Danika reviews Girl Friends: The Complete Collection 1 by Milk Morinaga

Everything I’ve read talking about yuri seems to mention Girl Friends, so I thought it was time for me to read this quintessential yuri series. And I can see how it’s the example of yuri! It’s school girls, and a lot of blushing, and the typical “girls don’t do this” heteronormativity. I read this in the omnibus, and talk about a slow burn! This is almost 500 pages, and mostly just about Mariko making a new friend, falling in love with her, and then (much later) realizing that she’s fallen in love with her.

Girl Friends is super cute: exactly what you’d expect from the title and cover, though there is the melodrama of agonizing over a crush on a girl, but that should go without saying. It is also set in high school, so it does have some nudity, talk about sex, and underage drinking. (The cotton candy cuteness made me a little shocked by the nudity, for some reason.)

Interestingly, about three quarters of the way through, we get a perspective shift. After spending so long reading about Mariko’s doomed crush on Akko, we get to see Akko’s (mostly oblivious) reaction, and perhaps see the same thing happen to her? Maybe that’s what’s going to take up the next 500 page omnibus?

This is a fun, quick, addictive reading. I was craving it between readings. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series!

Danika reviews Citrus, Vol 1 by Saburo Uta

Generally I don’t subscribe to the idea of “guilty pleasure” reads, but yuri manga is definitely the closest that I’ve come. The ones I’ve read have been addictive, engrossing, but they leave me with the same feeling binging on junk food does. Citrus Vol 1 definitely fit into that category for me, though it did some things better than most of the other yuri I’ve read. It was a fun, sort of trashy read.

The strength is definitely the art. Especially in the first few glossy, full-color pages (the rest is in black and white), I was impressed by the attention to detail, especially in the girls’ faces. The main character is Yuzu, a loud, mischievous, and overall adorable girl who has just moved. She’s shocked by the strictness of her new school, which leaves little room for fashion or boy-chasing, her usual pursuits. She immediately comes into conflict with Mei, the student council president, who has no tolerance for her. Then, plot twist, Mei turns out to be Yuzu’s new stepsister! (One of the Goodreads reviews calls this “incest erotica,” which I think is going a little far. There are some make out scenes, and they do go on about the “sisterly love” thing more than I’d like, but they are stepsisters who have just met, and it doesn’t approach what I would call erotica.)

There is definitely some questionable consent in several scenes in this, but I think what sets Citrus apart is that there is reason for this: Mei is repeating the sexual abuse that she’s experienced. Where Yuzu is generally carefree, Mei is reserved and brooding, and we learn that she’s in a relationship with a teacher who is using her for her family connections. She has largely accepted this is her fate, but she lashes out at Yuzu because of this pain–which doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain it. They definitely don’t have the healthiest dynamic because of this, but you can really see that she’s coming from a place of pain and of self-sabotaging any relationship she might have with someone who cares about her.

This does have the heteronormativity and internalized homophobia that I’ve come to expect from yuri: lots of “that’s not what girls do” and being called a “deviant,” for example. For all its faults, though, I think the art style and the nuance to their personalities made this stand out for me. I have already requested the next two volumes from the library, so that tells you what I really think of it.

If you have yuri recommendations, especially ones without the heteronormativity and internalized homophobia, let me know!

Marthese reviews Their Story (Tamen De Gushi) by Tan Jiu

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“What’s up with her today?” “Youth”

Their Story is a full colour Manhua (Chinese Comic) that is still ongoing, about Sun Jing and Qiu Tong, two girls from neighboring schools.

Sun Jing, a popular girl at her school has a crush on Qui Tong, who she sees at a bus stop but cannot talk to her. Despite being confident and coming off as a bit of a player and heart breaker, one smile from Qui Tong make Sun Jing redden and unable to speak. After a burst of confidence however, the two become friends.

