Sunday, January 30, 2011

Manga Review: Husky and Medley

Could a manga have nerdier roots? Husky and Medley began as a series of threads on 2ch. The protagonist is "Medley", a supposed high school student who falls in love with her seemingly perfect classmate "Husky." She starts out by creating a thread called, "I wanna expose my perfect classmate's weak point!" Another poster challenges her to find Husky's weakness by becoming her girlfriend, which leads to some text-flirting between the two, which leads to real life flirting, which finally leads to them becoming a couple, with Husky gushing and worrying about their relationship to 2ch. This description might make it sound like Medley's using Husky, but she isn't. (As far as she's depicted.) She's excited about getting together with the girl she likes (complete with an adorable coming out scene), and wants to share it with the internet. The replies from the other posters range from serious attempts to give Medley advice and encouragement to the expected inane commentary.'s about two girls becoming girlfriends, with the twist that the story was chronicled on a forum and may or may not be true. The romantic in me really wants to think that this was posted by a teenage girl who found a nice girlfriend instead of the alternative. Even if it isn't true, maybe this story has moved someone who was homophobic or resonated with a questioning teenager who read it. Setting its validity aside, it's really sweet and the 2ch angle adds a uniquely contemporary twist to a story that has been told many times.

The HasuMedo threads (which were posted in July 2008; back-ups of the thread are around online) was adapted to manga format by the pixiv artist Kurosada, whose account includes the Husky and Medley manga as well as some other drawings of his(?) image of Husky and Medley. The art isn't going to blow anyone's mind, but it's uncluttered and easy to follow.

So yup. Very cute, realistic-enough-to-be-plausible high school love story that addresses queer identity. (And you get nerd-points for even understanding the entire origin story.) Recommended.

Story: My inner romantic wins, although my inner cynic put up a hard fight. B+
Art: C+
Overall: B+

Husky and Medley have inspired fan art as well as a Vocaloid song. (Its tune is stuck in my head!)

Note added a little later: Husky and Medley was hard to review in the sense that it was really cute and realistic enough to remind me of a high school crush, but the very real possibility that it isn't real made me reluctant to invest myself too much in the "This really happened!" aspect. But goodness, it's cute.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Season So Far

Beelzebub (watched 1 episode): 
The delinquent-takes-care-of-demon-baby show from Weekly Shounen Jump. Unlike Level E (which ran in Weekly Shounen Jump from 1995-1997), everything about Beelzebub (art, characters, music) screams Shounen Jump. It has some amusing moments, but I just don't feel like following it. The gag about Baby Beel electrocuting everyone near him when he cries already started getting old in this episode, but it's obvious that it's going to be a recurring gag throughout the series. Props to Sawashiro Miyuki for doing such a convincing job as a baby.
Watching: No.

Dragon Crisis (watched 1 episode):
A teenage boy (kind of) saves a dragon girl who doesn't know how to say anything except his name and only wants to snuggle with him. (Incidentally, so does his busty, scantily-clad second cousin who just returned from studying abroad. The ED showcases several other girls who will probably want Ryuuji too.) Kugimiya Rie must have needed throat lozenges after repeatedly screaming "RYUUJI!!!!" in her character's dog-whistle high voice.
Watching: No.

Fractale (watched 1 episode): 
It was okay. Zac Bertschy nailed it when he called it a magical girlfriend show with notes of Miyazaki. I've heard that it gets better with episode 3, but I'm...just not really interested. (Maybe if it gets strong enough buzz after it finishes.)
Watching: No.

Freezing (watched 1 episode, hated every minute)
The only decent thing about this misogynistic piece of garbage was hearing Noto Mamiko's sweet, velvety voice...until her character died with the camera pointing up her rear.
Watching: *hack*

GoSick (watched through episode 3): 
A mystery series set in the Victorian era with sharp-looking art. Too bad it still manages to wedge in a bland Gary Stu protagonist. (His sexism-disguised-as-chivalry scene in episode 2 certainly didn't help.) Victorique was likeable, though. The mystery wrapped up in these three episodes was decent, but not good enough to make me want to watch more.
Watching: No.

