Archive for the Guest Review Category
I’m headed for Massachusetts to eat and drink and talk queer manga at Harvard tomorrow, heavy-hearted with the fresh loss of my dear friend Bruce. I’d like you all to read this and lift a glass of something tasty to his memory. Here is the final Guest Review by Bruce P.
So you bought a copy of Practical Problems in the Forbidden Art of Reanimation, only to find it has nothing to do with Sailor Moon Crystal – but you’re having fun with it anyway, following the step-by-step instructions. Your hand-stitched project is now lying shackled and inert on the slab; electrodes have been implanted; dynamos are screaming in anticipation; lightning is crackling in the midnight sky outside – when you reach step 37 and realize, shoot, you forgot to pick up a brain. Well, no biggie. You pack a light snack and head down to the local morgue.
It’s dark as you creep in, hacksaw in hand, and begin opening the frosty vaults. You work at peeling back the rubber sheets – they tend to stick – and look over the corpses, trying to identify just the right kind of brain to harvest for use in…Maxine. But can you really gauge the quality of what’s inside those craniums from their frozen faces alone? Fortunately, you’ve broken into the Yuri wing, and your years as a fan are your guide…
Vault #1. 1940’s hairstyle done up in Play-Doh. Obviously a blithe Takemoto Izumi character. Too whimsical. Next.
#2. That aquiline nose and cold-chisel chin – clearly from the Takamiya Jin family. Bitter chocolate, when you’re looking for Milk Duds. Next.
#3. Eyes like pitted olives in search of a Martini. Must be a Morishima Akiko character. Too Perky.
#4. A double, how romantic. But cauliflower ears from the boxing rings of Hell – Oku Hiroya’s spawn of course (remember Hen?). These two have been on ice a while. Too pendulous (oh, you do remember Hen).
You are about to despair, when the final vault reveals a truly gruesome sight:
#5. Mouth gaping like a dirigible hangar – the unmistakable trademark of an Oku Tamamushi character. Overwrought, and potentially clinically insane. But on the plus side, this brain fits in a sandwich bag.
The preceding bit of seasonal froth highlights a curious fact: Oku Tamamushi has clearly made wide gaping mouths his personal artistic trademark. His work is instantly identifiable. This clever branding was a true flash of inspiration, the kind of thing you just don’t pick up in art school (not if it’s accredited). And he really gets to practice his yawning orifices in the 4-koma series Akarui Kiokusoushitsu, Volume 1 aka Cheerful Amnesia, (明るい記憶喪失). The title is honest and accurate. The cover character is in fact a violently cheerful Yuri amnesiac, and that is pretty much all there is to the story. It’s a long a haul to the end of the volume.
Arisa and Mari have been living together for some years. But as the story begins Arisa is lying comatose in the hospital, suffering from a severe case of plot device. When she awakens, she has no memory of Mari or their life together. Mouth wide open she wonders who this lovely, unfamiliar, unsmiling woman is sitting by the bed. When Mari informs her she’s her lover, Arisa’s little brain short-circuits. She blushes, shrieks, squirms, squees, wriggles, and generally provides evidence as to why Mari never once smiles through the rest of the Manga. What Arisa doesn’t do is close her mouth. Not now, not when they head home, not when she sees their big fluffy bed. Not much of ever, actually. Oku Tamamushi has a brand, and Arisa is intent on getting that contract for Volume 2.
From this point on Arisa has to get reacquainted with the intimacies that go with living as a couple. She doesn’t manage it well. She actually doesn’t manage it at all. She’s just so embarrassed and excited and squirmy to know that her lover is this lovely, unfamiliar, unsmiling woman (wait, wasn’t that page 1? Yes, and many, many pages beyond). It’s heavy going for Mari as they work their way from holding hands to soapy bath-times to the frilly underwear. It’s heavy going for us all.
