Monday, July 8, 2019

Missed It Mondays - Reviewing the problematic Gakuen Polizi by Milk Morinaga (Manga Review)

Milk Morinaga
Missed It Mondays - The first in a periodic series of Manga and Anime reviews where I review older series I didn't read at the time of publication.

Gakuen Polizi - 4.5/10

I'm not quite a "fan" of Milk Morinaga, but I have really enjoyed some of her work. My favorite is "Secret of the Princess" (one of the least talked about of her yuri manga - and which holds a special place in my heart for reasons unrelated to anything Morinaga-sensei could have planned). But I also really liked "Girlfriends" and at least the Nana and Hitomi chapters from "Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink." So it was somewhat surprising that I had never read "Gakuen Polizi."

SPOILERS (because it's a 2012 manga, so deal with it) and Content Warning (transphobia and sex trafficking of minors) to follow.

Gakuen Polizi (Seven Seas) is a two volume series that follows Aoba and Midori, two high-school girls in the special undercover high-school police department known as the Polizi. They are placed as partners in a peaceful all-girls high-school because Aoba is a rookie and Midori had a problem on her last case and her father wants her somewhere safe this time. Along the way, Midori's old partner comes back to stir things up, and a few cases are investigated, two of which are actually quite serious.

But let's start with the yuri, because that's why you read Milk Morinaga's work. Her brand of yuri sits between the blushing, earnest, sweet gazes of yuri such as "Maria-sama Ga Miteru" or the Kase-san series and the male-gaze yuri that is more about sexual fantasy, titillation, and service (think "Transparent Light Blue" or "Citrus").

What none of Morinaga-sensei's works do, is give any real acknowledgement to the lives of actual LGBTQ+ peoples (think yuri like Sweet Blue Flowers or After Hours). What you'll get is moe characters, who are sweetly in love with each other, but also some explicit scenes (not necessarily distasteful, but involving high-school nudity none-the-less). It's its own brand of yuri, and I've never been able to exactly put my finger on who it's meant for. So while I like it (for the most part), I don't love it. Maybe the relative lack of service and the greater focus on innocent love is one of the reasons I like "Secret of the Princess" best?

And yet, Gakuen Polizi, has almost no yuri other than what your brain cooks up along the way. Yes, yes, there is the final confession (whoops, spoiler, sorry, not sorry), but there's no meaningful romantic energy leading up to it, it feels forced and not at all useful other than to appease fan appetite or expectations. The story would work just as well without it. Of course, I would probably have enjoyed the story more if the two characters did spend time evolving and sorting out their feelings for each other. But alas, this is a "yuri" story without much of a relationship to watch develop or really much character development of any sort at all.

On the plus side, that means there is almost no service, at least for the first 3/4 of the series (other than a flashback to a rapey attack on Midori in her last placement). However, when this series goes off the rails, as it does at least twice, it really does go off. And it is in those two situations, both the big cases in the series, that I really struggled with Gakuen Polizi.

The first of the big cases involves a girl getting groped on the public train. She, like other girls, is reporting that they feel a cold wind, then the grope, and the faint smell of an old man, but when they turn around, there isn't anyone there. Could it be a very quick old man? Could it be a ghost? Nope. Instead, it is a cross dressing man groping women on a public train (and using the cross dressing so as to hide in with the women and avoid accusation). So basically, Morinaga-sensei just took a completely fabricated but rampant stereotype of trans women (that they are just men who dress like women to get access to women's spaces like bathrooms in order to attack them) and make it a central plot point. Great. (that was sarcasm).

The perpetrator identifies as a man who is cross dressing and not a trans woman, however scenes like this do the damage to trans people none-the-less. These false narratives feed into the idea that trans women are not really women and that trans women are only doing what they are doing in order to attack women, "trap" men, or for other sexual reasons, none of which are true.

There have also been no documented attacks by a trans women on other women in a bathroom or similar space. Certainly some trans women commit crimes, just like cis-gender women do, but the research shows that trans women are actually disproportionately more likely to be victims of crime than any other demographic group. The danger in making a cross-dressing man into the perpetrator of a sexual crime, even though it's fiction, is that it furthers one of the primary explanations given to transphobic and discriminatory actions taken against trans women (and transgender people in general). I have no idea about Milk Morinaga's personal background to know how she identifies on the gender or sexuality spectrums, but I hope as someone who writes about same-sex relationships, that she would be more careful with the messages her works send and the harm they could do. This part of the series was a big "no-no" for me.

The second issue is the final crime arc of the second book, this time dealing with a porn site that takes revealing pictures (and possibly nude pictures) of high-school girls and that might be involved in prostituting them. Ultimately our heroines uncover all of that but while there is some depiction of the  coercive strategies of men that force some women into sexually explicit work, the theme and specifics are overall treated much too lightly. Yes, in the end, charges are filed, but the whole thing played out too simply, especially given that this is a comedy series, for such a very serious situation as child trafficking. There was no harm, no trauma, no emotional devastation: the lives of the girls who were exploited was never mentioned.

The girls are shown being able to chose their own photographer (at least initially - as if that is somehow okay), but some end up leaving home, pose nude, do sex videos, and then are prostituted out. These are children, minors! When those other girls are actually shown, they are shown living together in what looks like a very nice apartment, with a big common room, as if child trafficking victims are typically given a wonderful life. Yikes! I am okay in theory with a comedy series tackling bigger issues, but it must do so responsibly. The visuals and the writing for this part are just too inconsequential for the very real and traumatic nature of the situation.

Add to this that a high-school teacher was involved in this, and even though she wasn't directly aware of the prostitution, she was still taking risque photos of her students for a porn site (and apparently intimately involved in the visual layout of the site - she communicates with the webmaster regularly). She does face charges and is fired, but it still isn't given any real weight for its severity.

Much less traumatic crimes could have been chosen (also less sexualized crimes) and the series would still have been fine (better even). One has to wonder why Milk Morinaga chose these types of crimes and the particulars of how they were presented in a comedy "yuri" manga? I hate to say it, but it casts a bit of a shadow over all her work. She is, presumably, an adult, writing and drawing about high-school girls in love, and frequently shows sexual acts between minors, which already doesn't make me comfortable (I get that teens engage in romantic and physical relationships, I just think that to visually depict minors in sexual acts there must be a very very good literary or artistic reason to be explicit rather than implicit). Then she chooses to include sexual crimes against young girls in this story. Overall, it just isn't a good look for yuri. Enough critics already deride the genre as exploitation (and some examples really are). So the way this particular comic unfolds confuses matters in a way that doesn't add any equivalent literary or artistic value to make up for adding further fuel to the anti-yuri fire. My opinion on this is simply an opinion, and I don't know Morinaga-sensei at all, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

So we have a comedy manga, that has a supposedly yuri storyline, but with characters who don't form much of a relationship, and where there is a transphobic subplot and a child exploitation subplot (which is handled poorly). The art is what you'd expect from Morinaga-sensei, so if you like it, you'll like it. It's moe with simple backgrounds and minimal shading.

For a comedy, it isn't really funny most of the time, there really isn't much of a relationship, very little character development, minimal big-picture plot, and two really concerning story arcs. At best, I can only give it a 4.5/10 because most of it is fine (if nothing special) cutesy yuri-baiting, but the big two problematic arcs really really detract. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I just can't shake my concern with those two arcs, even though they only make up a fraction of the story. So that's my review on the 2012 manga, Gakuen Polizi, that I forgot to read when it came out.

Tune in for future "Missed It Mondays" as I catch up on manga and anime I didn't read promptly.


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