Infinite Stratos (watched 1 episode):
So you have this fighting robot technology that only women can use, but it turns out that there's one boy who can use it. Thus begins his new life at the elite academy where girls learn to use that technology, and they all want him! (Aside from the class ojou-sama, but you know she'll come around.)
Watching: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Kimi ni Todoke season 2 (watched through episode 3): 
Sawako outclasses Ushio in how dense she can be when it comes to her love life (although her issues stem not from being shunned because of homophobia, but being shunned because...she reminds people of Sadako from The Ring), and she might be the most innocent high school girl in anime outside of the seinen genre, but she and Kazehaya are still adorable together. (Me during episode 1: "Awwww....GIVE HIM THE CHOCOLATES!! GIVE HIM THE CHOCOLATES, DAMN IT!!! Awwww.... JUST GIVE HIM THE CHOCOLATES.") Like the first season, this is a really sweet show, definitely recommended for folks who like romance. Also, yay for Noto Mamiko in a good show!! ^__^ Sawashiro Miyuki and Hirano Aya fans also get them back as Yano (yay!!) and Kurumi (boo) this season, along with Miyano Mamoru as Kazehaya's goofy new "rival" Kento.
Watching: Yes.

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? (watched 1 episode): The protagonist is a zombie, but only in the sense that he died and came back to life. He lives with the quiet, moe necromancer who resurrected him and later takes in a sharp-tongued, moe magical girl. KoreZom cobbles together nearly every trite fan favorite element out there, and delivers it with a light coating of dark, tongue-in-cheek humor. The best parody by far in this episode is our male lead being subjected to a sleazy magical girl transformation, followed by the camera pointing at his crotch while he fights. (How's it feel to be on the receiving end of that, HUH?)
Watching: No.

Level E (watched through episode 3): 
A funny sci-fi show with charming chemistry between its ex-delinquent baseball player lead and his flaky alien roommate. Thumbs up.
Watching: Yes.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (watched through episode 4):
This was a surprise hit for me, since I don't like most of Shinbo Akiyuki's work and the promo for it didn't do anything for me. MadoMagi is a dark, visually inventive take on the magical girl genre that throws a massive curveball at the audience at the end of episode 3. Episode 4 doesn't hit the same peak, but it's setting the stage for developments to come. I'm really looking forward to seeing how everything turns out. As a bonus, the Kajiura Yuki soundtrack rocks.
Watching: Yes.

Rio -Rainbow Gate- (watched through episode 4):
This series is terrible, but in a bizarre way. I keep thinking that I should drop it, but then I think, "What the heck," and watch the next episode after it comes out on CR. The scriptwriters probably knew that they couldn't make a good show out of a series starring a cheesecake slot machine game character, so they threw in whatever weird crap they could think of. (Probably while drinking.) The "best" episode so far is the ghost episode. My least favorite thing about Rio by far is Rio's pervy, "funny" boss Howard, who deserves a punch in his smug, perpetually grinning face. The writers also threw in a brief scene of Rio waking up naked in bed with another woman (without any explanation of it) to get yuri fans talking about the show, which worked beautifully for them.
Watching: ???
Update on 01/04/2011: Dropped. Finally dropped.

Starry Sky (watched through episode 2): 
I just found out that this is an ONA series instead of a TV series, which explains why each episode is about 12 minutes long. When I found out that Starry Sky is based on an otome game in which the protagonist is the only girl attending an all-boys' school, I assumed that she would be the protagonist of the anime. Nope. It turns out that each arc will take place from the POV of one of the twelve boys who are interested in her. (Each boy is identified by a constellation.) The first two episodes, which cover the Capricorn arc, are about a guy named Yoh who has been in love since childhood with a girl he once met, who told him that he has pretty eyes. For some reason, he's convinced that she will be at Seigetsu Academy. His arc climaxes with him kissing her on the cheek and thinking more about his feelings. I don't see the appeal. Nobody in this series has a personality, and I can't understand why any of these characters would be attracted (however chastely) to each other. The animation is below the norm also- maybe to authentically recreate the experience of playing the original visual novel?
Watching: No.

Wandering Son (watched through episode 3): 
Still the best thing airing this season. Watch it, watch it, watch it!! ^___^
Watching: Yes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yuri Panel Coming Up At ConBust- Get it while it's hot!!

As a heads up for anyone who will be in the area that weekend, I'm holding a yuri panel this year at ConBust, my college's annual geekdom con. The time and date haven't been set yet but I'll post them as soon as I know!

