[ Last post: 2019 Manga Mid-Year in Review! ]

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

Ranking is looser here than it is with my anime lists. I don’t explicitly number or score them, so don’t read much into the ordering.

This year in particular leaves the top three (Urara, Yagakimi, GG) essentially tied. They were my three big ongoing manga of the last two years or so, and it’s a big deal for me that they’ve all concluded within a six month span.

Complete
Series that I’ve finished since last update:
Urara Meirochou
Yagate Kimi ni Naru
Gakkou Gurashi
Majime Girl to Seishun Lingerie

Series that I finished in the mid-year update:
• Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
• Roid
• Kyuuketsuki-chan x Kouhai-chan
• Swap Swap

Ongoing, New
Series I started since last update but which are still ongoing.
Machikado Mazoku
Watashi no Yuri wa Oshigoto desu!
Otome no Teikoku
Hayama-sensei to Terano-sensei wa Tsukiatteiru

Ongoing, Other
Brief comments about ongoing series that I started prior to the last update, or started since last update and only have a limited amount to say about because I’m still retreading anime material (alphabetical order, no ranking):
• Centaur no Nayami
• Citrus+
• Flying Witch
• Harukana Receive
• Kase-san
• Kirara Fantasia
• Konohana Kitan
• Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru
• Slow Start

Ongoing, Waiting
Series in waiting, either because no new volumes have been released since last update, or I haven’t read anything new in that time.
• Citrus+
• Hinamatsuri
• Houkago Strip

Complete


Urara Meirochou
(Harikamo | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Miracle → Manga Time Kirara | 7 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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Much of what makes Urara one of my favorite series has to do with two things, one of which is the setting itself, and the mood it strikes. The dense labyrinthine architecture of Meirochou evokes a sense that exciting new experiences could be around any corner – but lurking danger may be waiting for you as well. This is mirrored in the tenuous relationships uraras have with the gods; the gods allow uraras to peer into the future, understand the hearts of others, or see the unseen. But they jealously guard their true nature and any deeper secrets – secrets much darker than they seem at first. Because so many Kirara manga opt to take place in modern day Japan, the fantastical environment and explorations of mysticism are a particularly radical departure from the norm.

The other central element is the intimate relationship between the protagonists. Any slice of life story can throw a bunch of cute girls together and explore their tight-knit relationships, but Urara does a uniquely good job of portraying the girls almost as if they’re a single organism. As apprentice urara under the same tutor, they sleep, bathe, study, and practice together. They are very comfortable with physical contact, and every interaction vibrates with casual intimacy. This feeling does evolve considerably as the story progresses. Not just from the addition of Omi, but also because each of them comes to understand that she must pursue her personal dreams as well. But the foursome, and then fivesome, never stop being central to the themes of the work.

There’s much more to say about both of these, but in the interests of getting this post out before I die (this is the last series I’m writing about, and I’m tired) I’ll point to my comments on the anime, which go into both ideas in more detail. Here I want to focus on two additional ideas that came to define the post-anime portion of the manga.

Urara may follow a group of students, but it isn’t a “school anime” in the traditional sense. The girls are more like apprentices learning a trade, and their learning takes on a much more practical form than typical classroom instruction. Ironically this also means that the content of their studies is much more relevant than the courses your typical Japanese high school character takes. Classes for the latter are more of an abstract idea – competing on test scores, trying not to fail so you can go to the sports meet, rushing to complete summer homework on the last day of break. And that’s fine, because it’s not like the content of our high school classes in the real world has much direct applicability to what we’re going to do with our lives afterward. But for an urara, everything is centered around the direct, hands-on experience they need to prepare for the promotion examinations and eventually open up their own divination businesses. Given that “trade school” or “apprenticeship” themes are vanishingly rare in anime, I guess the more common analogue is a sports club, but I don’t think that quite captures it either.

Because their studies are entirely framed around the very things that they’re trying to make a career of, their progress through the urara ranks comes with a very organic progression of increasing self-reliance and independence. As 10th ranks, they start under the close tutelage of Nina at Natsume-ya. As 9th ranks they move into the dorms and have to get by without Nina’s watchful eye. By 8th rank they’ve already moved into a house of their own to open a trainee shop and get practical business experience with only indirect, occasional adult oversight. That’s where the story proper ends, until the final time skip, but the urara rank system continues along in this manner, with 7th ranks being considered full-fledged non-trainee urara, and 5th ranks (like Nina at the start) even being able to open tea houses and take their own students.

As the story progresses, the initial camaraderie they share begins to evolve as their futures as urara draw ever closer and become more tangible. While they spend every moment huddled together earlier in the manga, they start to branch out and discover new people and passions later on. The change can be a little hard to process at first! While Chiya and Kon were always portrayed as especially close, one of the major draws of the earlier material was that the four of them were in a polyamorous relationship in all but name. But then Koume becomes increasingly focused on getting back to Marie’s side. Nono develops a close – very close, it turns out! – relationship with Tsubaki. Chiya and Kon still only have eyes for each other, but Chiya is understandable preoccupied with finding her mother. Omi also joins the crew, which shakes up the dynamics somewhat. She also serves to remind the girls that their future careers are right around the corner and they need to get serious about it.

Urara never betrays those original relationships, however. Marie represents Koume’s ideal self, and Koume was chasing after her long before she met Chiya and friends. Chiya’s quest for her mother was the inciting incident of the whole story, and in the course of searching for her, her relationship with Kon only grows stronger. Kon herself comes to treat her competitive instincts in a much healthier way, with her love for Chiya counteracting the initial jealousy. Omi is wholly assimilated into the group dynamic and quickly acclimates to their peculiar brand of friendly intimacy, which proves the resiliency of their relationships.

The character who undergoes the most significant change is, to my surprise, Nono. She was always the most timid of the four, babied by her doting older sister, soft-spoken, slower in her studies, and afraid of holding everyone back. Once she meets Tsubaki for the 8th rank classes, she begins to flourish. She’s drawn to Tsubaki and begins assisting her, taking on an increasing share of the responsibility for the group’s progress. As she becomes more confident, she begins to repay the love and concern that Chiya, Kon, and Koume lavished on her whenever she felt depressed or afraid. When they’re worried, she’s the one who finds the courage to cheer them up. The role reversal is deeply satisfying, and it does wonders to justify the relationship – essentially confirmed as romantic in the epilogue – between Nono and Tsubaki.

When the status quo is comfortable, it can be worrying to see it disrupted. That’s understandable, but this fear is what drives so many of the static situations in which slice of life series can get mired. Embracing the joy of the every day doesn’t mean those days can’t change, and the characters living them can’t grow. By framing their journey as a move towards adulthood and realizing – not just aspiring to – their dreams, Urara Meirochou makes this transition less scary. Exhilarating and affirming, even! How can I be upset that a Koume x Nono ship didn’t sail, when by the end they’re both cohabiting with women they love and admire so much? It’s an absolute delight, and I have no complaints whatsoever.

