Archive for the Miscellaneous Category


Torikaebaya Manga, Volume 11 (とりかえ・ばや)

May 1st, 2017

I just finished Torikaebaya, Volume 11. I’m also reading the new deluxe Revolutionary Girl Utena manga from Viz, Both are by the same artist, Saito Chiho, and I was thinking how very much Koyasu Takehito (Touga’s voice) would be *brilliant* as the Emperor if they ever did an anime. (They won’t. Nothing happens for long stretches). So I sort of happily sat there imagining Hisakawa Aya as Yuzuru-Shinou and Mitsuishi Kotono as Umetsubo and on and on and suddenly it all came crashing down in my head when I realized that the person who should be – deserved to be – Suiren and Sarasoujuu, Kawakami Tomoko…is dead. And that ended that little fantasy. :-(

In Volume 11, some very important things happen and some Very Important Things happen.
After spending a lot of time following Sarasoujuu as Suiren, we turn towards Suiren, acting as Sarasoujuu. He has gone off to track down the curse on the Emperor created by the evil priest Ginkaku and although he and his men have been attacked, they recover the curse.

Back in the capital, Toguu-sama completes a beautifully rendered ritual to Amaterasu.

A letter and proof of the curse arrives and she runs off to find Suiren…and find him she does. She comes upon a beautiful young man in a hut and immediately, she recognizes that this is her Suiren, although she has mostly known Suiren as her lady in waiting. Calling Suiren’s name, she rushes to him. They spent a night blissfully together and I got to grin my head off. Yay for Toguu-sama and Suiren.

In the meantime, Sarasoujuu as Suiren, in conversation with the Emperor, accidentally quotes a waka that she had, some years previously, composed as a young lord. Suddenly, the tumblers fall into place and the Emperor can see what has always always been in front of his eyes – the young lord he kept so close and the woman he loves are the same person. He can see that much, but does not (and cannot) understand that this switch is not a switch, but a switch back to her birth sex. He’s Byronically confused through the rest of the volume. (Which is about when I thought Koyasu Takehito would be brilliant as his voice.)

Toguu-sama returns to the capital and is told that she is no longer the heir. Ichinomiya-hime, as she will now be called, couldn’t care less because she has her Suiren. She tells the Emperor that she has always admired Sarajoujuu. I love her. She’s absolutely my favorite character, hands down. (Today in Erica’s imaginary alt-Torikaebaya, Ichinomiya-hime becomes Empress with Suiren as consort. Screw this story’s established literary canon. I want what I want.)

It all looks like things might be turning for the better but Ginkaku has one last evil-eyebrowed trick to play. Before his removal from the palace, he sends a letter to Umetsubo-sama, one of the court women who is Ginkaku’s equivalent of evil doings in the women’s quarter. Umetsubo hates Suiren and has had a feeling all along that Sara and Suiren had switched places. Ginkaku’s letter confirms this. And now she thinks she’s armed to bring the hated Suiren and Ichinomiya-hime down. 

It also means we can see, with complete clarity, what the climax of this series will be, as she forces a sex reveal to “prove” that Suiren and Sara have switched places. But, of course, no one realizes that the initial switch was in childhood and they are currently passing as their own birth genders. Umetsubo is doomed to fail. I hope she’s terminally mortified.

So, with an end in sight, but not necessarily close, I guess the happy end we’re gunning for is Suiren as Sarasoujuu with Ichinomiya-hime and Sara as Suiren with the Emperor, Yuzuru as heir to take the pressure off all four. And hopefully Ginkaku and Umetsubo condemned to a horrible death or something.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it for now, but I welcome an even better alternative if you have one!

Ratings:

Art – 10 This volume was exquisite
Story – 9 Yay! Suiren and Ichinomiya-hime!
Characters – 9
Service – 2

Overall – 10, but it’s still killing me. ^_^

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Thoughts on the Future of Yuri, 2017 Edition

April 30th, 2017

It has been my pleasure and honor to read. watch, write and speak about lesbian-themed Japanese animation and comics for 15 years now. And during that time, I have watched the creators and readers and viewers of Yuri – the “we” and “us” of this blog – promote and support this genre through gestation and into birth. 

I’ve written at length over the years about the history of Yuri. How we got here, from the literary roots of “S” stories of the early 20th century Japan, to mid-century exploration of sexuality and gender by the Year 24 Group.  In addition, in 2013, I wrote a short Yuri Needs List. In the years since that list, we haven’t quite gained any of the elements that I had hoped for, but in some ways we’ve gained something more critical – validity as a genre. Bookstores in America and Japan are starting to recognize Yuri as a genre within the medium of manga, although there is much left yet to do. Publishers are willing to  invest in Yuri because now there is a market for it. 

