Random Musings: Wrapping Up the Year of Yuri Monthly Review Project

BlueAlthough I’ve continued to review the new volumes of the series as they are released, last year I wrapped up my Blade of the Immortal monthly review project. Because I enjoyed the project, which took me nearly two years to complete, I started to look for a new one to take its place. Ultimately, I decided I wanted readers of Experiments in Manga to have some input in which manga I would tackle next and so put it up for a vote. Out of the five options that I narrowed it down to, by far the most popular choice was what I called “Year of Yuri.”

Over the course of twelve months, I reviewed twelve different comics and manga with yuri and/or lesbian themes. My intention was to feature a wide variety of genres, demographics, and styles. I think I was fairly successful in that. Most of the stories were based in reality, but there was a bit of fantasy, too. Some were erotic while others were very chaste. There were first loves and failed loves, healthy relationships and relationships that did more harm than good, humor and nostalgia, lightheartedness and seriousness, stories about school girls and stories about grown women, and more.

Whereas the Blade of the Immortal project focused on a single series, the Year of Yuri project allowed me to explore a range of titles which was interesting to do. Granted, with only twelve reviews, I could only begin to scratch the surface of the entire realm of possibilities. But hopefully I featured at least one manga or comic that sparked someone’s interest. I enjoyed having a project to work on from month to month and had fun selecting the comics and manga that I would review. Now that my Year of Yuri monthly review project has concluded, I’ll once again be turning to the readers of Experiments of Manga to help choose my next project. Another poll will be opened in the very near future, so stay tuned!

The links to all of my Year of Yuri manga reviews can be found below. I have also conveniently added a Year of Yuri tag to all of the reviews to pull them all together and for even greater ease of access. While I’ll no longer be focusing on yuri and lesbian comics as part of a monthly review project, I will continue to read and review them, so expect to see more quick takes and in-depth reviews in the future. I hope you all enjoyed this project as much as I did!

Year of Yuri reviews:
12 Days by June Kim
Before You Go by Denise Schroeder
Between the Sheets by Erica Sakurazawa
Blue by Kiriko Nananan
Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1 by Milk Morinaga
Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink by Milk Morinaga
The Legend of Bold Riley created by Leia Weathington
Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1 by Torajiro Kishi
Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena by Chiho Saito
S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room, Volume 1 by Negi Banno
Sweat & Honey by Mari Okazaki
Whispered Words, Omnibus 1 by Takashi Ikeda

The Legend of Bold Riley

The Legend of Bold RileyCreator: Leia Weathington
Illustrator: Vanessa Gillings, Jason Thompson, Marco Aidala, Konstantin Pogorelov, and Kelly McClellan; Chloe Dalquist and Liz Conley

Publisher: Northwest Press
ISBN: 9780984594054
Released: June 2012

The Legend of Bold Riley is writer and illustrator Leia Weathington’s first graphic novel. Published by Northwest Press in 2012, the volume is a collection of related stories, each illustrated by a different artist. In addition to Weathington, Vanessa Gillings, Jason Thompson, Marco Aidala, Konstantin Pogorelov, and Kelly McClellan contributed their artistic skills to The Legend of Bold Riley, with Chloe Dalquist and Liz Conley assisting with some of the colors. I first became aware of The Legend of Bold Riley thanks to the involvement of Thompson (to whom I give partial credit for igniting my interest in manga). And it’s thanks to The Legend of Bold Riley that I discovered Northwest Press, a publisher specializing in queer comics, graphic novels, and anthologies. The Legend of Bold Riley is a sword and sorcery adventure featuring a princess as a hero. She also happens to be a lover of women. Happily, The Legend of Bold Riley doesn’t end with this collection. The second volume, Unspun is currently being serialized and Weathington has already started working on a third book.