To reach their futures, the girls girls must first survive a present that’s burdened with the sins and tragedies of the past. Urara is more than a story of cramming for exams and opening up a business. It’s a tale of gods and monsters, blessings and curses, forbidden unions, unrequited loves, and hidden pasts. The young uraras stumble along knowing little of all this until the truth about Chiya’s parents, Kurou and Yami, begins to reveal itself. It’s in how they choose to react to these revelations that we arrive at my other main topic: the freedom of not knowing what the next chapters of your life story will say, because it’s been left up to you to write it as you wish.

That’s not a freedom enjoyed by many of the adults in the story. Spread throughout Urara is a story of generational progress from emotional bondage to liberation. The generation of the parents has it worst. Yami was an urara promised as concubine to the gods, and her relationship with Kurou was thus blasphemous. This is why Chiya is referred to as a cursed child by the vengeful spirits who stalk her. Kon’s mother, Tokie, suffers through an honest to goodness yuri one-shot tragedy, with her love for Yami going unrequited, as she’s unable to connect with the outcast urara in the way Kurou is. Chiya’s caretaker, Setsu, has been given the responsibility of raising a child born of a dear friend who she is forbidden by the gods to even remember.

The intermediate generation, the “big sisters” (Nina, Tsubaki, Saku) have their own baggage. After their mother passed, Nina took on the role of raising Nono, and while she loves her little sister dearly this did put her dreams of progressing beyond 5th rank on hold. Saku abandoned divination to join the patrol squad and protect uraras who were going missing (and naturally to protect one particular urara she happens to be in love with) Tsubaki was left to pursue her studies on her own, without her best friends by her side. This is a marked improvement over the prior generation, but it’s still a story of dreams, if not “unrealized”, then at least deferred.

And that brings us to the new generation, our protagonists. Wide-eyed and innocent, they must wade through all of the accumulated baggage of the past. The adults in their lives have been told time and again that the future is bounded by rules and limits, and they’ve tried and at best only half-succeeded to overcome those limits. But working together, the fresh-faced generation will chart their own course.

This isn’t to say they do it all on their own. Chiya’s insight into the sacred realm is passed down to her from her parents, and her raw physical prowess was drilled into her by the burly she-bear of a woman, Setsu. Tokie was Omi’s teacher, and lovingly encourages Kon to pursue and rescue Chiya – to do for Chiya what Tokie herself could not for Yami. Koume constantly draws strength from the magical relics Marie has left behind for her. Tsubaki’s teaching helps the girls progress their skills to the next level. Nina and Saku and so many others work tirelessly to protect and nurture Nono and all the other young urara. The third generation is not a repudiation of those that came before; it’s a joyous realization of all their missed opportunities. They accomplish this not by writing their own futures down in stone, but by refusing to embrace “certainty” at all. Certainty may feel comforting, but it can also be limiting and stifling. What if something even better was waiting right around that corner you strode right past on your way down a pre-determined course?

Chiya understands this better than anyone, and it’s the reason why she has the courage to act as she does during the final climactic confrontation. In order to save Kon and the others from the curse poisoning their bodies, in order to free Yami from the gods’ captivity, in order for Kurou to regain his true form and pass on peacefully with Yami, she offers herself up. She agrees to sate the gods’ rage by agreeing to shoulder the curse and take Yami’s place. Her future will be their compensation.

But Chiya has no intention of meekly accepting this fate. She resolves more strongly than ever to become a first rank urara and gain the insight and power necessary to work out a more peaceful compromise between uraras and the gods of Meirochou. And over the next seven years, through the time skip, she achieves the first part of that goal. Kon follows close behind, more invigorated than ever to master her craft. This time she has deeper motivations than jealousy or competitiveness or ambition. She does it out of love, she does it to do her part to protect Chiya’s freedom and future.

We don’t actually see how this plays out! We end neither with Chiya handing herself over to the gods, nor with her securing their consent to rescind the contract. Does this mean there are stories left untold? That the ending has arrived prematurely? Not at all – this is very much a feature, not a bug. An open ending is thematically consistent with everything the story has been telling us.

The very last words of Urara Meirochou could not be more perfect: “What does their future hold? Even the gods do not know.” That’s not cause for concern; it’s beautiful and affirming. Chiya, Kon, Nono, Koume, and Omi embrace infinite possibilities, looking out over a vista of future selves as myriad as the labyrinthine alleyways and tunnels of Meirochou. But I do believe one thing is for certain: Chiya and Kon will never be separated. That is the one truth they will always hold onto, the one knot binding together the countless threads of dreams from which they’ll weave their futures.

Much, much earlier in the story, Kon attempts a forbidden divination technique and is reduced to tears as she tells Chiya of her fear that she’s going to be punished for her transgression, cut off from the gods and finished as an urara. In her most vulnerable moment Chiya consoles her and declares, with wide-eyed and blissful ignorance, that she will never hand Kon over, she will never let Kon’s dreams be taken away, she will damn well kick the shit out of the gods themselves if they dare to harm Kon. Are we really to believe, with Chiya and Kon now having attained mythical first rank status, that they’d possibly ever fail? That they’d ever possibly be separated?

No, I think not. And so in the final scenes they come together once more, clad in wedding kimono, and declare their solemn vow to remain together forever. I take it no one needs that symbolism spelled out for them.

Thank you so much, Harikamo, for this wonderful tale. Awoooooooooooooooooo~

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Yagate Kimi ni Naru
(Nakatani Nio | Kadokawa (ASCII Media Works) / Dengeki Daioh | 8 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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Yagakimi is the rare yuri romance manga that’s attained at least some modicum of broader awareness among non-yuri-focused fans. It often ranks well in various “series we most want a sequel to” polls in Japan. It’s got a spinoff novel series, and even a stage play. Sales of the manga passed a million when the final volume released (so about 125k each). It’s also easily the most prominent yuri manga to be published outside of a dedicated yuri magazines (in other words, it’s not from Ichijinsha’s Comic Yuri Hime) in the last few years, and it seems like Kadokawa is willing to run with other yuri manga as well. I’d bet Yagakimi had a hand in making that decision easier for them. It’s easy to overstate its popularity of course (125k isn’t exactly mainstream-tier after all), but given how much of a niche product yuri is, the level of success it’s attained still matters. If yuri is going to have a standard-bearer, it couldn’t have done much better than Yagakimi.

The first half of the manga is what’s covered by the anime (write-up here), and it’s largely Touko’s story, even if it’s seen through Yuu’s eyes. All of Yuu’s pent up feelings are made subordinate to Touko’s trauma, and Yuu voluntarily arrests her own emotional growth for Touko’s sake.

You never want to cheer a character on purely for toughing out an unhealthy romance, but uneven relationship dynamics can make for good stories if the writer respects the characters and has a plan in mind. If you can both explain why one partner is unable to perform a “normal” relationship and justify why the other partner is willing and able to perform the emotional labor, there’s no reason this can’t be an effective source of conflict. Two of my go-to examples on very different ways to build a central pairing around this concept are Citrus and Sakura Trick. They’re on opposite ends of the “problematicness” spectrum, with Citrus really cutting it close while Sakura Trick offers a much softer, less fraught relationship. Yagakimi probably falls about 70% of the way towards the Citrus end, but what matters is that in all three cases some care is taken to acknowledge the asymmetrical nature of the relationship and tell a story that makes sense within the context of the world and its characters.

