Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow volume 2 - is it teasing me? (Manga Review)

Two school girls, surrounded by fish. One smiling, one concerned
A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow vol. 2 - 6/10

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow vol. 2 (Viz) has the same cute insignificance as its prior volume, but because volume 2 doesn't go anywhere or develop anything, it feels more like I'm being teased than getting any real relationship development out of the characters. I'm not sure I really know what type of yuri series this is yet.

Background: Konatsu has moved to a small rural town and entered school where she meets Koyuki the head of the aquarium club. I think they're middle schoolers, and I'm going to treat it as such, because that's how they look and are presented emotionally. Koyuki is a loner without friends but talks to Konatsu. They become friends and Konatsu even joins the aquarium club. 

Before discussing volume 2 specifically, I feel the need to take a segue and talk about some of the different types of yuri manga and manga about lesbian relationships.

Not all yuri is about lesbian relationships and sexual orientation. And not all manga about lesbian relationships is yuri. But there can be overlap. Let's look at just a few of the "sub genres" of yuri to see how that can play out.

Some yuri is about pure maidenly friendships (think characters like Yoshino and Rei in Maria Watches Over Us). Other yuri concern girls in relationships with other girls but never has them come out as gay in any meaningful way in regards to the social stigma (think Kase-san or pretty much all of Morinaga Milk's manga). Some yuri manga are truly about lesbian relationships (Fumi in Sweet Blue Flowers or Emi and Kei in After Hours). But some manga about lesbian relationships are certainly not yuri (My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness or Our Dreams at Dusk).

And not all yuri and lesbian manga are written with queer women in mind. There are many yuri series written for the titillation and fantasy of male readers (series like Citrus, perhaps, although it's up for debate). These are series which present girl-on-girl relationships as a thing to voyeuristically enjoy rather than treating the women as actual people, you know, with personalities, emotional plausibility, etc... I'm not saying that these types of yuri manga shouldn't be read, or can't be enjoyed, just that they have problematic presentations of women and queer relationships. These series often come off as shallow, wish-fulfillment writing to me.

I think it is also worth pointing out that much yuri manga, even those written with female readers in mind, doesn't treat relationships between women authentically. This is most evident when the characters don't experience any of the social stigmas or consequences of coming out or being a lesbian in society. I hope we get to a day when there isn't anything dangerous or any risk involved with being out, but we are far from there right now, and I find that lack of acknowledgement of the real world problematic.

On the other hand, it is possible that these sweet but not socially savvy yuri stories serve as a type of buffer from the awful onslaught of current life and LGBTQ+ disenfranchisement in society. Some debate could be had that what differentiates yuri from lesbian manga is that one doesn't address the broader social world and the other situates it's relationships within it. But I'm not sure that that's the best way to define either one. Regardless of terminology, maybe it's nice to have fluffy stories where female characters, and girls who like girls, can just be happy, even if it isn't realistic? Maybe there's real value in that? I think there probably is.

So why did I digress into all that? Well, I'm not sure which way A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow is going to go as a series. So far, it hasn't even gestured towards any romantic feelings between the two characters (at least in any significant way - a few "heart beats" perhaps). And maybe, because I'm assuming they are middle schoolers, they might not be ready for romantic feelings at all. Certainly as a yuri series, there is going to develop some sort of really strong bond between them beyond normal friendship (because at the very least, to be yuri, it needs to go that far).

But will it become romantic? I don't know. And if it becomes romantic, will it also do emotional and social justice to what it means to actually be a lesbian or bi-sexual in society at this time? That, I would doubt. It's most likely going to be a sweet, kind, fluffy diversion from real life. Uplifting and happy, but not very realistic.

But at this point, two volumes in, we're really not getting hints that it will hit the romance department at all. I think of a series like Nameless Asterism where the characters are making it known to the reader through their internal dialogue that they do have romantic feelings for each other. For me, that creates a scaffold within which to read and think about the story and the characters' experiences and thoughts.

Yet in A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow, I have no idea what type of story I'm reading. Is it an eventual romance (as sweet and inconsequential as it might be)? Or will it be the intense, but platonic, friendship type of yuri where the only romance is the type where readers "ship" the characters even though there really isn't anything textually there?

I find this ambiguity frustrating as a reader. If I knew this was a story only about friendship, then I could enjoy it for what it is, not wondering what each little moment means in the build-up towards the first kiss, for instance (because I would know there isn't going to be a first kiss). If I knew that it was a romance, then the subtext becomes emotional build-up towards the relationship.

