Archive for the Morinaga Milk Category


Yuri Manga: Hana to Hina ha Houkago, Volume 3 ( ハナとヒナは放課後 )

February 27th, 2017

In Volume 1, we met Hana and Hina, schoolmates who share a (against school rules) job working at a character goods store. Hina has a second part-time job modeling. In Volume 2, Hana learns something world-changing – Hina also previously had a girlfriend. Fighting with herself about nascent feelings for the younger woman, this changes her own perspective radically.

In Volume 3 of Hana to Hina ha Houkago ( ハナとヒナは放課後 ), Hana screws up her courage to bring up Hina’s former relationship, only to have the idea shot down by Hina, who blames Maiko for making it all awkward. She assures Hana that she’s “normal.” Now Hana is thrown into a real tizzy. She still likes Hina – having found the courage to admit that, she is devastated that her feelings won’t be returned. Things become very tense between them. Will they get together? I’m not going to spoil this book, as you too will be reading it in English (Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3) soon enough! But…seriously…what are the chances that they don’t get together? Pretty much nil, since it’s a series by Morinaga Milk. ^_^

The what, though, isn’t really that important. The how is. 

If there is any criticism I have of Morinaga-sensei’s work, it is the fantasy of it all. Stress exists only as an internal struggle – the character(s) wrestling with their own feelings. There’s almost no interaction with external difficulties. No disapproving parents, no prejudiced school administrations. It’s a handwave I’m glad to accept, as it allows the story to exist as it’s own thing, in the fantasy of a lily-scented landscape. This may be changing

(In the following notes, there may be some small spoilers. I’ve done my best to minimize them, but be warned.)

In Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossoms Pink, Hitomi merely fantasizes about a future in which she and Nana are adults and can be together. In GIRL FRIENDS (Volume 1 and Volume 2) Morinaga-sensei took a step outside the isolation of a “couple in love” and gave Akiko and Mari friends…friends who accepted them and their relationship. In the very end, Mari even gave some thought to the issues of coming out to parents and what school and work might think…in the future. 

In Hana to Hina ha Houkago, it is through the existence of a previous relationship that Hana learns about Hina’s  sexuality. This is not unknown as a plot complication in manga, and often is denied, as Hina does. But it’s also addressed later on when Hina speaks more honestly.

Hana still has the benefit of a friendship outside Hina and it is in that friendship that she finds the strength to speak to Hina, when the tension between them is becoming oppressive.

The ending touches briefly upon two new issues for a Morinaga-sensei work, marriage and coming out. They are both presented with a creative flourish, without connection to the “real” world, but both in unique and positive ways. In a sense, it’s Morinaga-sensei herself taking tentative steps with her hyper cute romance narratives towards something with more depth. With Otouto no Otto running in the same magazine, maybe Morinaga-sensei’s feeling more confident about her narratives “coming out.” I’d like to think that she is. In her next series, we’ll hope to get the characters navigating dating or living together. ^_^

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 8
Service – 6 Sex is a thing that happens
Yuri – 8 See above

Overall – 9 for sexuality, coming out and marriage actually being addressed. ^_^

Morinaga-sensei shows us again that she’s strongest in a character-driven plot when she’s given the time to tell the whole story. At 3 volumes, I think Hana to Hina ha Houkago is her strongest work to date.

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Yuri Manga: Gakuen Polizi, Volume 2 (English)

February 5th, 2017

Time is a funny thing. I first reviewed Gakuen Polizi, Volume 2 when it came out in Japanese. And, since then, I’ve found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the narrative. So much so, that I reviewed Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1 in English in 2014(!) and have been stalling on Volume 2 since.  Today, at last, I’m sitting down to talk with you about Gakuen Polizi, Volume 2 in English from Seven Seas.

Why? You don’t have to ask, because obviously I am going to tell you. ^_^

You know the phrase Women in Refrigerators? It was coined by comic writer and amazing human, Gail Simone. I’m going to be lazy and quote Wiki here:

It refers to an incident in Green Lantern #54 (1994), written by Ron Marz, in which Kyle Rayner, the title hero, comes home to his apartment to find that his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, had been killed by the villain Major Force and stuffed into a refrigerator. Simone and her colleagues then developed a list of fictional female characters who had been “killed, maimed or depowered”, in particular in ways that treated the female character as merely a device to move a male character’s story arc forward, rather than as a fully developed character in her own right.

