Friday, November 15, 2019

Finally!!!!! - Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl volume 10 (Manga Review)

Two high school girls with smiles surrounded by lilies
Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl vol. 10 - 8/10

Finally! On two levels. Finally, after an excruciatingly long wait, we have volume 10 of Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl (K&WL) (Yen Press). And finally, after 10 volumes... (SPOILER...don't read the next sentence if you don't want to know)...Shiramine and Kurosawa get together! SQEEEEEEE >_<

The long and short: there was a lot I liked about this volume, truly a lot. But its one problem was indicative of a larger problem I had with the whole series. Still, I really did enjoy the volume and the series, so don't get me wrong.

Reminder: this is the story of an all-girls school and the many young ladies who inhabit it. It focuses on romance and friendships between them. Our primary couple is Shiramine and Kurosawa with Shiramine being the "main" character, if one can define it as such.

Structurally, this volume gives the reader small glimpses of many of the couples from the series but spends the majority of its time on Shiramine and Kurosawa. I always liked the other couples in the series, but I wished the series was a little more focused on its main couple, Shiramine and Kurosawa. So I liked that they were the main focus of this volume.

Speaking of structure, the plot structure was an interesting, but slightly problematic, approach to concluding the story. The first several chapters focused on Shiramine trying to understand her own feelings for Kurosawa by asking other students whether they had anyone who was special to them. Based on their answers, Shiramine reflected on whether it matched how she feels about Kurosawa (in her effort to put a label on the feelings so that she could decide a path forward).

What was concerning to me about the first two chapters was that all the "couples" she asked about refused to define their relationships. Those couples' ambiguity always felt disingenuous for the series and more so here as Shiramine went down the line from couple to couple so the "denials" were successive.

This relationship ambiguity is something that I don't like about much yuri out there and in this series in particular: it feels like queer baiting. Most of the side couples in this series seem to exist for that reason alone. To give gay and bi girls a fantasy without actually committing to the complex reality of being gay/bi in our society. And that's not okay.

I think there is a difference between ambiguity when you are just figuring out your sexuality, who you like, deciding to take the risk by coming out, etc... and queer baiting. There is also a clear difference between a girl who is not yet out but has growing feelings for a friend and those who are truly involved in just close platonic friendships between women and nothing more. But in this series, even those stories that were supposedly about close platonic friendships were clearly written to make the reader "ship" the pair. That doesn't feel fair to the LGBTQ+ community. We deserve more honest emotional exploration of gay and queer relationships with characters who are either honest with who they are or on an honest journey to find out. Not fake queer couples just to titillate us or satisfy our wishful thinking.

Now, you could say to me: "she's one to talk" given that my favorite anime of all time is Maria Watches Over Us (Marimite). But I do think there is a subtle but important distinction between how that series handles its many couples and many of the side couples in K&WL.

In Marimite, there is one explicitly gay character and her journey is heartbreaking and probably the most authentically written in many ways. She is a complex character on a complex journey. Aside from her (Sato Sei), I won't deny that, our many viewers' hearts probably want to see Yumi and Sachiko together as a couple (although, I'm team Touko), and yet, the series never actually crosses the queer baiting line with them. There is something too pure and naive about Yumi to really see them together as more than a deep friendship (bosom friends if you will). Also, Yumi, Sachiko, and the other characters, all have other emotional and narrative journeys they are completely separate from the relationship potential the audience wishes for. They grow and change over four seasons independent of any hoped-for "ship."

Further, all the other main "couples" in Marimite are actually just pairs within a long line of prior and future "sisters" who take care of each other in a (admittedly intense) senpai/kohai relationship. Very few people would be trying to get Shimako and Sei together or Eriko and Yoshino. That just isn't the vibe. Yet that is where K&WL (and much yuri that followed in the school-girl genre of Marimite) eliminates the character arc complexities and nuance and instead just gives blushes and ambiguous handholding in its place FOR EVERY SINGLE GIRL.

In K&WL, every scene, every look, every touch, every blush between every "pair" is meant to evoke romantic love or lust for the reader even with a "couple" that isn't a couple. The "shipping" feels more explicit and duplicitous in its desire to have the reader identify every single last girl in the school as being a lesbian than anything in Marimite (which I believe explores many different types of intense relationships - family, sisters, friends, lovers, rivals, etc...). While K&WL on the surface has each pair exploring a different type of close bond, it really feels like more of a cover story for ship-baiting/queer baiting. That's the disingenuous part to me. I think if K&WL had deeply explored a range of different types of close female relationships, it would have been more meaningful. But any of this exploration is obscured by the barely hidden undercurrent of queer baiting in how the pairs are presented. Ok, grumbling done.

Thankfully, in volume 10, after the first few chapters, Shiramine encounters a few friends who do openly admit to dating the other girl in the "pair." However, like much yuri manga, this "coming out" is done without any fanfare or even the terms gay or lesbian (or bi or pan for that matter). It's hard to know whether that nonchalance is a good thing (indicative of a society where it isn't a big deal that people are in same-sex relationships) or if that is failing to acknowledge a world and society that are still openly hostile to queer people and the complex trauma of coming out.

Yet, at least some of the couples actually admit to being couples, so that's something. Their descriptions of their feelings do trigger Shiramine to finally acknowledge her own feelings for Kurosawa for what they are: romantic love. Thank god we get resolution to that. I was a little worried we would get an ambiguous ending which would have been reminiscent of the ambiguous relationships between so many of the other girls. In the end, we, and the leads, get the resolution we deserve. No queer baiting here, they are clearly in a romantic relationship by the end. Oh, SPOILERS in that last paragraph!

Putting aside my concerns with the series' queer baiting and ambiguous relationships, this was actually a great volume (although you wouldn't know it from my complaints above). Shiramine really works hard, in her own weird way, to understand her feelings and comes out of it all a changed person. She then takes active steps to make her feelings clear to Kurosawa. There is no beating around the bush or dithering, she is direct. We also get kissing. Several double spreads of it.

It's a strong volume for other reasons as well. Shiramine gives a welcoming speech to incoming students that is one of the few quality speeches ever given in a manga to incoming students. Normally they are so minimal and trite, bland really, but this one is actually fairly insightful (I mean, relatively speaking at least). I also think the art is stronger in this volume than in any of the previous ones. Some of the slight anatomical weirdness of earlier volumes is gone here and there is nice consistency throughout.

Basically, if you've followed the series this far, this is your payoff volume. And for what the series has been, it's the best possible payoff, handled consistently with how the characters have been written throughout. It also highlights the longterm growth in Shiramine through her own reflection on how Kurosawa helped her change (such as confronting her mother, etc...). I love series where the characters actually do change over the story.

K&WL vol. 10 still has problems with queer baiting, and in some way, the first few chapters actually acknowledge that outright when the girls refuse to place a label on their relationships with their various "friends." But if you can get past that and take it for what it is, this volume is a rewarding conclusion to a cute yuri series and an 8/10 with that queer baiting caveat (but some cute kisses too).


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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