Archive for the Shimura Takako Category


Yuri Manga: Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 (English)

October 4th, 2017

Third time’s the charm. In 2012, JManga did a digital-only translation. Towards the end of 2014, Digital Manga Publishing also tried putting Shimura Takako-sensei’s new classic Yuri manga out as a digital publication. Now, in 2017 we have what is very likely to be the definitive English-language translation for the series, in omnibus format. Thanks to Jocelyne Allen, Jen Gruningen and the folks at Viz, I think we’re at peak Aoi Hana here in the west.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 introduces us to Manjome Fumi and her old childhood friend, Okudaira Akira. They had been very close as children, but when Fumi moved, they fell out of touch. Now, as they both head to different high-end girls’ schools, they’ve met again. 

I was reminded as I read this book that although the opening and the ending are – in my opinion – very weak, the rest of the story is excellent. It’s got surprising depth and breadth. Characters that surround Fumi and Akira are as well-developed as they and as interesting. 

In the first half of this Volume 1 – the original Volume 1 that was, Fumi is charmed, then asked out by an upperclassman at her all-girl’s school. Sugimoto is not her first girlfriend, but may well be the first by her own volition. Their time together is brief, as it becomes very clear that Sugimoto carries a whole host of issues with her and Fumi recognizes that she’s worth paying full attention to.  By the second half of the volume, Fumi has learned a lot about herself, among them that Sugimoto is the third person she’s loved.

The school play gives a chance for the cast of both schools to mix and emotions to be be heightened. Wuthering Heights is an unsurprising allegory for the tensions and passions of the cast to swirl and come together and part, like a storm. 

But by the end of the volume we have Akira and Fumi still friends. Fumi has, in a very rare act in Yuri manga, comes out to Akira. It’s a tempestuous time in their lives, but they both know who each other were – and are – and are there for each other. 

This still, after all these years, stands out as one of Shimura’s most tightly put-together stories. Other series have sort of swirled and eddied around the same material without changing, but we can see the changes to Akira and Fumi and their friends in pretty steady progression, as they encounter, deal with and grow from challenging situations.

This is a series that has many (if not all) the hallmarks of a “S”-era story and in my Very Brief History of Yuri I call it and Maria-sama ga Miteru “S for a new generation.” We can, like Fumi, enjoy the atmosphere of an old girl’s school. We can enjoy the drama that comes along with the hot-house environment. And we get the added advantage of characters with society – friends and families, brothers and parents and teachers who are male and female and a modern sensibility, in which gay people exist, and have lives. This is all so critical to my enjoyment of a manga. We have this series in omnibus form (available in print and digital format) and it, like several other series available right now, will be on my short-list of books that embody the classic concepts of the genre of “Yuri.” 

Interestingly, since the author attempted (unsuccessfully) to visit Yoshiya Nobuko’s home, the grandmother of Yuri gets both a mention in the notes and is attributed as the women who pioneered Yuri in Japanese literature. This is true, but she’s even more important than the note accounted for, because she not only pioneered Yuri, but also a great deal of what we think of as shoujo literature and manga. Yoshiya Nobuko-sensei was the richest woman in Japan in her lifetime. She’s an inspiration and a hero of mine. (Here’s my report of visiting Yoshiya-sensei’s home, from 2013.)

This edition came with a lovely assortment of postcards from the Aoi Hana Meets the Enoshima Electric Railway collaboration event from 2012 (an event reported in excellent detail by Guest Reviewer Bruce P – with pictures!). The book itself is exceedingly well put-together, with those cover flaps that take the place of a dustcover, but allow readers to see all of the cover and flap art. Color pages are included – including the cover of the second volume as a interior color page. Even the font choice matched the original well. And the translation and adaptation are excellent. I really do think this is a “definitive” edition. We’re not likely to get better. There’s very little room for it to be better. 

This is the version we all wanted. There’s no excuse not to buy it and support the author and folks at the publishing companies that brought it to us! Volume 2 will be out in December, 2017.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Characters – 8
Story – 7
Yuri – 7
Service – 1

Overall – 8

Today’s review was brought to you by the kindness and generosity of Okazu Superhero and occasional Guest Reviewer, Eric P.! Thank you Eric, once more, for all your many years of support! 