We get to see short glimpses into their interactions, with some subplots and side characters. There are even holiday special strips, with one of them including a recipe! I really like when comics or books teach you things (I read a 4 volume manage called Stretch by Higashiyama Shou that has two female main characters that teach readers how to do stretching in everyday life! It’s a series that you never knew needed in your life)

The art is rather nice. It feels like a mix between simple and detailed and the colours are really warm. The plot starts almost immediately and we get to see scenes, then after a couple of chapters we get to see the actual backstory.

The interactions between Sun Jin and Qui Tong are super cute, sometimes awkward and very realistic. Sometimes we get to see the same scene from the two protagonists’ perspectives, which gives us more of an insight in their mind rather than the scene just being narrative.

Sun Jing is rowdy, has mostly male friends – her main best friend is Qi Fang who is also rather popular and tends to be ditched by Sun Jing and serves as her wingman- and is refreshingly honest. She does not over-think too much. She’s also a bit of a tomboy and rather funny.

Qui Tong is also popular but does not have that many friends. She misunderstands Sun Jing at first but soon learns the truth, twice. She does cute things from Sun Jing and it will make your heart melt and squee sound effects are guaranteed.

Because the narrative part are mostly told from Sun Jing’s perspective and in the setting is mostly her school, Qui Tong is more mysterious. Let’s hope for more development in her character soon!

I wanted to review this manhua because, let’s admit, there aren’t that many manga/manhua/manhwa  featuring queer women as main characters that are great. Despite it being still ongoing, it may be worth a read, or a bookmark. That’s right, as it is not officially sold in English, Scanlators (people that scan and translate than upload on the internet) have taken it upon themselves to show us this great story. This reddit topic may help: https://www.reddit.com/r/manga/comments/2s0vue/disc_their_story_ch_3137/

A reminder that Manhuas are read from left to right not from right to left like Mangas!

Danika reviews Hayate X Blade Omnibus 1 (Volumes 1-3) by Shizuru Hayashiya

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I’ve only read a handful of manga, but every time I do I find them completely engrossing. So of course I’ve been trying to make my way through the yuri manga that is available in English. I know, though, that there is context to manga in general as an art form and yuri in particular that I am missing, because I’m not very familiar with Japanese storytelling tropes. That’s my disclaimer: I can only approach this from my own perspective.

With that in mind, I found this story a little baffling. From what I understand, it’s fairly common at least in Japanese stories for girls to have crushes on each other and even romances that aren’t taken seriously outside of school.  And for the most part, that seems to be the sort of relationships that are happening in Hayate X Blade. Girls are teamed up in a school dueling competition, and they may develop a sort of relationship, but those are mostly treated lightly or as jokes in the story. There are also constant jokes about girls being “pervy” for wanting to sleep in the same bed as another girl, or really wanting any sort of physical relationship. On the other hand, the main character has lots of women who want her to be their wife, so who knows.

There is a lot of slapstick humor, though the duelling plot takes itself pretty seriously, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. What really grated for me was that the main character teams up with an older girl who treats her like dirt most of the time. This is used for comedic effect, but basically she’s constantly getting punched out by this girl. I was willing to overlook that as hyperbole for the sake of the joke, but I’m still not personally a fan of reading one-sided relationships. It became harder to ignore, though, when one volume has a subplot about a girl who’s also being beaten up by her older duelling partner, except that her storyline around violence was taken seriously, completely glossing over the earlier instances. (Until suddenly that violence was also seen as comedic?)

There are a lot of characters introduced, and I was intrigued them. Clearly the next volumes will have this larger cast moving together in a more complex way, and I appreciated that despite new characters being added often, they were all distinct enough in personality and appearance that I was able to remember them and tell them apart. And though distinct, they’re not over-exaggerated or stock characters: they seem dynamic and rounded despite not getting a lot of time on the page.

I can tell that the series is going to improve from here, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing, because I don’t really want to read about relationships between girls being the punchline.