Rilavashana SanParite, who would come to be known as Bold Riley, is the youngest child of the king and queen of the eastern nation of Prakkalore. She and her two older brothers are heirs to the throne, groomed to be fair and just rulers of the kingdom and knowledgeable in the arts of state in addition to the fine arts, sciences, history, and swordplay. But Riley finds that her heart lies somewhere beyond the walls of the capital city of Ankahla and even beyond the borders of Prakkalore. She wants to travel the world to see the places and meet the people she’s only ever read about in her studies. And so the princess sets out with a sword strapped to her side and a horse to carry her, first to the southern kingdom of Connchenn and then further to the jungles of Ang-Warr, the distant Qeifen, and all the lands in between. Over the course of her journey Riley meets gods and battles demons, the sharpness of her mind and wits just as valuable as the sharpness of her sword. She even falls into the bed of a lovely lady or two.

Although the stories in The Legend of Bold Riley all have continuity with one another, the prologue and the five individual chapters that follow can largely stand on their own once Riley has been introduced. As already mentioned, each chapter is illustrated by a different artist. Riley is always recognizable, but otherwise there is no attempt to have uniform artwork in the volume. Instead, the artists are given free rein, resulting in a marvelous assortment of different art styles and illustration techniques and a range of color palettes. The resulting shift of mood and atmosphere is quite effective in emphasizing the changes in the setting and the type of story being told from one chapter to the next. As Riley travels, visiting different countries and kingdoms, the artwork reflects those differences. The Legend of Bold Riley is diverse, and not just in its illustrations. The volume’s sceneries and stories take inspiration from the fantasy counterparts of India, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and other areas.

The artwork in The Legend of Bold Riley may change from story to story, but Riley is always Bold Riley. She’s a fantastic and exceptionally appealing character, a dashing and daring young woman with strengths and weaknesses, remarkable talents, and human flaws. Although Riley’s sexuality is never the focus of the comic, it’s always a part of who she is as a person and as a well-rounded character. She falls in love, she makes mistakes, and she struggles and is challenged when faced with a world that’s not always black and white or even kind. The Legend of Bold Riley, while something new and refreshing, somehow also feels very familiar. It’s a collection of heroic tales, some ending in triumph and others ending in heartbreak. Because of its episodic nature there’s not a lot of character development, but Riley is such a great character to begin with that the work is still very satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed The Legend of Bold Riley and look forward to reading more of Riley’s adventures in the future.

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of UtenaCreator: Chiho Saito
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591165002
Released: November 2004
Original release: 1999

Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of my absolute favorite anime series. Despite that fact, I’ve never read any of the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga until now. I have no idea why that is. I love manga, and I love Revolutionary Girl Utena, so it would seem obvious that I should want read the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Maybe I was simply afraid that I would be disappointed by it. Turns out—at least with Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena—I probably shouldn’t have worried. The Adolescence of Utena manga by Chiho Saito is an alternate version of the animated film Adolescence of Utena which in turn is a retelling of sorts of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime series. Saito’s The Adolescence of Utena was originally released in Japan in 1999, the same year as the film. In English it was first serialized in Animerica Extra, a shoujo-leaning monthly manga magazine published by Viz Media between 1998 and 2004, before the manga was collected and released as a single volume in 2004.

Utena Tenjou is a new student at the prestigious Ohtori Academy, known for its elegance, traditions, and ceremony. What she didn’t realize was that her ex-boyfriend Touga Kiryuu is also enrolled at the school and is president of the student council, no less. Two years ago he left her and, in response, Utena decided to take control of her life and become her own prince instead of waiting around for Touga or some other man to fill that role. But upon her arrival at Ohtori, Utena is quickly swept up in a mysterious series of duels between the members of the student council that will determine the fates of those who fight as well as the fate of a young woman named Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride. The winner of the duels earns the right to do whatever he or she desires with the Rose Bride, gaining the power to change and remake the world however is seen fit. All of those involved, even Utena herself, have tragic pasts and dark secrets, but Utena is the only one who is able to look beyond all of those and see Anthy as more than an object to be won.