Touko has Haruka’s desire for physical intimacy, fear of commitment, and emotional blind spot towards the person closest to her, but she also has Mei’s tendency towards crude emotional manipulation as a defense mechanism. She simultaneously makes the physical overtures (like Haruka) while pushing her partner away emotionally (like Mei). Touko says some downright chilling things to Yuu when she feels her protective fiction being threatened. She’s scared, she’s weighed down by the burdens she’s imposed on herself, and she’s trying to be everything to everyone without even being honest about who she is to herself. But she counts far too much on Yuu’s near-infinite patience, and she’s miserably slow to notice when Yuu’s feelings begin to evolve.

Everything climaxes for Touko during the student council play, where Koyomi’s conveniently on the nose script diagnoses and addresses Touko’s neuroses through the comfortable distance of theatrical role-playing. Through this experience Touko finds a new passion for acting, and her heart becomes light and her mind clear in a way she’s undoubtedly not felt ever since her sister died. It’s not that Touko’s story is completely over when the curtain drops, but this was her central character arc: accepting that she is and can only ever be herself, and that that is more than enough.

All well and good for Touko! But she could not have gotten there alone, and it’s Yuu and Sayaka who have put in the back-breaking (and heart-breaking) work. The common cause that they’ve been sacrificing themselves for has finally been achieved, and all the emotions they’ve bottled up along the way are about to burst out.

Wedged in between the anime’s finale and the curtain rising on their play, there’s a few chapters of transitional material that might easily get lost in the shuffle. These moments brilliantly set up the next act of the story, an act in which Sayaka and Yuu will finally assert themselves.

In one of them, Sayaka boldly declares her love for Touko to Yuu, in a move that’s equal parts challenge to a duel and an offer of alliance. Sayaka may not be able to confront Touko just yet, but she knows that she must be on the level with Yuu. In the other moment, Yuu confronts Touko, calls her out on her selfishness, and challenges the fiction Touko clads herself in. She rejects both Touko’s physical advances and her entire inward-looking worldview. Yuu forces Touko to understand that even if she thinks she’s only hurting herself, denying all the things that everyone else sees in her created more than just one victim. Both of these moments are prelude to two monumental confessions: Yuu kissing Touko and telling her she loves her, and Sayaka confessing her feelings on the class trip.

Looking back now, it’s astonishing to realize that while the Touko-focused arc consumes a good five volumes of material, everything neatly wraps up with both Yuu and Sayaka in roughly two and a half volumes (nearly the entire final volume is fluffy epilogue!). Obviously both of them were central participants in all of Touko’s volumes, and most of the setup was handled there. But it still speaks to the remarkable strength of Nakatani’s writing that I never felt like either character got shortchanged in the slightest.

The successful completion of the play evoked very different reactions in Sayaka and Yuu. Sayaka is energized, optimistic, and willing to finally take a risk, despite knowing that it’s Yuu who Touko has had her eyes on ever since they met. Yuu on the other hand feels utterly lost. As happy as she is that Touko is headed towards a bright future, she struggles to see where she fits into it.

I wrote most of what I had to say about this in my comments on the anime, but Yuu’s entire self-identity was constructed around the fiction that she would never fall in love. “Fiction”, because there’s a stark difference between being legitimately aromantic and simply struggling to engage with love. Nakatani repeatedly brought Maki in to draw this distinction, and in his role as Yuu’s closest confidant (at least on matters involving Touko), he was one of Yuu’s most important friends. As much as anyone, he set Yuu on the path to finally being truthful with herself.

The fiction served Yuu well in her role as Touko’s emotional body pillow, both in giving Touko what she wanted and in shielding Yuu herself against the piercing pain of playing a role so fundamentally written around self-denial. But embracing one lie to protect another cannot last forever, particularly if one of those lies gets discarded. Touko no longer needed her half of the lie, and Yuu was left holding the bag. A bag full of all her long repressed and chaotic emotions, leaking messily out of the bottom and making a right old mess.

Suki, igai no kotoba de.” Yuu made it all this way imagining her relationship with Touko using every word except “love”. Now that she can no longer be sure whether Touko needs her or not, she is desperately afraid that it’s the only word she has left to draw upon, the only word that can carve out a special place by Touko’s side – or, perhaps, destroy everything that exists between them. And so the silent word is given a voice, and the other half of the lie shatters… but the pivotal moment garners an ambiguous reaction. Touko, newly confident in herself but still learning to grasp the feelings of those around her, is absolutely steamrolled by the confession. This is the final step in Touko’s evolution. She may love herself now, but is she prepared to be loved?

There’s an alternate timeline in which Yuu didn’t run away at Touko’s first “gomen”. There’s a version of Yuu that’s confident enough to see the moment through, to quiet the terror screaming through her head and coursing through her veins, to make Touko truly understand how much these feelings mean to her and how long they’ve been suppressed.

That version of Yuu is named Saeki Sayaka.

On paper, Sayaka’s own confession doesn’t go any better than Yuu’s. She and Touko will not, as we all knew, become girlfriends. But Saeki Sayaka is strong. She’s stronger than Touko, stronger than Yuu, stronger, perhaps, than even she knows. She’s been tempered by rejection, humiliation, and self-loathing to a degree Yuu likely couldn’t imagine, let alone bear. She’s lived with and catered to Touko’s unhealthy quirks for considerably longer than Yuu and never once heard words of love in return. And she is fully aware that she’s fighting an uphill battle.

But it’s just as as Yuu becomes consumed by anxiety that Sayaka starts to bloom, more brilliantly and beautifully than ever before. It begins when she admits her feelings for Touko to Yuu, and reaches full bloom when she tells Touko herself. Touko, having failed so recently and so spectacularly to process Yuu’s confession, tries to shut Sayaka down before she can say the words. But nothing is going to stop Sayaka when she’s at the height of her powers. Where Yuu’s courage shattered with the first hesitant word out of Touko’s mouth, Sayaka punches straight through a far more formidable brick wall of denial, reaches for the real Touko hidden within, pulls her to the surface, and etches her words directly onto Touko’s eyes, ears, and heart.

It’s impossible to overstate what a debt both Touko and Yuu owe to Sayaka. It’s a debt they’ll never be able to repay, but I hope they spend the rest of their lives trying. When she tells Yuu that she loves Touko, she’s showing respect, acknowledging Yuu as an equal, and indirectly telling Yuu that indecision can’t be sustained forever. While Maki was the pivotal character in helping Yuu acknowledge that she is in love, it’s Sayaka who influences her to finally act. And if Sayaka doesn’t confess to Touko, one can only imagine how much longer it would have taken Touko to respond to Yuu’s feelings. It’s only after Sayaka’s confession that Touko straightens out her thoughts, in large part because she understands that Sayaka more than deserves a full and honest answer.