Here's a list of the panels that have been confirmed for this year (they aren't on the website since the schedule isn't finished yet, but the Panels Committee gave me a hearty thumbs up for publicizing it):

Anime 101
Anthropology in Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Bad Endings to Good Books
Believable Villains
Building a Better Mousetrap: Believable Sci-Fi Gadgets
Character Building 101
Characters and Creators: Women in Video Games
Children's Fairytales
Culture in the Round: Building Workable Worlds, Civilizations, and Cultures
Dragons Are Awesome
Fanfiction Writing Roundtable
Geeks in Love
Gender Bending in Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Hero, Protagonist
High Fantasy
How Magic Works: Constructing a workable magic system
Interstellar Governments
LGBTQIPAOMGWTF: Queer Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Anime
Mutant Ninja Nipple Eating Starfish (B-Movies- yeah!!!!)
Religion in Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Romance, Eroticism, and the Demon Lover
Running a Roleplaying Game
Scenes from a Hat: "Three things" stories for grown ups
Star Wars
Steampunk 101
Suspension of Disbelief
The Geek Canon (Great works that every good geek should know)
The Publishing Industry
Urban Fantasy
Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writing Believable Fight Scenes
Xenobiology (Bring an Ewok, get a t-shirt)
Young Adult Fiction
Yuri Panel (a.k.a. The best panel ever.)
Jackpot, Tiger: Women in Superhero Comics

Can't wait! I always have fun doing this panel, and I know that the staff at ConBust will be easy to work with. (Especially since they know how to label their rooms and none of them are tittering man-children who hit on the panelists. Hahaha.) Again, I'll post about my panel more when there's more to post. ^_^

And tomorrow's the last day of winter break! I'm taking a direct flight up north tomorrow- not too early, thankfully.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hourou Musuko / Wandering Son Episode 1

Episode 1 of Hourou Musuko surprised me. It was great, but it wasn't what I expected.

Episode 1 starts at the end of volume 4 of the manga, with our protagonists, Nitori (who was born male and wants to be a girl) and Takatsuki (born female and wants to be a boy), entering middle school. In flashbacks, we see how how their friendship fizzled out because Nitori fell in love with Takatsuki, their classmate Chiba (the first person to understand that Nitori prefers girls' clothes) fell in love with Nitori, and Takatsuki wasn't in love with anyone. (Their classmates didn't help by joking about how Nitori and Takatsuki would make a great couple.) The first episode drops us in the middle of the aftermath of these developments, and it does a good job of bringing the audience up to speed without being abstruse.

As the school year begins, we get a brief glimpse of Nitori and Takatsuki's old and new classmates. I especially hope that Chi-chan (the biggest eccentric in the class) will get a good amount of air time in future episodes. Like in the manga, she wears the boys' uniform to school when she introduces herself, sparking Takatsuki's admiration. (And a little sad irony since Takatsuki also wanted to wear the boys' uniform, but didn't do it because it means more for him.)

Since Takatsuki and Nitori aren't speaking, Takatsuki meets Yuki (a transgender woman who acts as a role model for Takatsuki and Nitori) at a restaurant and Yuki gives him a new boys' uniform, while Nitori goes shopping in a girls' uniform alone and buys a four leaf clover hair pin.

After going home, Nitori sees her older sister Maho and her friend Anna, who both model, looking at a magazine in which Anna is posing with the model Maho idolizes, Maiko-chan. After Maho and Anna leave the apartment (Anna snapping a picture of Nitori with her cell phone before exiting), Nitori tries on the dress that Maho plans to wear for her photo shoot the next day.

Of course, Maho walks in, and even though she isn't surprised, she gets pissed and forces Nitori to take the overblouse off before Nitori pushes her away and runs out of the apartment barefoot.

Nitori and Takatsuki run into each other outside and Takatuski gives Nitori his sweatshirt and finds a four leaf clover to put in Nitori's hair. This episode looks good throughout, but I still boggled a little at the cherry blossoms in this scene.

Later at dinner, Maho gives Nitori one of her fried shrimp, with the excuse that she doesn't want to gain weight before her photo shoot. Nitori's happy about finally making up with Takatsuki.

It was a great episode. The watercolor-textured art was lovely and, at times, dream-like, capturing Shimura Takako's gentle, low-key art style well, the music was suitably pleasant, and the voice acting was all very good. (Including the new talent playing Nitori and Takatsuki, Hatakeyama Kousuke and Seto Asami. Seiyuu geeks, of course, can enjoy listening to Horie Yui, Mizuki Nana, Toyosaki Aki, and Chiba Saeko in their side roles.)

