The Lesbrary Goes To Flame Con 2022 — Anna N.

Let’s see if I can keep my rhapsodizing to a minimum. Because from the moment I walked into the conference hall, there was a vibrancy in the air. Everyone I encountered during Flame Con was absolutely unabashed in their sheer fannishness, wearing their fandoms on their backpacks, jackets, and jaw-dropping cosplays.

You know you’re in for a good time when the panelists themselves are decked out in geek chic.

PT I – Marginalization, Manga, and More Sapphic Stories

I kicked off my own explorations with a presentation where literary researcher Erica Friedman enthusiastically detailed the history of yuri manga, which was a solid start to the con, because I am hard-pressed to find a single illustrator/animator this side of forty who hasn’t been influenced by or intensely devoured anime and/or manga growing up.

the cover of By Your Side

The founder of Yuricon, Friedman has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, from its early, overly stylized manifestations to the more complex, nuanced stories that have been coming out (pun intended) in recent years. You can learn more details about this interesting, niche history in Friedman’s book By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga, in which she traces the evolution of the genre from the 1940s to today. The book has all the academic minutiae you’d expect from a seasoned researcher, and all the delightful musings you’d expect from a seasoned fan. A dry text this is not, and if you’ve been put off by the genre for its admitted overreliance on cheesy tropes and “lesbian content without lesbian identity”, Friedman’s book will both contextualize their histories as well as offering recommendations for some of the more innovative, subversive works*.

Speaking of anime and manga, I also stopped by Kat Calamia and Phil Falco’s table in the artist show room. They are the creative team behind one of my favorite sapphic webcomics, Slice of Life. A sort of reverse-isekai**, the plot begins when picture-perfect high school cheerleader Lucy wakes up to a loud scream in the middle of the night. Panicked, she runs into her little sister Ravyn’s room and sees that the protagonist from Ravyn’s favorite anime has come through the TV screen and is now the deuteragonist of her own, less-than-picturesque lesbian identity crisis.

To give Lucy credit, she is the blonde to Yuriko’s brunette. And if that statement confuses you, read Friedman’s book! Then read Slice of Life, because you’ll have a deeper understanding of all the tropes it so entertainingly subverts.

Yuriko’s name also has an interesting historical context. To quote from the Yuricon website: “yuri is Japanese for the lily. Hence…lesbians were yurizoku (百合族), the lily tribe. This name was taken by many hentai manga and doujinshi artists, who then named their lesbian characters “Yuri” or “Yuriko,” so that it became a kind of cliche’ for the genre itself.”

a photo of Anna and one of the writers of Slice of Life, holding up Slice of Life and Dancer. They're both wearing rainbow masks.

Thankfully, progress has brought the label into the less exploitative mainstream, where it has gone on to encompass interesting manga like Donuts Under a Crescent Moon and clever pastiches like Slice of Life. During our conversation, Calamia mentioned that she is currently working on another, darker project called The Dancer, which focuses more heavily on themes of mental health and has a gorgeous limited edition cover inspired by the iconic film Perfect Blue***. When I asked about her current inspirations, she said that she wasn’t reading anything at the moment, but that she was really enjoying the Netflix show Derry Girls—which isn’t a book, but does have a bookish lesbian in the main cast!

If that sounds up your alley, so might the podcast Bitches on Comics. Book-loving hosts S.E. Fleenor and Sara Century helmed a panel featuring authors Bishakh Som (creator of Spellbound and the intriguing Apsara Engine), Danny Lore (writer for Marvel’s Champions Volume 2: Killer App and DC’s upcoming Multiversity: Teen Justice), Nadia Shammas (writer for Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin and the excellent Squire), and Tina Horn (author for the NSFW SFSX), the panel touched on how writing characters that shared one’s own marginalized identities can be “a double-edged sword”.

On the good side, it’s great that publishers are willing to back more Black voices. Danny Lore spoke about their experiences growing up with “sci-fi-fantasy [that] always evolved past and away from blackness and brownness, that these idealized cultures were…frankly, bastardized forms of what white folks thought an African-based culture would be.” Growing up with stories written from such limited perspectives led them to try “to pull from a white suburban middle class life that I had never known”, when “I am a New Yorker, my whole life…the world that I grew up in, this Black American world did not, does not exist in a lot of sci-fi.”

But their path through the industry hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. It’s been hard work, pushing back against publishers’ focus on boxing Black narratives into “trauma stories”. Lore recalls the time they were trying to pitch a manuscript set in the projects in Harlem, and being the only black person there, was subject to a lot of misguided questions about why gentrification was not a bigger theme. It was exasperating because, “I don’t want to tell stories about gentrification. I want to tell stories about people who do magic in the hood.”

Nadia Shammas has had similar experiences with good intentioned and badly informed editors. “When we were pitching Squire, which is a fantasy Middle Eastern world heavily based on the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, both of us did an enormous amount of work and put a real place in the book, Petra. But that resulted in publishers going ‘I love this, it’s so brave…do you think that people might think it’s about the real world?’ and ‘People might think it’s about Palestine and we don’t want to make a statement.’”

Which is frustrating, when “as a Palestinian, the way I view the world and therefore the world of my art is going to be painted through that lens, always.”

“The work I make is so personal, and it’s so incredible that people relate to it. But sometimes that means people will then attempt to read more into my work and put things in my mouth that aren’t there.” She acknowledges that “it’s hard to make personal, genuine work when there are outside forces including your employers, who are attempting to use that work to market broadly”.

Which raises the question of whose perspectives are seen as “broadly appealing”. As great as it is to have more inclusivity on the page, it’s important to make sure that the diversity of the characters is reflected behind the scenes, too. As Tina Horn put it, “the difference between all these fictional characters and me is that I’m the one that gets paid. Characters don’t get paid to be in the stories.”

It’s an unfortunate reality that superficial gains can obscure more deeply rooted inequities. For example, the judging panel for the Eisner Awards (the comics industry’s most prestigious award) rarely has more than one person of color. Seriously. Even as the organization makes a more concerted effort to include works by creators of color, the judges themselves are usually not.

Of course, not everyone sets out with the conscious intention of reflecting reality on the page. Sometimes, wonderful art comes from feelings that are indescribable, inarticulable only because the artist has yet to find words or images to express them. So, like Bishakh Som, they create their own.

the cover of Spellbound

“I’ve always had a lot of South Asian femmes and women in my work…it just seemed natural, right? Like, why not?” For her, creating comics was less an attempt to break out of a narrow narrative box, and more about building “a sort of gateway or portal into realizing, 50 years later, who I was.”