Of course Sayaka is still vulnerable, she’s still nervous, and her heart damn near beats out of her chest as soon as she turns around and leaves a dumbstruck Touko to process what she’s just been told. Sayaka didn’t get here all alone either. She’s been deeply affected by Yuu, for one. It’s incredibly telling that it’s Yuu who she tells about her girlfriend Haru, not Touko. Even years into a timeskip and with the old drama seemingly behind them, part of her isn’t comfortable bringing this up with Touko, but she easily trusts Yuu. Perhaps even more vital than Yuu is Miyako. Miyako acknowledged the validity of Sayaka’s feelings and provided living proof that women like them can have experiences that aren’t defined by anxiety, shame, and sadness. Both for better and worse, Sayaka has been shaped by many hands (enough to get her own series of spinoff novels!). But when it came time for one of the three central characters of this story to step up, it fell to Sayaka. It really couldn’t have played out any other way, could it?

Yagakimi is full of memorable personalities, but Sayaka stands far above the rest. I struggle in general to clearly articulate why I enjoy the things I do, but Sayaka really makes that more difficult than usual. I can convey her strength, grace, and vulnerability in words about as well as I could hold bubbling lava in a paper cup. I can say that she’s one of my most beloved characters of all time, but that hardly does her justice. She’s a lot more than the sum of her character traits; plenty of characters have that “outwardly proud, inwardly vulnerable, but finds the strength to ascend above that vulnerability” vibe going on, but only one of them is Sayaka.

Yagakimi could have existed without her, I suppose. But good god am I infinitely grateful that it didn’t have to.

With time to consider Yuu’s confession and being jolted back to her senses by Sayaka’s bravery, Touko returns from the class trip resolved to answer Yuu’s feelings. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the final volume, other than that it’d almost certainly involve Yuu taking most of the volume to open herself back up to Touko. Imagine my surprise, then, when the first chapter ties a neat little bow on that conflict as they reconcile and reciprocate feelings. I genuinely think it would have been better served as the last chapter of the previous volume, but I can appreciate the need to maintain some tension between releases. Nevertheless it still came off slightly anticlimactic for me.

And yet, if that’s the price of a nearly volume long epilogue, it’s a price I will gladly pay every. single. time. It’s not like I wanted Yuu to mope around and avoid Touko anyway, and I can’t imagine what else could have delayed their union any further. Even if Nakatani probably would have pulled it off, I’m ecstatic that Touko and Yuu got to spend so much time being normal girlfriends before the series ended. These girls have all endured more than their share of angst, so it’s immeasurably refreshing for them to spend most of a volume worrying about nothing more dire than whether their girlfriend is currently as horny as they are. Yes, that’s the final volume’s conflict. “When can we fuck, and who should be on top?” Maybe not in so many words, but it’s totally what they spend their time thinking about. And you know what? Even this manages to say something vitally important about the characters and their relationship.

While it’s cute seeing Touko be the shy one when the moment comes, given how forceful she’s always been, it’s really important that Yuu ends up taking the lead. Touko has already atoned for how she’s acted in the past, but it’s Yuu performing the sexually assertive role that delivers the cathartic capstone their relationship needed. It’s not just the juicy kouhai/senpai role reversal either, it’s the way Yuu frames sex in terms of a active, conscious, consenting choice that she’s making with the girl she loves. Getting your Final Volume Sex in is a yuri staple and all, but here is accomplishes a lot more than just ticking off a checklist.

I can’t help but think of “deflowering”, a concept mired in gross sexist baggage. It implies that in having sex, a woman is stripped of her vibrancy and sanctity, like a flower plucked out of the earth and left to wilt. So I take a degree of spiteful glee (and I wonder if Nakatani would as well, if she made the connection) in Touko and Yuu ascending to their most vibrant, flourishing state of blooming as they willingly and lovingly give their bodies up to each other. Eat shit, patriarchy.

So that’s that. Yagakimi proper may be over, but in another form Yagakimi continues, this time through Sayaka’s eyes. I haven’t read the Saeki Sayaka ni Tsuite novels yet (I’ll probably pick up all three once the EN release catches up, since JP novels are beyond me) but I’m glad that Yagakimi was popular enough – and that everyone loves Sayaka enough – that we’re going to see the past, present, and future all in her own words. No one deserves it more than her, that’s for sure.

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Gakkou Gurashi
(Kaihou Norimitsu, Chiba Sadoru | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 12 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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What a journey. No other series has ever made me feel so palpably, heart-poundingly anxious. Successfully avoiding all spoilers meant that every time a character went out alone I honestly couldn’t be sure they’d come back. While rationally I assumed that main characters probably wouldn’t die in a Kirara manga, the death flags were so numerous and relentless that I couldn’t help but worry endlessly over their safety. But the tension would always release before it became unbearable. However briefly, snippets of a normal life would slip through. These moments would come less and less often as the girls approached their breaking point, but that made them all the more precious.

Where to start… there’s far too much to cover exhaustively, but you’ve got to begin with Yuki, right? Gakkou Gurashi deftly balances focus among all four leads, but Yuki is at the heart what sets this story apart and makes it memorable. On a superficial level, it’s her traumatic experience and subsequent coping mechanisms that set the initial “gimmick” of the franchise in motion: the split between iyashikei school life and post-apocalyptic zombie horror. But the balance between the two evolves considerably over time as Yuki herself takes on new roles and responsibilities, and she comes to represent so much more before the end.

I think it’s easy to write off Yuki’s condition at the start as either too extreme or contrived, but I think it’s undeniable that it makes for an effective contrast, especially considering the magazine Gakkou Gurashi runs in. It’s not that “it’s a cute slice of life show – except not quite!!” is in and of itself the most unique or clever twist ever. If that had been the only idea Gakkou Gurashi offered then it would have been, at the very least, a very different experience. I do think it’s well-executed but what makes it work so well over the long-run is that it’s the story’s starting point, not its destination.

I’m jumping ahead slightly, but the smartest decision Gakkou Gurashi makes it to eschew any singular revelatory moment where Yuki turns towards the reader and exclaims, “Wow, so the apocalypse happened, huh?”. There were times where I felt like never giving Yuki that “eureka” moment felt strange, but further reflection always validated the wisdom of it. It would have bifurcated her character arc into two overly distinct halves in a story where nothing else was ever that neat and tidy. I know plenty of stories put their characters through a single life-changing moment and work out out just fine, but there are reasons why such a decision would have failed for this specific story. Handling Yuki in such a way would have undermined one of Gakkou Gurashi’s central themes: the symbiotic relationship the girls share, and the role that convenient fictions play in sustaining that relationship. It’s a fiction they must all engage in, lest its power dissipate entirely.

When Miki joins the crew, she criticizes Yuuri and Kurumi’s willing role in the fiction as reckless, overly-soft treatment of a girl who just needed a serious dose of reality if she was going to survive. Her concern is entirely valid, from a cold, pragmatic point of view. Yuki’s rejection of reality would occasionally lead her to go off alone and wind up in dangerous situations she otherwise would have known to avoid. Having to cater to her fantasies also put real burdens on her friends, who had to make do with having one less able body available for the most arduous and dangerous tasks. For the thoroughly disillusioned Miki, Yuki wasn’t just troubled, she was a burden.

