YNN Special Report on Yurimate, by Julia T

April 19th, 2017

Well, color me pleased and surprised. While I was sure that it was a complete fabrication for April Fool’s Day, Yurimate seems to have been real(!) if temporary. Sort of like a Yuri mirage. ^_^

To begin with, it’s probably worth pointing out that there are several Animate locations in Tokyo alone. The three I have personally visited are in Shibuya, (which, very cleverly, moved to the same building the Mandarake has occupied for years, thus making shopping at both a mere elevator ride,) Akihabara, where it is the grande dame of anime/manga goods stores on the main street and in Ikebukuro. This last location has been my home away from home for years. Because of Otome Road‘s location nearby, populated with BL-doujinshi and goods, Ikebukuro Animate tends to cater to the female fans. They typically do carry some Yuri manga on the shelves, and when I was last there, had Yagate Kimi ni Naru front and center when one walked in. The fact that it’s “women-focused” clearly doesn’t preclude it being Yuri-friendly. 

Imagine, then, how my heart soared when I saw that it was the Ikebukuro location of Animate that was being advertised with a “Yurimate” special area.  While it’s not a permanent feature, the Yurimate event is running and it is in Ikebukuro and it goes into May. And here to tell us all about it is YNN Special Correspondent Julia T! Thank you Julia for jumping in and taking the plunge for us! The floor is all yours.

As it turns out, the April 1st announcement from Animate Ikebukuro that they would open a new Yuri-only floor at least partially came true. From April 15th until May 14th, the third floor (or second floor for those not familiar with Japanese floor naming conventions) is hosting a special event: Yurimate

 

While it does not cover the entire third floor by any means, it does occupy a decently sized proportion of it, somewhere between a third and a quarter of the area. The pictures were purposefully taken to avoid including people in them, but even if it was not bustling with customers, there was a steady stream of women of all ages who purposefully visited the section, including some rather obvious couples, which I found quite gratifying. The collection includes manga, scrolls, and cell phone covers, as well as showing large sketches on the walls.

 

 

There are quite a few authors being shown, including pretty much all current works by Takemiya Jin, Takashima Hiromi’s Kase-san collection, Kurata Uso’s Linkage, Ohsawa Yayoi’s 2DK, G Pen, Mezamashidokei, Yukiko’s Room for Two, Kishi Torajirou’s Otomoe no Teikoku, various works by Itou Hachi, as well as the seemingly ever popular Citrus by Saburouta (and Kodama Naoko’s NTR, while it does show up on one of the posters, is not found in this part of the store).

 

Independent of this, you can also find a Yuri Hime shelf one floor down, which already has decent selection, but is of course limited to the entries published inside said collection.

 

Given that the magazines Comic Yuri Hime and Galette are both being sold off the shelves on the ground floor, this currently allows you to stumble across Yuri entries on all of the first three floors, which is still somewhat rare in Tokyo.

Erica here: Thank you Julia! My goal is to see Yurimate be a permanent shelving strategy. And if, as you say, stumbling across Yuri on the main floor – where new releases are given visiblity –  is still being encouraged, as it was last spring, this may just be a thing we will see. I’m also extremely gratified to hear that there were some obvious couples walking the floor. Of all the many things that pleased me in this report, the fact that NTR was not included, has to be counted among them. I wonder if it, like Yuri Danshi is for the editor of Comic Yuri Hime, rather than the rest of us.

If *I* were the boss at Animate, I’d take the Yurimate event over to Akihabara next, then bring it back to Ikebukuro. It would get a different audience at each, and give them an idea of who actually buys Yuri, then place the shelves where ever they do best. But that’s me. Thank you again for the report and the photos!

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Eclair – Anata ni Hibiku Yuri Anthology (エクレア あなたに響く百合アンソロジー)

April 17th, 2017

I still remember the old days of Okazu when the primary way to find Yuri was through anthologies. Not just any anthologies, but mostly through series parody anthologies that collected doujnshi art from the comic markets and packed them together in a tidy “what if?” collection. I’m still fond of the Souer Sengen series.

Today, Yuri anthologies are much more likely to be original, in the sense that they are not parodies of established series. Whether one can truly be considered “original” when  one is creating the 17, 764th version of “two girls like each other,” is something that we can certainly have a conversation about! ^_^ My position is that yes, you should tell your story, but without the delusion of thinking you’re the only one to have ever told it. Go ahead, write that Yuri manga all about coming out. Don’t imagine for a second that there isn’t one out there already but, your voice is still unique.

And, in this way, we can say all the stories in  Yuri anthology Eclair – Anata ni Hibiku Yuri Anthology (エクレア) are original. What I most liked about Eclair, was the way it dealt with the small things – the set of a back, the way hair moves, that draws one attention to someone. There’s few histrionics here, no major crises, just quiet moments in which things change.