It is true that publishers (and, often, creators and readers) find it simpler to squeeze a genre into well-established and comfortable tropes. For Yuri, this obviously means stories set in school, where pressures of coming out, living together, political invisibility and lack of social and political clout and rights are simply nonexistent. It’s worth noting that none of the popular Yuri best-sellers available in English this year challenge these tropes. It is also worth noting, as fellow writer and Yuri fan Sean Gaffney (of A Case Suitable for Treatment) noted, that “the default for Yuri manga in NA has become ‘good if predictable’ rather than ‘not awful pandering’.” 

Another thing we’ve accomplished is that , as I write in my essay Yuri – A Genre Without Borders, Yuri has gone global. Anthologies explicitly labeled “Yuri” are commonplace, as tropes, artistic cues and manga style art has traveled past Japan’s borders.

Now, as we move past Yuri’s infancy, it’s worth taking a look at what we want for the future. ^_^ The list this year is short, but intense. I’ll count down in order of urgency.

 

3) More Diversity in Yuri

You may be looking at the header here somewhat quizzically. More diverse? Manga is already a priori works by what in the west are considered people of color, isn’t it? Well, yes, but also no. Because Yuri manga made by Japanese creators are created for and sold to a Japanese audience, it’s no more “diverse” there than primarily white mainstream comics are here in America. It would be nice (but non-critical) to see non-Japanese characters in Yuri. There are foreign lesbians living and working in Japan.

Even more importantly, when I say “diversity, I mean it would be nice to see diversity of lifestyle. We’ve had series published in Japan that discuss being lesbian parents, such as  Okaasan Futari Itemo Iikana!? (お母さん二人いてもいいかな!?), and Higashi  Koyuki and Masahara Hiroko’s Futari no Mama kara, Kimi-tachi he (ふたりのママから、きみたちへ), or Fujima Shion’s Yurinin (ゆりにん) but none have been translated.  Alternative families are a thing world-wide and no less inside the lesbian community than outside. It’s time.

And, lastly, I still await a really good Yuri series about older couples. This is inevitable, as the current crop of Yuri artists are going to age…and some of them are going to draw from their experiences dating or being in a relationship as an older lesbian. But I want it now. 

 

2) Lesbians

In the 1920s in Japan, it was a radical act for two girls to decide to live together, rather than submit to family pressure to marry. In the intervening years, Yuri manga still tended to be focused on hothouse environments of school. The underlying assumption was often that, upon graduation, the girls will move into adult life, become wives and mothers and remember this childhood love fondly. The situation is better now than it was, even just a few years back.  After Fumi came out in Aoi Hana in 2011, I assumed we’d see a veritable waterfall of coming out in Yuri, but…so far it remains a trickle. Even in Yuri series running in the one all-Yuri monthly manga magazine. there’s a lot of same-sex like and love without lesbian identity. That said, there is a shift happening. You can see it in manga being published by Yuri artists for themselves in either print or online and in work by the few out lesbian Yuri artists, like Takemiya Jin and Nakamuya Kiyo.  There’s been a visible shift in the past decade as stories about lesbians and by lesbians and for lesbians pull closer to and overlap with Yuri manga, giving Yuri readers a chance to understand the Japanese lesbian community. 

It’s somewhat predictable that, as soon as we do see more lesbians in Yuri, we’re going to have to wade through dozens of “coming out” narratives, in which we are inundated with stories of girls who realize they like that other girl and, by extension, girls. Personally, I’d like to skip right to the part where about half of Yuri manga is just about lesbian lives. Luckily for me, another positive trend is real-life lesbians creating comic essays about their lives, like Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, available in June from Seven Seas. These comic essays tell real-life stories from real Japanese lesbians, which helps with both Japanese lesbian visibility and the melding of Yuri manga and lesbian content. 

There’s a lot of room for good queer content to enrich Yuri manga and vice versa. My fingers are crossed.

 

1) A Sport Series

I am never giving up this dream.

For the last several years, I have made this my highest priority for a very simple reason – sports manga are a perfect environment for sexual tension. This past year in Japan, fans of BL were treated to an incredibly popular anime series called Yuri on Ice! that featured a same-sex romantic relationship in the world of men’s figure skating. I am impatiently awaiting a Yuri Yuri on Ice!.

Yuri has had one-shots and chapters and storylines a-plenty in which any number of captains of Softball, Ping Pong, Tennis, Track clubs fall for their teammates, coaches, co-captains or managers, but we just don’t have a series that digs down and has the blood and guts and oni coaches and heart-rending failures and soaring triumphs we require in a sports manga series. And we’ve had any number of blood and guts and demon coaches and heart-rending failures and soaring triumphs in sports manga series starring women in Japanese, but few of these have ever made into English and none have had that explicit romance we’re looking for. We need a smoking hot Yuri sports rivalry.

Softball, Ping Pong, Tennis, Track are all fine. Rugby would be nice. Or Motocross. That would be lovely

Swimming. Ice skating (although, thanks Yuri on Ice!, you’ve made *that* redundant and derivative for us.)

Martial Arts. Volleyball.  Horse-jumping. Anything. Just give me a damn Yuri sports series already! I will not stop asking for this.