Yuuri and Kurumi brush the concerns off at first. It’s not because they don’t understand where Miki is coming from, but rather because being honest would require them to admit that their coddling of Yuki reflects their own selfish vested interest in the convenient fiction. They find secondhand solace in the world as it’s seen through Yuki’s eyes. For all Kurumi’s displays of stamina and strength and for all Yuuri’s levelheaded big-sisterly demeanor, they’re both constantly on the verge of total breakdown. Yuki offers them one last anchor of normalcy in a world that’s been turned inside out, just like the phantom of Megu-nee soothes Yuki in her darkest moments.

There is an uncomfortable moral gray area here, and Gakkou Gurashi does not shy away from it. The question of whether it’s okay to live a lie so long as it benefits all involved isn’t an easy one. Yuuri and Kurumi know that one day the fiction may cost them their lives. Or the fiction could break down so suddenly that the shock destroys an unprepared Yuki. And yet, who could possibly condemn them? Certainly not we readers, indulging in iyashikei worlds from the comfort of our peaceful homes.

Miki however does have that right – but she eventually comes to understand how they feel when she experiences Yuki’s warmth for herself. She understands it, because the fiction is grounded in a truth: Yuki’s love for her friends, and theirs for her. She may hallucinate pristine classrooms and a doting club advisor, but everything she feels for Yuuri, Kurumi, and Miki is absolutely real. This is the fundamental truth that survives when reality violently crashes down into their school life utopia. This is why there is no “moment” in which Yuki and the girls overtly cast aside the fiction.

When it’s do or die, Yuki steps up, draws upon the love she has for her friends, and becomes a leader. Her heroics involve moments of physical peril, but it’s the inner strength to accept the worst possible reality without losing faith in her friends that make her a real leader. This evolution isn’t an anomaly, it’s a a concentrated manifestation of her original role in the story. She’s been bruised, terrified, and starved – but she’s also been tempered in the flames of absolute deprivation and desperation, and she has never entirely broken. Even as Yuuri snaps under the weight of her past, even as Kurumi’s physical vigor is tragically sapped away, even as Miki struggles to take up Kurumi’s shovel and fulfill a dangerous new mission, Yuki is there to hold them all together, to reaffirm their existence and meaning.

This, more than anything else, is what Gakkou Gurashi is about.

It’s a slight deviation from this theme that led to the college arc (volumes 7-9) being arguably the series’ low point, relative though that may be. I understand the desire to broaden the scope of their world, but one of the main selling points for me with Gakkou Gurashi was the way it took the overdone zombie apocalypse and married it to the “close-knit slice of life friend group” idea that underpins the Manga Time Kirara brand. For six volumes we avoided all of the “maybe humans are the real monsters?” zombie tropes, but the college arc is pretty firmly planted in that tradition. The number of named characters explodes as the school life club stumbles onto two factions maintaining a tense peace in the safe confines of a walled college campus. While I am fond of a number of the characters we meet here, the only really essential development to come out of these three volumes was meeting the researcher Shiiko.

Still, it’d be disingenuous of me to criticize these volumes too harshly. I just skimmed over my tweets about these volumes from back when I read them, and you know, I rather enjoyed myself. I just think most of the best material could have happened in another context. The backdrop of the bloody campus war didn’t directly elevate such major story beats as Yuuri and Ruu, Kurumi’s rapidly degrading condition, Yuki’s increasing leadership role, or Miki finding her calling to chronicle their journey. So a lot of good things happened in this volume, just not in a context that was quite as satisfying as, say, the “road trips” in volumes 6 or 11. To its credit, all of the least interesting characters of this arc end up dead, and we don’t get antagonists like Ayaka reappearing as obnoxious last second villains. Any downsides to the college story are entirely minimal, in the long run.

The final three volumes split the difference between the intimate four-character dynamic and the broader “plot-heavy” story that builds up around them. There’s your standard shady corporation that was the original cause of the outbreak. There’s a researcher uncovering the method of transmission, an explanation for how some people avoided infection, and speculation about about a cure. There’s the soldiers arriving for a brutal clean-up operation and even a doomsday countdown to nuclear annihilation.

“I am here.”

It would be easy for four scared schoolgirls to get lost in all these post-apocalytic zombie tropes, and maybe from time to time such elements were distracting. But for the most part, Gakkou Gurashi stays focused on a very human story of physical and emotional degradation, as the club struggles to maintain cohesion and hope in the face of immense and unfathomable adversity.

Volume eleven in particular is one of the highlights of the entire story, alongside volume six and most of the original high school arc. It’s devastating to watch these girls unravel with Kurumi on the brink of death, supplies dwindling, and the window for escape narrowing rapidly. It may lack the existential elegance of Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryouko’s final stretch, but it does manage to tick some of the same boxes for me. It’s here that their “fiction” is well and truly stripped down to its rawest, truest form. It’s all they have left propelling them forward.

The final volume delivers a mostly satisfying finale, and I’m so happy that it brought everyone back to Megurigaoka High School, where everything began. I do have a bit of trouble deciding how I feel about the last chapter, however. On the one hand, the decision to gloss over most of the military considerations and politics is entirely welcome. What’s important is the moment where Yuki makes one last ditch effort to contact the Randall Corporation, pours her heart out, sparks a light of hope within the remnants of humanity, and sets in motion the events that lead to the conclusion. This is perfect – but the epilogue feels too perfunctory for the long, long journey that’s led up to it.

I can appreciate that “togetherness” isn’t Gakkou Gurashi’s only theme. If there’s going to be a future for humanity, they also need to consider their place in that future. They need to decide what their dreams are beyond huddling together to survive the violent “now”. There is a poignant moment late in in volume ten where Kurumi tells Yuki exactly this – she has to define herself for her own sake, not only as a member of their group. This is, I think, what the ending was going for by having Miki tell us what each of the girls have done over the three year time skip that occurs. It also fits in with the role of “chronicler” that Miki took upon herself later in the series. And yet, it still feels like too sudden of a shift in tone for me.

Kurumi in particular got the short end of the stick here. The last time we see her before being told she’s studying to become a doctor is when she appears like a ghost alongside Megu-nee, Taroumaru, and Shiiko in a scene as they urge Yuki onward to the roof where she makes her last stand. We go from being symbolically told she’s dead to a rather cavalier reveal that, actually, she’s fine and is studying to become a doctor. It feels like there’s a big moment missing in between. It’s obvious to me that Gakkou Gurashi was not canceled or ended prematurely, so I don’t quite know what the rush was. It’s a shame that a long series like this leaves me thinking “damn, that really needed like another 20 pages to bring them together one last time and provide proper closure”. (And while I didn’t expect explicit romantic relationships among the four girls, it’s still a little vexing that the last thing we hear about Yuuri is a casual offhand implication that she might have a crush on her faceless boss at the reconstruction agency she now works at. Like, c’mon, seriously? After everything that happened between her and Kurumi? Far better to say nothing at all, than to shit that out at the last second.)

And yet… the very final pages couldn’t have been more perfect. Yuki, now a teacher, leads a new generation at Megurigaoka. She’s inherited Megu-nee’s legacy, ensuring that her warmth will live on, in the very place both she and Yuki loved above all others. If the last few pages of a story leave me completely choked up with tears, you must have done something right.

