Susan reviews My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2 by Nagata Kabi

My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2

My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 2 is another set of autobiographical essays about Nagata Kabi’s life and depression. Where Volume 1 followed her attempts at independence and romantic intimacy while unpicking her relationship with her family, whereas volume 2 finds Nagata Kabi enjoying friendship and emotional intimacy, while her mental health takes a nosedive.

Just like with the first volume, My Solo Exchange Diary can be a rough read. Nagata Kabi is frank about her mental health and the setbacks she suffered – being equally unable to cope with living alone and living with her family, drinking, and voluntary hospitalisation – and that is often harrowing! Sometimes funny, but definitely hard sometimes. Her cartoony style still doesn’t soften any of the blows, and sometimes make it worse, but her art is clean and striking, so it works! (And just on a purely over-analysing level: I love that the cover is finally her reaching out to herself and talking, because I feel like that drawing alone represents so much growth in her attitude to herself and her own pain.)

I think what really struck me for the first time as I read this is that because of the format – a collected edition of visual essays that were originally serialised monthly – it’s actually really tense to read, because you don’t have the same reassurance that the creator must have been fine because they finished the book as you would in a more standard autobiography. It accounts for the significant shifts in tone and subject between the chapters, and the way that she is much more enthusiastic and loving about her family than she was in the first volume, even as she talks about the pain they have caused and still cause her. It makes sense, because My Solo Exchange Diary is very much about the ways that Nagata Kabi’s family hurt her, but still rallied around when she needed them, but it was a little surprising to read.

The depiction of her struggle with independence and her stay in hospital felt very relatable to me, especially in her reactions to being stuck in the hospital without being able to articulate her fear and despair at the idea of having to stay there for months on end. It doesn’t feel advisory or demonstrative, it’s not a “here is what staying in hospital for mental health reasons is like,” it’s just what it was like for her, and the ways in which it helped her and scared her.

Unsurprisingly, My Solo Exchange Diary is still hard and harrowing to read, but it feels more hopeful than the previous volume. Nagata Kabi specifically talks about her support network that cares for her, and there is an epilogue where she recognises that packaging her life in neat little chunks for an audience is maybe not the best choice for her right now, which I’m honestly in favour of because I’d rather she focus on her recovery. Seeing her asking how her future self was doing at the end of some of the chapters broke my heart a little, but gave me hope that she was going to be okay. … Especially because she FINALLY got the hug that she’s been waiting for, and I nearly cried for her.

[Caution warning: alcoholism, depression, hospitalisation, self-harm, suicide attempt]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 2 by Takako Shimura

Sweet Blue Flowers Volume Two by Takako Shimura cover

Sweet Blue Flowers Volume Two by Takako Shimura expands Fumi and Akira’s worlds a little more; it covers the summer holiday and their move up to second year in school, with all the attendant new people that comes with it, as well as the fall-out from Fumi and Yasuko’s relationship ending.

The art continues to be very cute, especially with the addition of new students to the established friendship groups! The kids look believably young, which is adorable, and I really appreciate that! (It can be a little confusing to keep track of who’s related to who, however, which I’m not sure is a fault of the art.) And it continues to have more realistic reactions to things than I expect from manga – Fumi is completely understandably upset with Yasuko, and the ways it manifests feel sadly plausible (such as her need to prove herself in Sugimoto’s shadow)! Akira’s confusion about sexuality and relationships also feels completely genuine, considering her age! I like that a book whose drama hinges entirely on relationships makes it clear that Akira not knowing how she feels about them is fine! (It also specifically discusses the different expectations the girls have for relationships, which is a lot more frank than I expected Sweet Blue Flowers to be, especially considering the girls’ ages. It’s probably good that it is frank, because yay for modelling discussions? But also: wow, I did not see that coming.) And on the topic of realism: the “obligatory clueless person putting their foot in it” in this volume is played by a first year who is Earnestly Concerned about her unmarried sister and the friend she lives with. The scene where she’s trying to talk about it to Fumi, who visibly has no idea how to react or what she can reveal about her own queerness was hard to read, but it felt really familiar.

The side-stories in this book are a little more central and tied into the main plot than in volume one; there’s a relationship that actually lasts into adulthood, there’s more unfortunate teenage crushes, and there’s something of a train-wreck relationship that everyone involved acknowledges is a bad idea. I like that it shows a variety of relationships – there’s healthy and unhealthy relationships, reciprocated feelings and not, and seeing Sweet Blue Flowers show so many different ways relationships can work out makes me really happy!

In conclusion, it’s still a good series and I really need to know where it’s going next, because I just want all of these girls to be happy!

