Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1

Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1Creator: Milk Morinaga
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781626920309
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2013

I greatly enjoyed the first two manga series by Milk Morinaga to be released in English—Girl Friends and Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink—and so was happy to see Seven Seas license one of her most recent series: Gakuen Polizi. The first volume of Gakuen Polizi was originally published in Japan in 2013 while Seven Seas’ edition was published in 2014. Currently, Morinaga is likely the best-represented yuri creator in English in that she now has the most titles available in translation. Granted, considering how few yuri manga have been released, especially when compared to other genres, that really isn’t too difficult. Still, her work has generally been well-received. Gakuen Polizi is a bit different from Morinaga’s other manga in English. She describes it as a “high school police drama” which is more or less accurate. The series has more of a buddy cop feel to it than it does romance or drama and is inherently more comedic as well.

Ever since she was young, Sasami Aoba has wanted to be a champion of justice, dreaming of crushing evil and helping the weak, and now she finally has her chance as an assistant police officer. Specifically, Sasami has been assigned to Hanagaki Girls’ High School as one of its polizi—a young undercover cop sent to investigate issues at problem schools. The only thing is Hanagaki doesn’t actually seem to have any problems. There’s no bullying, the students and staff are all very pleasant, and even the school’s newspaper has difficulty finding juicy material to report on. Hanagaki is actually the second assignment for Sasami’s partner Sakuraba Midori. Before Sasami’s arrival, and because the school is so peaceful, Sakuraba has had plenty of time on her hands, quite a bit of which she would spend distracting herself by drawing yaoi manga. But now with the less-experienced and overly eager Sasami constantly on the verge of blowing their cover as polizi, Sakuraba has more than enough to worry about.

Gakuen Polizi is kind of a strange mashup of genres. Since nothing much happens in the way of crime at Hanagaki, there’s not much for Sasami and Sakuraba to be doing in regards to police work. The series is generally lighthearted and often silly, especially towards its beginning. At first the cases at the school are fairly inconsequential—a dog with a penchant for stealing things, small squabbles between classmates, and so on. The second half takes a more serious turn, dealing with gropers and stalkers, but even then the humor in Gakuen Polizi is a prominent feature. Most of the comedy revolves around Sasami. She is very enthusiastic and passionate, but somewhat lacking in common sense. Sakuraba, in stark contrast, is more serious and reserved. According to the afterword, readers should expect more romance-related drama to come in the series, but there is very little of that to be seen in the first volume of Gakuen Polizi, though a chemistry between Sasami and Sakuraba has begun to develop.

It is fairly obvious that Morinaga is personally having a lot of fun with Gakuen Polizi. I found the first volume to be entertaining, but readers approaching the manga hoping for a series similar to Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink or Girl Friends will most likely be disappointed. Though Gakuen Polizi has the potential for some drama and romance, so far the series tends towards the absurd and ridiculous. Morinaga’s artwork and character designs are cute, with particularly dynamic facial expressions that add to the series’ silliness. While I like the characters in Gakuen Polizi, I’m not attached to them in the same way that I was to the characters in Morinaga’s other manga. I do find Sasami, Sakuraba, and their friends to be amusing though. Gakuen Polizi isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The emphasis is definitely more on the series’ comedy than it is on its believability. Overall, Gakuen Poilizi, Volume 1 was largely an enjoyable, fluffy read. Although I may not be desperate for more, I do look forward to reading the next volume.

Sweat & Honey

Sweat & HoneyCreator: Mari Okazaki
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781591827979
Released: February 2005
Original release: 2002

Back in 2005 Tokyopop launched a short-lived line of josei manga called Passion Fruit, describing it as a collection of innovative and edgy works. Only two volumes were ever released before Passion Fruit faded out of existence: Mari Okazaki’s Sweat & Honey and Junko Kawakami’s Galaxy Girl, Panda Boy. I learned about all of this long after the fact and only discovered the Passion Fruit line while searching for more translated manga by Okazaki after rereading her series Suppli (which was sadly left incomplete in English after Tokyopop’s decline.) Currently, Sweat & Honey is her only other work available, which is a shame. Sweat & Honey was originally published in Japan in 2002 before being released in English in 2005. I didn’t realize it when I first picked up a copy—initially I was interested in the fact that it was by Okazaki more than anything else—but Sweat & Honey incorporates sapphic elements and yuri undertones which made me even more curious to read it.