 But two volumes in, this manga just feels dangerously like platonic friendship sprinkled with subtextual queer baiting, rather than being committed one way or the other. If it is me reading in subtext where it doesn't exist, then that's my issue. But perhaps the subtext is there. And if it is designed to get me to want them in a romantic relationship but the author never has any intention of letting the story go there, that would be the queer baiting.

Another question I'm considering in my quest to understand why I'm not in sync with this volume, is whether it is okay for them to get together at all. They are just middle schoolers (I think). Maybe I'd have an easier time getting into the ambiguity of their feelings/expressions if they were older. Is it creepy for me to even want two middle schoolers to hook up? Should we be making romantic yuri about middle schoolers at all? Or maybe put better, should adults be reading about middle school romance, should it be for same-age kids only? Am I living vicariously through them? And if I am, does that make it less creepy that I want two middle schoolers to be in a relationship?

Further concerning is that this is published by Viz in the US but not under their Shojo Beat imprint, and is categorized as seinen based on its original magazine of publication. Maybe it's not even meant then as queer baiting for lesbians like me. Maybe it's actually just girl-on-girl relationship baiting for horny middle school boys to fantasize about? I don't know, honestly. But the fact that it's in a "boys" magazine makes me really worried about it (and yet, some creators only get a shot in a particular magazine whether it is the demographic they really are writing for or not).

Now that's not to say there is anything bad or wrong with this series or volume. Both characters are pleasant and I think Koyuki may be hiding some depth. There's at least something going on with her that makes her interesting. Konatsu is a pretty bland character at this point. Pleasant, nice, cute, but bland.

Oh, the story of this volume? They work the monthly school aquarium open house, they go to an island to fish, they get caught in the rain, they go to a festival, hands are held. Whatever. It's all about the glances, the "what does she mean?" internal dialogue, and the things left unsaid. That's either your thing or not. I'm okay with that as long as I know the structure that it fits in and that's where I'm not quite sold on this series yet.

I just need to know what I'm getting into first. It's the false hopes of something more that plays with me and unsettles me. It's part of why I'm glad that Kase-san as a series made it known quickly that the character's would get together, and then fairly quickly moved into the character's learning about being intimate with each other in different ways. Despite being a feel-good, no social implication, yuri, it was a clear romance yuri and I think was emotionally honest with what teens are thinking about. It wasn't all over-read subtext created in the reader's lecherous mind. I still have no idea what type of manga I'm reading with A Tropical Fish. Volume 2 didn't move anything in any direction after volume 1, so I feel like I'm just being teased.

The art in A Tropical Fish volume 2 is bland but fine. It's simple cutesy art. There is no fan service for which I am greatly thankful and again gives me some hope for the series. And I can totally accept a range of yuri types (friends, ambiguous, romantic, etc...) so long as it isn't hostile to the female and/or lesbian experience. But I'm worried that it's cuteness isn't meant for me, that something more fetishy for boys is behind it's simple exterior. Or maybe not. There's just something very nebulous about the whole thing that leaves me unsettled.

So there you have it, sort of, and now maybe I've confused you more. A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow volume 2 has cutely bland characters, no real story, lots of stolen and ambiguous glances and feelings, and is both pleasant but also somewhat indistinct. Is it meant to be a simple story of intense female friendship, is it queer-baiting, is it romance yuri, or is it juvenile male fantasy? I have no friggin' clue. But this volume is so nondescript that either way, it gets a safe 6/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6 - it's pretty run of the mill, but still cute
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 6 - they're pretty one dimensional so far, but Koyuki intrigues me, I think there's more to her.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - fine, but nothing special
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - Again, pretty by-the-numbers for a shoujo. BUT this is a yuri story. So IF they actually really both have romantic feelings for women (you know, like actual lesbians) then some of their internal dithering (due to the societal implications of coming out) would actually make more sense.
BASIC SCORE (avg.):  6/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): nope
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 so far, we have glances, but not even any affirmation that either thinks about the other romantically yet. I don't think we can call it representation until they have some honest experiences or at least affirm their sexuality to the reader. We might want to see ourselves in them, but they aren't real people yet.
  • Female agency (0-5): no real opportunity in the story for this
  • Character growth/change (0-5): not yet
  • Quality art (0-5): it's moe-ish fine, but not worthy of bonus points
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +0

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -0



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