In subsequent years, we’ve had many discussions in comics and other popular media about “fridging” and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “sexy lamp test” about which she said

“If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.”

In a nutshell, these issues are part of the disenfranchising of female characters. And, to some extent, they are also part of the de-nuancing of the villains. In the weekend after watching Steven Universe “That Will Be All” in which we were gifted with fabulously nuanced and evocative performances from the villains of the story, it’s kind of brute-force narrative to have to turn to a manga in which a female character is almost gang raped on film just to show you how bad the nameless baddies are. UGH.

So, yeah, that’s why. ^_^

There are some other problematic things about the story. The relationship between a student and a teacher might be sincere, but will always be fraught. It was presented with some, but not enough context, just enough to make both characters sympathetic and the story less ham-handed, but the situation was still creepy.

Sometimes, when I write a story, I find it taking off into a dark place. I’ve cut out tens of thousands of words in stories when the idea needed to be treated with a light hand and kept crawling into a dark corner. This story needed that. It worked best when it was dealing with moments of human frailty and not big crime rings. 

The ending makes sense best if you recognize the characters from a doujinshi Morinaga-sensei drew decades ago. To be honest, I assumed from the beginning that that story was the kernel for this manga. 

Ratings:

Art – 7
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 6
Service – 8 Way more service than the first volume

Overall – 7

I would not rate this series among Morinaga-sensei’s best. I’m glad it’s in the past and that she’s moved on to Hana to Hina ha Houkago, which will be coming out in English as Hana and Hina Aterschool this spring. 

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Top Yuri Manga of 2016

December 29th, 2016

I started these lists because I’m very bad at recommendations, and while that has not changed, I do think it’s worth taking the time out every year to note the stories that surprised and pleased me over the course of year. If you have also enjoyed any of these in scanlation, please buy the original, even if you cannot read it. 2017 will present an extraordinary opportunity for you to get many of these in English, so there’s really no excuse! I know that Okazu readers are very likely to contribute to the Yuri ecosystem and for that, I thank you all. And, with that….Welcome to the Okazu Top Yuri Manga List for 2016! 

 

10. Mahou Josei Chimaka

There’s a number of reasons I wanted to put this graphic novel on the list. The first and most important reason was that it was good! I really enjoyed the storytelling and the characters. I love stories that take a look at after the story ends, and this story was that AND a fun magical woman story AND had a WoC lead AND was just generally cute as the proverbial button.  And it was from Sparkler Monthly, which is the one fully truly original English language women-focused comic and prose magazine. I cannot begin to tell you how important I think this magazine is.  Yes I can…I think it’s immensely important.  For all these reasons, Mahou Jose Chimaka makes my best-of list for the year. ^_^

 

9. 2DK, G Pen Mezamashitokei

I love this story. I want so badly to take Nanami out and have a good long talk with her. Sure I want her and Kaede happy together, but honestly, I don’t really care about Kaede, I want Nanami to be happy. 

I love Ohsawa Yayoi’s art, which has really leveled up. I love that it’s a story about adult women that has adult things like face soap and nice clothing and marketing promotions at work. 

Volume 2 made me think that I couldn’t wait to read Volume 3. And that’s why it’s on the list. ^_^

 

8. Hana to Hina ha Houkago

Morinaga Milk has had a rough couple of series. Trying so desperately to apply a “Yuri” formula to characters she should have felt free to just tell the right story for, is no fun. But it feels like she’s hit her stride again in Hana to Hina ha Houkago, with a cute, cherub-faced innocent and ever-so-slightly-more-worldly girl who loves girly things. It’s a formula she’s used before, but it’s working here. I’m enjoying this series and hope she’ll be allowed to, and want to do, something beyond another coming out drama.

Coming in 2017, we’ll all be able to enjoy this story in English with Hana and Hina After School. Volume 1 and Volume 2 are already up for pre-order!

