiya Jin-sensei’s works in as the #1 manga of the year. Of those three, Seasons (シーソンズ) is quite possibly my favorite.

Like so many of my favorite manga artists, Takemiya-sensei started her career as a doujinshi artist. There are several ways in which a doujinshi artist can transition into a professional career, but the one that seems to be the most effective is this – draw original work. Manga publishers are less likely to want to publish look-alikes than, say, US book publishers, who so often are running after the latest trend, rather than creating the next one. Artists I first encountered as doujinshi artists include Hayashiya Shizuru, Morishima Akiko, Morinaga Milk, Nanzaki Iku, Nishi UKO, Mitou Kana and Kitao Taiki and many, many others. There’s only one, in fact that I haven’t seen make the transition to pro that I expected to, and weirdly, he’s gone the other way, from really well-conceived derivative serials to kind of crappy porn. Oh well.

So when I saw Takemiya Jin, who I have been following for years as Junk Lab, take the leap into the pro world, I was thrilled. For her – and for us, the readers. She’s got great short-story ability, honed by years of standalone doujinshi and can carry off a series with some chops.

Seasons is a collection of several doujinshi…a few of which I have. It gives the collection a feeling of meeting old friends and making new ones in one book. ^_^

The first few chapters follow Shirai-san and Kurozawa-san as they do the usual fall in love, be incoherent about it, not get together and get together in the end. Nothing ground-breaking here. What I found especially good about this series is Shirai-san’s friend, Asaki, who (maybe) inadvertently causes a massive crisis between the two main players. Asaki, it turns out, has a female lover and a whole life that Shirai-san is unaware of. And, Asaki is clearly part of the lesbian culture in Japan, as she and her lover both use slang in their conversations. Asaki gave it away to us, the readers, when she tells Shirai-san that Kurozawa-san is “nonke” (i.e., straight.) At that point, my slangdar pinged. Straight people do not refer to each other as “nonke.”

Let’s back up for a sec. I believe I’ve referred to this before, but here’s the deal about “nonke.” When a person is part of a culture in Japan, they are referred to as being whatever”ke” or “ka”, for instance a person who does Judo is a “Judoka.” You may remember we discussed the implication of “Kocchi no ke” in relationship to “Honey Mustard,” Morishima Akiko-sensei’s story for Yuri Hime that was collected into Ruri-iro Yume. “Kocchi no ke” is pretty much analogous to an American gay person saying “that person is ‘family.'” (The “ke” kanji is similar, where “ke” or “ka” 家 – as in mangaka 漫画家- means “house” as in the “House of Windsor.”)

So, “nonke” (ノンケ) is non-“ke,” i.e., “not one of us.” It’s use always implies that the user is, by default, “one of us.” So, when Asaki calls Kurozawa “nonke,” it’s pretty much saying that she is ke.

Asaki and her lover also use reba, neko and tachi, all slang words. For definitions, feel free to check out my Okazu Glossary of Terms. (I just added “nonke” there, as well.)

Following this story are a number of shorts, one- and two-shots that deal with a variety of “Story A” scenarios, and a few stories of couples dealing with a crisis in their relationship. A multi-part story about a girl falling in love with her class representative is a pile of well-used tropes (dress them up, then get jealous of them, the group date gone bad, misunderstood feelings, etc) that was nonetheless charming.

Almost the entire second half of the book is a look at a high school girl and a middle school girl who meet on the train (when a pervert starts to harass the younger girl) and their relationship over the next year. Unsurprisingly, the younger of the two is relatively immature, and causes no end of difficulties, but ultimately, there is a happy end that allows for the presumption of a happy future.

As I said in my write up of Takemiya-sensei’s work for the Top Ten list, the inclusion of gay slang in this book is one of the qualities that catapults her work to the top for me. Anyone can write a Yuri story, but it’s still pretty rare when we get a Yuri story with visible ties to Japanese lesbian community.

Ratings:

Art – I’ve always liked her art, so for me, 8, but your mileage may vary
Story – Variable, we’ll round it to 7
Characters – In most cases, I would invite them over for lunch – 8
Lesbian – 10
Service – 2, there’s some nudity and presumption of sex

Overall – More than the sum of its parts, Takemiya-sensei’s Seasons is a 9.

I’m so happy she’s gone pro. Here’s to more great work from her!

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7 Responses

  1. Christina says:

    While I believe that it is a good thing to also include the community of the lesbian subculture in being represented, it exists after all, I’m not sure it is a prerequisite for a story to really be a lesbian story. After, not everyone who self identifies as a lesbian seeks out belonging in a community of lesbians and not all who do know the right place to look, especially not in the past before the internet.

    In fact I don’t believe that any of the gay, bisexual or trans people I know belong to or have expressed to desire to seek out a formalized community for their letter(s) of LGBTQ. I know that an active lack of desire applies to myself. I have a hard time seeing why I should spend time with people on the basis of what gender we prefer sleeping with unless I was actually searching for a girlfriend. And since I’ve already been with someone for four years and is seriously thinking of marrying her, I will hopefully never have to. I didn’t meet her anywhere oriented towards the gay community, but instead just bumped into her online where we had both been open about being lesbian and bi respectively.

    I understand of course that this is a product of wider social forces. I live in a relatively wealthy, urban area in Europe where tolerance actually is the norm, where the need to find support is not as great as it would be in Lithuania or Utah. I just don’t think that I’m any less of a lesbian for that, even though my story would never intersect with that of the local lesbian community.

  2. @Christina – It’s a very typical fan behavior to read absolutes where they aren’t.

    I never once said that lesbian slang or reference to Japanese lesbian life is the only way to represent lesbian culture.

    Very little of what passes for Yuri has any connection to lesbians at all, so it’s nice to see some connection of any kind – in my opinion, which is what this review is. ^_^

  3. Christina says:

    Oh, I know that much Yuri, whether aimed at men or women, has little to do with the actual experiences of lesbian women, mostly because it has little to do with the experience of actual people. I’m also not really sure it is fannishness as much as bad prior experiences with older gay people here actively condemning homosexuals who don’t seek to belong to a subcultural community based on their sexuality. I’m afraid it might have made me a bit touchy towards innocuous comments that seem to suggest that subcultural belonging somehow makes your sexuality more real.

    That being said, lesbian women are diverse and have no inherent similarities beyond being female and wanting to sleep with women while not wanting to sleep with men. The concept of lesbian culture even existing is an essentially arbitrary construct created on the basis of social distinctions that need not hold cultural significance. It exists and as such its existence ought to be recognized, just like it is obviously important to a large number of people who deserve to have it. I just don’t feel comfortable seeing it presented as something natural that has an existence prior to the individuals who create and perform it.

  4. @Cristina – Well, I disagree with you in a number of places, but I’ll stick to this – “lesbian culture” in Japan, specifically, is arbitrary, as you say, but still has a distinct ontology and identity.

    Women who use “nonke” have connection to this larger community. The community and the language do exist. This manga does reference it – which is unusual for “Yuri.”

  5. Christina says:

    And that is certainly something I can agree with every part of.

  6. J says:

    I have mixed feelings about Takemiya dropping out of the world of doujinshi (temporary as it may be). On one hand I’m sad that I won’t get that handful of extra stories from her per annum, but on the other hand it is rather expensive and somewhat difficult to acquire such things if I am not actually in Japan at the time.

    Any idea whether RAKU GUN [sic] is going to continue with circle activities?

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