Gakkou Gurashi is replete with moments like this. Sometimes they’re abject desperation, sometimes they’re quiet horror, sometimes they’re warmth and laughter, sometimes they’re profound emotional catharsis. I’ve not even scratched the surface of everything that affected me over the course of this story, but every time I try to pick a few to highlight I realize I’ll triple the length of these comments if I do. And it’s simply not that necessary. Even if I don’t write these feelings down, I know I won’t forget them.

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Majime Girl to Seishun Lingerie
(Tachi | Kadokawa / Comic Dengeki Daiou g | 2 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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I was hoping that I wouldn’t be writing “final” thoughts about this one for quite some time yet, but I guess it didn’t make the cut. It ends with volume two, and while it’s by no means Swap Swap levels of rushed and incomplete, I can’t imagine this is how soon it was intended to end.

It’s a darn shame because I was really getting into Geraldine and Ran’s relationship, the rest of the cast was shaping up nicely, and it kept its body-positive message front and center. But I really wanted it to be more. More time to tease out the character dynamics, more time to set up larger story arcs, more more more. But that’s just how manga rolls sometimes… and all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope Tachi lands a longer serialization at some point. Or if she does do smaller series, have them be planned as such from the start, like Futakaku Kankei seems to have been. You never know ahead of time, though, I suppose.

At least she got to spend a few volumes indulging her obvious personal interest in lingerie, I guess! Though I will admit that the ‘educational” portions were of the least interest to me, and I hope her next series is less of a “mangaka geeking out about their hobby” manga and more of a character-focused story. Or if she just wants to keep writing new Sakura Trick post-ending doujins, I’m absolutely down for that too.

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Ongoing, New


Machikado Mazoku
(Itou Izumo | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Carat | 5 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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I could say so much about Machikado, but seeing as how I expect it only has a couple volumes left, my instinct is to wait until it’s over and get my thoughts together all at once. I also just wrote about the anime quite recently, so it seems a bit soon to give it a deep dive again.

But I will at least mention what a thrill it’s been to see that the unusually strong narrative progress (especially for a Kirara 4koma) of the anime wasn’t a fluke. If there’s one thing that sets Machikado apart from its Kirara peers, it’s how everything that happens has important, lasting consequences. There’s a forcefulness and purpose to its story developments that’s less common from the Kirara brand than I’d like. I do love the traditional slice of life formula, but there’s a different kind of ambition behind Machikado, and it’s ambition that really pays off.

When I was wrapping up the anime, I found myself hoping that the manga wouldn’t go on too much longer, because Momo and Shamiko had made such good progress and it’d be a huge downer to see that rolled back, stifled, or otherwise delayed in service of maintaining the status quo. Well, shit, turns out I has absolutely nothing to worry about. Every volume of Machikado propels both the plot and the character relationships forward, and it never tries to walk any of it back either.

Shamiko and Momo could have easily settled into a comfortable but static comedic routine. But the ShamiMomo we see in volume five has evolved miles beyond the ShamiMomo from the start. Even when the old running gags reoccur, they’re filtered through the loving intimacy that now defines their relationship. When Shamiko calls Momo her arch-enemy, it isn’t a sign that their feelings have regressed; to the contrary, the way her true feelings shine through the transparent gag only reinforces how far they’ve come. We even have Momo flat out tell Shamiko she’s in love with her! Shamiko isn’t quite ready to process it, but it’s a massive milestone in their relationship, and it puts the ball firmly in Shamiko’s court now.

Let’s not ignore the rest of the cast, either. Mikan gets to shine through the introduction of her familiar/daughter Ugallu (my favorite of the recent additions), Lico and Shirosawa expand the known world of demons in a truly delightful way, and just recently we’ve met a third magical girl who already seems like a treat. And let’s not forget finally meeting Sakura! There’s never once been a point where I’ve worried we have too many characters, because Machikado puts a heavy focus on community. Every new face reveals a new facet of the town Shamiko and Momo work to protect. It enriches the plot, sure, but it also helps us understand the stakes because we also want to protect the kind, wacky, warm place they all call home.

I can’t recommend the manga highly enough if you liked the anime at all. The anime is phenomenal, but it’s only the prelude.

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Watashi no Yuri wa Oshigoto desu!
(Miman | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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I’ve read three volumes as of the time of writing, though the sixth just came out recently. I’m in pretty much the same situation here as I am with Machikado – this has been extremely enjoyable and I hve a unch of thoughts about the smart things it’s done, but I can’t imagine it’ll be going for all that many more volumes and I’d rather do one big writeup at the end.

I’ll just touch briefly on one of the things I find so clever about it: the use of parallel protagonists. I’ve got a tendency to get really invested in doomed third wheel characters, and that seemed unquestionably where Kanoko was headed. She loves Hime, but it’s obvious that Hime and Mitsuki are going to end up together (the “first volume cover” rule). Kanoko even looks disturbingly like Strawberry Panic’s Tamao, one of the most infamously doomed yuri third wheels of all time. But Watayuri flips this expectation around completely by setting Kanoko up as a lead character in her own right. It’s not just that she seems to be getting a romantic alternative thrown her way as a consolation prize (when many girls in her position don’t even get that). More importantly, this alternate relationship is treated as as entirely on par with Hime and Mitsuki’s. After the latter dominating volumes 1-2, volume 3 placed Kanoko and Sumika center stage.

It’s an absolutely brilliant move and in retrospect I’m kind of dumbfounded it’s not more common. It elevates not just Kanoko but everyone around her. It affords Sumika the opportunity to be more than just the helpful senpai character. It even does wonders for Hime because it allows her to be something more to Kanoko than “the unrequited crush”. Sometimes a character can dominate a story by sheer force of personality even as the third wheel (like Yagakimi’s Sayaka), but that’s extremely hard to pull off. By treating Kanoko as equivalent to Hime, Watayuri is able to do far more interesting things than I’d have otherwise thought possible.

There’s a lot of other points worth touching on, such as the intelligent use of roleplay as a safe space for teasing out interpersonal conflicts, or Hime’s complex relationship with truth and falsehood. But I’ll save all of that for later. For now, Watayuri has worked its way up into the top tier of ongoing manga I’m reading, and I’m eager to continue.

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Otome no Teikoku
(Kishi Torajirou | Shueisha / Shounen Jump+ | 14 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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I arrived at this series in a roundabout way. I think I was looking up an artist on Dynasty Scans for something, and noticed another chapter of this on the Recently Added page. I’ve been seeing it show up there for years and years, but I’d never paid it any mind, probably because the art style didn’t grab me. But for whatever reason, this time I decided to give it a look and find out how the hell a yuri series racked up such a shockingly long run.

It’s very rare for me to read manga in English these days, but I went ahead and mindlessly binged a bunch of it. And oh boy, it was… a mixed bag? For a long time, at least. It’s not until about 50 chapters in where it finally has its “oh shit, this really has gotten good, hasn’t it?” moment. Before then, it suffered immensely from “this is what a drunk frat boy thinks lesbians are”, with a lot of breast grabbing and crude humor and crudely pornographic situations.