Of all the stories in the collection, my absolute favorite was “Kamiyui” by Isaki Uta, in which a young woman, clearly destined for beauty school, bonds with the cool Nadesico beauty while playing with her hair. It felt…nice.

The selling point of this collection was the breadth of well-known artists who have contributed, including Yagate Kimi ni Naru’s Nakatani Nio, Amano Suninta, Canno, Mekimeki, Kitao Taki and Hirao Auri among others.

Ratings:

Overall – 7

It was a nice anthology, rather than an amazing one, with most of the stories set in school or with school age girls. Not, probably my go-to read, but for a glimpse of people doing their own work in the confines of a major publisher’s rules, an “original” work.

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Yuri Manga: Akuma no Riddle, Volume 5 ( 悪魔のリドル)

April 14th, 2017

Ahead of the summer release of Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of a Devil, Volume 5  in English, I sat down with the Japanese version, Akuma no Riddle ( 悪魔のリドル). Somewhat to my surprise, I felt I enjoyed it more than I had the anime.  (I’ve just gotten the anime and will be re-watching it soon, so I’m interested to see if that holds true when face it again.  In the meantime, I have to say I approve of the cover to this volume. ^_^)

We ended Volume 4 in the middle of the final battle against Hanabusa, who intimates that Haru is the wielder of a great, although unconscious, power of leadership.

And now, Toukaku has to face the possibility that she’s been manipulated…even though she thought she’d been doing what she did from free will. 

The climax of the story is almost identical to the anime, but what makes the manga worth reading is the epilogue, which adds just enough of post-story to give us room to imagine a more satisfying ending than the anime left us with. (Something I felt was short-sighted at the time. It doesn’t take a genius to remember that life is far more than just graduating high school.) And, the epilogueit goes a little way into actually giving this series the  Yuri credentials it needed.

Ratings:

Art – 9
Story – 7
Characters –  7 
Service – 3
Yuri – 5

Overall – 7

Ultimately, as a manga adaptation of a short anime series, this was a very decent example of the breed. When the English edition hits shelves in August, definitely consider taking a look, if only for the color pages. 

 

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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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Yuri Visual Novel: VA-11 HALL-A Guest Review by Louis P.

April 12th, 2017

It’s another Guest Review Wednesday and another welcome Guest Review by our got-VN reviewer, Louis P. (I am so thankful to those of you who review VNs for us here, truly.) Today’s review sounds genuinely exceptional, so get yourself some bar nuts and a drink, and get read to read! Take it away, Louis…

VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) is a cyberpunk bartending game/visual novel focusing on the eponymous bar located in Glitch City, a place that sometimes feels like it is just some big playground for exploitative tech companies. But it is still a place many people have to live in. Our protagonist is Jill, one of the bartenders at the eponymous establishment: VA-11 HALL-A, her job is to mix the right drinks for the right clients and offer a sympathetic ear to people who come in after a long day of publishing, assassinating or, perhaps the most dangerous job, running a corgi toy company.

A good eighty percent of the story of VA-11 HALL-A is told at the bar from Jill’s perspective as through her shift clients arrive, drink, chat and then leave. It does not take long for a cast of regulars to form and for us to get to know them, both their stories and their drink preferences. The main mode of interaction in VA-11 HALL-A is mixing drinks for Jill’s clients. Most of the time you are just supposed give a customer what they ask for or describe but eventually, as you get to know them, the game calls on you to make a judgment on what to serve or even to outright ignore what you are told and pick a drink you think is more to their taste to get the best reaction. Mix the right drinks and Jill generally gets more informative, more intimate dialogue out of her clients and when your clients open up to you more they end up the better for it.

Just listening to a supremely likable cast talk to each other is easily the main draw of VA-11 HALL-A. By the time I had finished the first of the games three chapters I put the rest of my visual novels on hold to finish VA-11 HALL-A as I had fallen in love with the whole cast. It also does a brilliant job of capturing the feeling of living in a dystopian society where stability is uncertain and events way beyond your ability to influence end up interfering with your day to day life. While this starts off with snippets of dialogue hinting at the harshness of a city outside of the bar or Jill’s flat; turn into something else by the end of the first chapter when Jill ends up having to spend one night sleeping in the bar to avoid a dangerous riot and then spends the next day in her flat looking out over the still rioting city watching everything slowly simmer down… and then head straight back to work the day after that.

It should not be surprising to find out that the games developers are from Venezuela where only last year a state of economic emergency was declared, there were close to two hundred prison riots and Colombian border crossings had to be temporarily opened to allow Venezuelans to purchase food and basic household items in Colombia. Communicating the feeling of what a bar such as VA-11 HALL-A means to people, as a means of escape and community, in societies like these was one of the major focuses of the designers.