[Caution warnings: mentions of incest]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura

Sweet Blue Flowers Vol 1 by Takako Shimura cover

Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1 is the latest series from Takako Shimura, the creator of the excellent Wandering Son. Sweet Blue Flowers follows Fumi and Akira, former childhood friends who are reunited when Akira rescues them from gropers on the train to high school, as the girls have to reckon with their own romantic entanglements and those of their friends.

The art is incredibly cute, as you could probably expect from Takako Shimura; it’s spare but emotive, and all of the teenage characters actually look like believable teenagers! They behave like them too – the thing that I like the most about Sweet Blue Flowers is that all of the characters have realistically complicated and messy relationships for high school students. There are crushes that don’t lead anywhere! There are break-ups at the worst possible times and in the worst possible ways! There are friends trying to choose between supporting a friend who was rejected by her crush, and the friend who got asked out instead! There are miscommunications and active choices against communicating that might be frustrating in another setting, but because it’s a high school, it all makes perfect sense to me. It’s delicious in its drama and the recognisable (and surprisingly realistic for a manga) responses all of the characters have to it.

It’s also possibly the first manga I’ve seen where there’s actual coming out scenes to someone who isn’t the inevitable love interest! I liked the different reactions to people coming out – Akira’s immediate response to Fumi coming out is to ask how she can support her and what she needs, which is the purest and sweetest thing in the entire manga, especially because when Fumi tells her, she actually goes through with it! I absolutely need more friendships like that in my media. And the flip side is that when Fumi’s girlfriend comes out to her family (and by extension, outs Fumi), their reaction is to treat it as a joke, or ask invasive questions. Both of them are believable, and neither of them are a thing that I’ve seen represented in manga before despite experiencing both in real life!

My only concerns about representation is whether Yasuko’s character is going to play into biphobic stereotypes in the future for reasons that are entirely spoilery (I’m happy to give details in the comments!), and whether the feelings these girls have get dismissed as pashes or pretend relationships. I have faith in Takako Shimura that they won’t do either of these things, because their depictions of queer characters are generally kind! I am hoping that there is an accounting for Fumi’s crush on her cousin, and how many of her tangled feelings about her queerness are because of that relationship.

In conclusion: I really recommend Sweet Blue Flowers. It’s cute and emotional, and is a marginally more realistic depiction of teenage romantic drama than I expect from manga!

[CW: sexual harrassment from strangers on trains, mentions of emotional incest, outing]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews My Solo Exchange Diary Volume 1 by Nagata Kabi

My Solo Exchange Diary cover

Nagata Kabi’s My Solo Exchange Diary Volume One is a follow-up to her hit autobiographical manga My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (which I reviewed in June!). It is an autobiographical essay collection talking about her depression, her attempts to leave home and gain her independence, and her relationship with her family; and it is harrowing. Compulsive, excellent reading, but it left me feeling like I’d been hit by a truck afterwards.

It’s a very introspective series of graphic essays, where she talks about her realisations in the past month and the work that she has done on her own well-being. Sometimes this means that the essays meander a little, and sometimes it means that they’re laser-focused on one issue, like having to be confident in her own identity before she can let herself be influenced by others. The art style is still the same as in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, so it’s still cute and cartoony, but the contrast between that art style and the subject matter alternates wildly between making things more bearable and making things harrowing.

If anything, My Solo Exchange Diary is even more clearly and explicitly about Nagata Kabi’s loneliness, despite it being about her search for connection and friendships! It analyses her support network (which… Isn’t really a network), and how unsupportive her family is, not just of her as a creator, but of her as a human being, and that is rough. (If you remember in My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, how she said that she had the classic traits of someone who was abused as a child despite not being abused? Yeah, about that.) She’s also frank to the point of cruelty about her own self-harm and suicide attempts (which she mentions not necessarily casually, but almost as a background detail for what’s going on) and readiness for relationships, which means that the end of the book is really hard to bear! To the point where I just had to put the book down and stare into space for five minutes to process how it was making me feel.

The first volume of My Solo Exchange Diary is a beautiful, gutting read. If you liked My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness then it is definitely worth picking up, but it is a lot rougher emotionally!

[Caution warnings: depression, self-harm, emotional neglect/abuse, mentions of eating disorders]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is an autobiographical manga about the creator’s life as a young queer Japanese woman with depression, who decides that the best way to resolve her difficulties connecting with people and her understanding of her own sexuality is to hire an escort.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneless is a a really fascinating look at the creator’s life, especially because the way she talks about her depression is extremely relatable. Some of the mental loops she describes and her resolutions (She talks about how she always treated herself and her accomplishments like crap because she couldn’t love herself, but once she started actually looking after herself the people around her started treating her better! And there is a panel of her yelling “If this is how it is, I’ve got nothing to lose! I’ll claw my way out of bed with my last dying breath!” which is how I feel about my mental health too!) are extremely familiar, but presented in a way that softens the blow. She makes me laugh even as I’m nodding along. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the problems she’s had, or how awkward she is, and it’s impressive.