And yet, because I was just skimming through it so quickly, and because it had enough interesting relationship dynamics to stop me from outright dropping it, I continued on. Over the course of two or three nights I read 170-some chapters, and I still can’t quite believe the degree to which this manga reinvents itself. I’m honestly so curious how such a thing even came about. Did the mangaka genuinely change their attitude over time and start taking the characters far more seriously? Or did they intentionally pitch a sleazy idea in order to get published in a Jump label, then play the longest con ever as they stealthily worked towards transforming it into an utterly earnest, heartfelt, positive story about an endearing and diverse range of well-realized couples? Either way, it’s utterly remarkable.

I think I read to around volume 12 in the scanslations, and when I find time to come back to it, I’ll pick it back up in Japanese (where it’s up to volume 14). I’ll hold off on saying much about it until I’ve read a bunch more volumes, but suffice to say, it has turned out to be far more worth my time than I expected. This is one time I’m glad I binged, because if I were reading this chapter by chapter, or even volume by volume, I would have noped out pretty early on. I just wish the first few volumes weren’t so dubiously problematic and unserious. They make this manga far more difficult to recommend than I’d like, even though the eventual payoff is excellent.

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Hayama-sensei to Terano-sensei wa Tsukiatteiru
(Oui Pikachi | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 2 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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I don’t really have a lot to say; it’s incredibly fluffy and cute and not much else, but that’s fine, right? It’s great to get more yuri between two adult characters, and them both being teachers is especially welcome. I’m mostly just glad that Oui Pikachi has another serialization, and while this isn’t clicking with me to the extent Demi-Life did, maybe this one will get a longer run than Demi-Life’s two volumes. That’ll give it time to develop meatier character arcs if it so chooses. At the moment, it mostly plays out like a high school slice of life. While they’re both teachers, they get up to some pretty student-like antics. Still, I’m really digging how much support they get from their students, and I hope that angle is explored more in future volumes. These two also aren’t shy about physical intimacy, which is one area where they definitely do act like adults.

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Ongoing, Other

Centaur no Nayami
(Murayama Kei | Tokuma Shoten / Ryu Comics | 19JP/17EN volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing [English])
Tama beating her grandfather unconscious and casually karate shopping massive demons’ heads in two to keep her little sisters safe. A very large Antarctican tests the limits of mammalian society’s ability to assimilate immigrants. Karasuba continues to be extremely horny. The galactic alien space fungi invaders are badly beaten and in hiding but not extinguished. Just Centaur no Nayami things.

 

Flying Witch
(Ishizuka Chihiro | Kodansha / Bessatsu Shounen Magazine | 8 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Only one new volume this whole year, and oh the wait is just torture. Thankfully volume 8 focused a whole lot on progressing Makoto’s witchcraft studies, whereas volume 7 mostly focused on one-off adventures. We also meet a number of new classmates: Hirose and Tachibana, manga research club members who are busy making a volleyball zombie manga together, and the athletic Aino.

Flying Witch continues to nail the unique nature of its magic systems. It’s always practical, yet incredibly flexible and varied. Some fictional magic gets bogged down in rules and limitations, while Flying Witch restricts magic by little more than its wielders’ imaginations. It’s not that there isn’t a ton of craft and precision to it, but it manifests differently for each witch/majo (or magicians/mahoutsukai, as there are very rarely some male witches). We meet a guy whose magic involves advanced electronics and robots, for example. He also tells us about the various magical types, and we learn that Makoto is primarily aligned with very rare “Darkness” type. Seeing Makoto gain a firmer understanding of her skills and dive deeper in the world of witchcraft is something I really hope is kept up in future volumes, just as I hope to see Chinatsu continue to follow in her footsteps.

 

Harukana Receive
(Nyoijizai | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 8 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Another volume in the second half of the year, as the Nationals get into full swing. A fun new love triangle of opponents gets introduced as HaruKana take down their foes and will move onto the next round against Natsuki and Satoko in volume 9. The real stand-out this time was Kanata scheming and strategizing her way through the Sakura/Yae match when Haruka’s usual approach failed. Kanata keeps honing her psychological and tactical play, and it’s a great way to show her filling in her physical gaps with her intelligence and determination. I’m also looking forward to Haruka/Kanata vs Natsuki/Satoko, because like the Harukana/Eclaire match it puts Akari in the position of cheering for and caring deeply about players on both sides, and her ability to navigate those situations is where she *really* shines.

If Nyoijizai intends to conclude this with the Nationals, then volume 10 seems like it’d be the natural end. But damn would I ever be excited to see them go pro together. Those seeds of that development have been germinating for a few volumes now, and it seems like the natural next step for the story. It’s also be a reason to keep Haruka and Kanata together, which I’m all about. But it’s probably more likely that they’ll win the Nationals and cap off the story with their decision to go pro, but we won’t actually see their career play out.

 

Kase-san series
(Takashima Hiromi | Shinshokan / Flash Wings | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Technically this is Volume 1 of “Yamada to Kase-san.” More importantly… They’re! Finally! In! College! It’s amazing that a series so notoriously slow to change the status quo – going so far as to rehash their earliest meetings other over and over and over again – is one of the rare series to successfully make the jump from high school to college.

That said, it’s not like arriving in college fundamentally changes the tone. These girls had honest to goodness sex at the end of the original series, and yet in the span of one volume we get not one, not two, but three “last second interrupted kiss” scenes. It’s not that they don’t kiss at all in this volume, but I don’t really understand how we’re supposed to buy that this is a serious source of narrative tension when their relationship has long since moved so far beyond the tittering giggles of bashful first love.

But what honestly excites me the most about this new series is that we may finally see the cast expand meaningfully. We all love Tomoka and Yui, sure, but the series always felt a little handicapped by having no one else to focus on. I have to imagine that’s why we got so much roundabout re-treading of material in the original series. But I’m hoping that with Tomoka’s roommate (Kaori, seems pretty Tomoka-gay) and Yui’s classmate (Hana, who is omega cute), Takashima will finally feel ready to write other major characters for our leads to bounce off of. That’s going to be absolutely vital to mixing up up the dynamic.

 

Kirara Fantasia
(Kounosu Satori | Houbunsha / Comic Fuz | 0 volumes | Ongoing | No volume solicited yet.)
It’s the manga adaptation of the Kirara Fantasia game! And there’s not a whole lot else to say. Right now it’s releasing mini-chapters spaced relatively far apart considering how short they are, and it’s exclusive to Houbunsha’s digital platform called Comic Fuz. Only the first three chapters went up for free, and since I don’t really like reading chapter by chapter and already plan to pay when it’s released in a volume, I guess this is on hold until then. Obviously I already know the story from the game so I don’t expect anything major new in here, but the art is phenomenal and from the little bit I was able to read I’m pretty excited to see it play out again in a new medium.

 

Konohana Kitan
Konohanatei: (Amano Sakuya | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime S | 2 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
Konohana: (Amano Sakuya | Gentosha / Denshi Birz → Comic Boost | 9 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Some pretty major developments went down in volume 9! There is a bit more time devoted to Momo and the miko gang, which I am always a little ambivalent about. Amano obviously adores them and I’m sure she wants to do a whole spinoff miko manga, but as cute as they are I often find myself wishing that time went towards the main characters and/or more of the beautiful one-off stories this series does so well.