 

7. Last Waltz

Katakura Ako’s art is a trainwreck and so was the story, but this highschool Jane Bond just really appealed to me.  Shinobu took everything annoying about the “nonverbal anti-hero” wrapped it up in a school uniform, her ‘M’ was everything annoying about every ‘M’ ever….and slathered in Yuri for no reason. I loved it.  

This is not even the only title on this year’s list that had no redeeming qualities. ^_^

 

6. Seesaw Game/Renai Log/ My First Lady

Takemiya Jin continues to be an absolute machine at putting out good-to-excellent Yuri. And I continue to enjoy the heck out of it. 

Her art has come a long way, her touch in storytelling is so deft that I’m probably holding her to higher standards than I have ever held anyone else. It’s not fair, but she’s just that good. It’s always a good year for Yuri when her work has to be this far down the list. ^_^

 

5. Yagate Kimi ni Naru

This is a manga that is on the list as much for the splash it made, both here and in Japan, as it is for my reaction to it. The formula was typical…and not typical at the same time. The story is playing with the audience, making us dance to it’s tune, rather than rushing forward into the most obvious ending.

The art is clean, the characters have depth and you’ll be able to start the new year off with the first volume of this series in English, from Seven Seas as Bloom Into You, Volume 1.

 

4. Anoko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo 

Another series on the list that is here as much for General Effect as it is for anything else.  While the world may not have needed another all-Yuri couple school, Canno has included some slightly-less typical stories and created characters that exceeded their initial boundaries. I’m also just really glad that Canno’s got a breakout hit. Every artist ought to have at least one series that catches the Zetigest.  

And, again, you can celebrate 2017 with the first volume of the English–language release of Cannos’ series, Kiss and White Lily for my Dearest Girl.

 

Which brings us to my Top 3 manga for the year. The shuffling around on this list has been shell-game worthy, but these are the three that landed on the top. ^_^

 
3. Murcielago

I warned you that Last Waltz wasn’t the only manga on the list that had no redeeming qualities, so you should have, honestly, expected this one. ^_^

Murcielago is ugly, it’s violent, the sex is nasty, the characters are cracked. The plots are absurd strings of ways to kill and dismember people and the dialogue is absurd. When it hits low points, it gets really low. Lower than Weather Woman low.

High points include creative ways for horrible people to die, consensual lesbian sex and perfectly matched psychopaths fighting.

And! You too can read this “violence Yuri manga” in English in 2017 from Yen Press (I like to pretend I don’t know why) as Murciélago, Vol. 1. Isn’t that amazing and cool? I certainly think so!

With so many of these titles coming out in English next year, it’s a fair bet you’ll see some back on the list next year. ^_^

2. Comic Yuri Hime Renewal

I’m not going to lie here. I was on absolute pins and needles about the January 2017 issue of Comic Yuri Hime, especially after Ichijinsha was bought by Kodansha. I was worried for a lot of reasons. Comic Yuri Hime had just gone through a cover series of extreme moe-blob faced covers, and a cover “story” which had me stabbing my eyes out with boredom and disgust.

There were, still, artists I liked, but how long would they be allowed to remain…and most of all, would we get anything ever again that was even remotely original? I don’t hate school girls, I just wanted a frikkin’ story that isn’t the same exact thing over and over. 

While Comic Yuri Hime is not (and never can be, if it is to survive,) perfect, I was super pleased to see some genuinely original stories and new artists who didn’t need to retread the same old stories. Kind of out of relief, but also because I was so genuinely pleased at the direction the magazine is taking, the Comic Yuri Hime renewal is number 2 on the list!

No drumrolls, no cutesy leadups. This year my top Yuri Manga is….

 

1. Collectors, Volume 2

This manga has everything I’ve ever wanted in a manga. Adult women in a commited relationship, with lives and friends and family and snark and romance….

Shinobu collects books and Takako collects clothes and they love each other very much, even if they’ll never understand the other’s obsession. 

Nishi UKO’s art is slick and adult and beautiful and I physically relax everytime I look at it. Collectors is everything a Yuri manga could be if it was ever allowed to grow up.

 

My Top Yuri Manga for 2016 is, once again, Nishi UKO’s Collectors.

One more list to go…!