I have always found it difficult to summarize Revolutionary Girl Utena or to adequately explain just how meaningful the series is to me. Revolutionary Girl Utena has a strange but powerful narrative with many, many layers to it. The same is true of The Adolescence of Utena manga; it just seems impossible for me to truly do the work justice. Although certainly more direct and straightforward than its film counterpart, the manga is still incredibly surreal and rife with symbolism. Almost nothing is exactly what it initially seems and almost everything is open to multiple interpretations and analyses. The imagery itself is very dreamlike—architecture that defies the laws of physics, floating castles, flurries of rose petals, gardens that shouldn’t be able to exist, and so on—but Saito captures it all beautifully. There is an ethereal quality to her artwork that suits The Adolescence of Utena remarkably well, whether the manga is meant to be a dream, purgatory, a metaphor, or something else entirely. Both the story and the art of The Adolescence of Utena are intensely psychological, deeply emotional, and highly sexually charged.

The Adolescence of Utena is in many ways a distillation of Revolutionary Girl Utena, crystallizing many of the original series’ themes into a single volume. I was actually rather impressed by how much Saito was able to retain and how complex the tale remained even in a condensed form. The manga will probably be appreciated most by those who are at least familiar with Revolutionary Girl Utena, but it also carries some significance and effectiveness as a separate work in its own right. The relationship between Utena and Anthy is absolutely key to the story as the manga explores love of different types—romantic, illicit, familial, sexual, and many others—as well the multitude of intersections between those types of love, both good and bad. And just as important as love is to The Adolescence of Utena, so are the feelings and emotions of despair and desperation as each of the characters, all of whom are broken or damaged, struggle in their own way to try to reclaim their lives and who they are. Much like the original Revolutionary Girl Utena, I found The Adolescence of Utena to be an exceptionally compelling work.

Between the Sheets

Between the SheetsCreator: Erica Sakurazawa
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781591823230
Released: May 2003
Original release: 1996

Between 2003 and 2004, Tokyopop published six manga by Erica Sakurazawa, some of the very first josei manga to be released in English. More than a decade later josei has still yet to establish a firm foothold in North America, though things seem to be improving and publishers continue to make an effort. Most of the josei that I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. I wish that there was more available in English, but in the meantime I make the point to support what is currently available and to track down those titles, like Sakurazawa’s, that have gone out of print. The first of Sakurazawa’s manga to be translated was Between the Sheets, which was originally published in Japan in 1996. The volume was not my introduction to her work but out of all of Sakurazawa’s manga that I have so far read, I feel that it is one of the strongest in terms of storytelling. Between the Sheets was initially brought to my attention due to the elements of same-sex desire that play a critical role in the manga’s story.

Minako and Saki are extraordinarily close friends. They frequently hang out together, enjoying the bars and party scene where Saki, despite having a boyfriend, is constantly on the lookout for men. But when Saki and Minako share a drunken kiss in order to convince an undesirable suitor that they’re a couple and to leave them alone, Minako finds her feelings for her best friend beginning to change. Minako had always admired and cared deeply for Saki, but now her love has turned obsessive. She wants to be with Saki. In some ways she wants to be Saki. Saki views Minako as an extremely important person in her life but nothing more than a friend while Minako wants to be everything for Saki: her lover, her protector, her one and only. Convinced she knows what’s best for Saki, Minako will do anything to get closer to her and to drive others away, including sleeping with Saki’s boyfriends.

Frankly, Between the Sheets is an exceptionally disturbing and even horrifying work. Minako’s obsession with Saki creates an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. Each turn of the page seems as though it could reveal some sort of horrible tragedy worse than what has already occurred. Minako’s feelings become self-destructive and her way of dealing with them hurt not only herself but Saki and the men in their lives as well. Often in fiction and romance one person’s utter devotion to another is held as an ideal. However, Between the Sheets takes a much more realistic approach to this sort of extreme, obsessive desire. Minako’s fixation on Saki becomes all-consuming. It’s not flattering and it’s not romantic. In fact, it can hardly even be called love anymore. Her friendship with Saki has evolved into something much darker and much more dangerous. The damage done may be irreparable.

