Monday, April 13, 2020

Cocoon Entwined volume 2 - it's just weird (Manga Review)

Two high school girls in uniforms embrace with long flowing hair
Cocoon Entwined vol. 2 - 6/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

I don't know what to say about Cocoon Entwined (Yen Press). It's just weird. Two volumes in and it sort of reminds me of that creepy yuri episode of Flip Flappers. Even more to the point, the entire school and setup of the series is very cult-like. And I think that may actually be the point. I think, as volume 2 unfolded, that I got a clearer sense of what the central plot is going to be.

I had to reread volume 1 before reading volume 2 because volume 2 jumps all over the place time-wise and with a range of characters. I didn't remember as much of volume 1 as I normally would have, probably because of its slightly ethereal and intentionally obtuse writing style. But after rereading volume 1, volume 2 came into better focus.

For those who don't know anything about the series, here's the quick background: Hoshimiya Academy is a prestigious all-girl's school where the high school uniforms are made from the extravagantly long hair of the outgoing third-year students. Youko Yokozawa can "sense" the thoughts and breaths of her uniform. She is entranced by it, but not dangerously obsessed by the school like the other girls are. She falls in love with Hana Saeki, who is in love with the granddaughter of the school chairwoman, also named Hoshimiya. But Hoshimiya is reclusive and fighting against something.

In volume 2 we get a lot of history for a new character and the school itself. The main narrative continues to focus on Youko, Hana, and Hoshimiya, the central love triangle established in the first volume. But we also meet and learn about Hoshimiya's self-proclaimed "rival" for most beautiful student, Ayane Kujou, the daughter of a famous actress and alum of the school.

It is through Kujou that we learn about the thread of fate that is woven from the hair of the most beautiful third year student each year. This thread connects all the most beautiful students back to the founding of the school. Kujou is certain that Hoshimiya will be chosen over her, but Hoshimiya has no interest in this at all, infuriating Kujou who sees Hoshimiya's disinterest as disrespecting the school.

It was the scene between them that pulled things into focus for me, including the running-away scene between Hoshimiya and Hana from the first volume. I think, in addition to the love triangle, the real story might be about Hoshimiya breaking free from her fate, from her outwardly imposed "destiny" and trying to extricate herself from the cult of this school and her family.

The supernatural aspects of this series are played up right from the first chapter of volume 2 where the chapter is told from the point of view of Youko's uniform, or the ghost of the girl whose hair it is made from. Later, we learn that Youko can tell, from listening to Hana's uniform, that Hana's uniform is actually made from the hair of two different girls, it has "two breaths" as Youko thinks to herself.

While the whole thing's focus on hair, and clothing made from hair, and creepy older sisters who seem to indoctrinate the younger ones into this school "cult" isn't really my taste- the two central themes: the love story (simple and sweet through Youko's eyes) and Hoshimiya's drive to free herself form two very compelling reasons to read an otherwise very strange and somewhat hard to follow series.

Sometimes the art is pretty extraordinary with grace and detail and epic complexity, other times the facial anatomy gets all wonky and there is sloppiness in other forms as well. Hana's face in particular seems to be hard for the artist to consistently render well. It's really a mixed bag. I also find it hard to tell a lot of the girls apart, but thankfully, the main four are pretty distinct looking.

So Cocoon Entwined volume 2 is a mixed bag in many ways. The writing is so obtuse and the meaning is often intentionally obfuscated with multiple potential readings and the constant flash-backs in the narrative makes it hard to follow just who and when we are reading about. The art can be gorgeous or sloppy by equal turns, even on a single page. The cult-like nature of the school, evidenced by the almost-brainwashing the older girls do to the younger girls mixed with the supernatural aspects (and creep factor) of clothing made from other girls hair that seems to still have its own consciousness can be subtly disturbing. Yet there is also a very sweet love triangle and a very powerful push by Hoshimiya to liberate herself. It is that quest for liberation which provides commentary on the school so that we know as readers not to idolize it the way the girls do. So while a mixed series and volume, it is also very different and ultimately worth reading. Cocoon Entwined volume 2 gets an intriguing 6/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 7 - I don't care much for the hair part of all this, but i'm always all in on a love triangle and on a story about a girl freeing herself from the bonds of an oppressive family. So yeah.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 6 - I don't think we know enough about them yet, especially Hoshimiya who through two volumes we only get glimpses of. Youko is the most well defined, and the moments from her first year where her uniform "pushes" her forward were sweet.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 5 - I'm going low on this because it can be pretty hard to follow at times. It's also overwrought, but I think that's to play up the cult-like qualities.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 5 - I buy the three main characters, but I don't believe the school or the other characters actions would really be consistent with teens, no matter the school or its traditions.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0 - not much in this volume, I didn't learn anything about myself by reading it. 
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - can't call them lesbians yet. It's yuri alright, but is it gay?
  • Female agency (0-5): 1 - I think this will continue going up as we learn more about Hoshimiya and her fight. 
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - still setting up the story really, so too early for change.
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - there are moments, but it is so inconsistent it doesn't get 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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