Sweat & Honey collects five short, unrelated manga, most of which focus on the close, personal, and intimate relationships between women, ranging from friendship to love and even more complicated bonds. The volume opens with “After Sex, A Boy’s Sweat Smells Like Honey,” from which the collection draws its name. In it, a young woman is staying with her cousin; her attitudes toward and dislike of men has her cousin reevaluating her own romantic relationships as the two women grow closer. In “About Kusako,” Moeko stumbles upon a girl literally growing out of the ground. It’s a curious story and the most fantastical one included in Sweat & Honey. “Sister” follows Chinami, a highschool girl, and Kayo, her 35-year-old neighbor who leads a much more fulfilling life than most realize. The longest story, “The Land Where Rain Falls,” is told in three parts. It delves into the intense and twisted connections between Kumi, her classmate Kaya, and Kaya’s older brother. The volume closes with “Iced Tea,” in which a young man looks back on one of his first crushes, his seventh-grade teacher.

Sweat & Honey, though occasionally lighthearted, is a manga that deals with very mature themes—death, coming of age, self-discovery, nostalgia—and can frankly be disturbing from time to time. Okazaki’s artwork aids tremendously in creating this atmosphere in the volume. Her illustrations are sensuous and provocative, with a languid heaviness to them. They are beautiful, but also somewhat disconcerting and ominous, too. The page layouts in Sweat & Honey are also interesting, often featuring a large background panel which sets the scene with smaller, overlapping panels that focus a reader’s attention on a particular detail of the people who inhabit it. The elegant line of a neck, hesitant glances or a sly smile, an exposed breast, shifting legs and feet, entwined fingers or tightly clasped hands, all are accentuated. Because of this, the young women in Sweat & Honey seem to exist both in their world and apart from it. Okazaki reveals their personal and private thoughts and feelings while at the same time exposing their physical selves.

Although the short manga collected in Sweat & Honey aren’t related by characters or by plot, they all share an emphasis on the inner and outer lives of women and their relationships with each other. Even “Iced Tea,” which is told from the perspective of a young man, is focused on his female teacher. Although the ties between the women in Sweat & Honey are the most crucial, their associations with men and how those associations impact their other relationships are also very important. The older cousin in “After Sex, A Boy’s Sweat Smell s Like Honey” has a boyfriend, but she isn’t able to connect with him in the same way that she does with her younger relative. Moeko drifts away from Kusako when a boy enters the picture. Kayo’s seeming lack of romantic involvement is one of the things that bothers Chinami the most. And in “The Land Where Rain Falls,” the nearly incestuous relationship instigated by Kaya is one of the key elements of the story. But in the end, while the men have their place in the manga, the true focus of Sweat & Honey is on its young women and their experiences.

Whispered Words, Omnibus 1

Whispered Words, Omnibus 1Creator: Takashi Ikeda
U.S. publisher: One Peace Books
ISBN: 9781935548454
Released: May 2014
Original release: 2007-2008

Whispered Words is a nine-volume yuri manga series by Takashi Ikeda published in Japan between 2007 and 2011. It’s probably his most popular work, or a least his best-known work, and the early part of the manga was even adapted as a thirteen-episode anime series in 2009. Despite my interest in yuri manga and the series’ following, I actually didn’t know much about it until I discovered that One Peace Books had licensed the work for English release. Whispered Words, Omnibus 1, released in 2014, collects the first three volumes of the series originally published in Japan between 2007 and 2008. Considering that comparatively few yuri manga have been released in English, I was happy for the opportunity to read more in translation. Because of the excited murmuring from fans surrounding the licensing of the series, I was particularly glad for the chance to read Whispered Words. And, except for some poor editing and lettering by One Peace Books, generally I was not disappointed. Plus, it even has karate in addition to yuri!

Sumika “Violence” Murasame, a high-school first year, is in love with her classmate and best friend Ushio Kazama. Ushio likes girls, too, but the problem is that she only likes “cute” girls. Unfortunately, Sumika has come to the conclusion that she is decidedly un-cute. She’s taller than most people, athletically and academically gifted, and a genius at karate (which is what earned her her nickname). But Sumika would gladly give all of that up to become small, delicate, and cute in order to fit Ushio’s type. That’s not really a possibility, though. So instead of admitting her feelings to Ushio and potentially ruining their friendship, Sumika has chosen to keep them to herself. It’s difficult and can be painful at times, but more than anything else Sumika wants Ushio to be happy. Eventually, other classmates become aware of Sumika’s feelings for Ushio, so it seems that it’s only a matter of time before they become obvious to Ushio as well.

