I thought I’d kick the week off with quick looks at a couple of second volumes of series that made promising first impressions. One is a shôjo title that’s off the beaten track (a male protagonist, no romantic plot elements, and a supernatural, episodic vibe), and the other is a josei series that plays around with that old shôjo spirit.
The second volume Yuki Midorikawa’s Natsume’s Book of Friends (Viz) has all of the charms and strengths of the first. All of the four stories are solid, and the art is still lovely and delicate, but there’s one chapter that really resonated with me.
In it, protagonist Natsume has an entirely unexpected experience. He meets an adult who can do the same things he does, namely see and communicate with supernatural creatures known as yôkai. Natsume has been steadfast, even a little paranoid, about keeping his abilities a secret. Experience has taught him that he’ll be ostracized if he reveals them, so finding another person like him is jolting. Natsume moves through phases of suspicion, curiosity, hope, disillusionment, and eventually acceptance and relief.
As a gay kid entering college, I felt something very similar to Natsume’s sense of isolation and strangeness. Mercifully, even in a small-town college in the Midwest, I managed to meet gay grown-ups who were living the kind of productive, happy lives I had only cautiously imagined. They had good jobs, and some of them had partners, and the fact that they were gay wasn’t a hindrance to any of that. Even if I didn’t end up liking all of them or finding them entirely admirable, the examples they provided were a tremendous comfort to me. Midorikawa captures that process and those feelings with accuracy and sensitivity. I have no idea what her intent or inspiration for the story were, but the argument she makes for the power of an adult role model is persuasive and moving, so much so that I think I’ll nominate it for the Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.
Another nice element of this series is the added value of the creator’s notes. These sidebars often run to the drippy and chatty, but Midorikawa makes good use of them. She talks about her process, the challenges of trying to craft stand-alone stories with recurring themes, and the hooks that she finds for herself that help characters and stories fall into place. She also explains her resistance to larger panels, and while I get it and think her compositions are often lovely, it would be nice to see the occasional blown-up spread.
The second volume of Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers (Viz) settles into a pattern of mildly smutty silliness that I very much enjoyed. In the first volume, we met former rich girl Choko Kuze, whose family’s financial decline led her to the life of an office worker. She quickly discovered that her borderline-insane boss, Masayuki Domoto, used to be one of her family’s servants, and that his boyhood devotion still lurks within her demonic supervisor.
With the set-up out of the way, Yoshihara can really dive into the R-rated shôjo goofiness. Buttterflies, Flowers runs in a josei magazine (Shogakukan’s Petit Comic), but it has all of the mechanics of a high-school romance. The antics just have a slightly more adult flavor. Instead of a school festival, Choko must participate in a company competition for office newbies. Instead of a Domoto fan club full of sempai, there are senior office ladies to seethe with jealousy. And the question of sex is addressed a lot more frankly, though not with anything resembling seriousness.
There are some great bits amidst the generally okay bits, and it’s undeniably good natured. It’s not josei in the way that books like Bunny Drop or Suppli are, but it’s fun and does its best to make sex silly. There’s nothing wrong with that.