There are a lot of customers to talk to in VA-11 HALL-A, one of your more hard drinking regulars is Beatrice “Betty” Albert. Betty is an in-house veterinarian for the aforementioned corgi toy company and often turns up with her co-worker and best friend Deal and together they form a fantastic comedy duo. Betty is a lesbian, and while Deal is more than happy to rattle off all of her exes and all the reasons she gives for breaking up with them, she has no romantic arc. In fact the only relationship trouble Betty has is trying to avoid being set up with someone and as the matchmaker knows she is gay she cannot drag Deal into being a beard for her.

While Betty is easily the louder and more rambunctious of the duo she makes with Deal don’t think that she is the constant silly boke to his grim tsukkomi. Deal has plenty of silly moments too for Betty to be cynical about and one of her most deadpan lines in the whole game actually got me to laugh out loud. So while Betty and Deal’s story is light on romance it is heavy in a fantastically platonic chemistry between the two of them. Betty and Deal also become a relieving presence later on as their story lacks the heavy drama that other characters end up dealing with. Seeing these two arrive comes as a great relief more than once.

But it is the main character Jill who stands out in VA-11 HALL-A. Jill makes reference to having past boyfriends and girlfriends throughout the story but Jill has one major crush right when the story begins and that is her boss Dana Zane, the coolest woman in the history of visual novels.

Dana is Jill’s boss at VA-11 HALL-A and we really get the feeling of what a dependable boss she is when it is Dana who looks out for Jill during the riots at the end of chapter one, helping her get back to her flat without incident and staying with her though the day. Not only Jill but Dana also helps Gillian, Jill’s co-worker, stay clear of his dark past and clients such as the assassin Jamie have second hand stories about her past exploits that only get more ridiculous as the game continues. Even more so when it turns out that a good chunk of these ridiculous stories are true. She at the very least is an ex-cop with a cool ex-police detective girlfriend who you can meet if you play your serve the right drinks.

Dana also gets her head stuck in things… a lot, from hard suit helmets to spicy chicken buckets, keeps a metal bat that somehow has nails in it, is an ex-wrestler with the ring-name of ‘Red Comet’ and keeps finding excuses to add the Jill’s pay check like a doting grandmother. Dana is both a rock of stability in a scary and unstable world and an utter goofball who hires a talking, sunglasses wearing, dog as your co-worker. Someone who has the capacity to keep their life so together while at the same time being so ridiculous (as well as ridiculously cool) would be rationed out in another game but VA-11 HALL-A lets you enjoy Dana’s company nearly every in-game day!

So if the last two paragraphs are not obvious enough I also have a massive crush on Dana and it is a fantastically rare treat to have the point of view character’s romantic desire so perfectly align with my own. This will not be the same for everyone but it was a fantastic gentle reveal as it became more and more obvious over the game that Jill is so obviously interested in Dana you feel bad for not working it out the moment you see Jill’s tablet’s lock screen.

But sadly the only person that does not notice Jill’s feelings for Dana is Dana herself, and even though it is cute, Jill’s infatuation with Dana is not really the focus of Jill’s story however much I wish it was. Jill’s story in VA-11 HALL-A is not about Jill ending up in a relationship with someone but instead about Jill getting over a previous relationship with another woman three years ago. It is a break up that still looms over Jill and is the reason she is working at VA-11 HALL-A in the first place.

I don’t want to spoil any more, but this is what elevated it from very good visual novel to exemplary peace of contemporary art. VA-11 HALL-A inverts the usual devices used by visual novels. Usually following the characters day-by-day is used to highlight the increasing drama of the plot, VA-11 HALL-A instead emphasises the difficulty and drama of the day-to-day. While most visual novels have the main character somehow ‘solving’ other characters problems and developing themselves as a stepping stone to them ‘earning’ a relationship. VA-11 HALL-A has Jill listen to her clients problems only occasionally offering advice if anything and her personal improvement as a person is the goal itself. By the end of the story Jill is a person who perhaps will end up with Dana, but it was Jill becoming that person that was the point of VA-11 HALL-A’s story.

VA-11 HALL-A also never makes a big deal out of how much it subverts the usual procedures of its genre. There’s no point when the story just stops to congratulate itself insufferably on the codes and conventions it breaks, no stopping and winking at us so that we know how clever it is being. Instead it has a quiet confidence in the risks it is taking and what it is trying to achieve with them.

Art – 9 Pixel art at its most gorgeous.
Story – 6
Characters – 10 Best visual novel cast in a long time
Service – 1 The framing makes it difficult after all
Yuri – 7
Overall – 9

Erica here: Well, wow. This sounds almost like the old text-based games of my youth that, when they worked, were amazing, (but they almost never worked. ^_^)  If you ever want to do a Twitch channel and play this for me, Louis, feel free! I’d totally watch you play this. ^_^

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