In my years of fandom, one of the most interesting people I have ever met has been Erica Friedman. As a lesbian and hardcore manga fan, Erica has become very vocal and passionate about the yuri subgenre of comics. She’s so into it that she writes in her Okazu yuri-blog many times each week, runs the occasional Yuricon in both America and Japan, and has even started her own independent publishing company called ALC Publishing.
The somewhat annual yuri anthology Yuri Monogatari is Erica’s pride and joy. A combination of short stories from both Japanese and Western manga artists, Monogatari offers a wide variety of “authentic yuri” manga compiled together from the queen of the genre herself.
So how does this compilation play out for a more mainstream manga fan such as myself? Well, I got to check out the latest volume, and I discovered that like pretty much every manga anthology, you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.
First off, let’s talk about the good, and I mean really good. The shiny gem in this anthology is the short “Miho-chan’s Memories” by Japanese artist Rica Takashima. If you recall, I had written a feature on Takashima and her Rica ‘tte Kanji comic last fall when she spoke at the MangaNEXT convention. Reading this short made me realize that Takashima needs to be more well known than she currently is. She is a truly unique and talented manga artist.
This short is a prequel to Rica ‘tte Kanji, and shows the early childhood of Rica’s future girlfriend, Miho. Even from early on, little Miho didn’t do what other girls did. She’d much rather play with action figures than with dolls. She prefers to wear boys close instead of frilly dresses. And she even gives herself a very short haircut. All the while, her family gets more worried over their daughter’s odd behavior.
Like in Kanji, Takashima tells this very simple story of sexual awakening using the most unbelievably adorable artwork imaginable. It’s so different from anything else out there, yet it’s charming and sweet enough not to offend anybody. If Hello Kitty ever began talking about hooking up with other female kitties, I imagine it would turn out like a Takashima comic.
Besides, everyone knows that there’s nothing more cute than chibi-lesbos. (^_^)
But even a work as great as Takashima’s short can be overshadowed by something completely bad, and “Sakura Gun (London)” by JD Glass sure comes close to doing it. I wish I could tell you what this story is about, I really do. However, I couldn’t figure out a damn thing that was going on. Something about lesbians, a fusion of Japanese and British cultures, some frog thingy, references to something called “American Goth”, Japanese sword fighting, avatars…
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I brought up this particular short to Erica to try to figure out what I was missing, and she told me that the comic was a tie-in to a series of novels that Glass had written. While it might be a good comic in the context of the world that Glass portrays in her written work, this short is absolute crap on its own. Unintelligible story mixed with in poor framing and way too much dialog and narration makes this one to jump over when you’re checking out this anthology.
Comparing Takashima’s work with Glass’s shows that there is a clear artistic difference between Japanese and Western artists in this anthology. From the point of view of this mainstream manga fan, the Japanese shorts are far better than the Western ones. But that’s not to say that all of the Western works are bad. In fact, my second favorite story in this anthology was “Speak Love” from the non-Japanese artist Greyscaled.
“Speak Love” tells the story of a lesbian couple who seek therapy to help save their struggling relationship. The great thing about this story is that it is very well written. It’s filled with enough human drama to get you interested in the characters and then throws in a few plot twists to get you into the story. But on top of all of this, Greyscaled draws some of the sexiest female nude scenes I’ve ever seen. Great story and great visuals make this short a winner to me.
[Spoiler Alert - skip next paragraph to avoid a spoiler to one story]
Likewise another Western artist, Hope Donovan, creates the most OEL-looking short with her “Cause x Play” story. Taking place at Yuricon, this short tells the story of a cosplayer who finds the perfect partner character to pose with her for photos. This obvious match-made-in-yuri-heaven turns odd when we discover that this other woman is not actually a girl, just a pre-op tranny. This one really seemed to be the most mainstream selection in the anthology and truly made for the American manga fan. It reminded me a lot of Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon series, just with a pre-op tranny.
[End of Spoiler]
But this gender-bending theme turns completely over in Althea Keaton’s “For the Girl Who Has Everything”. This is the love story between manly lesbians, and it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t about two gay men. It attempts to tell a beautiful story using ugly art for ugly characters using ugly language in an ugly setting. While Takashima takes a blunt-but-charming look at real lesbianism, Keaton takes a blunt-but-so-fucking-what-just-deal-with-it approach. It’s so incredibly counter-culture that even this liberal-minded reader couldn’t tolerate it, and I’m sure it would probably turn off a lot of other people as well.
So as you can see, this is truly a mixed bag of works from many different artists. When combined together like this, Monogatari makes a very interesting read. But it should be noted that ALC Publishers is an Independent publisher, so the overall production quality is not exactly up to the level we’re used to when reading more mainstream titles. Words don’t often fit properly into their bubbles and the flow and pacing of a lot of the Western shorts seems uneven and too congested. This might not be the most suitable book for a mainstream manga reader, but if you’re into the indie underground comic scene, this might be right up your alley.
The Good: Some of the selections are quite excellent, especially the shorts from Rica Takashima and Greyscaled.
The Bad: Some of the selections are complete and utter crap. Overall production quality sub par to more mainstream releases.
Final Verdict: Yuri Monogatari offers a wide range of art and story telling centered around the subject of sex and homosexuality. While it is a little extreme for the typical manga consumer, it offers a lot for fans of the indie and underground.