If you enjoy our Guest Reviews here on Okazu, I hope you’ll help support the Guest Reviewers – the Okazu Patreon is a mere $34/month away from being able to pay our writers. Every dollar will get us closer to that goal. If you’re a regular reader here and have enjoyed Eric’s reviews, I hope you’ll consider supporting Okazu on Patreon so we can pay him for his work! 

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Yuri Manga: Awajima Hyakkei (淡島百景)

July 2nd, 2015

I know this is going to sound a little strange, but I never really know what I’ll get with a new Shimura Takako series. I mean, yes, she has blown me out of the water with Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers, but she’s also left me cold in any number of other series. In fact, her work most resembles Melissa Scott‘s science-fiction to me. I love the characters, but find the almost-passionless storytelling hard to warm up to. I just wish I could feel her in her work.

In Awajima Hyakkei, Shimura takes on a topic of much interest to Yuri fans all over the world – the student body of a famous all-female musical revue school that is definitely not that other famous all-female musical revue troupe that might automatically come to mind.

Each chapter focuses on two of the people at the school, the relationship between then, the circumstances of their friendships or rivalries and what the connections in the school mean to them afterwards. This volume is not in any way tidy. The whole thing is non-linear and is easier to read if you stop looking for “the story” and start just letting the character profiles work on their own. Eventually they tie back to the beginning and eventually we start to feel the threads of fate that bind everyone in the school.

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There is a little bit of Yuri, in a story about first love. It is the kind of classic old 20th century retrospective, where the love the character feels is recognized mostly as she looks back as an adult.

Some of the best parts of the volume are those vignettes set in the past. My favorite chapter was towards the end when a new student uncovers the family history of one of her teachers and learns that she’s a third-generation star.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – Variable, averaging 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 3
Service – 1 on principle

Overall – 7, but I think it will improve with a re-read.

As the title says, this series is “One Hundred Views” of a respected establishment, rather than a single tale. And, like a famous landmark seen for the first time, it will get better with a second viewing.

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LGBTQ Manga: Wandering Son, Volume 5 (English)

June 27th, 2014

wson5One of the most maddening things about human relationships is our frequent inability to escape from previously established patterns of interaction with people. We return home to visit parents to find them – and ourselves – slipping into well-worn and often dysfunctional habits of communication and behavior.

As Nitori Shuichi begins 7th grade in Wandering Son, Volume 5 (Amazon | RightStuf), I couldn’t but help feel as if I was reading a return to old habits and relationships. Chiba’s still angry, Mako’s still perceptive in an awkwardly adult way, Sasa’s still energetic and Nitori and Takatsuki are still fighting battles on multiple fronts. A few relationships have changed, but many have not and the tensions they create fill the book with chapters that look eerily like the shadows of earlier chapters. But, even as I say that, I realize I’m being ungenerous. Everyone – especially Nitori and Takatsuki – have indeed changed.

Which is why I almost found it frustrating that the plot complication of the gender-switch play was introduced…again. Yes, it works for this class and yes it allows the characters to work some stuff out, but don’t you wonder if the rest of the kids in the class thought, “Really? Again?!”

And the super awkward obsession of the teacher is, well, just straight up freaky. Now I’m wondering if any of my teachers looked at me and thought of some past person they knew instead. (-_-);

The issue of the gendered uniforms is subsumed in Chizuru’s wearing of the boy’s uniform because she feels like it, while Takatsuki, who desperately desire to do so, does not. And Nitori is almost reflexively denying the desire to wear girl’s clothes, but Mako rightfully points out that they may not be able to get away with it for much longer. Puberty creeps ever closer.

In all sincerity, I am reviewing this volume for the last scene in which Chiba, in an unusually lucid moment, asks Nitori if he likes Takatsuki as a boy who likes a girl, or as the girl he wants to be liking Takatsuki as a girl. I’d also add the possibility that Nitori as a girl could like Takastuki as a boy. Not surprisingly, Nitori cannot answer that question. It’s a tough one and the answer to it is the primary reason I’ll read the next volumes.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 9
LGBTQ – 8

Overall – 9

I find this series deeply uncomfortable reading, but I keep coming back. I want to see how this plays out.

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Yuri Manga: Aoi Hana, Volume 8 (青い花)

October 29th, 2013

And here we are, at the final volume of Aoi Hana (青い花). Wow, have we come a long way.