But that brought its own set of complications. “After coming out like that, I think the burden of representation became a little more explicit and heavy. I think people expected more explicitly trans stories, and I was like, ‘I’m here for that’, but also now I’m going to become this person who writes ‘that kind of thing’.” Not that she minds too much now, “because it’s a cushy and glamorous box” to be in.

PT II – Fanart, Aesthetics and Graphic Novel Illustration

As I like to tell anyone who will listen, comics are such a wonderful medium precisely because the images allow creators to work with metaphors that straddle the line between prose’s staticity and film’s dynamism. So I was excited to chat with Aatmaja Pandya, illustrator for the YA graphic novel Slip, to get more insight on the visual side of the creative process.

When I asked about her inspirations, she was quick to mention Jillian Tamaki. Pandya recalled her time at the New York City School of Visual Arts, where the Eisner-winning artist “basically taught me how to make comics”.

She also mentioned manga as inspiring the “energy and the youthful quality” she brings to her own work. “I think this generation of young cartoonists, or people around my age, all sort of came up in the era of Tokyopop manga…and we’re seeing the consequence of that now. I mean, the ones that I read while making Slip were all Shonen Jump manga, because they have an online app and the subscription is really affordable. So I read, like, all of One Piece.”

Which, at a staggering 1000-odd issues and counting, invited the question: how on Earth did she balance that with making comics and her day job as a high school teacher? Did teaching teens help her develop her art?

“I don’t think it’s influenced my work so much, but it reminds me every day that they are not a monolith. That every person has their own interests and I can’t predict what they’ll be interested in. So to write authentically and to write passionately is what will draw attention.”

When I mentioned her work gave a lot of respect to the depth of young people’s experiences, she thought that was a good way to put it.

“Teenagers feel really complicated feelings and they’re incredibly vulnerable and making a lot of decisions about their future but aren’t given the agency to really be able to control any of it.” She goes on to say that though young readers are not adults yet, “to at least have it acknowledged that what you’re thinking is real to you and serious to you is incredibly valuable, and that’s why I really care about making books about, like, gray areas and complicated, emotional issues for teenagers.”

When asked what comics she read when she was a teenager, Pandya mentioned her fondness for the Fruits Basket manga. “I still reread it every couple of years. But I was such a voracious reader, and we just read whatever was available. So I would read my friends’ volumes and we would all trade stuff. I was just absorbing the aesthetic of it.”

A photo of Aatmaja Pandya wearing a mask and holding a copy of Slip. The book has stickers saying Sold Out - More Tomorrow

It’s an aesthetic that is more background noise than front-and-present in Pandya’s art style. If you look for it, you’ll see echoes of it in the way certain character’s eyes indicate their emotions, or in the organization of certain panels. Overall, there’s a soft youthfulness to the art and expressions that doesn’t shy away from depicting the characters as the flawed, feeling teenagers they are. And if you end up reading Slip and enjoying Pandey’s illustrations as much as I did, you should know that she has also been contracted for a couple more YA and middle grade graphic novels. Keep your eyes and ears open for more lovely work to come!

I also grabbed a quick convo with Street Noise Books‘ design intern, Dev Kamath. Interns aren’t often front-facing, and the general public is not too aware of their influence on the finished stories, so I hope this spot will shed some light on their efforts. Dev’s passion really came through when I asked what inspired them:

“I personally really enjoy working on queer books, because those are the books I didn’t grow up seeing. And I discovered my identity a lot later because I was finally seeing people around me who were using they/them pronouns. And I was like, ‘Oh, if I saw books like that when I was younger, it would have meant a lot. So I like to do design work and illustrating work and helping other people get their voices out there. Because it’s like, everybody’s got a story to tell. But not everybody has a way to put it out there. I see my role as helping them get there. The current project I’m working on, I’m the one organizing the files and adding the text in and doing some edits to get it to where it can be published easier, so the book gets out faster so people can read it and people want to read it.” (emphasis mine)

That really gets to the heart of it all. At Flame Con, I got a look at the behind-the-scenes efforts, the communities that went into creating these stories and supporting/amplifying the voices that tell them. It’s an intricate, collaborative process, and getting even this superficial glimpse really makes one appreciate the art of it all so much more.

Comics/graphic novels were not the only art form in glorious abundance on the con floor. Painstakingly elaborate cosplays and singularly expressive fandom merch are no scarcity at a con, but this was probably the first one where I’ve so many references to What We Do In The Shadows—or so much slash fanart for sale.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol 1 cover

So. Much. Slash. Fanart. And also monster girls, which was neat. What I wouldn’t give for a movie adaptation of Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Book 2 coming later this year!). The metaphors are powerful, and the visuals would lend themselves beautifully to the screen. If you are a fan of the lesbian vampire trope or the bisexual vampire trope or just sapphic horror in general, I strongly recommend it. The story deals with some heavy themes and might not be for everyone, but it certainly pushed boundaries in the sort of way that lends itself to timelessness. It’s a riveting exploration of beauty and relationships and the ways internalized bigotry can shape young self-concepts.

Beauty has long struggled for purchase in comics, though. The American comic imagination has historically been dominated by the ever-more muscled, hyper-masculinized aesthetics of twentieth century Marvel and DC. As exciting as the recent Sandman TV show is, the fact remains that this is (as far as I know) major motion pictures’ first foray into a comic adaptation that is not about a character whose biggest deal is punching (or wanting to punch) various sentient beings in the face with fists or bullets or various elemental beams.

Recent years have thankfully seen a shift in publication trends, though. Creators like the ones I mention above are gaining market share by writing into existence the sort of representation that was once all too scarce. It is a humanizing of the once-monstrous, a reclamation and reconstruction of an art form that has only lately begun to be widely recognized for its merits.

the cover of Galaxy the Prettiest Star

Jadzia Axelrod, the writer for DC’s new(est) sapphic teen extraterrestrial romance shares my hopes for the future of comics. “I mean, the publishing industry is glacial in its movement and the pandemic has only made it slower. I’m not sure how long that sea change will take, but I see on the horizon some projects that I am very excited about. So I’m very hopeful. But we always need more, right?”

“More” including stories that allowed LGBTQ+ people to be messy and make mistakes. “I do think there’s this pressure on queer creators to do queer stories and to also show that queer love is beautiful—which it is—but to also show it as uncomplicated, and it’s just as complicated as straight people’s. And it can be beautiful and complicated and the damaging part is not the queer part, it’s the human part.”

