Hello all, it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya’. Otome no Teikoku(オトメの帝国 6) has soldiered on in the meantime; it’s now on its twelfth published volume. However, the publisher has indicated that, contingent on the sales of the 12th tankoubon, they may end the series with the 13th. So if you are enjoying this series and want it to continue, please support it by buying the newest volume!
But for now, let’s rewind for review and discussion of Volume 6. The stories in this book represent another subtle evolution of the way that Kishi-sensei is presenting this world. Are there still servicey vignettes with plenty of skin and “sexy” shenanigans? Yes, a couple. What about the ubiquitous flashes of panty and peeks of bra? To paraphrase the Blues Brothers, “How often does that fanservice go by?” “So often you won’t even notice.”
But something subtle is welling its way up into the storytelling. For the first time, the majority of the chapters are not about “Yuri” per se – that is, the tropes of one girl noticing and admiring another girl, physically or otherwise, and the results of that attention. The characters are developed enough to just interact as friends and people, and some of the best chapters aren’t even about the established couples. Let’s go over some of the highlights.
Halloween Watergun Fight
I know what you’re thinking, but you are wrong. This is not an excuse to show the girls in skimpy costumes or wet see-through shirts. Rather, Midori (the pint-sized manga club member) accosts Mayu (Kaoru’s kouhai plaything) on Halloween dressed as Rambo, hands her a watergun, and strikes the first blow. As the two rampage through the halls, the rest of the manga club try to get in on the action, also in Rambo gear, but get thwarted by student council rule-stickler Onoda. There’s really no service, just some funny jokes and a lot of fun with a unique premise and an unusual character pair-up.
The spectacular oil-and-water mixture that is Yuu and MahiMahi continues here to great results. MahiMahi invites Yuu and Mari over to their house for Christmas. Of course, Yuu wants nothing to do with it, but Mari convinces her to give it a shot. On the day of, the old “we can’t bake a cake” cliche gets dragged out. Yuu sits out the baking shenanigans at first, and it’s really funny to watch her get madder and madder the more the others screw up, until finally her frustration boils over and she takes over the kitchen. Yuu proves her talent by producing a beautiful cake, and endures more harassment the rest of the night from MahiMahi, but it’s worth it in the end for the appreciation she receives from Mari.
It’s been hinted at before now, but this is the first time we see that the beauty Kaoru and the grumpy otaku Honoka are sisters. Kishi-sensei absolutely nails the subtle character beats here – they share a physical resemblance, especially in their heights, but its the spot-on sibling dynamic that really sells it. Older Kaoru is known for her poise and beauty, and is always being praised by her family. Thinking she’s unable to compete, Honoka retreated behind a wall of scowls and hair to the world of manga. But Kaoru really cares for her sister and sees her potential. Here she forces Honoka to dress up and do a shrine visit with her for New Year’s. Honoka complains the whole way, but is ultimately touched when Kaoru uses her wish to ask for Honoka’s dream of being a manga-ka to come true. And, of course, Kaoru gets in some absolutely pro-league flirting with the miko at the shrine.
I love that the Ai and Chie pairing has been serious enough long enough to give us lived-in vignettes like this one. Yes, we haven’t seen them kiss or openly declare love for each other, which would be wonderful of course. But their story to this point has been such a fantastic example of “show, don’t tell,” as their relationship evolved and deepened in completely non-tropey ways. Here, Ai is sick, and Chie wants to visit and care for her. But instead of the cliché scene where the nurse makes rice porridge and applies cold compresses and whatnot, Chie is just there for Ai. They snuggle in bed, they read a magazine together, they chat. Of course, there has to be one nod to tradition – Chie gets sick too, in the end.
Kishi-sensei must have realized in hindsight how poorly the first volume serves his characters, because this volume includes an interesting “prequel” chapter. It shows how all the second-years (Chie, Ayano, Miyoshi, Ai, Michiru, Airi, Honoka, and Onoda) met for the first time on the first day of school, and allows them to interact with their current, developed personalities instead of just as flat fetish objects. It also tries to provide a bit more context and backstory for the ludicrous reason Chie and Ai start off so antagonistically in that volume. In case you don’t remember, it was breasts. Unfortunately, the additional shading provided here? Also involves breasts. Two steps forward, one back sometimes.
The bulk of the Yuri lifting being done in this volume is by Yuu and Mari. They can be very over-the-top, as in the opening chapter where Yuu “punishes” Mari for a screwup by spanking her in a photo booth. But they can also be very understated, as with the glances and touches they use to convey their emotions in the other chapters. As I’ve said before, Yuu is definitely an immature brat, but Mari is no victim. She knows what Yuu is, for better or for worse, and loves that person. She takes her “punishments” when it’s fun for her to be subjugated, but she knows how to get Yuu to do what she wants as well, as when she makes it clear she wants Yuu to accept MahiMahi’s invite. I really like their dynamic, it’s different and fun.
The Shizuka/Mio/Kaoru arc gets just a little push forward this time – Shizuka is reminiscing about her association with sunsets and kissing Kaoru. When Mio interrupts her reverie, she asks how Mio feels about sunsets, and then offers to kiss her (clearly hoping to replace her troublesome memories of Kaoru).
As I have often said, I happen to really like these characters and the weird, funny, and unexpected “slice of life” stuff that happens to them. Kishi-sensei’s art is beautiful, often stunningly so (one drawing of Kaoru in the shrine visit chapter is breathtaking). And there is so much lived-in, thought-out detail in the stories. I wish we got a lot more relationship development, and that the physicality was organic for the relationships and not accidental for the audience (in other words, fewer nip slips, more kisses). But at this point I think the series had pretty well defined what it will and will not be. I can easily overlook the bawdier, less-believable stuff for the goodness in between, despite its limitations. I hope some of you will too!
Art – 9
Story – 6
Characters – 8
Yuri – 6
Service – 7
Overall – 7