I’ve read a lot of manga since my last review, and surprise! Some of it was horror this time.
But it was still mostly yuri. Ahem. I’ll do my best to avoid big plot spoilers (although some of what I’ve read has been out for quite some time, now,) and I’m doing my best to keeping character names in surname-first order, as they were originally published.
I’m not making promises on either account.
Let’s start with something fun and fairly neutral, okay?
Written and Illustrated by Milk Morinaga
Gakuen Polizi is about Sasami Aoba and Sakuraba Midori, two girls who are polizi—undercover police officers stationed as students in a high school, to deal with school-related crimes. If this immediately brings to mind 21 Jump Street, it probably should, although in this case, the officers are still actually in high school, and it is mentioned that they are likely to join the police academy or become civil servants “after graduation.” The full background on polizi isn’t really given, but that’s not really the point of the story.
Aoba is a cheerful girl who has dreamed of being a “champion of justice” her entire life. She decides to become a polizi as her first step towards that goal. She is cheerful, but brash, and blows her cover almost immediately, much to her own (and her partner, Midori’s) chagrin. Midori is stern and wants to go by-the-books, but Aoba constantly draws her into situations that try her patience and put their positions in danger. Midori, at odds with her serious personality, adores drawing yaoi doujinishi.
Volume one places both girls in undercover positions at Hanagaki’s Girls High School, a school where, it seems, they are completely unneeded. Aoba is placed there because she is new and is awaiting a real assignment; Midori was placed there due to a prior experience that went poorly.
This book explores the difficult working relationship between Aoba and Midori, and Aoba’s intention to maintain friendships with her classmates and to figure Midori out and be her friend as well. As the school is basically crime-free, Aoba searches out cases, which, as I mentioned, irritates Midori and risks them getting fired.
As volume one doesn’t really have any actual criminal elements, the author, Milk Morinaga, actually apologizes after the story. She states that she wanted to combine some of her favorite things—high school girls and police dramas, and is sorry that there hasn’t been any actual police drama yet.
Volume two introduces Hiiragi Akari, Midori’s former partner as polizi in a different school. A botched investigation led to different directions for the two girls, but now Akari has her eyes set on partnering with Midori again and getting Aoba out of the picture.
During this volume a serious case actually opens up at Hanagaki High School, and Akari and Midori set about solving it. The story ends abruptly after that, leading into a brief glimpse at their futures.
I’ve read some bad reviews of Gakuen Polizi and while I can see where they are coming from (one stating that this is supposed to be “21 Jump Street with lesbians” and barely manages either part,) I still really like the story and characters. None of them are very far from Morinagi’s typical types, but they’re written well and are very cute, in her traditional style. The yuri element is a late act four reveal, and the story really does feel like it ends abruptly.
Morinagi apologizes again at the end of volume 2, for missing deadlines, putting people through trouble, and having the characters not turn out how she intended. Again, however, I really like Gakuen Polizi; it’s not to the level of character building that Girlfriends is, but it’s much better than Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. Honestly, my only disappointment is that it doesn’t continue. I think it would have done quite well as an on-going or at least longer series, developing Aoba and Midori’s relationship, perhaps as they worked as polizi at different schools.
Of what I’ve read of Morinagi’s work, Girlfriends is still clearly her best. However, while I don’t technically endorse (or review) reading online scanlations as opposed to legally purchasing officially published manga, I did read a few chapters of Hana and Hina After School. It seems promising and I’m hoping it gets picked up for publication. I have it on good authority that Seven Seas Entertainment is interested, but it’s so early in the manga’s run that nothing is set in stone yet regarding an English release.
FRAGMENTS OF HORROR
Written and Illustrated by Junji Ito
Fragments of Horror was released last year and marked legendary horror mangaka Junji Ito’s return to the genre. Previously Viz had released his seminal works Gyo and Uzumaki in fabulous, single hard cover tomes, as if to ready modern readers for this. Though it doesn’t quite live up to the disturbing lunacy of those works, Fragments of Horror fits in very well with the dozens of other one-shots and small volumes he’s produced over the years.
It’s a shame, frankly, that obtaining the majority of his work in English is difficult, if not impossible (at least, legally,) as Ito truly is a master of the genre and can even take absurd ideas and traditional Japanese folklore and make them freshly disconcerting, even downright terrifying. The man has a volume about he and his wife’s cats and it manages to have very unpleasant moments, for Christ’s sake!
It begins right off the bat with unparalleled Lovecraftian visual horror with the opening piece, “Futon,” in which a young man named Tomio has bizarre visions that he blames on a witch. Following are several pieces of mental and visual horror, including one where a cultural heritage site has a mind of its own and grows unnaturally organic structures, and another about a woman addicted to the idea of being dissected alive, the results of which are more horrific than the act itself.