Danika reviews Kashimashi (Girl Meets Girl) Omnibus Collection 1 by Satoru Akahori, art by Yukimaru Katsura

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Kashimashi is a yuri manga about Hazumu, a boy who is turned into a girl by aliens. Lesbian hijinks ensue? I’m torn on how to talk about this book, because of course the whole premise is cissexist. The idea that changing your body automatically would change your gender is cissexist, and in fact despite being all about Hazumu adjusting to another gender, there is no acknowledgement in the story that trans people exist. At the same time, however, it was interesting to see how gender is explained and expressed in the narrative. We don’t really get to see into Hazumu’s thoughts of swapping bodies and being expected to live up to a different gender role. When pressed, she* just basically shrugs and says “There’s nothing anyone can do about it.” She seems to roll with it pretty easily, however. She is confused by the rigid expectations of how women should behave, but other than that she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it. (Except that it comes with the expectation that she will be attracted to men.) And the first time we see Hazumu pre-transformation, he is told he seems “really feminine”. Hazumu rebuffs the girl’s subsequent apology by smiling awkwardly and saying “It’s okay. I get that a lot. Everybody says I look like a girl.” [mild spoilers, highlight to read] Later, we find out that as a child he wanted to be a bride. [end spoilers] So I wonder if Hazumu ever was 100% comfortable with his gender pre-transformation. [mild spoilers] We even get hints that Hazumu was looking to transform and escape his reality in some way–that the transformation may not have been nonconsensual. [end spoilers]

I can completely understand people not wanting to read Kashimashi because of the cissexism, or not enjoying it because of that. But I admit that I still found it a really fun read. The bulk of the story, apart from everyone trying to teach Hazumu how to be “appropriately” female, is a love triangle between Hazumu, the lesbian he was rejected by pre-transformation who is now interested, and Hazumu’s friend who was interested in him pre-transformation and is now completely confused by her feelings. It’s silly and dramatic even without the alien aspect. (The aliens stick around, observing Hazumu and putting her in awkward situations.)

I have read very few manga stories, so I’m not sure how this compares to the rest of the yuri genre, but I really enjoyed it. It induced quite a bit of eye-rolling around cissexism and heterosexism (“Girls… liking girls???”), but I liked the characters and their unique relationships (oh, except the creepy incestuous dad and… well, most of the male characters), and it was mostly just a fun ride. I would definitely put some caveats in place with a recommendation, but it’s worth picking up if it piques your interest. Personally, I’ll be reading the next omnibus and hoping for more of an insight into Hazumu’s personal gender identity.

*the book uses she pronouns post-transformation and he pre-transformation, which is what I’m using here

Danika reviews Strawberry Panic by Sakuraki Kimino, art by Takuminamuchi

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I have to preface this review by saying that I haven’t read much manga in general, nevermind yuri in particular, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge to draw from in evaluating this against other examples in the genre. For the most part, though, this is what I was looking for from it: a cute, fluffy story about schoolgirls in love.

When I first started reading I was intimidated by the huge cast of characters. Although there is one girl, Aoi Nagisa, who I suppose is technically the main character, all of the girls on the front cover play big roles in the book, and the story is from many different perspectives. The plot revolves around a competition between three schools, a kind of couples contest (all three schools are girls-only). Two of the characters are new transfers into these schools, who are picked by upperclassman to be partners in this competition. The older girls are admired by the whole school and vaguely “experienced”, while the younger girls are naive and “innocent”. It’s a trope that made me roll my eyes a few times, but it’s also one that can be fun to watch play out (there’s a reason why Xena-inspired stories are so prolific).

I did find myself getting used to the large cast of characters, but I did have some other issues with the story. For one thing, the main romance between Nagisa and Shizuma (the back cover describes her as a “serial heartbreaker”) has some troubling power dynamics, as well as some of the similar relationships in the book. While Amane has a similar power position in relation to Hikari, she tends to approach the younger girl a lot more gently. Shizuma, on the other hand, is forceful to the point of nonconsent.

