Like any good battler of books, my brain is always trying to find something new to tackle. It’s easy to get stuck in one genre or in one area of the bookstore. After all, you have found so many things there you like! There are sure to be more! But doing the same thing over and over again, while comfortable and delightfully easy, is not the best way to bring your brain to new ideas. Hence my recent push deeper into the world of shojo and josei manga, genres I am shamefully unread in. And on my last trip across the ocean, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of yuri as well. I have turned so many pages of boys doing filthy things to other boys, but so few of girls doing the same to other girls.
I have, of course, dabbled in the love of girls; I’m even translating two yuri series, the charming and unabashedly queer Kase-san and the “pure love” innocence that is Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl. But as a fujoshi, I haven’t delved into the world of yuri anywhere nearly as deeply as I have into BL. So as part of my efforts to dig up and shine more of a light on women’s stories, I was primed to take some yuri home with me the last time I was in Japan. And fortunately, it turns out a friend is pretty into the genre himself, so he was kind enough to recommend a couple titles when we were poking around a bookstore together one day.
Of course, I can always get a great list of titles to check out from Okazu (and I have!), but I was intrigued by the idea of seeing what a straight male yuri fan would recommend versus what a lesbian yuri fan would suggest. Unsurprisingly (?), both of the books this friend recommended to me are by men. I don’t know yuri well enough to know the gender breakdown of authors, but from what I understand, it doesn’t skew heavily towards one gender the way BL has generally done. You tend to get a lot of men writing yuri from the perspective of men for other men (hot girl-on-girl action) and women writing for other women, and the two naturally tend to focus on different aspects of the whole girl-on-girl thing. (If I’m wrong about this impression, please correct me! It’s just what I’ve absorbed from the pop culture bubble I live in.)
And both Otome no Teikoku by Torajiro Kishi and Kanojochu by Rendo Kurosaki fall into the hot girl-on-girl action by men category. Unlike Kanojochu, Otome no Teikoku happily spares us the strings of spit stretching out between mouths that somehow has come to signify super sexy in manga, but it offers up plenty of shiny boobs and butts and definitely inappropriate and unrealistic touching between its high school protagonists. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I found the hyper pretty and absurdly lustrous art fascinating in a way. All those bee-stung lips and come-hither eyes are strangely hypnotic. And the story, which starts out as simple voyeurism, putting the many girls in positions where someone (i.e., the artist) is bound to look up their skirt or down their shirt, evolves into something more meaningful by the end of book one. Sure, it’s still blushing and boobs and nip slips, but those titillations start being in the service of character development.
Over the twelve chapters, which are generally divided into two- or three-page, easily digestible chunks, the high-school ensemble of cute girls starts to break down into individuals with wants and desires and insecurities and crushes. And throughout, there’s a curiosity about their bodies that doesn’t feel quite sexual, even though it’s probably intended as such. Maybe because I was once a high school girl and so can understand the unsexual interest in another girl’s boobs—that curiosity that stems from a surprise that everyone doesn’t have what you have. But I’m sure it’s also because I used to teach girls’ high school, and I have seen more than one incident in these pages play out before my eyes. At one school I worked at—the “bad” school—I had to tell my students to please put their bras back on and sit up, I don’t care how hot it is in here.
Kanojochu is also set in a girls’ high school, which makes me wonder how much yuri is out there that is not high school girls discovering their own sexuality. I know it exists, but is it the tiniest share of this genre?? Kanojochu keeps things mostly PG, despite the sexy spit and sweat and general liquidity, but it is more deliberately sexy than Otome, although it is broken up into similar short bursts. Hasegawa and Aiba are friends/ex-girlfriends from junior high, and they have a tempestuous relationship now in high school, as Aiba tries to sex up every grade ten she can, while Hasegawa works on having a real relationship with the younger Nomiya. Of course, other girls get in the way of that, and there is plenty of hot kissing action for all.
I was actually interested in this book before it was recommended to me because of the stark black and white art with nary a drop of tone to be seen, and the way the long-limbed, sharply defined characters reminded me of Asumiko Nakamura. The fact that Kurosaki manages to give each of the girls a distinct look and yet still drawing them all with pitch black eyes and the same protruding jaws and sharply upturned noses is a serious feat. And like Otome, these characters do develop over the course of the book, even if they are all trying to sex each other up the whole time too, so that you come to understand the delicate balance between Aiba and Hasegawa and how they need each other in a strange way.
Both of these books, though, are on the titillating side of yuri. They’re not quite offensively focussed on the male gaze and the women in them as objects, but they’re pretty close to that line. Still, neither is a particularly egregious example of men lusting after hot girl-on-girl action. These are books that revel in girls getting it on. And that is something I can generally get behind.