High school graduation approaches, but before it arrives, the girls of Fujigaya head to London for a class trip. Unbeknownst to Fumi, Akira and Kyouko catch up with Sugimoto-sempai who now lives there with Kawasaki-sempai.

Then graduation comes, and Fumi and Akira are forced to have the conversation that has been building between them for some time. Is there, in fact, a “them” to discuss?

In the meantime, Yamashina-sensei finds that a confidence shared off the record has become general knowledge. The students learn that her lover is female after all.  And in the end, nothing changes. But, it seems likely that she’ll feel less inclined to be honest with the next student who asks. And you just know the rumors will continue.

Graduation passes, and so does time. Everyone is drawn together once again, this time by a happy occasion – Kyoko’s and Kou’s wedding. Time moves on, as Ya-san notes, for all of us.

Yamashina and her lover, Haruka’s sister,  consider holding a wedding ceremony themselves, a scene that made me inexpressibly happy. ^_^

Without spoilers, I will assure you that you the ending does not bring closure. It has the one thing I had hoped for – ambiguity.

Ratings:

Story – 10
Characters – 10
Art – 10
Lesbian Life – 10
Service – 3

Overall – 10

The story began on a day that led to many other days, full of joy, sadness, loneliness, friendship and love. Aoi Hana ends on a day that will lead to more of the same.

Happily Ever After is, as we well know, a process, not a destination. And for Fumi and Akira life is, as well.

This is the third manga series I like that has come to an end in 2013 and for the third time, I find myself left feeling happy, rather than sad. ^_^

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Wandering Son Manga, Volume 4 (English)

July 30th, 2013

WanderingSon4We’ve covered a few volumes of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son, published in English by Fantagraphics here on Okazu, but it hasn’t been featured regularly.

We’ve covered Volume 1 and Volume 2 and I hope those reviews were enough to encourage you to buy and read Volume 3. The early volumes introduce us to Shuuichi, a boy who wishes to become a girl and Shuu-chan’s classmates, friends, enemies (among whom I have to count his sister, the aspiring model) and Yoshino, a girl who wishes to become a boy.

In Volume 4, the story remains complex and emotional as always. By this point, Shimura-sensei’s characters are finely wrought, so the tension in each panel is palpable. Manga scholar Matt Thorn has gotten out of the way of his own translations, so the story flows as smoothly as a story as jangly as this can possibly flow.

The children are just beginning to enter puberty, and their bodies are not necessarily their friends. In this story we see the complexity of sex, gender, gender roles and sexuality laid out in the messy mishmash that it is. After reviewing Anything That Loves last week, I found myself paying attention – for the first time – to Anna, another aspiring model and peer of Shuuichi’s sister, Maho.

Anna is not presented to us as a nice person. She’s mean to Shuu-chan…but then her introduction to him was dismissive and unkind and Maho is selfish, not supportive of her brother and uninterested in him as a person. (The last, admittedly, pretty common among siblings.) Anna, taking her cue from this, has teased Shuu-chan in an immature way – but also in a way that clearly indicates to the audience that she is interested in him.

It’s hard enough as an adult to understand the mechanism for “showing interest in” another person. As a tween/teen, there is pretty much no socially acceptable mechanism for this at all.  Any expression of interest of any kind is grounds for teasing. And here is Anna, interested in a boy who would prefer to not be a boy….she’s got to be asking some questions about herself in the middle of the night. Is her interest in Shuu-chan in the boy-girl he is or the person he might become? There are no answers for this at this point, and as we saw in Anything That Loves – there may never really be an answer. Anna is immature enough to take her confusion out on Shuu-chan…which puts us in a bad place as readers. We might be sympathetic to her if she was merely angry at Shuu-chan for not being what she wanted, or at herself for having confusing feelings, but in her (and Maho’s) hurtful words and actions we’re seeing something that is way too close to bullying and bashing for us to be sympathetic at all.

Next volume they start middle school with the addition of the rigid gender-identifier, the school uniform. What, for so many shoujo heroines is a looked-for right of passage, will be for Shuu-chan and Yoshino-kun, a political and social statement. This gender/sex/sexuality/ thing is really complicated. I’ve already got my fingers crossed tightly for them and I don’t even have Volume 5 yet.

Ratings:

Art – 7
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – ?

Overall – 9

The best, perhaps the only real way to  describe Wandering Son, is that it is compelling story-telling.

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