Although at its heart Whispered Words has a fairly serious story about friendship and unrequited love, there is also a very strong comedic element to the series. Personally, I found the silliness of the manga and the characters themselves all to be very charming. For the most part, the underlying story and relationships in Whispered Words are actually fairly realistic. However, Ikeda regularly throws in something completely outrageous, such as an impeccably timed exploding SUV or indulging in his penchant for finding any excuse to dress everyone up in maid costumes. Whispered Words can admittedly be a bit ridiculous at times, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ikeda strikes an excellent balance between the series’ humor and its more serious aspects, making for a read that is both entertaining and heartfelt. Ikeda’s artwork also reflects this duality. He effectively captures the more emotional moments—the tears, the pining, and the heartbreak, as well as the happiness and joy—but he can just as easily slip into a more comedic mode with over-the-top reactions, dynamic expressions, and exuberant poses.

The characters in Whispered Words are what really make the series work for me—not only the two leads, but their friends, families, and classmates, too. I am particularly fond of Sumika and her development, though. She so desperately wants to be something the she’s not, but it’s when she allows herself to really be who she is that she shines. This growth and the evolution of her relationship with Ushio is explored in stages in Whispered Words, often through her relationships with other characters. Tomoe Hachisuka and Miyako Taema, with whom she becomes friends, are a couple that show a lesbian relationship is not something to be ashamed of. Akemiya Masaki and Azusa Aoi are classmates who prove that others already think that Sumika is cute and admire her. The petite Charlotte Munchausen is devoted to karate, follows Sumika’s guidance, and provides an example that strength and cuteness aren’t inherently mutually exclusive. Even when played for laughs, all of these relationships are incredibly important to Sumika and are what allow her to grow as a person and will hopefully allow her to grow even closer to Ushio.

Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1

Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, Communication, Volume 1Creator: Torajiro Kishi
U.S. publisher: Media Blasters
ISBN: 9781598832938
Released: November 2008
Original release: 2003

There have been relatively few mature, adult-oriented yuri manga licensed in English. One of the best, or at least one of my favorites, is Torajiro Kishi’s Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication. It’s a short series consisting of only two slim volumes, both of which are unfortunately very out of print. The first volume of Maka-Maka was released in English in 2008 by Kitty Media, the adult and mature content imprint of Media Blasters. Maka-Maka was also released in French as well as in German. The first volume of Maka-Maka was originally published in Japan in 2003. The English edition of Maka-Maka closely emulates the Japanese release. The cover of Kitty Media’s English-language release declares Maka-Maka to be a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed work. I can’t really comment on that, but I do know that the series was generally well-received when first released in English. One of the things that makes Maka-Maka particularly stand out is that Kishi’s artwork is completely in color. In fact, if I recall correctly, Maka-Maka was the first full-color manga that I ever came across.

Jun and Nene are exceptionally close. The two young women attend the same art college—Jun studies graphic arts while Nene pursues fashion design—and they share similar interests as well. When the two of them aren’t working on assignments for class they enjoy spending time together. They both have boyfriends (Jun actually has three), but their most satisfying relationship sexually and romantically is the one that they share with each other. Nene and Jun are friends with benefits, but they are also best friends. They care immensely about each other, support each other, and simply enjoy being together. They relax and have fun, complain about schoolwork and their boyfriends, and are generally just there for each other. Which isn’t to say that they don’t have their disagreements and arguments. Occasionally teasing goes a little too far and feelings get hurt, but in the end both Nene and Jun love each other. Their relationship is one of the most important things in their lives and it is something that neither of them wants to give up.

