From the stack: YURI MONOGATARI Vol. 3

January 25, 2006

While yaoi is making considerable headway in the manga market, yuri is taking a bit longer to make its mark. ALC Publishing specializes in the category. I really enjoyed ALC’s release of Rica ‘tte Kanji!?, a charming romantic comedy.

Their latest anthology, Yuri Monogatari Vol. 3, is hit and miss. A collection of stories from Japan, America, and Europe, it features some promising talent. As a whole, it gives off a vaguely amateurish vibe, and while the enthusiasm is infectious, the actual work is of mixed quality.

It opens with Hiromi Nishizaka’s “Hydrangea.” I’ve heard that a lot of yuri is kind of a bummer, with tortured love ending badly for all parties. Nishizaka does interesting work constructing a complex love triangle, and she resist the urge to tie things up neatly. But it’s a depressing way to launch the book, with tears, selfishness, and cynicism.

Things lighten up considerably with Beth Malone’s “It Takes All Sorts.” A longtime couple, who happen to be space pirates, are determined to get the spice back in their relationship. They set off in search of a third party to perk things up, and run-ins with a tentacle monster, a kinky telepath, and an androgynous space cop ensue. It sounds like the worst kind of porn, but Malone’s light touch turns it into light parody. Unfortunately, her illustrations are pretty crude and feature some weird anatomy and odd perspectives.

Another couple is the focus of “Flights of Fancy” by Sergio Aviles. Regan and Angela are taking turns framing their relationship through classic movie genres. Aviles puts his protagonists in an action flick, a detective noir, a western, and a swashbuckling adventure. It’s visually impressive, and the idea is a lot of fun, but the reader never knows enough about the protagonists to get much out of their fantasy versions. There are also some lettering problems in the piece, with dialogue breaking oddly over word balloons without attention to phrasing.

Akiko Morishima provides a cute illustrated report on Yuricon ’05. It’s a nice intermission for the fiction pieces, and Morishima has a charming style.

In Kristina’s “Overboard,” sullen Missy is trapped on vacation with her older sisters. They’re taking the tacky tourist approach to the trip, while Missy wonders aloud if humans are naturally evil. (Don’t ask me why.) A misunderstanding brings Missy in closer contact with one of the locals, and she gets the transformative travel experience she was hoping for. It’s nicely drawn, and the quiet moments work best. The pacing is a little odd, though, and the dialogue is stilted.

Things conclude with Althea Keaton’s “Marked.” In it, a young punk looks back on her first days of independence, hanging out with other punks and learning that people aren’t quite what they appear. The story is drawn in a loose, art-comix style that suits it perfectly. While the grungy aesthetic is distinct and the material is at times harsh, the underlying themes of discovery, anxiety, and unexpected kindness are nicely universal. It’s the strongest piece in the collection.

I think just about any anthology is going to have its highs and lows, and Yuri Monogatari 3 is no exception. There’s considerable dedication to the genre on display, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in good storytelling. It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t leave me wanting to pick up the other two installments.