After making that beautifully-worded statement, she recommended Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier. It is a cute high school rom-com about two aspiring cheerleaders who are less worried about coming out and struggling more with what life looks like after the act. It’s my most recent interlibrary loan request, and I await its arrival.

And while we’re on the topic, want to know how you can support libraries in the face of increasing book challenges and bans? Simple: every check-out counts. So, even if you might not necessarily have the time to read them, check out the books about LGBTQ+ experiences, about race, about the histories your high school textbooks glossed over. Even if you are not a budget-conscious grad-student trying to stretch her savings and can afford to buy books, check out the ones you want to support, from creators you want to support. Library purchases make up a not inconsiderable portion of book sales, after all!

a photo of a stack of library graphic novels and comics (Squire, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, and The Secret to Superhuman Strength) with a Batman mug on top
Shoutout to my local librarian,  for recognizing me and recommending Alison Bechdel’s newest work when I went in to pick up some requests. Interlibrary loan is a blessing.

By the end of the weekend, I had a bag full of business cards and an even longer TBR list than before. Attending Flame Con was a great experience that introduced me to so many new creators. It is entirely volunteer-run by fans, for fans, and the ethos of that permeated everything. From the panels to the performances, this was a place where people were able to articulate all aspects of themselves, and the wealth of creativity on display was amazingly affirming to witness. This is a passion project, and one I wholeheartedly enjoyed exploring and learning from.

———-

*Like in I’m In Love with the Villainess, which is a funny, lighthearted isekai** rom-com with a little angst, if you’re looking for more laughs.

**A manga subgenre where people from our world get pulled into fictional ones via portals or reincarnation

***Perfect Blue (1998) by Satoshi Kon, aka “Darren Aronofsky’s Pinterest Board”, as the podcast team at Progressively Horrified calls it. I need to rely less on footnotes, but this was too good a joke to leave out.

7 Sapphic YA Graphic Novels I Read at Work

Alright, I didn’t really read these while at my job. Contrary to what many seem to believe, library workers don’t actually get to read on the clock (much to our chagrin). But I do see a lot while I am shelving, sorting, shipping, and receiving books, and graphic novels are especially eye-catching. Sometimes I’ll see a book go by and think, “Hey, that looks like it might be gay.” Sometimes I’m able to check it out and see, and sometimes I have to remember to look it up later. The following graphic novels I spotted while working at the library, and actually managed to get around to reading—on my own time, of course. Mostly.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu is a cute little story about professional witch-in-training Nova Huang and her childhood crush, runaway werewolf Tam Lang, reuniting when an unruly forest demon starts haunting their hometown. It’s all very surface depth—the romance is straightforward and without drama, the characters are likable in very obvious ways, and the story is a basic set-up and knock-down affair that practically advertises its happy ending. That said, the graphic novel is executed clearly and effectively, and it ends with a complete tale all told. A lot of people will be happy with the variety of representation on display here, and for what I think started off as a serial webcomic, Mooncakes isn’t half bad.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama (Amazon Affiliate Link)

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko is a short, stand-alone manga, punctuated with what seems to be the first chapter of a completely different manga over halfway through the book. It’s exactly what the title says—serious businesswoman Morimoto Machi enters into a domestic partnership with her lesbian friend Agaya Hana to get her parents to stop pestering her about finding a man. It’s certainly a bit contrived, although the manga does have some rudimentary exploration into the personal and societal forces that might push two people into the titular situation. Overall, though, I found the pacing awkward (it also ends rather abruptly), and the humor a little immature for my tastes. But while I can’t bring myself to call the writing good, it’s at least written with heart. I can see this being someone’s favorite manga, but I personally wouldn’t keep space on my bookshelf for it.

the cover of Kiss Number 8

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw is a story about a teenage girl at a Catholic high school grappling with a crush on her best friend, conflicting pressures from her parents and peers, and a long-buried queer history in her own family. I’ll be frank, I did not like this book—largely for personal reasons, though I feel I ought to give a warning in case others might feel the same. A lot in Kiss Number 8 (especially the hook of seven poor kisses with boys, followed by the titular eighth with a girl) lead me to believe that the protagonist’s primary struggle would be that of a lesbian wrestling with compulsory heterosexuality. This is not the case; she is solidly bisexual, and in fact has sex with the brother of the girl she shared her eighth kiss with. This is not a problem in and of itself, but the surprise of it did sour my experience with the graphic novel.

the cover of What If We Were… by Axelle Lenoir

What If We Were… by Axelle Lenoir feels like a cross between a classic graphic novel and a collection of Sunday newspaper comic spreads, a la Calvin and Hobbes. It introduces us to teenage best friends Nathalie and Marie, who pass time imagining themselves as wildly different people in a variety of hilarious situations. This isn’t a metaphor or a rhetorical tool—many pages are just spent on the visual spectacle and humor of this (granted, quite cute and imaginative) game. It was the humor that I found fell somewhat flat; it relies heavily on absurdism and overreaction in a way that just didn’t click for me. The anxious teenage romance between Nathalie and her crush Jane Doe carried the rest of the story, but without it I don’t think I’d have much to say about the writing.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash is a graphic memoir recounting the author’s first lesbian crush at an all-girls summer camp in the American South. Honor Girl was the first of these graphic novels that I felt really had something to say, where the pieces all came together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also just good memoir writing. Autobiography can be hard to nail, but Maggie Thrash has an excellent sense on which details to include and what moments to linger on, and they manage to weave a bittersweet and melancholy story without the sense of contrivance that a too-neat memoir can impart. Some graphic novel aficionados might pass Honor Girl by on account of the rough and raw art style, but if so, they’re missing out.

the cover of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a wonderfully drawn and well-written graphic novel about a bad relationship. Freddy Riley loves Laura Dean, but Laura Dean neglects, isolates, takes for granted, and yes, keeps breaking up with Freddy. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me feels layered in a way that the other graphic novels here so far haven’t, and I really liked how the authors would just let certain moments or transitions breathe. That said, this book is never going to be a favorite of mine—and not just because it isn’t a happy romance. The characterization of Laura Dean clearly evokes the imagery of butch lesbians; it’s what makes her so “cool,” so desirable, but it’s also inextricably tied to what makes her a bad girlfriend. This isn’t to say that the story is invalid because I didn’t like how a character was coded; butches can, of course, be bad partners. But considering how poorly masculine women are still treated today, it honestly hurt a little to read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me and see such an obvious elevation of queer femininity at their expense.