The centerpiece of this volume however is the long-awaited conclusion to the Kiri/Yae/Sakura backstory arc. Yae pays her own life to save Sakura’s, but it doesn’t happen right away. No, that’d be too easy… instead, she has to spend her last six months of life, stripped of her memories, constantly forgetting the people she’s cared about all her life like an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s. Ookami arranges for Yae to spend the time she has left as a guest at Konohanatei, and Kiri revolves to be her caretaker. Seeing Kiri putting on a brave face while introducing herself to the woman she loves, as if they were strangers, is devastating. At the very end of her life, Yae remembers Kiri… but it’s the last moment they share.

We come away from this with a clear understanding of why Kiri is the way she is. She acts the big sister towards her kouhai is her attempt to live up to Yae’s example, and her affection for Sakura comes from her love for Sakura’s mother. Her patience with the Konohanatei attendants is born of recognizing her own hastiness as a younger girl, and her regret that she didn’t appreciate everything she had while she had it. It can be hard for flashbacks with known outcomes to really pull their emotional weight, but my god, this one moved mountains.

This would be one of the stronger volumes on that alone, but then we end with the single most exciting development of the entire series: Satsuki and Yuzu going on a journey together! I admit part of me fears that this means we’re getting near the end of the series. But the rest of me is just dying to see what putting these two together in close quarters, alone, for an extended period of time, will let Amano do to progress their relationship. This isn’t just some business trip either, it’s explicitly framed as Satsuki questioning what she wants to do with her future, weighing a chance to become a miko against remaining at Konohanatei (and by extension, with Yuzu). And Yuzu’s involvement is purely a result of her own concern for Satsuki and her desire to be by her side when she’s struggling. All of the elements you could possibly want are there to light some big time fireworks between them, and I just. cannot. wait. to see how close they come by the end of this.

It’s also just a super exciting change of pace to totally change your setting 9 (11 total) volumes in to the story from a location that’s defined its very title to an open-ended journey that could lead anywhere. Volume 10, I need it more than oxygen.

 

Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru
(Hagino Makoto | Kadokawa / Dengeki Maou | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Oooof, volume six was not kind to these girls.

We finally get the continuation of volume five’s cliffhanger ending, and it leads straight into a downward spiral for Konatsu. She’s shocked and jealous to learn how close Koyuki and Kaede are, and she hates herself for feeling that way. She knows she should be happy that Koyuki is making more friends. After all she’s the one who wanted everyone to see Koyuki’s charms and acknowledge her as a normal person, rather than an unapproachable honor student. But that’s easier said than done when you’re as in love as you are in denial. Konatsu’s emotional burden is vividly illustrated through the metaphor of the salamander, which becomes a hulking, foreboding presence in panel after panel until it dwarfs them both.

Koyuki isn’t particularly successful in figuring out what’s going on with Konatsu either. Reading others is a struggle for her at the best of times, but she’s also distracted with navigating the new and complicated interpersonal dynamics between he and her classmates. She doesn’t handle this flawlessly either either. The incident where Koyuki calls out one of her new friends for underaged drinking at karaoke is just the most painfully awful sort of situation: Koyuki isn’t in the wrong, but she did humiliate a girl who took a chance on her, and christ it just sucks for all involved. Even the last minute “rescue” from Konatsu feels deeply awkward and self-serving on Konatsu’s part. It figures that just as Koyuki patches things up with her fanily, things start to fall apart with Konatsu.

And then there’s Kaede, who somewhat to my surprise really does seem to be trying to help Konatsu and Koyuki along… but it’s unclear whether her heart is pushing her in another direction, despite her intentions. Right now the love triangle is more of a misunderstanding than a reality, but I don’t know if that’ll hold. She’s doing some herculean work trying to juggle these emotionally needy friends of hers, and I hope she’s both up to that task. I also hope she doesn’t hurt herself in the process!

So much for any catharsis at the end of this volume: we’re left dangling from an even bigger cliff than last time, as Konatsu fumbles her chance to finally pour her heart out to Koyuki. Nothing goes right for anyone in this volume. It’s painful all around, but it’s the most excellent, juicy sort of drama there is. It definitely feels like we’re entering the final stretch here; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we’ve only got two volumes left to go.

 

Slow Start
(Tokumi Yuiko | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
I’ve caught up on all six volume that are out and oh my god what a ride it’s been. While there hasn’t been quite as much HanaTama movement as I’d hoped (which isn’t to say there’s been none), the big focus has been on Eiko and Enami. Buuuuut I’m a little miffed at volume six. We get not one, but two “Enami and Eiko are getting intimate, but lol it’s just Tama dreaming” scenes. Tokumi Yuiko, I fully appreciate that you’re extremely horny for Enami/Eiko (and please, never ever change in that regard!) but if you’re being held against your will by Houbunsha editors who won’t let you do it for real, please blink twice for the camera and we’ll send help your way!

Anyway, this manga still kicks ass, and if Tokumi is eventually going somewhere with all this, the payoff will be glorious. I feel like Tama’s Eiko/Enami dreams are actually just a safety valve releasing steam so the gay-fueled power plant that sustains her hyperactive personality doesn’t overheat and meltdown. But you know what else you could do to release that pent-up energy, Tama? CONFESS TO HANA!

DO IT TOKUMI, DO IIIIIITTTTTTTT!

 
 


Ongoing, Waiting
These series are still in my ongoing pile, but either nothing new was released in the last six months, or I haven’t read any additional volumes.

Citrus+
(Saburouta | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 1 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
The first volume did come out in the second half of the year, but because I’d been reading individual chapters in the magazine, the only new material in that volume was the last two chapters. I’ll wait on commenting more until a new volume is out. So far though, I enjoy it! It’s a lot more substantial than I anticipated (I expected a fairly light comedic spinoff). Just give us Matsuri x Harumi soon. I beg of you, Saburouta.

 

Hinamatsuri
(Ootake Masao | Kadokawa / Harta | 17 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
…I really do need to get back to this one day. It’s just… so hard… when there’s so much yuri out there…

 

Houkago Strip
(Wakadori Nikomi | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara | 2 volumes | Completed | Bookwalker Listing)
Volume two is apparently going to be the end, unfortunately. It actually comes out on Monday Jan 27th, so at this point I could just wait and read it and cover it in this post. But I’m absolutely determined to finally get this damn post out by this weekend, so I’ll get to it in the 2020 mid-year post.

 

2 Responses to “2019 Manga Year in Review”

  1. Avatar Anon says:

    I just want to thank you for writing these posts, as a huge fan of yuri and slice of life manga I always look forward to them. By the way, since you are so fond of Urara I really recommend following Harikamo on Twitter if you haven’t already, she still draws new Urara content there and also posts updates about her upcoming serialization.

    • something something says:

      Yep I follow Harikamo, though I haven’t noticed if she’s announced what her next serialization is yet. Hope it’s in Kirara again.

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