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.

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.

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.

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!

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

hayatexblade

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

kashimashi

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

LastUniform

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.