The Girl From the Sea cover

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag takes the cake, hands down, as my favorite graphic novel of the bunch. It’s about a closeted teenage lesbian living in a small island town, whose teetering life balance is completely upended with she falls in love with a selkie. Everything I saw the other graphic novels in this list reach for, The Girl From the Sea pulls off. The romance is adorable and sweet, but the characters have their own nuances that keeps it from feeling flat or predictable. The story is tight and well-paced, but there’s enough complexity going on that I don’t feel like a second read-through would be merely perfunctory. The art is great, the humor lands well, and I finished the book wanting more but feeling satisfied with what I had.

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on both twitter and tumblr.

Danika reviews Whisper Me a Love Song Vol. 1-4 by Eku Takeshima

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I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with yuri manga. On the one hand, it’s usually adorable and addictive to read. On the other, I’m in my 30s, so schoolgirl love stories (especially ones that don’t actually seem to acknowledge being queer as an identity) are not something I seek out. I usually tend to look for yuri between adult characters, especially manga that uses words like queer, lesbian, bisexual, etc. Still, sometimes I make an exception, and Whisper Me a Love Song is one.

This is told in two perspective: Himari and Yori. Himari is a ridiculously cute first year high school student who sees Yori perform (as the lead singer in a band) and is instantly smitten. She finds Yori after the performance and tells her that she’s fallen in love at first sight. She sighs over Yori to her friends, admiring her and looking forward to any moment they can spend together. Yori tells her that she returns her feelings… only to find out that Himari doesn’t really understand romantic love, and she just meant that she likes and admires her.

The series follows Yori trying to win Himari over (not in a creepy way) and Himari trying to understand the difference between the adoration she’s had for other girls her whole life and romantic love. Yori tries to fit the cool upperclassman role as much as she can, but when we see from her perspective, we know how awkward and earnest she really is.

This is almost tooth-achingly sweet, especially Himari’s character, who is often gazing up at Yori with giant sparkling eyes. The concept of Himari trying to understand romantic love and growing into that aspect of herself is a good hook, though, just like I found the premise of How Do We Relationship? to be intriguing enough to pull me in. Although they don’t use any identity labels, they do talk about dating, kissing, the possibility of becoming girlfriends, etc. (Some yuri titles leave it much more grey about whether they’re actually queer.)

Further on in the series, there’s a little bit of tension added with outside love interests as well as some drama between friends and bands, but mostly this is an adorable read. I really liked the art, and it’s cute to see these two tiptoe into the world of romance. I am looking forward to continuing the series!

Susan reviews My Alcoholic Escape From Reality by Nagata Kabi

My Alcoholic Escape From Reality cover

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Nagata Kabi is back with My Alcoholic Escape From Reality! The mangaka behind My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and My Solo Exchange Diary returns with another memoir, this time about being hospitalised for acute pacreatis resulting from her alcoholism.

My Alcoholic Escape From Reality feels a lot more like a diary comic than any of her previous works. The art style hasn’t changed, although the monochrome colour scheme has shifted to orange now, but the manga as a whole feels tonally lighter and more consistent. I assume that this is a side-effect of it being written as one piece rather than a collection, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. Despite the lighter tone, the frankness that she has in her previous books continues here. She is very open about her alcoholism and her depression, neither of which is resolved by the end of the book. She’s not a perfect patient by her own admission – she relapses, she gets angry about the restrictions on her life, she lies to her doctors – and she’s very explicit about her understanding of what would make a satisfying narrative about her experience and how it compares to what she’s living. They way Nagata Kabi personifies and visualises her conditions is more emotive than medical, which works great and stops the entire manga being medical professionals explaining things. There is still a lot of medical details involved – if you, like me, have no idea what pancreatis is, look forward to being educated! But the explanations aren’t overwhelming, which I appreciated.

One of the threads of My Alcoholic Escape From Reality is creating while dealing with not only serious medical conditions but also guilt about her work. She feels guilt for creating memoir at all, and for enjoying it when she knows how negatively her family feels about her work. (Her compromise seems to have been only involving them in the most surface-level scenes, rather than delving back into her feelings about them.) The realisations she goes through about her work and what it means to her to do that work is lovely to read.

My general recommendation for Nagata Kabi’s memoirs are that they’re good in the same way that Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is good. They are both queer creators using their most raw edges and pain as entertainment, and cast an uncomfortable reflection back on the audience consuming that entertainment (… and the reviewer rating how well they depicted that pain, yes, please enjoy the mental knots I tie myself into). They are both funny and insightful, and that humour only makes their more serious points hit like a train. This ties into the point Nagata Kabi makes about narrative satisfaction – as a story, the most satisfying endings are the ones where she either relapses or recovers, and life isn’t that tidy; instead, it’s a narrative in progress, where she’s trying to be well and at least writing herself a smidge of hope for the future, and I respect that a lot.

If you want an untidy memoir told with Nagata Kabi’s usual bluntness and humour, I’d definitely recommend picking this up.

Content warnings: alcoholism, depression, hospitalisation and medical treatment

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 as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews Our Teachers are Dating! Vol. 1 by Pikachi Ohi

Our Teachers are Dating! Vol. 1 cover

I’ve been on a bit of a manga kick lately, especially lesbian manga. (See my post Lesbian Manga and Yuri Manga: What’s the Difference and Where Should You Start? for more.) My latest favourite has been How Do We Relationship?, and I’m always looking for more yuri manga with adult main characters. Unfortunately, Our Teachers are Dating! was a miss for me.

This series takes place in a sort of weird alternate universe of intense yuri fans. Hayama and Terano are two teachers who have just started dating, but they act just as awkward and shy as schoolgirls on their first dates. Their coworkers ship them–in fact, Bandou (one of the other female teachers) specifically applied to be at this all-girls school to cheer on yuri couples. She spies on them. It’s creepy. Their principal is also supportive, which is nice in the sense that she’s not homophobic, but is weird that no one even mentions the complications of two coworkers dating. In fact, they’re encouraged to go on a date at school??

I should mention at this point that I was a teacher very recently (I completed training about a year and a half ago, was a substitute teacher, and then had my first class end a few months ago). So it’s likely that this affected me more than the average reader, but I was completely taken out of the story by how unprofessional and even unethical they were acting. The dating at school was already weird–talking about your dating life with students is definitely beginning to cross a line. But that wasn’t the end of it! Hayamo confides in her students that she hasn’t said I love you yet (after a month??), but she has said “I’m attracted to you.” This is already way past what you should disclose to your students, but then her students convince her to practice saying it to photos of Terano on their phones. Another teacher walks in on what looks like her confessing her love to student, which is supposed to be a comedic moment, but it completely pulled me out of the story. Again, I know a teacher is likely not the intended audience here.

