I’ve never been shy about the fact that I enjoy things intended for a female audience. I like the emphasis on emotions and relationships, romantic and otherwise, and the calm atmosphere is a refreshing break from the typical frenetic fare targeted at males. Despite the gender gap, most elements of these types of stories aren’t alienating to me; my closest friends growing up were female, so constant chatter centering on hair, makeup and clothes is almost nostalgic.
However, there was always one point where both my childhood friends and shoujo manga would begin to lose me: boys. Not only did I have trouble relating to many of my male friends, but I was never attracted to them. So, while I enjoy the perspective shoujo stories are told from, I always have trouble sympathizing with the main character’s romantic interest. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy and appreciate it anyway, but if heightened empathetic appeal is one of the primary draws, it certainly does bring the enjoyment down a notch. The solution seems obvious, but for a long time it was notorious for having its own problems.
More cute pictures after the break!
As recently as three or four years ago, it was something of an in-joke among yuri fans that being a lesbian character in anime and manga was the equivalent of being African-American in slasher film. It seemed like nearly every good major work which was partially or mainly centered around yuri was either destined to end in blood and tears or, if the writer felt especially generous, to reduce it to kids being kids. If the author didn’t want to do either of those, they would be unashamedly vague, turn some of them into men, or it would just be terrible instead. I enjoy a good tragedy (perhaps a little too much), but I do want to see a happy ending more often than never. Up until I lost track of anime in at the end of 2007, you could count every major yuri work with a happy ending on one hand even if you were a bit clumsy with an axe as a kid.
Being the jaded jerk that I am, I wasn’t expecting much when I started hearing about new yuri. However, I was in for a very pleasant surprise when I picked anime and manga back up again this year. Part of that surprise was called Aoi Hana, or Sweet Blue Flowers for people who like English. Finally, here was a yuri anime that was not only emotionally engrossing but wasn’t afraid of where it was going. It carries itself confidently and unapologetically, telling an endearing story which manages to deal with heartbreak without becoming drenched in angst. It was a breath of fresh air and a wonderful example of what the genre could be. It’s hard to find a review of Aoi Hana that isn’t glowing with praise, and for good reason. After years of watching everyone die and break up, this comes along and manages to be liberating and entertaining. Given the creator’s other work, Wandering Son, this seems to be a theme for her. Not only is it good yuri, which in itself is pretty rare, it’s a good romantic slice-of-life story that can easily stand with the best of that genre, as well.
And there was more. Girl Friends, which I had been loosely following before I dropped everything, had finished while I wasn’t looking. It never ends up being more than fluff that consciously decides not to tackle any hard issues, but it was still an enjoyable read with a satisfying and happy ending–something which had been conspicuously rare in yuri works. Sasameki Koto has also managed to be entertaining and funny despite being unremarkable, and has the added bonus of the manga still being published. Candy Boy (the matter of whether or not it’s actually yuri aside) is well-written and charming and, despite its lack of substance and relatively small amount of material, shows promise.
Finding not just one of the elusive yuri titles which are both entertaining and end somewhat happily, but several, made me glad I decided to jump back into this hobby. The progression and evolution of storytelling and relatively large amount of creative independence allowed in the manga and anime industry is what drew me to it in the first place. Seeing that this force had been hard at work even while I wasn’t paying attention reminded me of this in a big way. I don’t think I’ll be losing interest in this hobby again any time soon.