I'll likely be talking about this again in December, but we're getting a bounty of yuri titles this year unlike anything manga readers have seen previously. It's not just that Seven Seas is picking up more titles, it's that other publishers are getting in on the act too, as seen with today's review.
KISS & WHITE LILY FOR MY DEAREST GIRL (Ano Ko ni Kiss to Shirayuri o), by Canno. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2017.
Ayaka Shiramine is used to being number one. Her grades have always put her at the top of her class and she's worked hard to cultivate a cool, calm and collected demeanor. Then she meets Yurine Kurosawa, who manages to be both a better student and better athlete than Ayaka despite refusing to join any teams and sleeping through class. Yurine isn't interested in that stuff, but Ayaka soon discovers that Yurine is very interested in her personally. Meanwhile, Ayaka's best friend Mizuki has problems of her own. She's love with her friend and fellow track team member Moe, but Mizuki is afraid that she's going to get overshadowed by Moe's efforts to bring Yurine onto their team.
While I can say with certainty that I liked Kiss & White Lily, I do think that it stumbles somewhat in its presentation. There are elements about it that I like a lot, ones that do a lot to shake up the typical schoolgirl yuri formula. On the other hand, I think splitting the volume between two different relationships does neither any favors.
Ayaka and Yukine have an interesting, quasi-antagonistic sort of dynamic. This isn't a case of two girl friends who fall for one another, but instead a girl who finds herself falling for her biggest rival. Poor Ayake has a massive inferiority complex, one that she can only keep at bay by being pretty, perfect, and #1 in all things. In a way, she reminds me of Yukino from Kare Kano, save for the fact that she pursues perfection out of insecurity instead of ego. Anyway, it's only natural that such a neurotic girl would be driven crazy by Yurine, who doesn't even have to try to succeed but clearly feels alienated because of that. She's a rather strange character herself. She comes off as a bit of space cadet at first glance, but once she's alone with Ayaka, she demonstrates a more intense and focused side of herself. She clearly relishes the notion of having a proper rival and is intrigued by Ayaka herself. Meanwhile, her behavior only adds to Ayaka's frustration and turns her obsession with a rival into a full-fledged, frustrating crush. This feels like the sort of middle ground I've been seeking when it comes to yuri. While Ayaka and Yurine don't follow the sweet yet sometimes shallow yuri formula, neither do they descend to the disturbing depths of works like Citrus or Netsuzou Trap. It's a relationship that's just uncomfortable and unpredictable enough to leave me on the edge of my seat and that's not a sensation I'm used to when it comes to manga romance.
Sadly, just as things are getting good, the story derails to follow Mizuki and Moe's story. It's not a bad one by any means, and it doesn't come out of nowhere. After all, Mizuki shows up frequently in the first half and part of the plot concerns Ayaka trying to get Yurine to come out of her shell, interact with the other girls, and give the track team a chance. It's also well-written in its own right, as Mizuki comes to terms with the realization that she's gotten used to them being regarded as a pair and craves Moe's singular attention. That being said, Mizuki and Moe's lacks the intensity of the first half and thus it can't help but come off as a bit lacking in comparison. That only adds to the feeling of it being a distraction from the real story between Ayaka and Yurine. That's why I feel like splitting the stories does neither of them any favors. It distracts from the main attraction, but it also does a disservice to an otherwise excellent side story.
The quality of Canno's artwork is just as surprising as her storytelling. The girls are all cute, but there's also something very naturalistic about the way she draws their bodies and their movements. They have a sense of dimension that isn't always common in manga art, much less yuri. It gives every page a sense of reality that it might not possess otherwise had she gone in a more generically cutesy or broad and comedic direction. It's not something she shows off all the time, but when someone gets dragged down a hall or pinned against a wall, you can almost feel it. It's also well-composed, as she strikes a good balance between the more emotionally intense close-ups and the more active wide shots in her paneling and makes it all flow smoothly as silk on the page. It's not the sort of artwork that would necessarily catch the eye, but upon close inspection it's clear that Canno is a skillful and well-rounded artist.
Kiss & White Lily add some complex and dark flavor to the typical schoolgirl yuri romance along with some great artwork. Together it creates a compelling work that was an excellent choice for Yen Press's first foray into yuri and one that I look forward to seeing more of.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes available. 1 volume has been published and is currently in print. This series is also available in ebook form.