If you know of some media that you consider Yuri or lesbian and want it reviewed, but haven’t seen it here, take a look at our Guest Review Guidelines and consider offering to write a review.
So please welcome back Mariko and give her your undivided attention. Take it away, Mariko!
Compared to a couple of decades ago, it has never been easier to acquire and enjoy Yuri. Before, outside of a couple of pantheon-level characters and series, we Yurifans were mostly relegated to overblowing curiously timed blushes and offhand remarks. Now there’s more dedicated Yuri content released than ever before.
Of course, the dark side of this evolution has been the ossification of the Yuri genre around the “pure schoolgirl” archetype. This has resulted in seemingly endless series devoted to a plain girl entering a prestigious private all-girls school in a world where men don’t exist, and all the girls are gay. Nothing much happens over the course of a season, and at the end you get a kiss between the leads (maybe).
Where can we turn to break out of this doldrum? Where there is a real story, with a detailed plot, and things of consequence happen to a diverse cast in a richly developed world that happens to contain lesbian characters? In search of such a thing, I have delved into the world of seinen series, home of old to various evil lesbian predators or joke Yuricrushes. And to my delight, amongst the awful dreck of your Koihime Musou and Valkyrie Drives, there is some worthwhile stuff being produced! Today I come to talk to you about Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon, available on Crunchyroll (behind an adult themes warning.)
We are introduced to an idyllic world, seemingly free of all strife, and the magi-tech power called Mana that enables it. Our heroine Angelise is a spoiled, ignorant princess who, as it turns out, is one of the outcast “norma,” people (always female) who cannot use Mana. Her unmasking and downfall is orchestrated by her scheming brother, and as a result she is rudely ripped from her perfect life of privilege and thrown into the hidden war that enables the rest of society’s bliss.
As she finds out, when norma are discovered they are sent to a distant island where they are forced to use non-magic weapons in the form of fighting jet-robots called para-mails to battle extradimensional invading dragons. Most of the girls have been there since birth and know no other life.
The series has a remarkably good pace of character development for Ange. She has lived all her life believing that norma were antisocial monsters that must be eliminated, and it is not a quick or easy process for her to accept that she is one and how to restart her life as one. Additionally, the layers of truth and fiction surrounding the reality of the show’s universe are revealed in a gradual but compelling way. Things do not stay static long on this show.
Ok, so I will outright say it – many aspects of the show can get pretty ridiculous. The service is liberally sprinkled around: the battle uniforms are glorified fetishwear, too many conversations take place in baths, and there’s no shortage of boobs and butts flying around. However, as far as the plot is concerned, as crazy as many of the developments seem as they come out, for the most part I have to give the show credit for hanging together by its own internal logic to the end. There is only one truly horrendous asspull for which you will have to pretend they came up with a better explanation.
There are situations of violence and sexual coercion meant to emphasize Ange’s vulnerability. There’s lots of violence overall; although most of it isn’t especially gruesome, some scenes could be difficult if you are sensitive. Finally, the token male lead/love interest Tusk has a running gag of ending up face-first in Ange’s crotch at every opportunity. It isn’t funny the first time, and gets less funny every time after.
But that out of the way, unlike many of its contemporaries, this show has a brain and a heart. Ange goes on quite the journey from a weak, irritating, unlikeable brat to a strong, seasoned, fair leader. The series wants to say something about the way groups of people are marginalized and demonized to maintain a false sense of security. It brings together a diverse cast of people who are not stereotypes or tokens, but who have pasts, presents, and futures to explore. It draws a distinct contrast between the way the main villain says he wants “strong women of intelligence” by his side, but really just wants obedient servants, and the truly strong women who oppose him. It’s not a masterpiece, but it has ambition, and that is commendable.
Make no mistake, this is a series with Yuri, and plenty of it. But also, make no mistake, this is a seinen series through and through, and wears its fanservice badge proudly and frequently. For the first half of the series, lesbian attraction and lesbian sex serves primarily as titillation. To the show’s credit, there is never any “but we’re both girls” or a sense that it’s a stand-in because men aren’t around. Some of the sex is about power, some is about genuine attraction. The only character who thinks it’s “wrong” is Ange herself, and that is part of her character development.
In the end, while she does not return the feelings of the girl who loves her, she accepts them and even chastises her for feeling that her attraction is “weird.” Her response was pretty amazing to me for a show like this: “Who says it’s weird? That’s the ridiculous world we’re going to destroy together, isn’t it?”
In fact, there are three canonically lesbian characters who are all fully developed and have arcs both including and apart from their sexuality. They are not by any means one-note side characters or jokes. And that, whatever other shortcomings this show has, makes it worth any Yurifan’s time and money.
Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 7
Service – 10
Overall – 7
Thank you very much, Mariko!