(I found the sections where she spoke about her mother to be very strange, but in much the same way that I found the way Alison Bechdel spoke about hers in Are You My Mother? to be strange, so I don’t think that part of the book was ever going to work for me. Your mileage may vary!)

The art style is very minimal and sketchy, which works for the narrative of the book. It does so much of the heavy lifting to keep things on this side of funny and bearable, even when she’s talking about serious matters like her eating disorder. I found it especially effective for the scenes at the love hotel, because it’s not presented in a titillating way! I’m a fan of story about sex workers than manages to not centre the male gaze, and the fact that this story focuses on how awkward Nagata Kabi felt herself to be really works. I especially loved the follow-up comic where she talks to another escort from the agency, and the authorial comment that it’s much easier to speak to people who know her from her manga, because “it was like I’d submitted material about my personality in advance.”

Basically, this was an entertaining manga that speaks frankly about Nagata Kabi’s depression and recovery, and the way that hiring a sex worker changed how she thought about herself. It was really cool, and I enjoyed it a lot!

(The follow-up manga, My Solo Exchange Diary, has also been licensed and should be out this month!)

[Caution warning: depression, eating disorders]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Whitney D.R. reviews Nameless Asterism Vol. 1 by Kina Kobayashi

Where was this manga when I was in middle school?

Nameless Asterism is a yuri manga that focuses on middle schooler, Shiratori (center) and her best friends, Washio (left) and Kotooka (right).  Shiratori is a soccer-loving tomboy who doesn’t have much experience in dating, unlike a lot of her classmates. Kotooka, however, is frilly and flirty and will date anyone who asks her out.  Stoic, reserved Washio just doesn’t want to be bothered with boys or romance.

But Shiratori has a secret….

So does Washio…

And so does Kotooka…

The three girls met on a crowded train when Shiratori’s hair got caught in the button-sleeve of Washio’s blouse and Kotooka repaired the button.  From that point on, Shiratori has had a crush on Washio. Shiratori internalizes her feelings, believing that Washio couldn’t like Shiratori because they’re both girls.

That is, until Shiratori catches Washio almost kiss a sleeping Kotooka.  Knowing that the girl she likes likes someone else, Shiratori decides to be a supportive friend instead of telling Washio how she feels.  The two girls grow closer over unrequited love, which makes Kotooka feel left out and a little jealous despite Kotooka putting her flavor of the month boyfriends over her friendship. When a random boy from another school asks Shiratori out, Kotooka’s overzealousness about pushing Shiratori and the boy together belies ulterior motives.

I found Nameless Asterism to be cute and relatable.  But Shiratori and Kotooka came off a lot younger than 13-14 year olds.  Not to say that 13 and 14 year olds and younger don’t have troubles with coming to terms with who they like and whether or not to risk a friendship over it.

I read this as an adult who came out late in life, but looking back, I realized I was very a hybrid of Shiratori and Washio.  I didn’t have much experience in dating, like Shiratori. Actually I didn’t date at all. But then, I also couldn’t be bothered with such things as romance, like Washio.  Like both girls, I had, what I now realize, were crushed on girl friends at school, but didn’t have the guts to express my feelings.

Read this manga if you’re a fan of other school girl, friends-to-something-more yuri manga like Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga. With the way volume one ended, I predict a lot of heartache for this all-girl love triangle.

4 stars

Danika reviews Girl Friends: The Complete Collection 2 by Milk Morinaga

I’ve been on a bit of a manga binge lately, and one of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most is Girl Friends. The first volume was adorable and such a slow-burn romance, though there was some internalized homophobia. The second volume is more from Akko’s perspective, which made me enjoy it even more. While Mariko was agonizing over her feelings for Akko, Akko was quick to realize that she returned them and delighted to be dating her.

Instead of internalized homophobia, most of this volume dealt more with romance trope-y misunderstandings as conflict. It was nice to see them get together, and there’s really pretty minimal angst after that point. I was worried that they might dismiss their relationship as juvenile as they got closer to graduation, but the text takes them seriously as a couple. They talk about how they’re going to come out to friends and families, and how they see each other in their futures.

This was a sweet, fluffy read that completely sucked me in. I’m a little sad for it to be over! Girl Friends is definitely a series I’d recommend, especially for teenagers wanting to read a cute romance between girls in high school.

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

1

“What’s up with her today?” “Youth”

Their Story (Tamen De Gushi) 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 Tamen De Gushi 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!