There’s one bright spot in all this. Mari heads out of the house for work in a sharp suit; Arisa follows her to find what office she works in. She is shocked to discover that Mari is in fact a welder. All she can do is stand with (guesses?) her mouth open. But really, there are far too few Yuri stories that feature skilled metalworkers, just my opinion. Obviously, even fewer good ones.
Arisa blunderingly (she really is a pill) outs Mari to her fellow workers. But the old guy in the shop is cool with it, to Mari’s relief, and the creepy young guy is just sad because he had a crush on her.
The essential Arisa is revealed in a flashback of how the two met. Mari is working the counter in a fast food place. Schoolgirl Arisa takes one look and is rooted to the spot in an agony of open-mouthed love. She returns to stare again day after day. Then one time Mari is not there, and Arisa, bewildered, simply sits faithfully waiting, pining away, hour after hour, heedless that the trains have stopped running. Mari shows up late and lugs the poor passed-out thing home. So, there it is, she’s Hachiko. If she was fuzzy it might be cute.
Four-komas are essentially newspaper comic strips, which are of course meant to be read on a one-strip-a-day basis. The majority of 4-komas are best approached in this fashion. This one would benefit from much greater intervals.
Art – 5. Fairly routine 4-koma material.
Story – 4. Without the amnesia, this could be a low-budget parody of Minamoto Hisanari’s Fu-Fu – the two women living together in each are even similar ‘types’: the free-spirited flake passionately in love with her taller, serious partner. But it does have the amnesia. And so much less.
Characters – 5. A welder and an Akita. Unique, possibly, for a Yuri series, but not entirely healthy.
Yuri – 9. A 10 would be %100 good Yuri. This is just %100 Yuri.
Service – 8. Less in what is actually depicted, than in servicey situations, such as Mari arriving home with injured hands, requiring Arisa to wash her in the tub (blush, squee, squirm).
Overall – 5. This actually got a bump up to 5, less on merit, really, than as an encouragement for more Yuri stories with professional metalworkers. Or electricians. That just came to mind. Must be these screaming dynamos.
And if you think disinterred body parts electrified to walk the night are grotesque, consider that Akarui Kiokusoushitsu Volume 2 is now out.
Hi folks. I have no idea what to say here. This is the second time I’ve lost someone important to me, someone who I met because of Yuri. Okazu Superhero, Guest Reviewer and my very dear friend Bruce Pregger has passed away.
If you’re a long time reader, you’ve read many of his hilarious reviews and his event reports (I’m putting them all, and this post, into a new category, so they can be found simply) here on Okazu. He’s traveled with me to several continents and I’m going to miss him so much, I can’t even express myself.
Ah, crap. I hate this.
I had a guest review of his all scheduled to run on Wednesday, it will still run, but dammit, Bruce, you were supposed to go with us to Tokyo in 2 weeks. Dammit.
Goodbye Bruce, you will be missed.
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
It’s Wednesday, and not to be all commercial-esque on you, you know what that means here on Okazu, yes? It’s Guest Review Wednesday! And today we have our dear friend and wonderful review writer, Bruce P with a review of a collection based on a “retro” Showa-style phone comic. So without further ado, here is Bruce to change the way we look at things. Just the way we like it. ^_^ Take it away Bruce!
When observing the constant promenade of polite characters who flutter through Otome no Teniwoha (乙女のてにをは) Volume 2, by Luna-2 (ルナーツ), the paintings of Maurice Prendergast instantly come to mind. Prendergast. Honest, they do.
Maurice Prendergast (American impressionist/post-impressionist painter, ca. 1900) was a people person. That’s not a criticism, necessarily; people have their good points, some of them, on occasion. When not driving their pickups. But Prendergast just really, obsessively liked people. He squeezed as many as he could into his pictures, which are all crowds of tiny figures. At the beach, or in the park, or jammed into the Piazza San Marco in Venice, so many figures that ‘Where’s Waldo’ springs to mind, though that’s a bit unkind considering the cost of insuring the things. His figures look and act pretty much the same from one picture to the next: nicely dressed girls and women in fancy hats* caught in a sketchy snapshot enjoying random everyday activities. If men are present they remain fairly peripheral. And the women always, always carry umbrellas, or parasols. Not to go all Rachel Maddow here, but remember that point.