While there were some surprises with this episode, I thought it was a good adaptation that captures the feel of the original story and characters. There were sweet moments and sad moments that evoked emotion without feeling manipulative, in keeping with Shimura Takako's usual brand of storytelling. Because of the changes from manga to anime (including some truncations), I'm really curious about how much ground this series will cover before it ends.

Overall: Watch it!

I'll give this series a letter grade after I finish it.

Crunchyroll is simulcasting this series each Thursday at 1:00 EST, for people in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Portugal. My condolences to anyone who the simulcast doesn't cover.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drama Review: Last Friends

Last Friends has been in the top tier of my Pile of Shame for things that I should finish for a while. Last Friends is an 11 episode drama about a group of young twenty-somethings and their relationships. The OP ("Prisoner of Love", by the lovely Utada Hikaru) highlights five themes that each of the five lead characters represent-

Aida Michiru (Love) is a sweet but timid hairdresser who drew the short straw in life. Her alcoholic mom has always treated her like crap, her co-workers are jerks to her, and her boyfriend Sousuke starts beating and controlling her after she moves out of her mom's apartment to live with him. The only ray of sunshine in Michiru's life is how much she loves cutting and styling hair and her best friend from middle school and high school, Ruka, who helped Michiru when she was going through a rough patch in her teens because of her family and re-enters Michiru's life (unintentionally) right before she moves in with Sousuke.

Kishimoto Ruka (Liberation) tries to protect Michiru while being weighed down by the pain of having had a one-sided love for Michiru since they were in school together and wanting sex reassignment surgery. Ruka is also a kick-ass motocross racer. Surprise, Ruka's my favorite character.

Mizushima Takeru (Agony) is a make-up artist and hairdresser in the daytime and a bartender at night. He's afraid of sex with women because of a childhood trauma (e.g. he throws up after Eri comes on to him), but he has one-sided feelings for Ruka, who he becomes close friends with. He's basically the sweetie of the show. (And my second favorite.)

Takigawa Eri (Solitude) is an airline stewardess who wants a relationship, but hasn't had much luck in her love life. She starts falling in love with a guy from work, Ogura Tomohiko ("Ogurin"), who is separated from his wife who's cheating on him. Because Eri's problems are so miniscule compared to the other characters' and she's generally laid-back, her presence in the show provides some much-needed balance. She and Ruka share a house, but Michiru, Takeru, and Ogura later move in also.

Sousuke (Contradiction), ironically, works for the Children's Welfare Department. To make him more sympathetic, I guess, we get an overblown scene of him diving in front of a train to save a little boy, who he also looks after because the boy's from an abusive home. Sousuke was abandoned by his mom as a child and passed around to different relatives. That's terrible, but I still hate him. The ending for his story arc is complete bullshit because it isn't plausible for the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of abusers and I resent the show for trying to squeeze sympathy out of me for him. (I also wanted Michiru to take an active role in finally ending their relationship, not it ending on his terms- even if it was satisfying, in its own way.) To be fair, the show's screenwriter acknowledges (in a spoiler-laden interview about the show's ending) that Sousuke's ending is unrealistic.

I have a really mixed opinion of Last Friends. Aside from Sousuke, Michiru when she's running back to Sousuke or romanticizing him (or saying "Sousuke" in a sad voice), and Ogurin (he's such a sop), I like the characters. Ruka is as wonderful as Sousuke is horrible (Ueno Juri does a wonderful job playing Ruka), and Ruka, Michiru, Takeru, Eri, and Ogurin have good chemistry as a group. I also like how Ruka's sexist motocross sempai, Hayashida, comes to respect and support Ruka over the course of the show.

The coming out scenes with Ruka's dad and Eri are great. An interview with the screenwriter for Last Friends confirms that she wrote Ruka to be in a "gray zone" between FtM and lesbian. I don't care for the reason behind it (if she just wanted to write a genderqueer character, that would be another story), but it gives transmen and queer women a positive character to root for in a drama. Baby steps, I guess. (The interview made me think of the bonus comic in Honey & Honey Deluxe where Sachiko shows her manga to one of her professors, and he reads it and innocently asks, "So, are you going to become a man?") The most enjoyable scenes in Last Friends, imho, are when everyone is just hanging out at the share house playing video games or eating or whatever.

