Monday, May 18, 2020

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow volume 3 - I'm still not sure about this series (Manga Review)

A teen girl holds another girl's hand against her face
A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow vol. 3 - 5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

I'm still not sure about "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" as a series. Volume 3 (Viz) only added to that slight unease. I can't quite put my finger on why, but something about it just doesn't feel genuine to me. There are lots of types of yuri out there, I'm just still not sure what type this is and why it needs to be so hard to decipher.

There's a forced quality to the internal dialogue of the characters and there also seems to be a forced confusion about their feelings and what they want. It doesn't feel like the genuine confusion of whether they're gay or not, nor does it feel like the simpler confusion of "am I attracted to this person or not?"

I think if I had to sum it up, the whole thing feels like queer baiting, when there's no need for that. Just make it clear that the purpose of this series is that the girls realize they like girls and that they are in love with each other OR make it clear that the purpose is exploring deep friendship between girls and not about romantic feelings. Either is fine. But by not being clear which of those two paths the series will take, everything feels like baiting without sincerity. I don't have specific examples for that, it's just the general feeling I'm left with in each and every interaction in the three volumes, and volume 3 seems to really be that confused. I just feel like I'm being teased by this series. And not in a good way.

Looking at it, "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" is published by Viz and not the Shojo Beat imprint, so does that mean it's aimed more towards boys? It is serialized in a seinen magazine, so maybe that's part of it. Maybe it isn't meant to be an earnest look at the feelings of women for a female audience. Or maybe it is but the only place that would serialize it was a seinen magazine. So I don't know what the mangaka's intent was, but again, I feel slightly off-kilter while reading this series. That's not to say there aren't good points, but the good is tempered by that unease.

Anyway, volume 3 picks up at the festival when Konatsu asks Koyuki why she decided to talk to her in the first place before they were friends. Of course, there is no useful answer for Konatsu or the readers. Does Koyuki really not know or is she too shy to say or is this just a way of prolonging the series? Who knows?

Then we get a more-or-less filler chapter of Koyuki missing Konatsu while Konatsu is away on family business but there is no clarity on why or what type of "missing" Koyuki is feeling. The third chapter is about the sports festival and the theme is "friendship" and Konatsu trying to decide if that's how (or all) she sees Koyuki. The final chapter is preparations for the school festival and a whole lot of unnecessary lack of communication (which seems to be the thing most manga uses to make plot happen needlessly).

What can I say about this volume? Konatsu and Koyuki are friends. They seem to both have hints that they might see the other as more. They both seem to have hints that they want the other to be more. But they don't even think about that in any clear way. The writing of their internal dialogue is so oblique and nebulous as to be completely useless to the reader.

For example: "I'm scared of knowing more, but I can't help but wanting to know" or "She's wearing a pony tail?! She's wearing a pony tail...A pony tail..." (and we all know that pony tails on girls in manga means that the other person is attracted to them, right?!) or "We'll be together every day over summer vacation, won't we?"

Add to that the millions of facial expressions of nebulous emotions that could be interpreted in any number of ways and we just have no idea what they are ACTUALLY experiencing, only what we read into what we're given. That's where it feels like baiting, we're given such nebulous stuff that we can read anything we want into it rather than actually getting to know and understand these as real people with real feelings and experiences. Again, what type of story is this: a deep intimate friendship story or an eventual lovers story? Does it know, will it ever let us know, will it let the characters know, will it let the characters reveal it to me or will it just string us along until it ends without any clear resolution?

If I had my guess, the series will end with some sort of non-ending that doesn't really see them in an actual real intimate relationship but provides us "shippers" with plenty of bait to imagine what we want to imagine. If that's the case, then I say: "ptooey" (I felt old-timey today). Because so far it doesn't have nearly the deftness of skill at handling the deep intimate friendship connections of a series like Maria Watches Over Us, nor does it have the "trying to decide if I'm gay or not" of Akira's character in Sweet Blue Flowers, nor is it the overtly into girls of a "Girlfriends" or even "Nameless Asterism" (for all its other problems at least that series was clear that it was about girls who love other girls).

But there are good points.
1) The characters are nice to each other and kind. This isn't a story with antagonists. Also, the adults seem pretty well put together, so we don't get crazy psycho family drama. It's somewhere between slice of life, cute girls doing cute things cutely, and a romance drama. Of course, that "somewhere between" could be the problem. I think it needs to decide what it is. But at least everyone is nice.