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Yuri Manga: Hana to Hina no Houkago, Volume 2 (ハナとヒナは放課後)

September 30th, 2016

hthnh2In Volume 1, we met Hana, a typical high-school girl with an afterschool job at a mascot goods store, against school rules. At the store, she meets and befriends Hinako, another student from her school, who joins her as a part-timer. Hinako is also an amateur model with polished, adult looks, despite her actually being a first-year and Hana’s junior.

In Volume 2 of Hana to Hina ha Houkago (ハナとヒナは放課後), the story follows a well-worn path through familiar territory for Morinaga Milk fans. As the two girls become closer, they – each in their own way – start to develop feelings for the other. And, as they grow closer, the potential for small jealousies and misunderstandings increase.

Hana learns about a former friend of Hina’s, Maiko, who is also a model. Unusually, it is instantly apparent to us that Hinako and Maiko’s relationship was more than friends, even if it’s not at all apparent to Hana. Hina, for her part, is jealous of Hana’s school friends, in a quiet, unintrusive way. They are switched off the same shift for school term exams, which adds to the sense of distance between them.

Hina comes awfully close to kissing Hana one day and is appalled at herself. Hana is starting to think about Hina differently when she actually meets Maiko, who casually tells her to tell Hina that her former girlfriend dropped by. The scales fall (at least partway) from Hana’s eyes.

Now we return to the tried and true as both girls have the same feelings, but neither can bring themselves to mention it to the other.

Hopefully Volume 3 will quickly resolve this and equally hopefully, we’ll get to step beyond that a bit and watch the relationship develop past the “we like each other” stage. At the moment, though, Morinaga-sensei is firmly in her comfort zone of just before-the-confession. While I am glad that Hina has had a previous girlfriend, I have no idea if or how that might affect the narrative going forward. I hope it does have some affect other than being a reason to be jealous. Certainly, Maiko didn’t seem vindictive or anything. So maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see a conversation about being gay in a Morinaga series. It’s still an outside chance, but she’s been edging closer and closer over time and Futabasha is the same publisher who is putting out Otouto no Otto.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Service – 4
Yuri – 5 for Maiko

Overall – 7 +1 for the existence of a former girlfriend.

I still have fingers crossed. ^_^

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Yuri Manga: Hana to Hina ha Houkago (ハナとヒナは放課後)

April 4th, 2016

HanatoHinaHana to Hina ha Houkago, Morinaga Milk’s newest manga series, reads like a Cards for Humanity “Yuri Tropes” edition. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Hana works at a character goods store after school, despite the school’s explicit rules against part-time jobs. (Potential plot complication, duh) At work, she meets tall, beautiful Hinako who loves character goods and turns out to be younger than Hana and a transfer student into her school.

The tropes are strong in this series and the formula is a bit Odd Couple, as Hana turns out to like the character goods’ cuteness, but not really get the whole concept of character goods (or collecting them) and Hina loveloveloves character goods and knows everything about them. She’s also a fashion model, good at sports and smart, while Hana is sort of average at best. But it becomes obvious that Hina likes Hana, even if the penny has not yet dropped for Hana.

And yet, by the end of this first volume I kind of still like them both – despite Hina’s apparent perfection and Hana’s lack of clue.

The best thing about the series is the pacing, which is awkward, uneven and slow. ^_^ The first chapter or two, I felt like were sliding too quickly into an obvious romance that would be pretty much be Himitsu no Recipe all over again. But no. Instead of a headlong rush into a mis-match, Hina turns out to be a really likable character, and you finish this volume pulling for her and hoping Hana doesn’t take too long to get that clue she’s missing. Hana is never unsympathetic, either. You can see she’s  on the brink of cluing in, but she’s an average high school girl and not used to thinking outside very typical boxes.

Ratings:

Art – 8 Cute things and clothes drawn cutely, Milk-sensei’s specialty
Story – 7 with potential for higher
Characters – halfway through I’d have said 6, but by the end, 8
Service – 4 I mentioned the cuteness, right?
Yuri – 4, climbing, slowly, but inexorably

Overall – 7

You want them to come together – but you want it to be realistic and have depth of connection, not just ’cause this is a Yuri manga. Fingers crossed.

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