*Until he discovered Cezanne and Matisse, at which point the women stopped wearing fancy hats and nice clothes, or any clothes.
Nantasket Beach (1898)
Luna-2 is just as much a people person as Prendergast was. He similarly crowds an ever-changing cast of girls into his Otome no Teniwoha scenes. Boys are present, but they remain fairly peripheral. The stories are all short, eight-page snapshots of daily life, revolving around random everyday things like haircuts and cats and hairstyle malfunctions and more cats. Everything takes place in and around a single school, to judge by the uniforms, but no two stories have the same characters, and with only eight pages to make an impression the characters remain rather sketchy. Very slice-of-life, gently and politely humorous, and without any emotional connections between the briefly spotlighted characters.
So…what does any of this have to do with Yuri?
Nothing at all. And that’s why it’s here.
Because Otome no Teniwoha, Volume 2 has been highlighted in a recently published mook titled ‘Introduction to the World of Yuri’ (Yuri no Sekai – Nyuumon, 百合の世界入門). It’s highlighted as a Yuri series. It’s so highlighted that it gets a full page spread, with a bigger illustration than Fu-Fu and Asagao to Kase-san, and almost as big as Aoi Hana. This is all very peculiar, because the stories are completely devoid of Yuri. The characters are connected by nothing more than the fact that they go to school together. And though this does require that they stand next to each other now and again, they can usually keep even that under control. So how did this become a faux Yuri classic?
It’s that umbrella. The one on the cover. Two girls sharing an umbrella, how deeply romantic is that. Prendergast possibly would have thought so—his girls-and-umbrellas obsession is otherwise a little hard to explain. The ‘World of Yuri’ editor apparently thought so—or possibly he was confused, after a long night of editing, mistaking the cover for Morinaga Milk’s Girlfriends Volume 2. More likely and quite depressingly he may simply see any interactions between girls as Yuri. Because the tender umbral confines of the cover is as Yuri as it gets. In fact, while the cover illustration is derived from the first story, where Shuntoku-san and Sawaragi-san do end up sharing an umbrella, the illustration below shows Shuntoku-san’s actual emotion about having to do so. The difference in the illustrations is amusing. The one on the cover, of course, is the one that plugs the book, no doubt successfully (well, I bought it). And the one that also gets it included in peculiar Yuri guidebooks.
Art: 7. Not because the art is anything approaching stellar, but because the style suits the stories so very well. Pleasant, if slightly robotic, restrained, almost prim.
Story: 6. Lots of little ones. The ‘Teniwoha’ in the title refers to grammatical particles, the tiny syllables that scuttle underfoot indicating parts of speech, so you know there will be no epic themes here.
Characters: 7. Polite. Very polite. Never behind the wheel of some damn pickup.
Yuri: 0. Or almost 0. The closest any story gets is one in which a tall girl is told to partner with other girls for dance practice, making them blush and her sweat.
Service: 4. For those who like cats.
Overall: 7. For the thing it’s meant to be, it actually does a fine job. It’s just not in any way a Yuri thing.
Erica here: Well. THANK YOU for reviewing this Bruce. I have been putting off actually having to deal with Yuri no Sekai – Nyuumon, for this exact reason….it seemed very much a “pile of stuff the editor read” rather than, “Here are series you might possibly wish to know about if you are actually interested in Yuri.” And because of this very conflagration of “what editor-san liked” with “what is good” it sits there on the bottom of the pile, making a fine base for the pile of books I want to read. ^_^
I frankly, cannot cope with another “Intro to Yuri” that lacks any understanding of Yuri, nuanced or not. Part of why I am finally working on what has already become, in my head “that damned Yuri book.” I will say that, based on this review, “Showa retro” is a fairly accurate summation, however.
Thank you again, as always for your terrific perspective and for expanding our artistic vocabulary!