Saturday, May 21, 2022

Kageki Shojo!! volume 5 (manga review)

Two teen girls in school uniforms promenading. One has a military coat overtop flaring out behind her like a cape.
Meh. That's what I think of Kageki Shojo volume 5 (and pretty much all the volumes other than the prequel/introductory volume "The Curtain Rises). I'm so sorry to keep subjecting you all to my reviews of manga that I just don't feel very drawn to (is that a pun?!). In general, I just find so much shoujo and yuri to be middling. And don't get me started on how little true josei is published in the US. My big question to all of you: is there no fantastically well written yuri, shoujo, and josei out there any more? Has the industry just become dominated by trite, superficial storytelling and bland art that can't decide if it's moe or realistic? Or is what gets translated to the US market so limited, that they pick lowest common denominator titles to publish even though there are a lot of higher quality ones in Japan going untranslated? (And yes, I feel meh about anime the last few seasons as well).
    But, let's talk Kageki Shojo Volume 5 while we're here. In this volume, the girls begin the process of rehearsing for, and then auditioning for, their brief Romeo and Juliet scene that they will perform with the main troupes at the school's cultural festival. Mostly, this volume focuses on Sarasa trying to figure out which character she will portray and how to develop her own style for that character. In this way, it reflects back on the earlier volumes where she was both magnificent at acting, but her acting was also a direct copy of another famous performer's style. Fascinating, is when Ai gives her some advice and then remembers where she learned that from (her famous actress mother...).

    The volume is fine, it feels like it's spinning it's wheels a bit. I don't feel much drama in this series. The students are mostly nice to each other, just occasional petty squabbles. The main characters (Sarasa and Ai) are the most talented. So overall the stakes feel pretty low in this series. I think about my favorite anime, Maria-Sama Ga Miteru, which had basically no plot for four seasons, yet the stakes always felt very high and you felt (FELT!) alongside each character. Or I think about the TV show Gilmore Girls, again, no real plot, but you were hooked on the characters, how interesting they were, how invested in them you were. And I just am not invested in Sarasa and her journey. Her characterization doesn't quite feel real or right. And the stuff with the maybe boyfriend/Kabuki actor is so randomly sprinkled in that I'm still not clear exactly what his role will be and his relationships to the larger story arc. Sarasa is also aloof in a way that reduces the stakes further. I don't see myself in her. And let's be real, the POINT of shoujo is to identify with and see yourself in the main character. Not that other types of stories can't be told, but that's what the genre is built on!
    On the plus side, the art isn't bad, and it's a bit more realistic than what we often get these days (yes, yes, I know, all I talk about is the long-lost early 2000s style shoujo art that I love). 
    There is also a scene, brief, where Sarasa steps out of her normal goofy earnestness and puts on her focused fierceness. In this scene, the girls are in the communal bath (is this really still that common a thing in Japan or is this a trope that won't die? And it's used twice in this volume) and they're all talking about which roles they are going to audition for and they notice that Sarasa hasn't talked much and just gets out of the bath early. When they ask, she slyly turns around and reminds them why she is here, to play Lady Oscar some day, and doesn't have time to waste on idle chit chat. I wish we'd get more of this from Sarasa. I think too often this series reduces her to just a goofy, aloof, silliness even though she has greater depth (as all people do). 
    Also, for us yuri fans (and of course this series is not yet definitively yuri - in all the multitude of types of yuri that that could imply), there is a small interaction between Sarasa and Ai where Ai compliments Sarasa, Sarasa says "you'll make me blush," and Ai does just that herself. Please let Ai be gay. I don't even care if Sarasa is or not. I just think Ai's the better character (again, refer to the fact that "Kageki Shojo the Curtain Rises" - the prequel that stars Ai - is so much better than the actual series) and that a gay Ai would further deepen her character and make her time in her formal idol group have that much more complexity. I also want a gay heroine so much! Give me more gay!
    And speaking of that, without giving too much away, we get a bit more of Ai's feelings(?) towards Sarasa in the final chapter of the volume. I love that Ai gets to actually have a moment. EEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! >_<
    Should you read it? It's okay, maybe a bit better than average, but not gripping yet. The art is okay, a bit more realistic than some, but not enough. Sarasa is a wishy-washy character who is supposed to be inspiring and epic, but comes off as comedically distant - not someone we can identify with. The story trappings (all girls performance school, all women cross-gender productions) to be a grand yuri - but however you define yuri*, it's not shown any signs of being it yet (not really, unless it is very light yuri-baiting). So what exactly is this story? What is it's point? I'm not sure. I'm here for Ai, who is clearly the secondary character, but by far the more interesting one. Also, let her be gay!

* several times in this review I've talked about yuri having multiple meanings. I'm no expert - see Erika Friedman for that - but when I talk yuri, I'm talking about a few things: deep emotional bonds between women that can be purely platonic, familiar, or romantic, or a mix. It can include explicit (ie clear) LGBTQ representation, or not - but it is always about the emotional connections that women can form with other women. I am NOT referring to any hentai yuri or male-gaze pseudo-lesbian/pseudo-yuri (ps, I am disappointed that Seven Seas is starting an imprint called "Girls-Love" to mean yuri when that term means something very different in Japan - although yuri can also mean different things in Japan). I am always talking about yuri from a women's point of view and aimed at women and elucidating similar experiences in the female reader (although men can certainly enjoy these stories 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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