What surprised me in the story was that although there are established couples, there is also room for other relationships to develop. I was rooting for Nagisa to pair up with her roommate instead (partly because of Shizuma’s overbearing personality). The competition aspect was also a lot of fun, and I found myself–despite the tropes at work–not sure how things were going to play out by the end. Unfortunately, and this is my biggest complaint about this collection, I was under the impression that “The Complete Manga Collection” was going to tell the complete story. Instead, the narrative abruptly ends mid-competition, with nothing wrapped up. Apparently Strawberry Panic is a franchise that was originally short stories, and also includes an anime and light novels. The manga seems to have been an add-on, and was never completed. It’s a shame, because I was really enjoying the story, especially all of the girls’ personalities and how they played off each other. I’d like to see the anime or pick up the novels, though apparently they differ substantially from the manga. This is a story I would recommend, but the manga probably isn’t the best place to start with it. Hopefully I can get my hands on the light novels and let you know if they’re a better place to start.

Katie Raynes reviews The Last Uniform by Mera Hakamada

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The Last Uniform is a three-volume manga series by Mera Hakamada, originally published in 2005. It’s also my favorite series in the yuri genre – it has the honor of being the first lesbian manga I ever read that wasn’t exploitative or aimed unambiguously at the male gaze. This series is intended for an audience of 18-30 year old men (based on the magazine it was first serialized in), but it doesn’t contain the purposeful titillation or lesbians-merely-for-the-sake-of-hot-girls-getting-it-on that’s turned me away from a lot of yuri manga. I do have one caveat, though: the first two volumes were released in English by Seven Seas Entertainment, but apparently they didn’t sell well enough to warrant translating the third. I scoured the internet to find it in the original Japanese, and I finally was able to buy a used copy from a Japanese online bookstore. I’ve been working on translating it so I can find out what happens, but I’m only an intermediate Japanese speaker, so there’ll be no worries about spoilers in this review!

The Last Uniform (Saigo no Seifuku in Japanese) takes place at Camellia Hill High School and revolves around the lives of several girls who live in the dormitory there. The Japanese version of the manga was originally subtitled (in English) “Our Last Season,” which gives context to the translated title: this is the chronicle of the girls’ last years together at school. The four main characters – Ai, Fuuko, Tsumugi, and Beniko – share rooms, Ai with Fuuko and Tsumugi with Beniko. They’re also the series’ main couples, although their relationships develop at different rates. Ai is ostensibly the protagonist. She’s dutiful and somewhat serious, taking on the role of the cautious rule-enforcer in her relationship with Fuuko, who is reckless, goofy, and usually oblivious to other people’s feelings. When they’re assigned a new roommate, Ai becomes extremely jealous of any attention (even innocent) that Fuuko pays to the new girl. Because of this development, Ai begins to understand her true feelings for her friend.

Tsumugi and Beniko are the other central pairing, and they’re my favorite – Tsumugi is a prickly tomboy who shows she cares about her friends in roundabout ways, and Beniko is self-assured, elegant, and adored by scads of younger classmates. I consider Tsumugi’s feelings to be the most well-developed and relatable of all the characters. She knows that she’s in love with Beniko but she doesn’t know what to do about it, and she sometimes finds herself acting one way even when she knows she should be doing the opposite. On the surface, Beniko seems like the only one who can discuss her feelings without embarrassment, but it becomes clear over the early chapters that the things she says don’t actually reveal anything about her at all.

Other students who make up the supporting cast include Anzu, Ai and Fuuko’s new roommate; Kimiko, another student in the dorm; Asagi, a wealthy student who is obsessed with Beniko; and Tamami, Asagi’s friend and an amateur author of lesbian fiction. They make the love triangles into more complex polyhedrons, but the girls don’t bounce around between relationships. There’s a single intrusion of a boy who’s interested in Fuuko, but other than that, there’s really no question of who likes whom – it’s only a question of whether they’ll manage to get together.

