For the purposes of classification on this blog, I call Yurikago no Otometachi (ゆりかごの乙女たち) a “Yuri” manga, but it is more properly an “S” story. The volume rides a thin line between pulp and realistic and, surprisingly, manages it quite well.
It is the Taisho period and more and more Japanese men are being drafted into the country’s war efforts. Tamaki is a serious young woman who has no female friends and, even at the girl’s school she attends, is considered a rich girl, an ojou-sama. She receives a letter from an upperclassman asking her to be her little sister and has to have “S” explained to her.
By chance, Tamaki meets Yukiko, another girl in the same year as she and they hit it off as friends. The upperclassman Takaki rejected comes back to taunt her, but Yukiko steps in and protects Tamaki. Tamaki’s feelings for Yukiko are deepening, although she has no words for them.
Tamaki’s world is shaken when she sees two boys kissing in an alley and even more so when it turns out that the “boys” are two girls who disguise themselves to give themselves the freedom to go to the cinema unaccompanied. The two girls are upperclassman Kinuko and her lover Yoshino from Tamaki’s school.
Just as Tamaki is really starting to understand her feelings, real life intrudes. Tamaki is given the chance to skip a year of school and go straight to advanced education (what would probably now be a junior college) but the war is taking more and more men, and Tamaki will have to leave school, as her father has been drafted.
Tamaki misses her opportunity to tell Yukiko how she feels, and everything is lost in the subsequent life changes. Tamaki sees Yukiko with a young man, a suitor or fiancee’. Tamaki seeks advice from Kinuko, but finds that Kinuko has broken up with Yoshino, because the younger girl is too serious and their relationship cannot be sustained beyond school. As they speak of it, Yoshino runs up to confront Kinuko, followed by Yukiko in pursuit, trying to stop her. Tamaki tries to slow Yoshino down, but finds herself cut across the hand by Yoshino who is holding a knife. Yukiko catches up to Yoshino and is stabbed in the scuffle.
Kunuko’s family pays everyone off to get them to forgive and forget. Tamaki, who has been there waiting for Yukiko to recover has not yet seen her friend. It’s not until that nice young man comes with a gift for Yukiko, asking Tamaki to take it in for him, that she sees her friend. She leaves, but Yukiko wakes, hears her voice and comes out of bed, fever and wound and all. Finally, they see each other again and, even as they admit that they wish they could be together forever, they separate with a patently false promise to meet again.
Tamaki learns that the young man who has worked for her father is off to Hiroshima, and while Yukiko returns to the bench at school where she and Tamaki met, Tamaki leaves, promising to never forget her.
I’m not going to lie, this was a sad book, but it was well-drawn and well-told and, as I say, rode the line between melodramatic pulp and a realistic story beautifully. For something that tells an S story with an overt acknowledgement that the story inside the cradle is not the real story at all, Yurikago no Otometachi is a sad, but extremely well-executed look at a same-sex romance in an age that had only S relationships.
Art – 8 Clean, easy to follow, pleasantly free of allegory
Story – 8, sad, but realistically so
Characters – 8 (except, perhaps, Kinuko, who seemed a bit forced)
Yuri – 7
Service – 1, on principle only
Overall – 8
I read stories like this and mentally rewrite them set in our current time with a different ending, to make myself feel better. T_T