Despite the positives, the biggest negative, Sousuke, pervades the show like a colony of termites infesting a tree.

The series manages to have a happy, surprisingly sweet end, but Michiru's continued sentimentality towards Sousuke is flabbergasting. Her reason for having a baby (so that she won't be lonely) strikes me as more idiotic than sweet, but I have the crazy notion that people should have kids when they're emotionally and financially able to take of them. (Edit: She does become more emotionally mature in her decision after speaking with Ruka and Takeru, though.) The resolution with Takeru's sister in the Last Friends Special (a bonus episode taking place several months after the events of the main series) is poorly handled also.

Despite the negatives, Last Friends has some genuinely good elements. Sometimes it really works as a drama about the relationships among a group of close-knit friends. If only it felt less like a Lifetime movie. (In the sense that Lifetime has made a load of movies about women being victimized.)

Overall: C+

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Manga Review: Blue Friend volume 1

Drama, drama, drama. Eban Fumi's Blue Friend advertises itself as "この百合マンガがすごい!" ("This yuri manga is great!") on its obi, but the real theme so far is "You can't escape your past."

Kurihara Ayumu is outgoing, athletic, and generally well-liked.

Tsukishima Misuzu is pale, quiet, and popular with the boys at school, who she always rejects because she hates men. The other girls envy and ignore her, but she doesn't seem to care. When Ayumu tries to make friends with her, Misuzu at first rebuffs her but later warms up and they become friends.

Misuzu briefly kisses Ayumu one day, leaving Ayumu confused about what it meant. Misuzu tries to pass it off as nothing, and Ayumu doesn't push the issue further. A boy named Hirai tells Ayumu he likes her, but when he later takes back his confession and Ayumu hears that it was because she supposedly told Misuzu to tell him she isn't interested, and Misuzu doesn't deny it, Ayumu's a little freaked out. She finds out that Misuzu had a good reason for telling him to stay away, and she and Misuzu make up and become closer friends.

One day Misuzu gets a note in her locker from someone who knows about her "dirty past." Misuzu panics and the note-writer shows up out of the blue- Azuma Satsuki, a girl violating her suspension from school, whose every premeditated gesture and icy cold smirk screams, "Teehee, I'm a villain!" News quickly spreads around the school that she's appeared. Ayumu's the only person who doesn't know who she is.

Misuzu becomes increasingly shaken as she receives more and more notes. When Ayumu is putting some things in a school storage room one day, she finds herself alone with Satsuki. I will admit that I kind of hoped Satsuki would try to woo Ayumu and royally piss off Mizusu. Instead, she insinuates that Ayumu and Misuzu are in a relationship, then asserts that Ayumu really hates Misuzu. Ayumu insists that she does like Misuzu and leaves, but it's obvious that Satsuki struck a nerve.

In a flashback to Misuzu's elementary school years, she's sitting on the lawn outside of a hospital taking to a doctor. Misuzu's classmates hear about it, and start gossiping that he must be her boyfriend because he's handsome, and how her dad isn't her real dad. Satsuki(!) chases them away by spraying them with a water gun before spraying Misuzu. Satsuki infers that Misuzu has a crush on the doctor, even though she doesn't say so. I'm dying to know what happened to make Satsuki obsessed with screwing over Misuzu. Crap...this is a long review.

So- back in the present, Ayumu and Misuzu have a fight and the next day there are flyers all over the school saying that Misuzu seduced a doctor at her stepfather's hospital. It's obvious that the doctor from the flashback raped her after gaining her trust, but even grade schoolers aren't immune from victim-blaming. Misuzu faints and Ayumu tells her to hang on.

I felt like I needed a Tylenol after that ending. I want to see what happens to these characters, and I know that they will get a happy ending because of the Blue Friend ~after days~ epilogue that was published in the January issue of Ribon Special. (Blue Friend runs in regular Ribon. I haven't read ~after story~, but I've seen the post about it on Yurina Hibi. I didn't read through the vast majority of the text- just looked at the pictures, which seem happy enough.) Because I know about ~after story~, I can at least rest easy that Misuzu won't kill herself or die in a knife fight with Satsuki or anything. The real mystery is how the heck Misuzu and Ayumu will get that ending and whether their relationship will become healthy- not with Ayumu acting as Misuzu's sole emotional crutch and not with Misuzu remaining hyper-possessive. If not, then I can't really consider it a happy ending.

