Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Top 5 Yuri Manga: #1 Sasameki Koto

Cover of Volume 2. Left: Ushio Kazama, Right: Sumika Murasame

Sasameki Koto, meaning Whispered Words, is a manga by Takashi Ikeda that's about a girl named Sumika Murasame. Her closest friend, Ushio Kazama, is a girl who absolutely loves cute girls, and cute girls only. Murasame harbors a secret crush on her friend, but unfortunately, Murasame is tall, good at karate, coordinated and generally not cute at all. Hence she keeps it inside, and Kazama has no clue, and depressingly, whenever Kazama's feelings get smushed by rejection, Murasame's always there to comfort her, knowing that Kazama has no feelings for her whatsoever. Whee.

Quick characterizations: Sumika's brilliant at sports, has top grades, is the class representative, and her family owns a karate dojo. Kazama is literally obsessed with cute girls, and loves to stare at them, and it is utterly clear that she has no interest whatsoever in Sumika. A few other characters are thrown into the mix; Kiyori, the side-friend who loves eating bread, and ends up being seriously hilarious even if she doesn't play a major role in things (look up Sasameki Koto and 'oh Jesus' on google), Akemiya, the poor vice-representative who has a crush on Sumika, and Tomoe and Miyako, the lesbian couple that Sumika and Ushio bump into later.

One of the faces displayed by Ushio over cute girls.

After the first volume, it takes a turn for the complex, and begins forging its way into deeper territory. I might go into more detail on another blog post, but basically, trust me that this manga is both compellingly interesting character-wise, often unexpected and full of surprises that flesh out a character, and also filled with a very optimal mix of comedy and drama. It does oscillate sometimes, but when it turns into drama territory, replete with tension, it does it expertly.

Each character has a lot of backstory. Sumika gets an awesome flashback on how she came to meet Ushio, and the circumstances in which she fell in love. The writing is spectacular, especially in chapters 17 and 21 - 24, and pretty much everything alongside it whenever it puts the spotlight on Sumika and Ushio. I'm sure that for some people, the pairing is so damn canon that it's to be expected, and since it's expected it might turn off the people who like reading a romance for the wondering part of it...but I think it's executed brilliantly, and even if you know (though there might be twists?!) for sure that they're going to end up together, it's amazingly engaging to watch and follow how they end up together.

She really does love cute girls.
The manga follows the characters as they mature, and as of now the characters are in their second year of Japan's secondary school. It seriously injects so many themes into it...Sasameki Koto is one of the first manga I've ever seen that treats homosexuality realistically and portrays not only the characters' and the expected angst, but also the way their peers view them, the community's view, and how that affects each person's view.

It really brings out the emotions and the difficulties that Ushio went through in her younger days, and also the other gay cast of the manga. And most of all, it really, really slices in a new dimension for all the characters. At first, it seems that it's set up to be a typical sort of girl + girl scenario at a co-ed school, altered only in that the girl that is being secretly liked also likes other cute girls (which is already pretty neat of a subversion, considering that it brings in the thought that even gay people have their own preference of partners, which is something that gets waved away or looked past a lot in Japanese manga).

But then you figure out the reasons why Ushio does the things she does--holding an acute fear of rejection because of the events that occurred back when she was in middle school--and you learn about what happened to Sumika to cause her to fall in love with Ushio, and how she dealt with those feelings; essentially, the mangaka manages to use relevant moments to pull the strings taut and connect all the pieces in your mind. Stuff that you thought was cute and alright suddenly takes on a stronger meaning that reveals something, and things come together. It's amazingly well put together.
Just a few of the characters from left to right: Azusa Aoi, Kiyori Torioi, Ushio Kazama, Sumika Murasame, Miyako Taema, Tomoe Hachisuka
If you couldn't tell already, it's incredibly difficult to summarize a manga without revealing plot points or spoiling it, and impossibly difficult to summarize a manga without oversimplifying or cheapening the experience. To aspire to do that is like giving someone a study sheet of quantum chemistry formulas, and then expecting them to suddenly have the knowledge of someone who sat through every lecture, discussion, and exam for the course.

What's that? I'm amazing? I know.
So I'm not aspiring to do that. Instead, I hope to introduce you to the brilliance that is Sasameki Koto. I'm handing out the study sheets to the formulas in the hope that looking at the formulas will inspire you to take the course!. ....Shit, that was a really bad simile that just turns you off of the manga, huh? Quick, distractions!
Look! Girls doing it.
To summarize, Sasameki Koto has a very wide range of depth. Does that sound contradictory? It's not. It's both deep, and all-encompassing. The themes are developed with great attention to detail, but also great attention to the manga as a whole. Sasameki Koto's plot is simple, but there are so many layers to its simplicity that it becomes astonishing to read through it and enjoy it to its fullest extent. There are billions of little details that I failed to notice the first time I read it, and picked up on as I continued. Things like Kiyori's hilarious 'polite rejections', like the little exchanges between Tomoe and Miyako, like the detail on books, clothing, side character conversations, and background hijinks...there's really so damn much to it that it cannot hurt to take a read of it.

