Monday, July 4, 2022

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Volume 3 (manga review)

Two twenty-something women in casual clothes, lay on the floor, staring into each others eyes, fingers on one hand lightly touching the other's.
    
Ughhhh, such a frustrating volume. "Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon" is quickly becoming the worst type of the "new" explosion of "yuri" (it deserves the quotes here) manga. 
    In "Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon" volume 3 (and forgive me, but I hate that it's spelled that way and not "donuts"), Hinako can't figure out what she feels for Asahi or what she wants them to be: friends or something more? But not in the "am I attracted to this person or do I want to just be friends" sort of way that we might assume. NOOOOO, this is just dithering, completely unrealistic, drivel that has none of the classic "will-they-won't-they" tension nor anything valid to say about the LGBTQ+ experience from what I can tell so far.
    Let me break that down a bit more. Starting with why I put quotes around "yuri" in my opening paragraph. I want one of two things from yuri, either 1) actual LGBTQ+ representation/meaningful storytelling and/or 2) deeply intimate emotional connections between women (whether sexual, romantic, or not - such as friends/sisters). 
    But much yuri of the past few years seems to be populist dreck designed to appeal to those who are not ready for actual LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream manga OR who want the superficial trappings of it with none of the actual writerly craft it takes to have fully realized characters with deep and complex inner worlds who have actual feelings. 
    So much modern yuri, at least what is making it in official translations in to the US recently, is bland, unwilling to commit, and so poorly written. These series confuse characters who have "never thought about it" (romance, sex, etc...) with actual people who really do struggle with understanding who they are and how they fit into the world - you know, the way actually every human being does think about those things! Even if you are on the aro/ace spectrum, you have pondered why other people feel and think and perceived differently than you. You are not unaware. But so much modern yuri seems to focus on teens and twenty-somethings who seem like they have no concept that they or others have inner selves at all. And while there are some actual conditions in which a person cannot understand that another person has an inner-self, a "theory of mind" if you will, that is not what these character's stories and traits are about. This is shoddy, manipulative, and/or spineless writing.
    "Doughnuts" is quickly becoming emblematic of that wishy-washy version of yuri.  And I, for one, am no longer so desperate for representation, that I will accept anything with two women in it who might even vaguely be interested in one another. (Quick reminder: you are allowed to disagree with me, you are allowed to like or even love this manga, you are allowed to be moved by this writing. It is completely normal and a good thing if we disagree. Your feelings about it are just as valid as mine and I would like to know if it did affect you differently, please leave a comment!). I love a good story where nothing happens but two women stare at each other, blush at each other, yearn desperately for each other. But that's not this series either.
    In this volume, Hinako knows she wants to be around Asahi and spend time with her. When Asahi's friend Fuuka shows up, it creates some stirrings of what might be jealousy. But for being an adult twenty-something, Hinako is either: 1) completely unrealistically written as to have absolutely no sense of self, 2) maybe on the asexual spectrum (not that they'll ever do anything interesting with that like how "Bloom Into You" tackled it), and/or 3) written so that the author never has to actually commit to what romantic and sexual love between women looks like in order to keep this as middle-of-the-road, won't-offend-anyone as possible. 
    I don't know anything about the mangaka, Shio Usui, but it seems to me as if this series is written by someone who has no idea how women actually think or feel, and no idea that love between lesbians is just like any other romantic/sexual love. These characters in no way think, talk, act, feel like actual 20-somethings (or even humans for that matter - just bad writing). Hinako's lack of personal clarity isn't some sort of complex coming out story, figuring out who you truly are and what you truly want. Nope. This is just superficial angst pretending to be exploring sexuality and female relationships. This volume feels incredibly inauthentic. It's almost like a child playing with dolls. Even Fuuka, who actually seems to know she is romantically and sexually attracted to women isn't written convincingly. I'm worried that this might be another mangaka and/or editor and/or publisher who found a way to cash in on the yuri craze. 
    Now, the only other thing I can think of, to try and offer another point of view, might be that with Japanese society still largely hostile to LGBTQ+ people (forced sterilization of trans people who want certain legal recognitions, no gay marriage, etc...) maybe, just maybe, Hinako is so repressed by society that she really hasn't ever thought about her feelings for women and really is actually so not in touch with her own body and mind that she is oblivious to romance and sexuality. Maybe. But then we'd expect better writing to make that linkage clear. I don't think this series has any intention of exploring any actual feelings, issues, etc... 
    And yes, I know it's a light romantic comedy, so I'm not expecting deep dark treatises on sexuality, misogyny, homophobia, or other forms of oppression. But these characters are simply not three-dimensional people, these are not how people actually think or feel or talk. Even in a comedy. 
    So let us compare it to a completely unrelated series that is unmistakably yuri and a comedy (I know that most people would gag that I love it): "Sakura Trick" (and I'll specifically reference the anime here since I haven't read the manga). "Sakura Trick" is a comedy, a broad comedy. A comedy with male gaze and a horny camera operator. It is not deep. It does not tackle any social issues. But it doesn't shy away from actual intimacy between characters (and I'm not talking about sex or making out). As broadly played as "Sakura Trick" is, we can actually identify with these characters. We care about them. Their actions feel plausible (in the context and style of the series, and for their ages). And there is no shyness about it being girls who really really really like girls. So while "Sakura Trick" is much broader than the comedy in "Doughnuts" it shows that you don't have to always be "Maria-sama" or "Sweet Blue Flowers" or "Nana" - you can do light comedy and light romance. But you do have to commit to being honest in any genre.
    I'll probably read the fourth volume to see if it's going to go anywhere. But even if it does, it won't excuse the poor writing to this point. Volume 3 is non-committal fluff dressed up as yuri with no intention of going anywhere interesting. 

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2 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm surprised at your thoughts on this! Personally I love the series and I think Shio does a really good job of portraying the characters lol! Thanks for writing, this was interesting to read.

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    Replies
    1. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts, what's making it work for you, what you like about it, etc... Maybe I'm missing something. I always appreciate other people's takes.

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