Ayumu serves her purpose in the story well. She's the kind of friend you would want if you were going through a shitty period in your life but, realistically, even she has limits to how patient she can be with Misuzu. Misuzu is realistic as a teenager who often behaves like an ass, but only because she feels like there is nothing really worth caring about and no one who cares about her- aside from Ayumu. I'm interested in seeing how the dance between these two plays out.

Blue Friend can be difficult to read at times, but it's definitely involving. I'm morbidly curious about what happens next.

Story: B-
Art: B+
Overall: B-

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Manga Review: Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus 1

This is the best story CLAMP has ever made and a gem that every manga fan should try.

Kinomoto Sakura is a bright, athletic fourth grader who lives with her dad Fujitaka and her older brother Toya. One day in her dad's study, she finds an old book with a strange cover and opens it, releasing the magic Clow cards within it as well as Cerberus (nicknamed "Kero-chan" by Sakura), the guardian of the cards who looks like a small plush toy instead of his supposedly impressive "true form" because he's low on magic. (The cards got away because he fell asleep.)

He tells Sakura that the Clow cards were created long ago by a powerful magician named Clow, and Sakura was able to break the seal on them because she has magic ability. Sakura agrees to help him capture the Clow cards to prevent them from causing harm and being used for evil by whoever else might get a hold of them.

The only other person who knows about the Clow cards and Kero is Sakura's best friend Tomoyo, who creates a bevy of magical girl outfits for Sakura to wear and tapes her exploits at every opportunity. While Tomoyo is in love with Sakura, Sakura is in love with her older brother's best friend Yukito ("Yuki"). Eventually, another cardcaptor named Li Syaoran transfers into Sakura and Tomoyo's class and demands that Sakura stop collecting Clow cards and hand over the ones that she already has. Syaoran almost instantly gets a huge crush on Yuki, making him Sakura's rival in a much more amusing way.

A beautiful new teacher who seems to know more than she should arrives at Sakura's school, and the volume ends with Sakura, Tomoyo, and Syaoran trapped in a maze by a Clow card.

Cardcaptor Sakura is warm, sweet, and charming. It's funny and (normally) lighthearted without being insubstantial, with great characters, a whimsical sense of humor, and enough knowing tweaks of the conventions of the magical girl genre (the series starting after Sakura has become a magical girl and told Tomoyo about it, with her "discovery" framed in a short flashback; her battle costumes being designed by Tomoyo instead of popping out of thin air during a transformation) to keep the folks who are familiar with them happy.

As well-written as the story is, the art can't be under-credited. Art usually doesn't make or break a series for me. If I'm reading a good story, equally nice art is welcome but not a requisite. (Unless it's an action series. If the fight scenes look like they were made by a chicken trained to dip its talons in ink and scratch humanoid figures onto the paper, what's the point?) Great art won't win any points for a story I don't like either. But oh my god, the art in this series is gorgeous. Dark Horse even includes a bonus gallery of glossy color images in the back for those of us who want to stare at the pretty pictures in all of their full-color glory a little more. (There are some in the main part of the book.)

As for the yuri, along with Tomoyo we get the two chapters that introduce her yuri-riffic mom Sonomi. In the school athletics festival chapter, we learn that Sonomi has been in love with Sakura's dead mom Nadeshiko since they were little kids (they were cousins), and she has hated Fujitaka ever since he married Nadeshiko when she was sixteen and he was a new teacher at Sonomi and Nadeshiko's school. The chapter ends with a bittersweet moment in which Sonomi and Fujitaka unwittingly bond over being in love with the same dead person, with a little help from Sakura and a pair of nadeshiko blossoms. Right after this Tomoyo, who has long known about her mom being in love with Nadeshiko, tells Sakura that she loves her and when Sakura says, "Me too, Tomoyo-chan!" Tomoyo quietly says, "I think...we're talking about...different kinds of love, Sakura-chan." Sakura says "Did you say something?" and Tomoyo replies with, "Sakura-chan...I'll tell you when you're older." Later in the omnibus, Sakura visits Tomoyo's mansion and we see that Sonomi and Tomoyo both keep cherished mementos of Nadeshiko and Sakura in a box that has been possessed by a Clow card. The yuri's all one-sided, but it's more funny and charming than it probably has any right to be. (Just hope 10 year-old Tomoyo doesn't follow her mom's example and realizes that there are other fish in the sea.)