Sumika being all badass.
 The art is far better than what you might be expecting. As a seinen series (Goddammit why do I keep reading old mature dude manga) that focuses on the emotion, the interplay, and the drama, it also contains some kickass art and badass scenes. Sumika, admittedly, is the reason why there's so much badassery, but it never gets old seeing her in the karate dojo, or out scaring off bad sorts of people.

The artwork can also manage to portray the cute characters as incredibly cute, and also injects a lot of random hotness from time to time. The humor present in Sasameki Koto is sometimes gut-splitting, and to draw up a random example, the anime manages to convey a lot of it too. Speaking of which, the anime is also very faithful to the manga, if you're into that, only it comes with an abrupt, cut-off ending that just stops (because they started outpacing the manga, of course).

Here comes a video of three of the side characters. And somehow they're still ridiculously hilarious.

I cannot emphasize the humor style enough. Anyhow, the characters--I probably don't need to say that much about them at this point. They all have hidden depth that is revealed as you go along through the manga, and it's remarkable how well, and how non-generically the mangaka manages to work it in, considering that this kind of setting has been done before. Obviously this is rather subjective, but I'm in the belief that Sasameki Koto is the best yuri manga I've ever read. And if you can introduce me to one you think is even better, I'm all for it. Must...read...more...yuri....

And, even though this is from the anime and not the manga, I think this post from another website does a stunning job dissecting and examining the beginning moments of the anime. Though it doesn't happen precisely this way in the manga, it's a shockingly adherent alternative way that nigh-perfectly paints the two characters' relationship right off the bat. Check it out.
And their relationship gets ever the more complex as things move on, develop, fall back, get damaged, and continue on. Again, as I've stated for possibly the fourth time, it is executed with sublime expertise. I enjoy reading this manga to an insane degree, and I'll use this bit of space here to thank all the translators, whether they be Dynasty Scans, /u/, or some other scanlation group that's done a bit of Sasameki Koto. Revel in the goodness of the manga.

Hnnnnngghhh I love Sasameki Koto.

Responses to Previous Comments Time:
ElChristo, yeah! This is my favorite yuri manga. Don't forget the yuri part. I've other interests in manga besides yuri (damn it, I'm such a geek. >.> At least I go outside?), but this blog is just focusing a bit on yuri, especially since when you're a fan of the action-type manga and you start talking about girls' love and shit, people go wtf at you.
ErieEnthusiast, thanks for taking the time to plop down comments. I know you're crazy busy with your awesome models.
ModerneFusion, I agree with you to a point. Yuri manga are often drawn by authors who either do mature works (seinen) or perverted stuff (One letter: H.), so they either draw with skill that conveys both emotions and action scenes, or else they draw the characters to be crazy eyecandy appeal. In Sasameki Koto's case, luckily, it's the former.
InformativeGamer, sorry for taking so long with this post. I appreciate that you say that. Seriously, you've no idea. You're just some random person commenting with a few sentences over the internet, and I'm just some faceless blog poster posting opinions, but it still matters to me. Keep on kicking ass.
Logan, just experiment around. Mangaupdates actually gives some good suggestions/recommendations, so if you just find one manga you like, go to the page and see the recommended ones, or click on categories. Helps loads.
Weirdwhirl. Yeah, manga's often seen as just comics, but with weird drawing styles. Sometimes that's true, but oftentimes it's not. Though I will say that it's generally easier to read a manga than to delve into a book; don't neglect your book reading! Read some classics, read some contemporary fiction, read some nonfiction on economics, politics, and science. That shit gets you smarter.
Fuuuuuuuu. I got your number of u's right. :D Yeah Yuri is cute. Agreed.
Goodfella, did you really read it already? o_o say some more about it!
iconic, I can't write your name. :\ And you didn't have to remove your comment. I'm sure it wasn't dumb at all, man. Modern culture has some kind of stigma against asking questions; apparently when you ask, you're considered dumb. But I think it's better to ask and sound dumb, then learn, than to shut up and simply look smart. Anime's cool. A lot of people prefer it to manga, but I just happen to like manga more.
nubilus. If this were a blog on yaoi, I'd make a quip about somethin' else being right up your alley...but as it is, unless you're a girl, I can't make that joke.


  1. Hey I really like your blog so far, keep up the good work. Your layout is very nice!

  2. haha mmm sumika does things to my heaaad :D nice post mate keep it up!

  3. i wonder how do japanese people come with up with all these complicated plots

  4. The heroes are well developed I think.

  5. there is so many of these im suprised haha i figured they would run out of ideas at some point but i gues not

  6. OH JESUS made me laugh, I should probably read/watch this

  7. I love the shots, they definitely peak my interest.

  8. Sounds good. Love your blog btw, started following.

  9. Oh Jesus~ =_=

    Loved that moment too. Definitely will give this a look thanks. So now that you got your top 5 mangas listed, what's next?

  10. good post man, this place is getting big!

  11. Oh wow, and here I was thinking that only yaoi blogs existed on the internet. Nice job!

  12. I have little experience with manga save for reading Lone Wolf & Cub and Samurai Executioner by Koike (im big on feudal Japan)but my gf reads it regularly but its obvious u know your stuff. i always found it interesting how they approached and explored the complexity of gender roles in their work, it seems to be a prevalent theme

  13. anyone tried it yet? it was kinda nice

  14. cool manga if knew how to read em right i would pick em up

  15. im not into manga much but il sure check it