OK, let's look at some proper yuri from the genre's first and biggest supporter: Seven Seas. They put out a lot of good yuri titles this year, but this one may be the cheeriest of them all.
KASE-SAN AND MORNING GLORIES (Kase-san shirizu...), by Hiromi Takashima. First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2017.
Yamada and Kase first meet when they discover that they have been both tending a patch of morning glories on the school grounds. From that point on, Yamada is obsessed with Kase but believes herself to be too untalented to be worth of Kase's notice. Will Yamada ever find the courage to tell Kase how she feels? Or at least stop denying her feelings long enough to realize she's in love?
Plot-wise, Kase-san doesn't do a lot differently that most of the other yuri titles out there. It's about a couple of high-school girls, with one who is short and femme and another who is tall and athletic. There's a lot of misunderstandings and denials along with cutely awkward moments of romance, all capped off with a kiss. So what makes Kase-san stand out from the rest? It's the fact that it is completely, sincerely happy from beginning to end.
That's not to suggest that there is no conflict, although most of it is internal and on Yamada's part. Poor Yamada has a lot of self-esteem issues, not helped by her so-called friends mocking her name and dragging her into social situations where she's clearly not comfortable. It's little wonder that she would find the most comfort in being alone with the school's flower beds and why she blossoms so much as a person under Kase's gentle encouragement. It's also amusing to see just how much Yamada tries to deny her gayness, as if repeating the mantra of "but we're both girls!" will somehow banish her blatant and undeniable thirst for Kase. She's also not great at communicating her feelings, and a lot of the little issues she deals with between her and Kase are the sort that would easily be solved with a five minute conversation.
Still, there's just something so pervasively sunny about seeing these two get together. Theirs is not a romance marked by moments of high drama but instead by the simple, down-to-earth joys of singing along badly to a favorite song or going out on a shopping trip together. It's a yuri series with a slice-of-life sort of sensibility, and it's a welcome antidote to both the melodrama that tends to define yuri and to a year desperately in need of simple joys and warmth.
Takashima's art is equally bright and sunny, if not always so polished. She struggles sometimes with proportions, especially with Kase's arms. She draws these wonderfully cute and wacky faces, but they sometimes seem too small for the girls' heads and at other times seem to drift across them in weird ways. Maybe it's because they are seldom drawn with noses to anchor them to their heads. It gets less frequent as the volume goes on, but it can be kind of jarring at first glance.
Despite those misgivings, there's a certain charm to it all. I particularly like the way the girls will often extend or step out of their frames, which gives the paneling a loose, almost breezy quality. The girls' expressions are lively, adding a lot of comedy. What little fanservice can be found is framed less in the traditional manner, where the viewer themselves is passively ogling the characters, but instead as from the viewpoint of either Yamada or Kase as they furtively stare at one another's bodies. It's an unusual approach, but one that negates the creepiness that usually comes with such moments, which might otherwise spoil the mood.
Kase-san doesn't necessarily tread any new narrative ground and struggles a little with its art in the early chapters, but it more that makes up for that with little moments of nuance and a cheerful attitude. I look forward to seeing this animated next year, but you shouldn't wait until then to start reading it for yourself.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published and are currently in print.
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