Because of its subject matter Between the Sheets can be a tough and uncomfortable read; it is not at all a feel-good story and there is very little happiness to be found. The characters are entangled in a web of lies, cheating, and betrayal. Unpleasant emotions like hatred, anger, and jealously overshadow those of adoration, love, and affection. However, Sakurazawa handles the intensity of those feelings in a believable way. That realism is probably one of the reasons that Between the Sheets is so troubling. Minako appears to be normal and innocent, her twisted way of thinking hidden safely from view. Sakurazawa’s artwork reflects this—on the surface nothing seems amiss. If readers weren’t privy to Minako’s inner thoughts, they might never suspect the unhealthiness of her state of mind. But eventually her actions and their tragic consequences cannot be ignored and make it quite clear to everyone involved how unbalanced she has become.

Before You Go

Before You GoCreator: Denise Schroeder
Publisher: Chromatic Press
Released: May 2014
Original release: March 2014

Before You Go is a short, thirty-three paged comic written and illustrated by Denise Schroeder. Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Chromatic Press’ online multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly (which, by the way, is marvelous), a small print run of Before You Go was released in time to debut at the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Schroeder is an American artist currently living in Colorado. Before reading Before You Go I wasn’t familiar with her work, but in addition to various other things she is also the creator of three webcomics: Conquest, The Good Prince, and Paradox. I actually briefly met Schroeder while at TCAF, which was a delight. She very openly and happily proclaims manga and anime as major influences on her work, Sailor Moon being the series that ignited her passion. I follow the work of Chromatic Press very closely which is how I came to discover Schroeder and Before You Go. I am very glad to have been exposed to her comics.

One rainy day Sadie misses catching her train home after work, but then her luck changes for the better. Because of the mishap she meets Robin. The two young women hit it off and suddenly Sadie’s daily commute becomes something she looks forward to because it means she gets to spend more time with Robin. Eventually Robin begins to walk Sadie the rest of the way home even though it’s out of her way. Sadie and Robin’s initial chance encounter quickly blossoms into friendship with the possibility for their relationship to become something even more. They enjoy each other’s company and have become quite close. At least that’s what Sadie would like to think. The problem is that Robin is hesitant to open up; while she definitely shows interest in Sadie, she doesn’t seem to want to share anything about herself. Trust and communication are extremely important in any relationship, but they can also be some of the scariest parts, too.

Most of Before You Go either takes place on the train or on the way to and from the station as Sadie and Robin get to know each other. Their flirting and blushing is absolutely adorable. Even though Before You Go is a short comic, both Robin and Sadie are fully realized characters with distinctive personalities. They have hopes and dreams, and they have fears and regrets, too. Of the two, Sadie is the more dynamic and exuberant, evidence of her passion for the theater and performance. Robin tends to be more reserved, content to quietly observe. As Sadie points out in Before You Go, closely watching someone else can be valuable, but even that can’t reveal everything about who that person is. Because Before You Go is a comic, the act of looking and the visual storytelling elements are important for the reader’s understanding, too. The surprise, love, and concern between Sadie and Robin can be seen in Schroeder’s artwork even when the two women aren’t saying, or can’t say, anything at all.

Before You Go is a wonderful and utterly charming comic. I particularly appreciate the realism of the story as well as the realism of the characters and their relationship and interactions with each other. The comic has a quirky sense of humor to it which balances perfectly with the more serious and contemplative aspects of Before You Go. It’s also nice to see a love story between two adult women that recognizes the problems that someone who is queer might encounter in life without dwelling on the sadness that that so often entails. Before You Go is a quiet drama with honest heart and feeling behind it. The comic may be brief, but it is also marvelously complete—both the characters and the story are well thought out and developed with more maturity and depth than might appear at first glance. In the end, Before You Go is simply a comic that makes me happy to read. I look forward to seeing more of Schroeder’s work in the future.