Friday, September 14, 2018

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl volume 1 was uneven but shows promise (Manga Review)

Ayaka and Yurine
I have been resistant to reading Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl volume 1 by Canno (published in the US by Yen Press) for more than a year. I'm not exactly sure why, but the cover art was definitely part of it. It just didn't speak to me. I think it was the use of a lot of tertiary colors and a pretty busy design. For whatever reason, despite my love of yuri that is focused on sweetness and stolen glances, I just wasn't interested.

I finally read volume 1 this week and was pleasantly surprised by the first two chapters only to be let down by the next three.

In volume 1 we meet Ayaka Shiramine, the perfect girl, smart, looked up to, hard working. We also meet her new rival in high-school, the seemingly lazy but crazy brilliant Yurine Kurosawa. For reasons I will discuss, I was really taken by the first two chapters, however...

Chapter three and four suddenly shifts the focus to Ayaka's track-captain cousin and her love interest, the track-manager. While their story was sweet, it was also pretty by-the-books. It did intersect with Ayaka and Yurine's, but wasn't nearly as strong because those two new characters, so far at least, were not nearly as interesting.

The first two chapters pleasantly surprised me because they focused on two fairly flawed characters and their interesting interactions with each other. Ayaka is somewhat rude and obnoxious in private and Yurine treads the line between contempt and boredom with other people while actually being curious and unsure about how to fit in with others.

Ayaka's obnoxious behavior, which she only shows to Yurine and her cousin, Mizuki, sparks interest in Yurine that becomes, perhaps, love. Ayaka is interesting to her in a way others are not, although we get glimpses that what Yurine feels is lack of interest in others may be trouble relating to people.

Ayaka seems both mad at Yurine for bringing romance into what she feels is a rivalry, and yet also seems fairly interesting romantically in Yurine in a tsundere sort of way. She can be both aggressive, pissed, sweet, or lustful all within moments.

I do have an issue with Yurine forcibly kissing Ayaka without consent initially. We wouldn't accept it from a boy/man, so we shouldn't accept lack of consent from a girl/woman either. However, forgiving that social justice/narrative problem, it was really cute to see how Ayaka becomes infatuated with Yurine both as an academic rival but also as a romantic interest. Ayaka doesn't do the whole "am I or aren't I interested in girls?" thing, she just kisses Yurine back when she feels like it and complains about her lazy genius the rest of the time. There is a simple nonchalance about it that works well. This duality is captured particularly well in a sort of romantic scene on the balcony that gets interrupted.

But as I said, after the first two chapters, we spend the next two on a really boring couple. I don't have much to say other than it's ho-hum. Where someone like Milk Morinaga-sensei can take simple, by-the-books, meet-cute, fall in love. happy ending and somehow it feels fresh and winning, this just felt derivative.

Then chapter 5 sort of returns us to the main couple, but they aren't together at all in the chapter and we get Yurine hanging out with another friend. Although this gives us some glimpses at Yurine's complex relationship with trying to befriend others, there isn't much payoff until the very end when Ayaka reenters the narrative. It's a pretty good payoff and the duality of her feelings for Yurine come through. They are a winning non-couple.

Overall the writing feels more genuine than Bloom into You which I'm still struggling over. Narratively though, it's still pretty much only focused on falling in love or not, and no depth or time is spent on other aspects of their lives. There is also no overarching narrative or storyline other than falling in love. When can yuri and LGBTQ characters just fit into a story about something else? I am getting a bit bored of the high-school yuri that doesn't have any plot other than falling in love.

The art continues, like so much other high-school yuri, to have a more modern cute look. I really do miss more traditional shoujo art, but perhaps that's just not where the trends are. For what it is, it's well done. Characters are easily identifiable (good for me because I have trouble with faces in real life) and screentones and contrast are suitably used. There isn't anything extraordinary about it, but it works fine.

In the end, we have two really engaging chapters, two boring chapters, and one muddled chapter that feels like a side story but has a good pay-off in the end. Where will it go in volume 2? I'm willing to give it a chance because of the dynamic between Ayaka and Yurine. But in truth, this volume is a 6/10 ("read with reservations") however it does show promise despite being very uneven.

For another take, you can check out Erica Friedman's review on Okazu: She brings up several similar points and some different ones as well, particularly the absence of men and the "pair em up" approach the series takes (or will over subsequent volumes).


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