Even without that weirdness, I wasn’t into this story. It’s cute, but there are a lot of issues holding it back. It was originally published in a magazine format, and it feels disjointed. It also feels… I’m not sure the best way to say this, but it feels a bit indulgent, almost like fanservice. They are both blushing and cutesy, and there are so many closeups of kissing. There is a sex scene, but more than that are just a lot of panels of tongues. I’m all for sexy yuri, in fact, one of the things I liked about How Do We Relationship? was the frank sexual content, but it didn’t work for me here. It didn’t feel like a natural part of the story as much as suddenly zooming in on kissing over and over. There’s also a scene where Terano is admonished for always asking before touching or kissing Hayama and told basically that it makes her seem less enthusiastic, which I didn’t like.

I’m going to keep looking for yuri/lesbian manga with adult characters, but I was disappointed by this one.

Danika reviews How Do We Relationship? Volumes 1 & 2 by Tamifull

How Do We Relationship Vols 1 and 2 by Tamifull covers

Although I’m far from an expert, I’ve really been enjoying yuri manga lately, especially lesbian manga. (Check out my post: Lesbian Manga and Yuri Manga: What’s the Difference and Where Should You Start?) Although I enjoyed books like Girl Friends, I’d rather read about adult characters–hopefully ones that use words like lesbian, bisexual, or queer to describe themselves.

This series is about two women who meet in college and decide, “What are the chances I’m going to
run into another out queer woman here? Why don’t we just date each other?” They don’t have much in common–in fact, they hardly know each other at this point, but decide to see what happens. They have very different personalities, which keeps their interactions interesting, and it’s hard to tell at first if they will be able to have a functioning relationship.

They’re also both working through a lot of self-esteem issues and carry some baggage with them. Miwa is very shy and sheltered, and she’s never been in a relationship. Miwa was painfully outed when she was younger. These influences mean they sometimes disagree about being out as a couple. Because they have this contrived beginning to their relationship, they take nothing for granted, which I really liked. They have frank discussions about their relationship–and particularly about sex. I’m used to yuri manga that has a lot of blushing and hand-holding and meaningful glances. This is one of the
few that I’ve read that has sex scenes, and they don’t feel like fan service or the male gaze to me. Whether it’s in sex or conversations, I appreciated that they’re often realistically awkward. This is not a romanticized relationship: they are both complex, flawed people, but they are trying to improve.

This isn’t flawless: volume 2 contains a possibly transmisogynistic joke, unless I’m misinterpreting it–though it also might have a trans character. There is a side character who gets a subplot who discussed not wanting to be in a relationship because they would “have to be a woman.” I look forward to seeing how that arc continues in volume 3. Saeko can also be pushy with Miwa–and she definitely needs to stop groping her in public.

Overall, though, if you like yuri manga, I highly recommend this series! I’m excited to see queer manga become more common: series that deal with real-life LGBTQ issues and not just subtext or schoolgirl stories.

Susan reviews Eve and Eve by Nagashiro Rouge

Eve and Eve by Nagashiro Rouge

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I believe the entire summary I gave of Eve and Eve on GoodReads was “This is the level of weird horniness I usually find in m/m manga and I almost respect it for that.” The actual summary is that Eve and Eve is Nagashiro Rouge’s single-creator anthology of f/f manga, and this is honestly a first for me! I usually have an easier time finding anthologies like this of m/m manga! … But I am seriously not kidding about it being weird and horny. The stories are mostly scifi, but there are a couple of slice of life stories, and the tones range from serious to incredibly silly. The art is mostly fine, but I have two major quibbles with it. The first is that the anatomy is notably out of proportion, especially when it comes to hands – I’m not saying that there’s panels where characters have hands about the same size as their eyes, but it’s close. The other is that all of the characters have invisible vulvas (presumably as the distaff counterpart to invisible cocks, a known hazard of m/m manga), so the sex scenes are dangerously close to mashing Barbies together.

I Want to Leave Behind a Miraculous Love — I am unbearably amused by Nagashiro Rouge cramming every single possible apocalypse scenario into one page. When I first read Eve and Eve in 2019, that was just a funny joke, but here we are in 2021 and I’m just like “Yeah, actually, that sounds right.” As for the story itself: two women in Japan who barely share a common language fall in love after at least five apocalypses, which they are the only survivors of! I found it quite odd, tonally! The motivations of Sayu, the POV character, confuse the daylights out of me, because she is specifically pre-occupied with having children with Nika so that whoever dies first isn’t leaving the other alone with no record of their relationship. I appreciate that this is the thin veil of causality that’s excusing the sex scenes, but the specific fixation on having kids instead of any other form of record-keeping or looking for other survivors baffled me.

(If you’re wondering what the pay-off is for that narrative thread, I’m just going to tell you that one of the apocalypses involved technologically advanced aliens leaving their human-creating tech behind, and you can fill in the rest. Just know that the invisible vulva aspect is especially egregious here.)

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of stories where people fall in love because they’ve got no other options, and between the language barrier and Sayu’s point of view so I felt like we don’t get much about Nika at all. So I Want to Leave Behind a Miraculous Love wasn’t necessarily bad but I really wanted more build up of the relationship than it had space for in a short story.

The Case of Eko and Lisa — Eko creates erotic manga and uses her sexbot, Lisa, exclusively as a model and art assistant, much to Lisa’s dismay. The story pretty much follows your expectations for a romance between a human and a robot, especially one where the robot is the instigating partner. Lisa’s cheerful pursuit and reaction to rejection is what I’d expected, but Eko’s profound discomfort with the idea of sex that involves more than one person (both in her work and in her own life) was honestly the thing that made this story stand out for me! She’s not put off by the idea of having sex with a robot, but she hates the idea of sex without emotion behind it, and that got me right in my grey-ace feelings. The Case of Eko and Lisa isn’t doing anything I haven’t seen before in terms of robot/human relationships, but for the most part it’s fun and I enjoy how done Eko is with everything, so it’s worth a look! … Although the visual distinction between humans and robots literally just being one seam line at the neck feels like such a cop-out.

Top or Bottom? The Showdown! — Okay, so much about the premise of this story was going against it; it’s school girls who move on from arguing about their RPS shipping of boys in their class (one of my squicks) to arguing about who in their group of friends would be a top or bottom (which I am done with as a fandom argument, because I did my time on this back in the 00s!) However, the end result is mostly cute and silly, and gets a little meta with the two main characters trying to fluster each other with the tropiest moves from romance manga, so I came away really fond of it!