One of the most bizarre stories is about a woman obsessed with a popular author who is well-known for giving her characters tics. When they meet, the author is cruel towards the young woman’s amateur writing, leading to a decline in her mental health as she is trapped in a town with folk positively lousy with tics. When she reaches her limit, the visual reveal near the end is stunningly shocking and gross.
I can’t recommend Ito’s writing to everyone, but for those who love these kinds of stories, I can’t recommend them enough. Go get you some!
WHISPERED WORDS/SASAMEKI KOTO
Written and Illustrated by Takashi Ikeda
Whispered Words is interesting in that it’s the only yuri manga I’ve read that was written by a man. I certainly consider writing genres in general to be equal opportunity (my upcoming novel that I like to mention shamelessly every chance I get has a lesbian romance running in parallel to its science fiction main story, after all) but I do feel that his masculinity lends itself to the humor. This is a book with some great comedic moments, though it also has all the touching moments and angst that one would expect. Also, karate!
Kazama Ushio is a “traditionally” attractive girl: cute, curvy, not too tall. She was immediately popular with the boys at her transfer school until a series of events led to her being almost completely ignored. Out on the town with some classmates, she gets separated from them, and she gets approached by ruffians not long afterwards. Murasame Sumika, a tall, athletic karate student who is also Ushio’s class president, saves her with VIOLENCE!
It comes out pretty quickly that Ushio was distracted from the group by a cute girl, and that she has no interest romantically in men at all. The boys at her school quickly lose interest and the girls shun her, though they eventually stop being mean and treat her with a slightly kinder form of indifference. Sumika decides to have lunch with her and the two quickly become best friends.
They are polar opposites: Ushio is somewhat dim (though kind) and prone to frequent, unrequited crushes. She lives in a very small apartment with her older brother Norio, an aspiring yuri author (Whispered Words is frequently self-aware to a small extent.) She takes care of him and their home.
Sumika, on the other hand, lives in a mansion with an attached dojo with her father, housekeeper, and triplet brothers. She is athletic, smart, a terrible cook, and seemingly uninterested in romance.
As time moves on, Sumika finds herself falling for her friend, but the problem is that she isn’t exactly Ushio’s type. Ushio prefers “small, cute” girls, neither of which she or Sumika considers Sumika to be.
You can probably guess how this ultimately works out, but along the way a rich, varied cast both helps and hinders the girls towards their fate.
Tomoe and Miyaki, two girls from different social classes who date despite their families’ misgivings, befriend Sumika and Ushio and generally work to try and get the two girls together, though Miyaki is sneaky and often has ulterior motives. Akemiya Masaki, Sumika’s vice president, harbors a serious crush on her, but moonlights as a cross-dressing model, a fact that gets him into multiple odd and sometimes dangerous (and sometimes just embarrassing) situations. Charlotte Munchhausen, a German exchange student who is exactly the kind of small, cute girl Ushio would like, quickly proves otherwise as she is in Japan to train with Sumika, who had previously given up karate to appear more feminine to Ushio and is now forced to pick it back up.
This description really only covers the basics of the first volume (of three.) I don’t want to spoil any more; if this sounds at all interesting, I strongly recommend getting the set.
I really, really like Whispered Words. It has just the right amount of comedy, drama, and believable emotional content and growth to be a true standout in the yuri genre, at least as good as Morinagi’s Girlfriends. It’s only fairly recently available in America, having been published by One Peace Books in 2014 (its original run was 2007-2011.) A 13 episode anime was also produced, which while displaying outstanding animation and being a very faithful adaptation except for one episode, it ends far earlier than the manga does, though on a positive note. It’s ultimately unfulfilling though, due to how early it does end.
FRANKEN FRAN VOL 1 + 2 OMNIBUS
Written and Illustrated by Katsuhisa Kigitsu
Don’t let the attempt at sex appeal on the cover fool you; Franken Fran is all body horror and dark comedy.
Madaraki Fran is an artificial human, the greatest creation of Dr. Madaraki, a biologist whose dark experiments seemingly extend back to the second world war. A gifted surgeon herself and generally a kind person, Fran ostensibly has a fundamental lack of understanding about human suffering, and believes that saving a life is always preferable, regardless of the state it leaves the subject(s) in. The former may not actually be true, however.
Suffice to say, this state is often worse than death. Even in the stories that technically end happily, something bizarre and disconcerting is nearly always involved.
Franken Fran is an odd book. The chapters are basically one-shot stories, with no real continuity between them. Though they rarely contradict one another (there is one apparent contradiction that may have been another character’s fevered dreams,) there aren’t, at least at this point in the series, any actual story arcs. A host of secondary characters, primarily the other inhabitants of Dr. Madaraki’s mansion (all of them biologic freaks) populate the stories but most are used briefly and not give much characterization. The exception is Okita, Fran’s companion and arguably her best friend. He has the head of a man but is not bothered at all by the fact that his body is a cat’s, even claiming he preferred it to a human body he can be grafted onto.