As previously mentioned, one of the things that sets Maka-Maka apart from many other manga is Kishi’s color artwork, which is excellent. The highlighting does sometimes make it appear as though Jun and Nene have a shiny, plastic-like sheen to their bodies, but otherwise the artwork is quite nice. The shading, textures, and skin tones are particularly lovely and realistic. They also change depending on a chapter’s setting or the lighting of the environment. Whether it’s harsh fluorescent indoor lights, the brilliant noonday sun, cool moonlight, or a warm sunset, Kishi adapts the color palette in Maka-Maka to fit the various moods and scenes. Kishi’s figure work is also very strong. Though somewhat idealized and flawless, Jun and Nene’s appearances aren’t especially exaggerated or unnatural. They are obviously adult women and they have curves. The two of them are almost constantly smiling, too. Their likeable personalities shine through their facial expressions and body language as they enjoy each other’s company.

Maka-Maka is unquestionably an erotic manga and Sex, Life, and Communication is an extremely apt subtitle. Sex, kissing, cuddling, groping, and fondling make up a large portion of the manga. Physical intimacy is one of the ways that Jun and Nene communicate with each other and show their love and affection. The sex between Nene and Jun in Maka-Maka is joyful and includes plenty of laughter. Their close, intimate relationship, of which sex is only one part, simply makes me happy. In comparison, their sexual encounters with men in the manga, at least those that are shown, are much more awkward and can even be unpleasant. Jun and Nene are happiest when they are together. Maka-Maka doesn’t have much of an ongoing story. Instead, the short chapters, each only seven pages long, allow readers brief glimpses into the everyday lives of the two young women and their close, personal relationship. Some of the content in Maka-Maka may be explicit and mature, but the manga is just as much about these wonderful, believable characters as it is about the sex.

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom PinkCreator: Milk Morinaga
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781937867317
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2012

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink is the second yuri manga by Milk Morinaga to have been licensed in English. The first, and my introduction to her work, was her series Girl Friends. I quite enjoyed Girl Friends and so was looking forward to reading more of her manga, in this case one of her earlier series. Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink was released in English by Seven Seas in 2013 in a single-volume omnibus edition. Morinaga first began creating the stories included in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink in 2003. In Japan, the earlier stories were collected into a single volume in 2006. However, Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink was later released again in 2012 in two volumes that collected additional stories, including some that were previously unpublished. This two-volume edition of Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink is the one upon which Seven Seas’ omnibus is based. As such, the English-language edition of the manga collects nearly a decade’s worth of material into a single volume.

Nana and Hitomi were best friends who grew up together and attended the same elementary and junior high schools. Nana was looking forward to becoming a student at Sakurakai Girls’ High School, but that was when she thought Hitomi would be enrolling as well. However, Hitomi was accepted at Touhou Girls’ High School. Finding it too painful to continue to suppress her love for Nana after being rejected, Hitomi chooses to attend Touhou instead. Despite how close the two of them used to be, Nana finds Hitomi drifting away and she misses her terribly. But recognizing her own feelings is only the first step in mending their relationship as is begins to evolve into something more than just friendship. Similarly, several of the other young women at Sakurakai and Touhou are faced with their own first loves and crushes on classmates. It isn’t always easy to confess their feelings and falling in love with a person of the same gender often brings along challenges that other couples don’t have to deal with.

The stories collected in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink follow a vague chronological order, but many of them aren’t directly related to one another. They share the same setting and to some extent the same characters, but only Nana and Hitomi are the focus of multiple stories in the volume. I actually really enjoyed Morinaga’s structural approach to Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. Nana and Hitomi’s relationship provides a more developed, ongoing narrative, creating a framework which supports the supplementary side stories about their classmates and friends. Overall, I feel this gives the manga slightly more depth. Also included in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink is a diagram that visually shows how all of the different stories and characters overlap and are connected to one another. Although they are interrelated and occasionally make references to previous developments and chapters, most of the stories do stand perfectly well on their own in addition to contributing to the manga as a whole.

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink tends to be very cute, sweet, and romantic, which is not to say that every story is a happy one. I appreciated that some of the chapters in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink have touches of angst, sadness, and bittersweetness to them. Nana and Hitomi’s relationship, despite having its ups and downs, does have an ending that seems to tie everything up a little too easily and nicely, but I won’t deny that it made me smile. Morinaga also addresses some very real issues and concerns, such as homophobia, that are encountered by same-gendered couples, but many of the feelings expressed are relevant for any romantic relationship. The manga may be a bit melodramatic at times, but it is emotionally resonant. Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink also incorporates a fair amount of humor. It’s a highly enjoyable and charming collection of short manga with likeable characters, a generally optimistic outlook, and a satisfying amount of realism to go along with its sweetness.