The art is simple and unadorned, and it definitely improves over the course of the series. There are some distracting art errors early on – backwards hands and things like that – but I found it charming and expressive for the most part. The romances are handled very lightly, with hugs and kisses being as far as anything goes. There’s only a minimum of the standard yuri “But isn’t it weird for two girls to love each other?” ambivalence. I love it because of this, and because the story really is about the characters and their relationships rather than the expectation that “forbidden love” will excite the reader. That’s something I truly appreciate in manga involving lesbians, and it’s pretty rare.

Danika reviews Revolutionary Girl Utena manga by Chiho Saito

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If you have never heard of Utena, I’m not sure exactly how to explain it to you. It is an anime, manga series, and movie. It’s sort of like Sailor Moon, but darker, weirder, and with more subtext and incest (between siblings). I watched the anime first, then the movie, then the stand-alone manga (The Adolescence of Utena), and now I’ve finished the original manga series. Utena follows the main character, Utena, who was rescued from near-death (or despair, depending on the version) as a child by a prince. The prince tells her to stay noble, so she is inspired to grow up to become… a prince herself! How can you resist that premise? When Utena grows up, she is told that she will meet her prince at a boarding school. There she is caught up in a bizarre dueling club and a mysterious plot surrounding someone named “World’s End” and the power to revolutionize the world. Also there’s an upside-down floating castle in the sky when they duel. Utena fluctuates between realism, fantasy, and comedy (that’s mostly in the anime).

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Caught up in this duelling club is Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride (the other girl on the cover of volumes 2 and 5). The Rose Bride is given to the victor of a duel, and she must do anything the victor says. Utena is appalled by this, and tries to win the duel to keep Anthy safe and befriend her. Their relationship is most important one in the book, though the other members of the duelling club, and Anthy’s brother, are also significant. I do think the treatment of Anthy as a woman of color in this series is very problematic, because she is treated as weak and a servant through most of series (and she is constantly being slapped). For on, the manga describes her as “exotic-looking” in the intro. (I guess that all of the characters are people of colour, but Anthy is treated differently as a dark-skinned woman.) At the same time, Anthy does get her own character arc, and I am glad that darker-skinned characters are included, but there are definitely problems with how she is treated in the entire series.

On the lesbian content: it is mostly subtext, [spoilers for movie, highlight to read] except in the movie, where they make out [end spoilers]. The manga is subtextual, though, to see the kind of subtext we’re talking about, here are my notes about it concerning the first volume: “Just subtext for now. Well, I mean, between Anthy and Utena. They’re just, you know, engaged. And Utena’s best friend constantly says that she’s in love with Utena, only has eyes for her, etc. And all the girls in school swoon for Utena, whether she’s wearing a boy’s uniform or a fancy dress.” The subtext also gets more and more intense between Utena and Anthy throughout the series. There is a character who is a lesbian in the anime and straight in the manga, however.

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Utena is a series that is re-told through each medium, almost like how a fairy tale can be told many different ways. The manga, the stand-alone manga, the movie, and the series all cover the same time period and the same very loose plot, but they differ wildly. (I have theories about this. If you do read or watch Utena, you will probably develop your own. It is not a straight-forward kind of story.) I see them happening in the order manga series, anime, movie, and then stand-alone manga (but that relates to theories). Whether or not you plan to read the manga, I would definitely recommend watching the anime. The art (in the manga and anime) is beautiful, and the relationship between Utena and Anthy is sweet as well as intense.

For anyone who has watched the anime, but hasn’t read the manga, I would recommend picking them up. They do diverge quite a bit. For instance, the character of Nanami doesn’t really exist, Juri has a different backstory, Chuchu gets a story from his perspective, Miki’s sister’s relationship with Miki is more like Nanami’s relationship with her brother in the anime, and the conclusion is entirely different. Also, really, the art is really beautiful to look at. Oh, and there is a backstory for Utena, but I wasn’t so interested in that.