An Infidelity Revisited — Two women who cheated on their high school boyfriends with each other meet up again as adults… And immediately cheat on their girlfriends with each other. The glimpse of the messy relationship the two main characters have is interesting, especially when one pushes back on any attempt to make it less messy. I would have really liked more of that aspect, although the level and drama and ambiguity is pretty solid.

[Caution warnings: infidelity]

Heir to the Curse — A web designer returns to her home village to see her childhood best friend announce her marriage – only to discover that her (cis) best friend has inherited a family curse that all women in her family must marry and impregnate a woman, regardless of their own feelings on the matter.

Oh boy, where to start with this one.

Okay, so, first off, there are parts of the relationship between the two protagonists that are really sweet at the start and the end, where they’re shown as loving and supportive and able to have fun together. Those bits are cute! I like how much they care about each other! But one of them is being held prisoner by her own family (grim), who drug the protagonist so that the love interest can rape and impregnate her (also grim), until they confess their love and have consensual sex as a follow-up. The shift from rape to a romantic relationship is in line with some of the genre conventions, but the nature of it being a short story rather than a series means that the switch feels really sudden and highlights how the problem could have been solved by them talking to each other. … I would also like more explanation of the origin story of this curse, because I feel like there were a couple steps that got missed out in the initial explanation, and in why the family continued the tradition! An explanation is suggested in the final panel, but it’s a bit slight. Heir to the Curse could have been my thing, but I’m very tired of stories where “Well it’s okay apart from the rape scene” is a valid response.

[Caution warnings: imprisonment, homophobia, drugging, rape, magic pregnancy]

Eternity 1 and 2: Eve and Eve — A loving couple decide that the best way to immortalise their love is to… Become a living akashic record… By becoming the heart of a pair of satellites…? Look, I told you this was weird scifi, I have no explanations for you. It circles back around to the theme that I Want to Leave Behind a Miraculous Love suggests; leaving a record of yourself so the future knows that you were there and you were loved! Eternity 1 and 2 giving up their human lives and bonds specifically to lock their bond to each other in place is such a different answer to the one Sayu thinks of in the first story. I think I enjoyed it, but I will say that it has one of the most unnerving two-page spreads I’ve seen in a comic in quite a while. I promise, you will know it when you see it.

[Caution warnings: suicide]

Eve and Eve: Epilogue — One of the things I liked about Eve and Eve was the way that the stories interweaved. Between Eternity 1 and 2 spying on the relationships from other stories, or Sayu and Nika finding newspaper articles about the satellites, it gives the anthology a sense of unity despite the vastly different tones, settings, and storylines. This epilogue rounds that out really well, and I appreciated that it has the characters considering a similar dilemma to Eternity 1 and 2, and making a different choice.

[Caution warnings: implied suicide]

… So you see why my summary is that Eve and Eve is a weird anthology. It wasn’t my thing overall, but I think at least half the stories are worth a look – and I had a lot of fun overthinking its narrative structure, so it was worth the price of entry for that alone!

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 as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Lesbian Manga and Yuri Manga: What’s the Difference and Where Should You Start?

Where to Get Start with Lesbian Manga and Yuri Manga graphic

Getting into a new genre or format is always intimidating. Manga is a Japanese form of comics that tends to be endlessly marathonable: once you get started on a series, you want to sit down and read them all. For me, the most exciting thing about starting to read manga was that it already had a sub-genre dedicated to F/F romance…kind of. Yuri is a tricky thing to define, but it’s generally used to describe manga or anime that includes F/F romance or lesbian subtext. The problem is that this is a huge spectrum: you may pick up a book expecting lesbian manga, and instead get some Significant Glances or blushing and that’s about the extent of the LGBTQ content.

I am still a newcomer to reading yuri and lesbian manga, so I defer to Erica Friedman’s definition of yuri vs. lesbian manga. Friedman runs a yuri site called Okazu, which started in the early 2000s. Not only has she been writing about and reviewing yuri for almost two decades, but she also regularly gives presentations about the history of yuri. If you want an overview of the term, here is a video that goes over the basics.

 

For the purposes of this post, I’ll use Friedman’s definition: “Yuri is lesbian content without lesbian identity.” This makes it necessarily a subjective label. Some people may consider a manga yuri, and others won’t count it. On Okazu, manga that explicitly discusses identity labels is not categorized as yuri, and instead is filed as LGBTQ manga. In that same vein, I’m going to start off with recommendations of lesbian manga: these titles generally use the word “lesbian” or more broadly discuss being queer as an identity. These are still fairly rare, however, so I’ll also give some recommendations for yuri manga that have canonical F/F romances, even if they don’t use identity labels.

Lesbian Manga

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi (Amazon Affiliate Link)My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

This is the obvious place to start this list, but it’s also an exception: this is the only nonfiction manga included. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness details the author’s struggles with mental health, coming out, and—of course—loneliness. It is vulnerable and raw to the point that it is sometimes uncomfortable to read, but it offers an honesty that hadn’t been present in yuri/lesbian manga before this. It was also a huge hit, and its popularity not only ensured the publication of sequels (My Solo Exchange DiaryMy Solo Exchange DiaryVol. 2, and the upcoming My Alcoholic Escape from Reality), but also opened the door for more lesbian manga that looks frankly at lesbian identity and coming out in Japan.

Our Dreams at Dusk Vol 4 by Yuhki Kamatani (Amazon Affiliate Link)Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani

Admittedly, this series follows a gay teenager who is coming to terms with his identity, but it is one of the most queer manga series out there. It follows Tasuku, who is considering suicide because of the bullying he’s faced at school for being perceived as gay. He is distracted by seeing a woman jump from a high ledge, and follows her to a drop-in center. It is run by this mysterious woman, and soon she has him volunteering to help out. He is stunned when he meets Haruko, who casually mentions her wife. The final volume in the series follows the planning of a wedding ceremony between two women, who are Tasuku’s inspiration to come out.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama (Amazon Affiliate Link)I Married My Best Friend To Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

I know: the title doesn’t exactly scream quality representation. This short, standalone manga is surprisingly thoughtful, though. It’s about a fake marriage: Morimoto is sick of being constantly set up by her parents. Her friend Hana suggests that they get married (or, at least, get an equivalent partnership certificate offered in some regions). Morimoto finds herself agreeing to this plan, despite her parents’ outrage and despite her knowledge that Hana is an out lesbian and had feelings for her in high school. Unsurprisingly, once they start living together, their relationship begins to change. Not only does this have a character who identifies as a lesbian, it also deals with having abusive and controlling parents, and even some discussion of consent. Do be prepared for a very short manga, though: the last section of the book is a short story.