The actual plots of the stories run from the gross to the simply bizarre, but every one contains depictions of gory, sometimes cruelly disgusting surgery. Perhaps it’s the black and white art or the movies certain people have gotten me to watch 😉 but they didn’t seem to have the impact on me I thought they would. It’s certainly an interesting book, but definitely not one for everyone. In addition to the subject manner, some may find Fran’s sing-songy voice a put off, or be annoyed at the lack of overarching stories.
Just to give an idea of what some of the stories involve, though, here’s a few brief teasers!
In the original story that started the series, a crooked businessman asks Fran to reanimate his dead son for reasons that have more to do with money than the reasons of love and loss he gives her. Fran, taking his words at face value, performs a surprise craniectomy and ensures father and son will never be separated again.
In “Fake,” an escalating war between body doubles of a crime syndicate’s leader keeps Fran wrist deep in multiple plastic surgeries. In the revolting (but ultimately funny) “Multiplies,” Fran causes a woman to divide as would a giant cell, to provide a girlfriend for each of the two boys who like her. As each clone is still unable to choose which boy to date, they get into a vicious fight which leaves Fran with just slightly more than a single body’s worth of usable material.
Fran, for all her attempts at helping others, is definitely shown to have a vindictive side, as she mutilates those that cross her and is willing to play multiple sides to collect multiple fees. It’s too early in the series to know yet whether she is complex or simply bat-shit crazy.
CITRUS VOLUMES 3 & 4
Written and Illustrated by Saburouta
Yeah, you knew this was coming.
Look, I’ll say it again, not out of any kind of embarrassment (I have none!) but as a clarification for you, gentle reader, should you see the covers of these books as something that interests you (or puts you off,) the sexy-time scenarios on the covers of Citrus volumes are not at all indicative of the content of these books. Yes, there is kissing, and a ton of sexual tension, but Citrus is primarily a melodrama with some comedic elements.
As a brief re-cap, Citrus concerns itself with supposedly boy-crazy Aihara Yuzu quickly (perhaps too quickly,) realizing she has romantic feelings for her new step-sister, the tsundere Aihara Mei (no relation. See how it skirts that taboo? Yeah.)
Each volume seems to center around a specific blockade to their relationship furthering, while slowly allowing it to do so. Volume 1 dealt with Mei’s incredibly strained relationship with her father and difficult relationship with her grandfather, which probably explains her cripplingly hot and cold personality. Volume 2 broke down Mei’s defenses a bit, but fellow student council member Momokino Himeko is jealous of Yuzu and tries to insinuate herself between the two step-sisters, and begins making advances on Mei herself.
Volume 3 introduces Mizusara Matsuri, a childhood friend of Yuzu. She’s an only child and is basically ignored by her parents who are constantly working. She has grown sly and manipulative as a result, and makes money by selling dirty videos she finds on the internet, telling the buyers that they are of her. Determining the nature of Yuzu’s feelings for Mei, she attempts to blackmail Mei into meeting with one of the men she sells videos too, as a means of disrupting any relationship that might be developing.
Volume 4 overall is of a much lighter tone than volume 3. While Yuzu worries that she’s destroyed any chance she had with Mei, she meets the cheerful Tachibana sisters, Nina and Sara. Sara has met “an angel” who of course turns out to be Mei, whom she wishes to date. In the end Mei and Yuzu reconcile and make an important decision, though I have no doubt more trouble lies ahead for them.
As I stated, Citrus is primarily a melodrama and as such the constant ups-and-downs can get tiresome now and then, but overall it’s a blast to read. The art and character design is simply some of the most beautiful I’ve seen (with the possible, possibly purposeful exception of Himeko,) and honestly just looking at the art compelled me to write at times. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular ongoing yuri series at the moment.
Speaking of yuri, the market is fairly starved in North America, and Seven Seas Entertainment is one of the only bastions available.
NTR is about Yuma and Hotaru, two friends who *ahem* “practice” on each other and find that they’re more interested in that than in their boyfriends, leading to of course, betrayal. It took me awhile to find out exactly what a “Netsuzou Trap” is, and I’m not going to repeat it here. This one honestly sounds kind of smutty and I’m not into stories about cheating, but I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Bloom Into You is a more traditional yuri story, supposedly “charming” and “adorable.” I’ve read plenty of that…but I like that.
Oh well. The wait, now.
In about a year’s time (*sigh*) the remastered double volumes of Rumiko Takahashi’s classic Ranma 1/2 will be all published, so at some point I’ll review that as well. Is there anything you, oh reader, would like me to review? Manga or anime is fine, and I’m not averse to making decent purchases, though I doubt I can manage particularly long series of any type right now.
Feel free to make any suggestions in the comments.