Before we talk about books, I have an important announcement! You may remember how I read a book called Majutsushi A a couple years ago and fell utterly in love with it and the stunning talent of the artist, Natsuko Ishitsuyo? And how I said no one would ever publish it in English? I was wrong about that last bit! Because I am publishing it in English! Well, it’s actually Peter of The Beguiling who’s doing the publishing part of things, but I did do the translation and worked together with a great team of people, including editor Penny Clark, letterer Karis Page, and many Beguiling staff members, to make the publication a real thing that is happening in this world. And now you can buy this translation baby we have worked so very hard on for the last year. Support our campaign on Kickstarter and be the first in line to hold this pretty princess in your hot little hands!
Thank you for indulging me in this bit of self-promotion. With that out of the way, we can get to the important thing here: the books. As always, one of my first stops upon escaping from painfully wintry Toronto to pleasantly temperate Tokyo was the bookstore, where I stocked up on the latest volumes of all my favourite series, plus a couple of new series by favourite authors. Weirdly enough, both of those new books are girls’ love and published within a week of each other, so I figured why not compare and contrast these different takes on the world of women who love women.
I had high hopes for Asumiko Nakamura’s first foray into long-form yuri because I love her so much, but it is pretty standard stuff. Boarding school? Check! In a foreign country? You bet! The school “prince” finds herself thrown together with a younger klutz? An even younger student feels threatened by the klutz getting too close to her beloved?? It’s all in here! The story feels pretty cookie cutter, although it could easily be read as an homage to those earlier girls’ love titles. But obviously, this is Nakamura we’re talking about, so even when she hits story beats that are all too familiar, she hits them hard and exceptionally beautifully. The book is worth reading for the art alone (as is always the case with Nakamura’s work). Her high school prince Steph is one hell of a tall drink of water, aloof and adored by the entire student body even though she has a reputation for being made of steel in more ways than one. And the klutz Ruby is unbearably cute, making herself vulnerable and hostile in turn. The supporting cast are all gorgeous in different ways; there is a girl for everyone to love in this book. (I wish Ruby’s pudgy pal got more page time.) And the uniforms the girls wear are obscenely full-skirted, in a way that made me wonder if Nakamura only wanted to draw this series for the chance to have those skirts swinging around sensually on every page.
Obviously, if you’re a fan of Nakamura’s work, you will enjoy this one, too, even if it never quite makes it to the top of your Nakamura top ten list. Its plot points might be just a little too familiar for that. I hope she manages to shake things up in the volumes that follows. Who knows? Maybe she’s putting us on such solidly familiar ground in volume one only to yank the rug out from under us later. Either way, as first volumes go, much more exciting for me was Takako Shimura’s latest, Otona ni Nattemo. I almost didn’t pick this one up because the last couple books I’ve read by Shimura haven’t really done anything for me. I mean, I’ve enjoyed them, but haven’t felt compelled in any way to continue reading the series. Not so with this outing into the world of ladies who love ladies! I devoured volume one in a single sitting and now am impatiently awaiting the arrival of spring so I can read the next volume.
As the obi notes, this is a “slightly bitter grown-up yuri”, and that does basically sum it up. Elementary school teacher Ayano finishes work early one day and heads out to a bar she likes a couple stations away from her home (in order to avoid running into students or their parents). There she meets Akari, and before she (and we) knows it, the two women are kissing on the street and the last train for the night has already left. So Ayano follows Akari to her nearby home, where more fooling around occurs. They are both enveloped in a hazy cloud of the thrill of a budding romance when they line each other the following day, asking after hangovers and maybe seeing each other again. But when they do see each other again, Ayano is in the company of her husband, and Akari is stunned. As a gay woman, she’s been in this position too many times to count, but she thought she’d done her due diligence this time. No wedding ring and Ayano was no passive receiver of her kisses.
Maybe it’s the grown-up aspect of this one that hooked me harder than the high school girls of Mejirobana. Both Ayano and Akari are thirty-five and navigating life shit, which for an older queer woman myself feels infinitely more relatable. But I think more than that, it’s simply Shimura being Shimura and digging into a complicated situation while extending grace and kindness to all of her characters. She doesn’t simply let this encounter be a brief one-off or lean on the whole “but we’re both girls” trope. Rather, she takes the opportunity and space to allow Ayano to explore her sexuality and her relationship with her husband in a way that feels sincere and very real, while also letting Akari look back on her own failed relationships and try to move forward in a way that makes her happy. Naturally, these pages are filled with Shimura’s gentle and expressive linework, while the cover and colour pages (black and white in the book, though) have a pleasingly retro feel to them. And I think we can all relate to the back cover copy of this one: “We might be in our thirties, but we’re still not grown-ups.”
I suppose this is a sign of a thriving girls’ love market that we can get such different books by well-known artists coming out in the same month. I do understand the appeal of the high school story, but I hope we see more work like Otona coming out that explores adult relationships between women. Mostly because I am an old and that is what I want to read. As always, my desires for the publishing industry are purely selfish.