Yuri Manga: the Classics

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol 7Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi

Before there was lesbian manga, there were the classics of yuri manga. The one that’s probably most well-known is Sailor Moon. Although Usagi is arguably bisexual, that’s a whole other tangent. What made Sailor Moon so significant to the yuri genre was the relationship between Haruka (Sailor Uranus) and Michiru (Sailor Neptune). Their long-standing relationship is included without fanfare, which was fairly unusual at the time, especially for a series that achieved such popularity around the world. While the American TV adaptation tried to rewrite the two as cousins, there’s no way to mistake their relationship in the original books.

Revolutionary Girl Utena coverRevolutionary Girl Utena by Chiho Saito

Revolutionary Girl Utena owes a lot to the Magical Girl manga genre, but it is its own surreal masterpiece. It follows Utena who, as a young child, was saved by a prince. She’s so impressed that she vows to grow up to become a prince herself. Now, she’s at a private school (where all the girls swoon over her), and she stumbles on a dueling club. This club duels for the Power to Revolutionize the World and the Rose Bride. The Rose Bride is a fellow student, Anthy, who seems to be acting as a prop in their game. Utena joins the duel to protect Anthy, and finds herself drawn into a dreamlike world where castles descend from the sky and you settle every interpersonal conflict with fencing skills. In the original manga, the relationship between Anthy and Utena is heavily subtextual. It’s been adapted to many formats, though (anime, movie, standalone manga, manga short stories), and is often canonical in those.

Check out my full review of the Utena series here and my review of the recent sequel, After the Revolution, here.

The Rose of Versailles, Vol 2 Riyoko IkedaThe Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda

Predating any of these was The Rose of Versailles, which was serialized in 1973 and published in 10 volumes in 1982. It follows Oscar François de Jarjeyes, a young noblewoman raised as a son who is now the commander of Marie Antoinette’s guard. There is yuri content: Oscar and another female character, Rosalie, acknowledge that they have feelings for each other, and if Oscar was a man, they’d be together. Beyond that, though, the playing with gender in this series has likely affected yuri manga more than any actual F/F content. It’s not hard to see how Utena may have been influenced by this earlier work.

Where to Start With Yuri Manga

Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga Vol 1 (Amazon Affiliate Link)Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga

While lesbian manga is still pretty rare, there is a lot more yuri manga being published that is inarguably F/F (not just subtext). One of the foundational series in this vein is Girl Friends. This follows most of the common tropes in yuri: it follows two schoolgirls, one of whom has a crush on the other. There is a lot of blushing and the typical “girls don’t do this” heteronormativity. The first omnibus is about 500 pages, and it’s a slow burn: the majority of this first collection is just about them becoming friends. I thought the second volume was stronger, because SPOILER: it deals more with their relationship than just the pining, and it takes them seriously as a couple, even after graduation.

Bloom Into You Vol 1 (Amazon Affiliate Link)Bloom Into You by Nakatani Nio

This series has become hugely popular. It follows Yuu, who is a big fan of shoujo manga and is waiting for her whirlwind romance. When she does get a confession of love from a boy, however, she finds herself uninterested and turning him down. Later, she sees Nanako—who is running for school president—also turn down a suitor, and strikes up a conversation, thinking they have something in common. She’s taken aback when soon Nanako is also declaring her love for Yuu. Yuu doesn’t return her feelings, but agrees to be “wooed.” Unsurprisingly, based on the premise, it can veer into questionable consent territory: Nanako is sometimes pushy. They do discuss this when it happens, though, and over the course of the series, this becomes an engaging and cute romance that keeps you flipping pages.

Kase-San and Morning Glories Vol 1 (Amazon Affiliate Link)Kase-san and Morning Glories by Hiromi Takashima

This is told in a series of vignettes as Yamada meets Kase, a tomboy track star. They bond over their shared love of the gardens at their school, and their romance slowly begins to blossom. (I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it.) There is the typical “but we’re both girls!” angst and includes some fan service, but overall, it’s a cute and fluffy F/F romance. In the second volume, SPOILER: they try to navigate being a couple and exploring the sexual aspect of their relationship.

Although this is a high school romance, there is a sequel series called Kase-san and Yamada that takes place in college!

After Hours Vol 1 by Yuhta Nishio (Amazon Affiliate Link)After Hours by Yuhta Nishio

This is one of the few books on this list that follows adult characters! Emi is ditched by her friend in a dance club, and she’s overwhelmed by the loudness and crush of people. When she starts getting hit on, she starts looking for an exit and is rescued by Kei, a DJ. They go home together, and Emi finds herself drawn into Kei’s exciting, artistic life.

This is one of the few yuri manga volumes to include a sex scene that doesn’t seem to be for fan service, and both women already seem comfortable with their sexuality—in fact, Emi is likely bisexual, which is another rarity on this list.

Sweet Blue Flowers Vol 1 by Takako Shimura (Amazon Affiliate Link)Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura

When Akira starts at a new high school, she isn’t expecting to run into her best friend from kindergarten, Fumi! They strike up their friendship again, but Fumi is trying to mend a broken heart: her girlfriend left her and is getting married. She’s glad to be asked out by another classmate, Sugimoto, but she’s struggling to get over her last relationship. Akira is protective of Fumi and tries to help her move on. This is the same mangaka who wrote Wandering Son, which is a beloved manga series featuring trans characters. (In fact, this one discusses identity enough that it might even belong in the lesbian manga category.)

Citrus Vol 1 (Amazon Affiliate Link)Citrus by Saburo Uta

I am conflicted about this title, because on the one hand, it’s the most absorbing manga series I’ve ever read. On the other hand… just look at that cover. It follows Yuzu, a fun-loving girl who’s just started at a new high school and is shocked by their strict rules. 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! This is a romance between stepsisters, but they have just met. There is questionable consent, but it is grappled with: Mei has gone through sexual abuse, and has a fractured relationship with her sexuality. This isn’t an entirely healthy relationship, and there’s definitely a lot of angst, but it is captivating.

