Thursday, December 5, 2019

Still Sick volume 1 is a welcome adult yuri/LGBTQ manga (Manga Review)

two adult women at work, one sitting, the other standing, papers fluttering around
Still Sick vol. 1 - 7/10

I'm really split on yuri manga as a genre. On one hand, I love the really great ones where there are deep, complex feelings between girls, where the gazes and blushes are filled with so much sub-text. The best of them speak to me on so many levels.

But on the other hand, some yuri is geared more towards a male gaze and audience (and is often just gross). And somewhere in the middle, is the yuri that just fails to commit itself to same-sex relationships at all, feeling more like queer-baiting than anything else. Add to that, a lot of yuri is focused on school girls and sometimes I just want actual adults in my manga. Overall it can get a bit hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in yuri.

So I'm always on the lookout for yuri involving adult women, and even more so for manga that might actually represent these women as lesbians, true LGBTQ+ representation. While not a perfect first volume by any stretch, Still Sick vol. 1 (Tokyopop), is promising enough in both regards to be well worth a read and with room to grow in authenticity as the story progresses.

Shimizu is the team lead for some department at her company. Maekawa is a co-worker in the human resources department (from what I can tell). One day, Maekawa runs into Shimizu selling her boys love dojinshi manga at a convention and Shimizu's secret is out. She begs Maekawa to keep it quiet.

The two start spending more time together, and on one occasion, Maekawa accidentally spills ink over several pages of one of Shimizu's comics. While Shimizu sleeps, Maekawa recreates the pages. Eventually, it is revealed that she was a well-loved mangaka who suddenly left the field. Instead of being threatened by this, Shimizu learns from her and encourages her to rethink why she left.

The story promises to be about both of their pasts, and coming to terms with who they are and who they want to be. For both, we get back history of their lives growing up which provides some measure of motivation for their current lives. Maekawa struggled with believing that it was okay to make a living as a mangaka, while Shimizu was teased by being called a lesbian by her school mates.

We get lots of hints that Maekawa is aware of her own sexuality, but she's not yet come out to Shimizu. Shimizu on the other hand, has clearly not come to terms with her own sexuality. But there are hints that she might also like women and might be falling for Maekawa.

There are both genuine and cliche'd moments of getting them near each other, touching each other, saying ambiguous things to each other, all to suggest that they will someday get together. The question is will this be more yuri or will this lean more towards LGBTQ+.

So how to define the difference? Clearly there can be overlap. The classic "Sweet Blue Flowers" (Aoi Hana) manages to be both yuri and LGBTQ+. Bloom into You, particularly through its focus on an asexual character transcends pure yuri by blending it with LGBTQ+ representation. Contrast that with the recent series "Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl" which is just about as pure yuri as you can get, failing to give any real depth to the lived experiences of actual LGBTQ+ people (not necessarily a criticism, just an observation).

So what is yuri? I'm not going to give you a good definition here, but one thing it typically does not have is any sense of the reality of the world, societal pressures, bigotry, the dangers, etc... of being LGBTQ+. It also typically doesn't have much in terms of "coming out," at least in the true sense of the dangers inherent in it (losing family, jobs, physical safety).

LGBTQ+ manga typically takes a more realistic look at the social world and the lived experiences of authentic LGBTQ+ people. But what it often doesn't have is the heart melting overly-dramatic "feels" (the innocence?) that make yuri such a guilty pleasure.

Now, I've been speaking in totally big generalizations here. But it's important to note there is both some distinction and some overlap. I believe that Still Sick has the possibility to balance both approaches. By mentioning the term lesbian right in the first volume, and the social stigma her high-school peers attached to it, it indicates that Still Sick will be more than a pure yuri fantasy. Also, with Maekawa's parents playing a large role in her backstory related to giving up being a mangaka, we have the possibility of a true, and fraught, coming out.

Why does this matter to me? I like my school-girl yuri (when done well). But I long to see adult women in real relationships (whether it works out or not). To have a real relationship, it must be situated in an authentic world. And the world is still dangerous and scary for LGBTQ+ people, and I want to see that reflected in the manga, even if it is a happy story overall.

Still Sick volume 1 doesn't promise "Our Dreams at Dusk" level LGBTQ+ exploration, but it does seem to put these women in a real, complex world. But it also blends it with plenty of yuri tropes and lightheartedness. We like both characters from the beginning, and even more as we get to know them. We want them together, but there is also plenty of room to take our time (and theirs) moving in that direction.

The art is on the "realistic" side, but not too much. It still has a lot of the current cuteness that has taken over (as opposed to the long, exaggerated style of older shoujo), but doesn't veer into moe territory at all (which is good, given the age of the characters). It's not overly complex art, but it serves its purpose. Page layouts are simple, backgrounds are simple, and screentones are mostly used for basic coloring (no blingy star-dust sparkles here - too bad).

Basically, I'm optimistic that although this is unlikely to be a seminal series about lesbians, it will continue to blend yuri and LGBTQ+ representation through some actual representation of the complexity of being a lesbian in modern society. It's a somewhat simple story so far, but it has adult (probably lesbian) women, and that's a great thing. Still Sick vol. 1 gets a nice 7/10 to start the series. Let's hope it builds on a promising start.


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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