Maybe I've been a little TOO hard on Seven Seas. Yes, they release a lot of harem-y, fanservice-y works, but they've also taken a chance on bringing yuri back to the mainstream manga market. Having never read any yuri myself, I decided to take a chance on one of their titles and was pleasantly surprised by this one volume wonder.
KISSES, SIGHS, AND CHERRY BLOSSOM PINK (Kuchiburu Tameiki Sakurairo), by Milk Morinaga. First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2013.
Nana and Hitomi have been best friends through junior high. Near the end of junior high, Hitomi kisses Nana, and she dismisses it as a joke. The two end up in different high schools, and Nana is heartbroken over the loss of her friend. She discovers that she feels bad about Hitomi, and that her feelings for Hitomi have developed into love. The two begin to date, but struggle with working around their different schedules and interests, classmates from both schools who begin to get suspicious about the two, and coming to terms with their own desires and the dynamics of being in a relationship. Mind you, they are far from the only Sapphic relationship in their schools, as the girls around them go through similar sorts of same-sex crushes and relationships - some requited, some not.
This is not a continuous story, but an anthology of chapters published over many years. In spite of this, this volume feels very cohesive because it wisely anchors the various chapters to a single relationship. Better still, Morinaga gives that central relationship a lot of development and substance, and in some ways it feels more complete than most manga relationships (gay or straight) tend to be.
I liked the fact that we get to see Nana and Hitomi's relationship develop over time. So much romance in manga tends to focus solely on the build-up to the couple getting together. We don't usually get to see the two partners figure out how to make dating once they are together. That's why it's so refreshing to see these girls have to deal with the consequences of dating. How can they find time to see one another when they have to work around two very different social cliques and activities? How do they keep they balance their desire to keep the relationship a secret with the romantic urge to declare their love from the rooftops? How do they deal with their burgeoning sexual feelings for one another? Does someone have to be 'the guy' in the relationship? The story never gets too explicit or oppressive with these questions - after all, this isn't a hentai and neither is it an after-school special - but the fact that they are brought up at all help to give their relationship some dimension, that a relationship has to evolve beyond blushing confessions and first kisses. On the other hand, the brief bits of drama around them tend to be resolved almost a little TOO neatly, as if Morinaga was afraid to disrupt the otherwise sweetly serene tone of the chapters. Sometimes, it feels like Nana and Hitomi's relationship is all the highlights of being with someone and being deeply in love without any of the perils or downfalls.
Admittedly it's also rather convenient that so many girls around Nana and Hitomi are also experiencing similar feelings for other girls, but there's enough distance between the various parties and the main couple as to keep things tightly interwoven without EVERYONE around Nana and Hitomi being gay. Characters from the various one-shot chapters pop up here and there in later chapters either as supporting characters or just simply background filler. The one-off chapters tend to be a little more repetitious in structure, about one girl confessing her love to another in some form. Most of the time the feelings are requited; some are not. Most of them are down-to-earth, save for an early chapter about a ghost in love with the school nurse, who was her best friend before her death. My personal favorite was the chapter about the school drama club, where the star actress has taken to practicing her role as the 'prince' in the school play a little more seriously than the other girls expected.
There's also a certain degree of similarity in the couples, and I don't know whether this is due to Morinaga's personal preferences or whether these traits are part of the yuri equivalent of the seme/uke clichés. Nonetheless, you will see a lot of chapters where shorter, darker-haired, more passive girls are paired with taller, lighter-haired, and more aggressive or outgoing ones.
It has a few minor blemishes, but Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink is an anthology that is not only as sweet and lovely as the imagery of its title, but also takes pains to give its central romance some depth and to neatly tie its chapters together into its own little universe.
This is a collection of Morinaga's earlier works, but you wouldn't be able to tell just from looking at it. Morinaga's character designs are very much within the shoujo mold, all rounded, delicate, and frequently blushing. The art style is quite consistent, which also helps to visually tie the different stories together. She also does a good job at visually distinguishing the various girls involved, so we have at least some idea of who's who and can recognize them as they appear and reappear throughout. Backgrounds are nicely drawn, even if they mostly consist of classrooms and bedrooms, and while Morinaga tends to break out the shoujo sparkles and bubbles frequently, it's never to the point of abuse. Overall the book looks as pretty and sweet as its stories, and it only adds to the pleasure of reading it.
There are some notes on each of the chapters from Morinaga, as well as an extremely useful relationship chart to help the reader keep track of how the girls all relate to one another.
This volume is published by Seven Seas. It is currently in print.
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