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow by Makoto Hagino (Amazon Affiliate Link)A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow by Makoto Hagino

This is a typical blushing schoolgirl yuri romance, with a lingering hug acting as the climax of the story, but I really enjoyed it. Konatsu is just starting at a new school (is anyone else noticing a pattern?), and they are holding an event hosted by the Aquarium Club. When she attends, she runs into the sole member of the club, Koyuki, and they share a shy conversation. Konatsu discovers that she has to join a school club—will she choose the Home Ec Club that her friendly classmate Kaede invited her to, or will she help out Koyuki at the Aquarium Club? This is an adorable story, and I liked that Konatsu helps Koyuki to take some time for herself and not always live up to the standard others hold her to. I also thought the aquarium theme made for beautiful illustrations.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyousinnjyaMiss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyousinnjya

Kobayashi has a pretty regular life working as a programmer—until she bumps into Tohru. Tohru is a dragon, and she seems to hate every human except Kobayashi, which means they end up living together. It turns into a slapstick slice-of-life comedy with a lot of crass humor.

Despite all the ridiculousness, this is still one of the few yuri manga series with adult main characters.

This is far from a complete list! There is a lot more yuri manga out there and more is getting published all the time. Unfortunately, lesbian manga is still pretty hard to come by. If you have recommendations of lesbian manga (manga that discusses lesbian identity) that didn’t make it to this list, comment below!

Looking for more yuri and lesbian manga recommendations? Check out the manga tag.

This post originally ran on Book Riot.

Danika reviews I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama

I know, I know. This seems pretty silly. I’ll admit that I sometimes pick up yuri manga as a guilty pleasure: most of the yuri I’ve read has been absorbing, but comes tainted without enough homophobia and male gaze to sour the reading experience. I’m happy to say that this book really surprised me.

This short, standalone manga is about a fake marriage: Morimoto is sick of being constantly set up by her parents. Her friend Hana suggests that they get married (or, at least, get an equivalent partnership certificate offered in some regions). Morimoto finds herself agreeing to this plan, despite her parents’ outrage and despite her knowledge that Hana is an out lesbian and had feelings for her in high school.

Another thing that I often find myself recoiling from in the manga I’ve read is an unhealthy attitude towards consent. In this story, Hana “playfully” pins Morimoto down, asking if she’s afraid of sleeping in the same room as a lesbian. Morimoto immediately goes limp and glassy-eyed, and Hana backs off, explaining that she was joking, and seemingly thrown by her reaction. This scene also explains how Morimoto got in this situation: we find out that her parents are controlling and emotionally abusive, not allowing her to make any real decisions in her life. She has been trained to follow along meekly in what is expected of her, which explains how Hana was so quick to convince Morimoto that she should be able to live in her apartment in exchange for housework.

Unsurprisingly, Hana and Morimoto’s relationship changes as they live together. Morimoto also finds new confidence in herself: she is inspired by Hana, by her dedication to her passion (art) and her defiance in being unapologetically out. It was gratifying to see an out character, one who even uses the word “lesbian,” in the pages of a yuri manga. [spoilers:] It was inspiring to see Morimoto stand up to her abusive and homophobic mother. [end spoilers]

This isn’t perfect, of course. Morimoto is drawn with fan service-y unrealistic breasts, and sometimes Hana pushes Morimoto (but always backs off). But it’s so refreshing to pick up a manga that really seems queer. It feels genuine. This has all of the appeal that yuri manga usually has for me: it’s a quick, absorbing, and adorable read. But it adds more depth and realism than I expect from this genre. It had me absolutely grinning as I read it. Be warned that the end of this volume is an unrelated short story, so it is pretty short. I loved this, despite the laughable title. I highly recommend it, whether you’re already a fan of yuri manga, or if you’re looking for a place to get started.

Emily Joy reviews Tokyo Love by Rica Takashima

Tokyo Love

Trigger warning for some transphobia

In Tokyo Love, Rica Takashima explores a semi-autobiographical story of recently-out college-age lesbian, and what it was like to be queer in Tokyo in the 1990s before dating apps and online LGBTQ communities became more commonplace. This book is an omnibus of a serial manga she created originally for the lesbian magazine Anise(now defunct), and includes later chapters published after Anise was discontinued.

Tokyo Love follows a young woman named Rica (not to be confused with the author) after she first comes to Tokyo for college and ventures into Shinjuku Ni-choume, Tokyo’s gay district. Rica is adorably naïve and genuine and full of enthusiastic curiosity. She quickly meets an art student named Miho, and through the rest of the manga, Miho is her Ni-choume guide, and eventual girlfriend. Focusing primarily on their relationship, Tokyo Love showcases Japanese lesbian experiences in short episodic doses.

All and all, I found this book to be cute and fun. Some of the best parts of this book are in some of the earliest chapters where readers learn along with Rica about Ni-choume and Japanese lesbian bar culture. Although I live in Japan, I don’t particularly enjoy bars and haven’t gotten up my introvert courage to visit Ni-choume. This manga was fascinating, and I loved enjoying it from the quiet of my own apartment.

Although this is not necessarily a “coming out” story, over the course of the manga, Rica experiences many “firsts” of her lesbian experience, allowing the narrative to explore different topics like bar culture, having sex for the first time, her first girlfriend, and discovering LGBTQ community. Despite all these first experiences, Rica is already sure and established in her sexuality and attraction to women, and there isn’t any of the coming out drama that might otherwise be included.

Chapters are also included which show Rica and Miho’s respective childhoods and first feelings of attraction towards other girls, which is a nice addition.

My only major criticism of Tokyo Love is the depiction of a trans woman in one of the chapters. Rica meets a woman at a college mixer, and they agree to go on a date. However, when Rica suggests they end the night at a women-only bar, her date declines, fearing that she hasn’t “perfected her female body” enough to go inside. After realizing that her date is assigned male at birth, Rica responds in a thought bubble, “You’re a man!” It’s played off as very lighthearted and comical, and Rica’s date doesn’t seem upset in the least, but it was a rather jarring experience for me as the reader.  While not stated outright, this seems to end the potential for another date, and the character is never mentioned again.  It was a very disappointing scene, in an otherwise good manga. And although there isn’t anything offensive in the rest of the book, this chapter might have been enough for me to think poorly of it as a whole.

Despite being left with a sour taste in my mouth from that chapter, the rest of the manga was mostly enjoyable. The art is cute, and although the story became a bit dull for me at a certain point, I still enjoyed it for what it was, and read it until the end. If you are curious about the experience of being a lesbian in Japan in the 90s, you might consider this one.

If you’d like to read Tokyo Love, the publisher has made it free online, and you can read it and download it as a PDF: http://www.yuricon.com/yuriconalc/RTKO/files/inc/1218031951.pdf You can also purchase a Kindle edition on Amazon, but I don’t recommend it, because the text is sometimes too small or blurry to read, but is clear on the PDF!