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The first volume of the manga pretty much just sets up the premise of the story, and then it builds from there. I was getting worried at the fourth volume about how it would wrap up, because one of the intros mentioned that Utena had to learn to be a princess instead of a prince (but that’s the opposite of what Utena is all about!), but the conclusion was incredible. It’s so intense, and the subtext gets up to Xena levels, and I loved how Utena and Anthy’s character arcs finished (especially Anthy’s final scene). As a warning, more than half of this volume is extra stories that take place earlier in the main storyline, so don’t get confused like I did. I think that overall the manga is more straight-forward than the anime and movie. (Also, not as much incest as the anime.) I only really think that I would have to re-read the manga once to get how it fits together (though I’d probably like to more than that), whereas I still feel like I need to re-watch the anime and movie at least half a dozen times before really getting it.

I hope I have convinced you to pick up Utena, whether in book or anime format! It’s one of my favourite things. If you like/d Sailor Moon and are willing to read or watch something a little more dark and strange, you should give Utena a try. I really do get a sort of fairy-tale vibe from this series as well, so if you like fairy tales with significant lesbian subtext, you should also check this one out. If you have tried Utena, let me know what you thought!

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Anna M. reviews Girl Friends Complete Collection v.1 by Milk Morinaga

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During an idle moment at work, I pulled the first volume of the Girl Friends manga collection by Milk Morinaga off the shelf and devoured it in one sitting. The book is classified as young adult (despite a bit of nudity) and I have seen it described online as “schoolgirl yuri.” The shy, bookish Mariko often eats lunch by herself until the outgoing Akko sweeps her up into instant friendship, as well as helping her discover her own sense of style. The transformation of Mariko from a girl who has never picked out her own clothing to one who has friends and a social life outside of school is actually rather sweet, despite the fact that it’s such a well-played trope.

However, Mari soon begins to suspect that the feelings she has for Akko are developing into something more than simple friendship. If you appreciate drama, and unrequited love, and misunderstandings that would be easily resolved if people just talked to each other, all set against a backdrop of Japanese schoolgirls, then Girl Friends is for you. Despite occasionally wanting to throttle the main characters, I did enjoy reading the book, except for the part when they went on a completely unnecessary diet together. I would definitely recommend this book to someone who wanted to try out yuri manga.

It’s a thick book, but be warned that the story cuts off right in the middle–just when Mariko has been dating a boy and Akko is trying to figure out why this bothers her so much–and the second volume isn’t due until January 2013. A little googling will yield results for those who don’t want to wait.

Read Or Die

This is a classic case of “does it count?” I read R.O.D. expecting it to be explicitly lesbian, which wasn’t quite true. But first things first:

Read or Die was first a series of Japanese light novels (not currently published in English, but a fan translation is in the works) which then spawned R.O.D. the manga (a series of four) and an accompanying series of manga set in the same universe: Dream Or Die. The manga inspired an OVA, Original Video Animation, which then inspired a TV series.

I just picked up the four manga, available at my library (because I have an awesome library), not realizing how far-reaching R.O.D. is. I was easily sold on it: lesbrarian manga? Sign me up!

Well, this is the thing. I liked Read Or Die; it features a book-obsessed main character by the name of Yomiko Readman. Yomiko, in fact, is the Paper for The Library of England: she has powers that can control any piece of paper to do anything she wants. She embarks on various heroic actions, collecting pallets of books along the way.

By the end of the first manga, things were going along pretty much as expected, since the romantic interest had been introduced and hinted around. But here’s the thing… it never goes past that. Their relationship never quite becomes text, but it comes very, very close in the first manga. Think Xena and Gabrielle. Which brings me to my main question:

Does lesbian subtext count as a queer women book? Do lesbian subtext books belong on the Lesbrary?

This isn’t anything against Read Or Die; I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to watching the anime, plus the yuri that is hinted towards is adorable.

I was really excited to read queer women manga and I found some links for yuri published in English and free fan translations of yuri. Have you read any yuri/queer women manga? What did you think of it?