Monday, December 4, 2017

Holiday Review: AFTER HOURS

The most surprising thing about this year's yuri boom was seeing Viz get in on the act.  Viz has always been one of the more cautious manga publishers when it comes to their licenses, so for them to pick up a couple of yuri titles is an incredibly encouraging sign for the future of yuri in the US.  As easy as it would have been to pick their long-awaited print release of Sweet Blue Flowers here, I wanted instead to talk about the other yuri title Viz picked up.

AFTER HOURS, by Yuhta Nishio.  First published in 2015, and first published in North America in 2017.


Emi's night out at the club is going badly.  Her best friend bailed on her to hit on a guy and now she's being cornered by a weird drunk.  The night is saved when Kei, the DJ, takes her under her wing and shows her a good time.  Now Emi finds herself increasingly drawn into Kei's world and to Kei herself, but at some point will have to come to terms with stuff like her current apartment and the boyfriend she's supposed to be living with...


My prayers have been answered!  This is the sort of yuri manga I've been wanting to read in English since I started this site!  It's a story about adult women! Doing adult things! Dealing with adult issuse!  And not a single high school in sight!

I cannot express the sheer novelty of reading a story about a 24-year-old and a 30-year-old.  What's also great is that their ages actually factor into their personalities and problems.  For example, Kei has the confidence and assurance of a woman who has reached her thirties.  She knows what she wants out of her life, be it from her work, her friends, or her hook-ups.  Emi, on the other hand, is fairly fresh out of college, drifting in and out of work, with no strong interests or feelings of her own.  It makes perfect sense that she would find Kei's confidence and openness alluring.  It also makes sense why she would more or less move in with Kei after their first night together and keep putting off and avoiding dealing with what few responsibilities she does currently have.

What really struck me about After Hours, though, was the sort of ephemeral moments and moods it captures.  There's the coziness of a makeshift dinner in a tiny apartment, the camaraderie of friends shooting the shit in a late-night dinner, the peace of a sunrise over a normally busy street.  Moments like these feel like they were actually taken from life, or at least written by someone who actually has some life experiences to refer to.  As good as Emi and Kei are (as individuals and as a couple), it's the atmosphere around them that makes After Hours truly special.


If After Hours has any downsides, it's the female character designs.  While they are cute as hell, they're also very moe and more than a little childish.  You wouldn't guess that this is a romance between two adult women just from looking at the cover.  It's also not done across the board, as the guys who do show up show a bit more variety in faces and body types.  At least the girls are stylish, and I do like how Emi's tendency to wear her hair in plaits or pigtails helps to visually reinforce her relative immaturity to the reader.

I also appreciate the fact that it takes a very discreet and matter-of-fact approach to its potential fanservice.  When Emi and Kei do sleep together, the scene fades to white.  The only other time we see them naked is in the local public bathhouse, and even then the scene doesn't focus on their bodies (or even draw in the nipples), keeping the focus on the ladies and not their lady bits.  That matter-of-fact approach also applies to the backgrounds.  While most are clearly drawn from reference, they are mostly ordinary street fronts or the interior or Kei's cozy, vinyl-filled apartment.


After Hours is possibly the best yuri series to come out this year that virtually no one is talking about.  That's a real shame because it's such a pleasant change from the norm.  It's not just a well-written romance, but one with a lot of atmosphere and moments that will feel familiar to a lot of adult readers.  I want this to be a success not just for its own sake, but with the hope that it might spur others to license other manga like it.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 2 volumes available.  1 volume has been published and is currently in print.

Want to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate to purchase manga like this one?  Then make sure to enter the Manga Test Drive's annual Holiday Review Giveaway here!

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