So last year, aka the Abyss Stares Back 2017 Fuckstravaganza, I had originally intended to do a post about yuri manga aimed at women, since popular yuri is a complete minefield of lesbian porn for dudebros and then maybe once in a while an actual story about lesbians aimed at the people it’s about. The post got lost when my life went to shit, but I mentioned it in passing to Keleri the other day and thought, hmm, I should go back to that, and then I read The Bride Was a Boy which was so delightful I had to post about it, so it was re-born as this!
A semi-important note: a bunch of these I read over a year ago, so while you’re 100% welcome to make “How could you rec this when on page 5 situation X is super problematic etc etc” comments, the honest answer is that I probably just forgot about that and remembered the parts I liked. Please make those comments if you feel the need because they’re useful, but I likely won’t be able to meaningfully respond. D:
Anyway. Inside: Love My Life, Blue, The Bride Was a Boy, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, My Brother’s Husband
Love My Life
I don’t believe this has ever gotten an English release, unfortunately, and as it was published in 2001, is probably unlikely to. Which is a shame, because it’s a very nice coming-of-age story about a young woman and her girlfriend as they start their adult lives. The author has a unique art style that grew on my as I read, and I liked how clean it was. This is unfortunately one of the ones I read a reeeeeally long time ago, so I don’t remember much of the details, but I do remember very much liking Eri’s conflict of success on her terms vs. success on her family’s terms, as well as the plot kickoff of Ichiko coming out as gay to her father only for him to shock her by saying he and her mom were gay too, and married as a way to get by socially. I have a lasting impression of it as a positive, realistic story about what it’s like to be a young adult and the restrictiveness of Japanese society.
Blue is one that I overall was quite ambivalent toward, but it has a phenomenally striking minimalistic, high-contrast art style that’s just really wonderful and that like 99% of why it’s here. The story centers on two high-school age girls who realize they’ve developed feelings for each other, and them navigating their relationship and trying to decide if they want to come out. It ultimately ends (uh, spoilers) with one of the girls deciding she wants to come out and the other deciding to bow to the pressure of her family to lead a socially acceptable life. My main issue with it was that I thought it wasn’t clear enough that the second girl was bowing to social pressure, and it presented it too much like this was a totally happy choice for a lesbian to make. I’m not actually sure what the artist’s intent was, but it kind of felt like she chickened out of a more pointed social critique. So, yeah, I really super did not like the ending, but it has a lot going for it otherwise, especially the art. It was also published in 2001, which was somehow like 20 years ago, so that may account for some of the ending’s weirdness.
The Bride Was a Boy
This is one of those manga that you read and it just makes you happy manga exists. This is the autobiographical story of Chii, a trans woman, told via her relationship with her now-husband. It uses their wedding as a framing device to explore Chii’s personal journey through childhood, adolescence, and transition; she also talks about 101 stuff like “what do these terms mean” and more serious stuff like the legal status of trans people in Japan. It actually reminded me a lot of What Is Obscenity, in that it tackled a very serious topic is a very happy, upbeat way that just kind of made you smile. It also helps that the chibi-style art is very endearing. Unlike the rest of these, it’s a story about everything going right — her family accepts her, she finds a guy who truly loves her, etc. — which is, as always, a relief to read in the current climate. Anyway, basically everyone I know IRL and online who’s read it is raving about it, and it really is that great, so check it out!
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness
I am super late to the party on this one, but this is another autobiographical manga that is every bit as good as everyone is saying! I actually found this to be much more a story about mental illness told via a story about sexuality than a story about her being a lesbian (she never talks about coming out, or navigating social situations as a gay woman, or politics, etc.), but that could also be a case of my relating super hard to her suite of problems, which include depression and anxiety as well as both anorexia and binge eating disorder.
I actually made Mr. Act screen this for me and he ended up really loving it too and we’ve been just talking all weekend about how well what she says maps onto what I’ve gone through and he’s gone through via me. I’m also happy to report it didn’t bother me at all triggerwise, I think because she talks about having the feelings instead of really describing how they feel, if that makes sense? Anyway I crumble into a heap if someone saying “eating disorder” in a five-mile radius of my house and this somehow didn’t bother me, so take that as you will.
The frame story here is that the author is sick of being depressed and alone, and wants contact so badly she hires a prostitute. It opens with her and the escort in a hotel getting undressed and then does a kind of record-scratch, “I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation!” thing. It takes this somewhat odd experience and uses it to tell a very heartfelt story about her life.
My Brother’s Husband
When Yaichi’s brother dies in Canada, he’s forced to confront the fact that his brother was gay, because his Canadian husband, Mike, has come for the funeral. This is a realistic story about not just how far Japan has to go in accepting gay men, but also about larger cultural differences between North America and Japan.
It very sweetly uses Yaichi’s daughter, Kana, as a way to show that prejudices aren’t inborn, whether they be about social issues or cultural differences (“Japanese people don’t hug,” Yaichi explains when Kana asks why Mike will hug her but he won’t). It does a good job of portraying Yaichi as a decent person struggling with internalized prejudice, and also confronts how overcoming that prejudice can isolate you from people who don’t reject dominant cultural narratives.
I’m making it sound like kind of a sad story, but it’s really not, especially because Mike is a such a gregarious, happy person, who’s grateful for his in-laws even though he obviously knows Yaichi is struggling with the whole situation. It definitely has an optimistic view of the future, and of individuals. It’s just a really great heartwarming story about family and how we’re all the same.
Also, and this is an aside, it’s really interesting to see how art aimed at gay men differs from that aimed at women. The way the camera moves is different, the way the men are designed and portrayed is different, etc. I’d actually go as far as to say that on an artistic level, yuri for women has more in common with stories about men aimed at women. There was definitely a ‘this is Not For Me’ vibe I got that I don’t get when I read josei yuri that I found really fascinating. Anyway when dudebros whine about how their power fantasies are actually what everyone wants, it’s worht pointing out that not only is what other demos want different from them, it’s also different from each other, which is something that I think gets lost a lot in that conversation. TMYK ====*