This is my wish for our Yuri Future – a sports love-hate rivalry that burns the pages up for 12 volumes. Is that too much to ask?

For 15 years, I’ve watched this genre take tentative steps forward from stories in which characters left to get married or died, to being “together” and even going so far, these days to saying “I love you” and living together. Sometimes, even, to having a lesbian in the story.

I can hardly imagine what I’ll be asking for 15 years from now…but it had better not still be a sports series.

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ZZZ no Z ~Nemurichan to Oyasumi~ Manga(ZZZのZ~ねむりちゃんとおやすみ~ )

April 13th, 2017

Remember when I recently complained that I have read wayyyy too many “genius who sleeps makes hard-working classmate crazy” manga? As I was reviwing Kore de Wakatte Yo!, I commented that it was awfully similar to the Premise of Anoko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo (A Kiss and White Lilly for My Dearest Girl, which I’m reading in English). Well, so is ZZZ no Z ~Nemurichan to Oyasumi~ (ZZZのZ~ねむりちゃんとおやすみ~ ). So it’s no wonder that I’m a little done with this plot. ^_^;

Fukaine Nemuri (“A deep sleep, eh”) is alway number one in the school results, even though she sleeps through class all the time. Hard-working and hyper Okita Soyoko (“That girl’s awake”), is driven mad by her classmate’s apparent sloth and evident genius. What could have been a really annoying gag comedy, actually becomes a kind of sweet friendship between the two.

It even develops into something vaguely amusing when it turns out that the number three position in the school is a guy who accounts himself very pretty, and had fallen for Soyoko, unaware that she is the very same Okita who has pushed him down in the rankings.

Thankfully, as the volume winds down we learn just why Nemuri is so sleepy all the time (aside from being named “A deep sleep, eh”). She is the primary caretaker to 9 younger siblings. Well that would do it.

The art reminded me of Fuurai Shimai, with that same crazy expressions and  overblown reactions to vaguely normalish situations. It wasn’t as bonkers as Fuurai Shimai, but it had a similar feel.

Ratings:

Art – 6 On-purpose messy
Characters – 5 They do develop, just not much and not fast
Story- 5 It’s a sit-com
Service – 2 lots of “girls sleeping”
Yuri- 1 Not really

Overall – 6

For a single volume I could tolerate the hyper-frenetic comedy of the story.  If there is a second volume I will pass. But watching Nemuri and Soyoko start to unconsciously rely on one another wasn’t that bad. I guess it just grew on me. It certainly helped me sleep at night.

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Kore de Wakatte Yo! Manga (これでわかってよ!)

April 9th, 2017

Mimoto’s Kore de Wakatte Yo! manga collection (これでわかってよ!) is a perfectly adequate little manga that suffers primarily from being instantly comparable to similar, but better, manga.

The stories in this collection will mostly likely remind you of those in A Kiss and White Lily For My Dearest Girl, simply because of the odd-couple set up that is the favored plot complication. But I have to be honest, I really hate the “genius who never tries” stereotype. From personal experience as the person who works constantly to try and get better only to be okay at best, there pretty much is nothing more irritating.

So while there’s nothing really bad here, it was hard to get behind these not-quite Yuri stories of not-quite- couples. Of these stories, “Aii Renai Futari,” the first, multi-chapter story, of the collection was the strongest, with a couple you could imagine being far more interesting once they left school and grew up a bit.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Service – 1 On principle only
Yuri – 4 Before the relationship, mostly

Overall – 6

It wasn’t bad, I found it pleasant to read and look at, just lacking in substance other than “Story A” Odd-couple style.

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Watashi to Kanojo no Otomari Eiga Manga (私と彼女のお泊まり映画)

March 22nd, 2017

Koharu and Mayumi have been friends since high school. They have a standing “date” on Friday nights. Koharu picks a movie and they watch it. And then they talk about it.

Mostly Koharu teases Mayumi for having very little reaction and Mayumi teases Koharu for having a very big reactions. Koharu likes romances and dramas, Mayumi prefers action and horror. 

At the end of every chapter we get a movie review. And that’s basically the entirety of Yasuda Kosuke’s Watashi to Kanojo no Otomari Eiga (私と彼女のお泊まり映画). 

In between movie reviews we do learn a little bit about the two women, and, in the final pages, they have a rather touching moment where they acknowledge that friendship with each other has changed them both for the better.

If you really want to read two manga characters discussing how Mad Max Fury Road, or Inside Out made them feel, then this is the book for you. ^_^

Ratings:

Art – 6 It has moments of not so good
Character – 7 Nice kids, I’d have them over for lunch
Story – 5 We’re literally listening to them talk about movies they just watched.
Yuri – 0 They are friends. They hug. Koharu even sleeps over in what had to be the most refreshingly unsexual sleepover scene I’ve read in ages
Service – 4 You wouldn’t think there could be, but sometimes Mayumi’s breasts are centered for reasons

Overall – 6

You know…I’d probably read another volume. Nothing happened in a refreshingly normal way and it was kind of nice.

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