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!

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

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.