The translation is excellent. It keeps all of the honorifics (including "onii-chan"), along with cultural references (most of them are food-related, like "takoyaki" and "bento"). Each character's "voice" comes through, with Kero's Osakan accent and penchant for manzai-style humor being especially well-handled. (Given that Kansai accents have often been conveyed in English by giving the character a Southern U.S. accent to show that they speak "differently" from the others and calling it a day.) There aren't any translation notes which, combined with the deluxe packaging of this series and the very nature of Dark Horse (which is releasing all of CCS in four omnibi) as a publisher, speaks volumes about who CCS is being marketed to this time around.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

I have a lopsidded past familiarity with this series. I was familiar with it when it was originally released in left-to-right format by Tokyopop, but only read whichever random volumes were available in the library and saw a handful of subbed VHS anime episodes. (Also from the library.) Before reading this omnibus I definitely remembered Tomoyo, the gorgeous artwork, and for some reason, my friends and I being convinced that Yuki and Toya were in love, but not much beyond that. lol I never saw or read the ending, so I'm looking forward to seeing how everything pans out. I've heard that the ending is comparatively weaker than the rest of the series, but for now I'm really enjoying the ride.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best Yuri Manga of 2010

I've decided to do a "Best of 2010" list for yuri manga, after all. I was gun-shy about compiling one earlier because I still haven't read a few titles that sound like strong list candidates. But I'll do it anyway.

Top Yuri Manga of 2010:

In English:

 3. Yen Press' release of K-ON! by kakifly:
The only yuri is in Mugi's head, but it's good enough for me to list it. This is a fun, funny slice-of-life series that makes a great pick-me-up.

2. Dark Horse's release of Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP:
A wonderfully re-translated, re-released classic with one of the earliest yuri characters known to English-speaking manga and anime fans.

1. Seven Seas' release of Hayate x Blade by Hayashiya Shizuru:
Because it's a great action-comedy with a liberal infusion of yuri by one of my favorite mangaka.

In Japanese:

7. Fu~Fu by Minamoto Hisanari: Don't pelt me with tomatoes. > < This adorable story about two women who are living (and identifying themselves as) wife and wife (or 婦婦, pronounced "fufu") is a heart-warming love letter to love, but it hasn't been published in tankoubon form yet. Now that it's survived Yuri Hime's absorption of Yuri Hime S, I'm anticipating much, much more of Kina and Suu pointing out the obvious for the clueless and making everyone with a beating heart go, "Awww."

6. Sasameki Koto by Ikeda Takashi:
I love how Ikeda Takashi mixes silly, goofy comedy with issues that real queer teens face (like internal and external homophobia, coming out), without it feeling jarring. The characters are loveable and I can't wait to see how things turn out for Sumika and Ushio.

5. Octave by Akiyama Haru:
Octave is hardly the first realistic story about an adult yuri couple we've gotten, but it's the first to last as long as it has. It also brought mature josei-style yuri to a lot of folks who probably don't usually read josei yuri.

4. Gunjo by Nakamura Ching:
There isn't really anything else like this, especially in yuri. Gunjo has romance without being romantic and tragedy without quite feeling hopeless. The characters are complex and the art is...well, look at the picture above. This is a title that I would hand to folks who aren't normally interested in manga, if it were licensed in English.

Am I cheating by making the next two titles a tie?

Girl Friends by Morinaga Milk:
Girl Friends has been Morinaga Milk's baby these past few years and no matter how much of a hard-ass I've been in critiquing it (consider it tough love), I've been following it closely (and for most of its serialization, anxiously) throughout its entire run. Now it's over. Wow.

Renai Joshika by Morishima Akiko:
This yummy, fizzy treat of a story about a group of women who find love working at a bridal planning company overflows with how much fun Morishima is having drawing exactly the kind of story she wants- it's infectious!

And my choice for #1... (Which will absolutely shock you.)

1. Aoi Hana by Shimura Takako:
This is my favorite manga running right now. After years of build up, Fumi and Ah-chan have finally started dating, and I'm on pins and needles waiting to see where it goes from there.