Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"Yuri Is My Job" Volume 1 is about to be unemployed (Manga Review)


I'm an unabashed fan of yuri anime and manga. I'm also an unabashed fan of Maria Watches Over Us (Marimite), that seminal light-novel/anime which restarted the yuri boom and also helped to define some of its current visual/plot conventions. "Yuri is my Job" Volume 1 (Kodansha Comics) sounded like a fun take on the genre. But what sounded like a great idea, was actually quite disappointing in its execution.

"Yuri is my Job" is a comedy yuri manga about a first-year high-school girl who gets roped into working as a waitress in a cafe. What makes this cafe unique is that it is modeled on an all-girls school, similar to those in Marimite (which of course was based on the historical Catholic schools of a century ago in Japan as well as the types of ultra-close relationships between girls in those schools that was seen as natural before becoming adults: see here and here). In this cafe, the girls act the part of pure maidens, slowly forming deep bonds with each other, and maybe choosing a special girl to be their "schwestern" (German for sister and a classic play on "soeur" from Marimite). The whole act is done for the adoring patrons, most of whom seem to be young men.

Our lead character is Hime. Her goal in life is to be married to a rich man and she will do everything she can to be so lovely that no one could possibly say no. She never intended to work a day in her life. When she gets stuck working at the cafe, she meets a tall, dark haired young woman named Ayanokouji (reminiscent of the classic older, perfectly proper, student). Hime is struck by this woman and wants her approval as part of her overall quest to ensure everyone loves her. But Ayanokouji's personality is not at all the lovely school maiden, but instead, is pissed that Hime is there at all. Despite all the Hime does to be likable, Ayanokouji seems unmoved, causing Hime much distress.

Hime's friend in school, Kanoko, gets worried about Hime, tracks her down, and gets brought into the cafe herself. We get hints that Kanoko is actually obsessed with Hime. She also is quite aware that Hime is an empty shell, just pretending to be lovely to attract her eventual husband. Hime, too, is pretty open (to herself anyway) about the fact that she has nothing other than her likability going for her. What she looks for in others is being liked, not anything in the least reciprocal. However, in an extra at the end, there is a brief exchange where Hime does seem concerned that Kanoko is doing something just for Hime's sake, and it's the first real moment where we see Hime care about anyone other than herself.

The volume focuses on Hime's desire to have Ayanokouji like her (simply to prove that Hime is likeable) and Hime's rough introduction to the rules of the cafe. We get the sense that Hime may eventually go beyond wanting Ayanokouji to like her due to her fake traits, and actually like the real Hime (or maybe this is wishful thinking on my part for some real plot and motivations). We also clearly get the sense that Kanoko likes Hime as more than a friend. However, Ayanokouji reveals a further complication in this at the end of the volume.

All that said, despite being billed as a romantic dramedy (on the back cover) this is a straight up comedy yuri as best I can tell. It seems to some degree like its purpose is to have fun with the tropes of the genre. However, it doesn't do so with the heart of a true fan. One gets the sense that someone described yuri in a paragraph to the creator and the creator generated this story based on that summary of the genre. I don't feel that this person loves yuri and wanted to satirize it out of love. In fact, the entire thing seems like a commercially created endeavor and not an honest work of art.

And for a comedy, it isn't actually very funny. The satire isn't rich or deep enough for true fans, nor is it biting and scathing enough to be a counter-commentary. There is nothing but superficial elements of yuri presented to signal the genre but not to actually dive into its nuances or intricacies. Hime is a completely superficial character that is given no real motivation for her ways and we spend no significant time with her outside of the cafe. Why should we bother to root for her or any of the others? The writing is overall spastic and unclear throughout. The art is very typical and uninspiring.

So maybe Hime will fall in love with Ayanokouji, maybe Ayanokouji will eventually overcome her dislike of Hime and reciprocate. Maybe Kanoko will get hurt. Maybe Hime will realize how wonderful Kanoko is. But who cares? The satire is surface level, the comedy is bland and perfunctory, the characters are wooden and 2-dimensional, the writing is poor, the art forgettable, no real emotions are evoked, and the whole look of the book smacks of something put together to pander to the audience. But I'm not even sure which audience that would be.

This isn't a work for true fans of yuri. I love the idea of a yuri satire, but that satire should be targeted towards those who love yuri the most and thus should be rich with details and unexpected ways of exploring the tropes. OR, it should be a satire in criticism of the genre as a way of exploring problematic aspects within the genre. BUT instead, this is just a maid cafe set in a "yuri" world for the sake of maybe eventually showing some girls kiss. It isn't funny, it isn't romantic, it isn't heart-rending, it isn't much of anything. This gets a 5/10 from me and I won't be rushing to buy volume 2 any time soon.

By way of getting another opinion on this, here's Erika's review from Okazu. Apparently things get slightly better in later volumes. I still might pass though.

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3 comments:

  1. Very cool to read your take on this! I had fun with it, but it certainly wasn't my favourite thing I've read in a while. The author does a good job portraying Hime's confusion, by making the reader just as confused as Hime...which is a pretty hard way to sell something. I feel pushed away from the story more than I feel pulled in.

    I can't tell if there are metaphors in here about code-switching, and about performative aspects of yuri, or if I'm just reading that into it. I'm looking forward to volume 2, because if they`ve spent all this time setting things *up*, obviously it has to go somewhere good, right? Right! ;)

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    1. I think Erika has read it in japanese and so seems to suggest there is some payoff. I might pause on it for a bit and focus on some other series, but maybe I'll come back to it.

      I think you're right about feeling pushed away rather than pulled in. That's a perfect way of summarizing the tone of the first volume.

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