Friday, August 9, 2019

Untangling Cocoon Entwined Volume 1 (Manga Review)

Volume 1
Cocoon Entwined volume 1 - 5.5/10

Gross. Yup, that's the word for the setup in Cocoon Entwined volume 1 (Yen Press).

Cocoon Entwined might best be described as a "class S" yuri manga. It is set at an elite all girls boarding school (with some commuter students). What makes this boarding school different is that the high school students make the uniforms for the middle school students who are about to become first years.

Innocuous enough. However, the fabric for the uniforms is made from the hair of the third year students. Yes, their hair. They grow it out for years until it is nearly down to their feet, then have a cutting off ceremony (pretty much against their will - problematic), and then it is turned into fabric to make the uniforms of the younger girls.

Putting aside the socially constructed "ick" factor of clothing made from human hair, I was determined to investigate what the historical and practical possibility was of hair and clothing in order to overcome my own bias. Turns out, there is almost no use of human hair for practical clothing throughout history. There are some head-dresses, jewelry, and a few other ceremonial things, but as every-day wear, none.

The problem is that human hair is about 10x thicker per strand than cotton and wool. Which means it is incredibly stiff and coarse in comparison. Due to this, it also tends to have each strand's ends poke out rather than lie flatly in any threads spun from it. Think beard or leg stubble. Think how sharp those ends feel. Now imagine hundreds of thousands of those in your clothing. And that is why hair has not been a mainstay of clothing throughout history. At best, human hair has sometimes been included with other fibers to mitigate its downside, but even that is limited. A few people are now experimenting with it (and the ick factor really comes out with dresses that look like - and are - flowing golden locks).  But the idea that the fabric in these school uniforms is exclusively human hair is absurd from a practical standpoint.

Further, from an "ick" factor standpoint, it may just be cultural and social bias at play, but I really don't want clothing made from my own species. I'm okay with leather and wool (especially if they were ethically raised animals), but the idea of using human parts in clothing just doesn't work for me. A person could say: "But the hair is already dead and would otherwise go to waste" to which I would answer: "what if that leather jacket of yours was made with the skin of a human corpse? It's dead and going to waste." See where I'm going with this? Gross. Fully admitting that this is more an emotional take and a rational one, I just don't want human body parts for clothing.

So basically, that whole part of the premise is so yucky as to be completely distracting from everything else in this volume. It also is an enormous focus of nearly every scene. The uniforms sort of "speak" to the students, they "breathe" and there are even hints of ghost-like sensations felt by current students. Yet, this doesn't seem to be a supernatural story either, necessarily, it's just creepy.

But what of the plot and the characters? These fair slightly better. As a class-S type yuri, we have female students struggling with their admiration, affection, and possibly love for each other - all in a cloistered environment. I won't get into the history of yuri and class-S here, there are lots of great essays you can read on that.

We meet three primary characters in volume 1. Youko Yokozawa is a second year in the school. She's a commuter and not part of the super-tight group of girls who board there. Hana Saeki is a first-year and viewed as the school "prince" - tall, slender, light hair, beautiful, cool and collected. And Hoshimiya - the reclusive and strange granddaughter of the headmistress of the school. Youko has feelings for Hana, Hana probably has feelings for Hoshimiya, and Hoshimiya is trapped in a restrictive life under the control of the school.

Volume 1 introduces these characters, spends most of its time on the uniforms, but does give each of the three young ladies some moments together. Hana helps Hoshimiya temporarily escape from school and Youko and Hana have some private time together, an escape for Hana from her fandom and an affirmation to Youko that she has been noticed by Hana.

But sadly, while the stories of the young women might be compelling, the plot related to the uniforms is so overpowering that whatever intrigue we have with the emotions of the girls is undercut by the constant reminder of how creepy the school is.

Perhaps this manga will go the way of a supernatural or almost-horror sort of vibe, maybe there will be escapes from the strange oppression and controlling circumstances of the school. That would make the creepiness worth it. But I'm afraid that the author may not consider the uniforms being made out of hair creepy and might not make the most of it. If those uniforms get normalized, then the manga is in trouble. If the uniform grossness becomes a vehicle for telling a story about self-empowerment and young women overcoming oppressive circumstances, then okay. But as a first volume, it's just mostly yucky.

The art is mixed. Sometimes it has real grace and detail, but other times (such as a two-panel of a dancer) the art loses the anatomy and the detail. The art has potential, the face designs are angular and long and I love that. There are some interesting compositions, and while I find the hair yucky, it is used throughout to provide visual drama to the panels. But it just isn't stable art, maybe future volumes will settle into consistent quality.

I am going to get the next volume because this one left me in such a strange place that I need to know where things are going. But on its own, Cocoon Entwined volume 1 has so much "ick" factor due to the uniforms that I could not focus on the relationships between the characters. But there is hope, because all three main characters are interesting, and the love triangle has already been set up. Where it goes will determine how volume 1 ends up sitting in the overall arc and quality of the story. As it is now, I can't give volume 1 more than a 5.5/10, it was just too gross.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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