2) There are some nice moments of writing in and amongst all the needlessly abstract internal dialogue. For example, Konatsu thinks to herself at one point after not hearing what she wants Koyuki to say that "maybe it's better not to know" - that if you ask directly, you may get an answer you don't like and living in hope can be better than being hurt with a definite answer. While I don't agree with that philosophy, it is exactly what many teenagers would think.

Another nice writing example is when Konatsu goes back to defend Koyuki to someone who sort of bad mouthed her. At first, Konatsu had let it happen and didn't speak up, but she felt guilty about that. Going back and saying something was a strong moment. And later, Koyuki is thinking about when she made up an excuse to leave Konatsu and Konatsu didn't stop her. Koyuki thinks to herself: "I wanted her to stop me from leaving." We all do that, we say one thing, say we're fine, but what we really want is for the other person to know what we need without actually telling them. Such a human thing to do, to want your partner to "just know" what you need even when you say the opposite.

3) The art is a bit cutesy for me, but it has some really interesting use of varied line thicknesses. Often the characters have thick lines around them, but even these aren't uniform width. It almost looks hand drawn, so even if done on computer, the mangaka is doing a nice job making sure that each line also varies in thickness internally as well as in comparison to other lines. There's also some very fine linework to complement the thicker lines. The linework overall helps the art be more interesting than it would otherwise. For example, the screentones are pretty restricted to just shades of gray. There are no sparkles. Much more like a seinen manga than a shoujo manga in that respect, bland really. Oh well, I'll have to get my sparkles elsewhere.

Basically, it's a wildly uneven volume for an uneven series. Volume three had four stories, each chapter being somewhat unrelated to the others, and they were fine, but nothing exciting. This is a series that should be about the complexity of the internal feelings exploration, but that just comes across as muddled. What are they working towards understanding? Even if they don't know, there is a lack of genuineness about it. It's almost as if (and I don't know anything about the mangaka) but it's almost as if the person writing this hasn't actually lived or felt any of the things they're writing about. It almost has the feeling of someone copying other types of yuri without genuinely understanding what makes the best yuri great (or honest).

A mixed bag is understating it. "A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow" (both the series and volume 3) still hasn't announced itself for what type of yuri it is. The emotions of the girls just don't feel genuine to me. There are small moments to like, but the whole is nebulous. Volume 3 gets a very mixed, so-so, and somewhat indecipherable 5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 5 - not so much in this volume. We've seen fireworks festivals before, we've seen school festivals and sports meets too. And since those events aren't interesting, we need the character interactions to be too, but they aren't. They feel overly dramatic and under defined at the same time. It's just spinning to hook us, but only through tricks, not through real emotion.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 5 - I still don't think we know them well and actually they seem to be drifting away from what made them unique in volume 1, they're getting more generic.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 5 - there are some nice moments, including when Konatsu tricks Koyuki into a handshake and when Koyuki lets herself really feel how much she misses Konatsu while Konatsu is with her dad. BUT, most of the internal dialogue is so muddled and dithering as to be useless.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 5 - who can say? It's not not plausible, but it isn't really anything to speak of either. We get that they're friends, that seems reasonable. We get that maybe they want to be more, but we're only given the smallest bread crumbs of that by reading between the lines - that's baiting.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0 - nope, they're confused, we're confused about what they're confused about, the whole thing feels confused as to what type of yuri it even is.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - nope, and I'm worried it won't be even as the story advances.
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - everyone just goes about doing what they do in that slice of life way, not in any sort of taking the lead in their own life kind of way.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - only to the midline. They both seem to be getting blander and less unique as the series goes on.
  • Quality art (0-5): 1 - I do think the linework is pretty nice, but it's too cutesy for me, and very basic screentones just for grays, nothing awesome.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +0

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0 - but I'm tempted to say the whole series is because it doesn't feel genuinely like real girls/young women would think, feel, or behave. There's something off about it - it keeps  making me feel like it's a man writing about women for men, but I think the mangaka is female, but the characters don't feel like real girls/young women.
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0 - only if you consider queer baiting to be exploitative. Wait, I do! I should take points away for it, but it's too early. Maybe the series will announce it's intentions eventually and then the baiting won't be baiting, but just foreshadowing - one can hope!
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): 0



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