Valentine’s Day Special – Rakuen no Joken and Hajimete Kanojo to.

I’m typically not all that into Valentine’s Day stuff. I’m more interested in getting all the discounted chocolate the day after! However, earlier this year I managed to get my hands on both Rakuen no Joken, and Hajimete, Kanojo to. both of which are by the Akiko Morishima. Additionally, both are short yuri collections as well!

I’ve been curious about the world of yuri given how prevalent boy’s love is as a sub-genre. Much like how boy’s love tends to be women writing about men in love, there are yuri titles in which men are writing about women being in love. I try not to discriminate when it comes to authorship, but whenever a man writes about female relationships, the male gaze seeps into their work more prevalently then when a woman writes them.

It can be further confusing to find a series about female relationships, written by a female author given different publishing magazines, pen names, and just the plethora of stories that anyone can produce and publish! I was really lucky that I had a friend who was not only lesbian, but also an otaku that was kind enough to give me some pointers on where to look for yuri comics written by female authors. Thus where these two collections came from!

I started with Rakuen no Joken, since it was published first. It’s a collection of, to my knowledge, 8 full chapters, plus a bonus spread portraying the four main couples. The couples range in age from adults, to a few stories from jr. high or high school, and even has one historical fantasy couple as well!

Hajimete, Kanojo to., is a semi-follow up to Rakuen no Joken, featuring two couples from the first collection. If you’re already familiar with Morishima Sensei’s other works, specifically Ruri-iro Yume and Renai Joshika, couples from those series also have ‘bonus’ chapters collected in this series.

For being my first real venture into yuri since Sweet Blue Flowers; I have to say I was satisfied. I knew I was getting into short stories, verses a full series, so the payout per story depended fully on me and my mood at the time of reading. Luckily for me, Rakuen no Joken kicks off with an adult couple, Serina and Sumi who have a set-up that’s no unfamiliar to me. I felt pretty easily connected to Sumi, and sympathized well with Serina at their dynamic. With three chapters, Morishita-Sensei did a really good job setting up their dynamic and story making the perfect embodiment of ‘short and sweet’.

I was a little prickly to the second couple chapters four and five. Not due to their attraction to one another, nor the age, but the uncomfortable dynamic of student teacher. That’s just never going to be my cup of tea. Unlike the contemporaries who ignore the power dynamic, Keiko and Emi acknowledge it. There’s a sense of unease as they’re aware the dynamic is there, but it’s shown to be addressed and something to work through, rather then a footnote. Keiko and Emi being very sweet and honest with one another as well.

In chapters six and seven, we meet Shinobu and Lala. I thought their dynamic was sweet, albeit strange the way it was introduced. Lala despite being older at 29, is shown in what can only be described as a loli-bait outfit in public, when she greats Shinobu. Aside from that, with added context, the duo have a really dynamic long-standing relationship displayed that I really appreciated.

In our final chapter, “Sakurahime Hanafubuki” was the most interesting being the historical fantasy setting. The set up for a longer running series was totally there, and I would be invested in seeing that get on shelves, it was solidly self-contained. I was pretty impressed with how much emotion Morishita Sensei packed into a one-shot. A tiny bit disappointed at the ending, but still satisfied.

In Hajimete, Kanojo to. we get more of Sumi and Serina! Honestly at this point, I wish Morishima-Sensei had tried her hand at getting a short serialization of the duo. I’m probably biased since I liked their circumstances. I found Sumi more relatable since he job had her travel often, and present a bit more independant. Serina was a perfect balance being an offical lady with more feminine appearances and the one who Sumi always comes back too was really interesting. Their struggles as a long-distance friendship turned romance hits close to home, but in the best sort of way. Give me more~ Although the resolution for the duo in this collection was super positive and upbeat.

We also revisit Shinobu and Lala again, which was nice. Their story continues to unfold and develop, exploring their dynamic more, but it wasn’t particularly my favorite in the collection.

Next was the shortest insight to Sayaka and Ruri from Ruri-iro Yume another short collection from Morishima Sensei. I haven’t read Ruri-iro Yume, so I didn’t get as much out of the story as someone who read it prior would. Even being unfamiliar with the couple and their dynamic, I appreciated the insight to their ever developing relationship.

Lastly was Mitsuki and Kaoru from Renai Joshika, a two volume manga that ran from 2009 to 2011. And I have to say this is probably the first of Morishima’s works where things got steamy. None of the scenes were explicit per say, but it certainly leaned more into the sexual side of lesbian relationships then the prior stories. Seeing that Mitsuki and Kaoru have known each other since they were in their teens, they’re more comfortable with one another and significantly more passionate. I’m intrigued about their original story, so I might check it out when I get the chance.

I have to say from a story, and character perspective that both Rakuen no Joken and Hajimete, Kanojo to. are strong collections. All the pairs have their own personalities and dynamics that makes them distinct from the other stories. Despite their length, the emphasis is more on the emotional side of the relationships, and recognition of the feeling between women being more then friendship. It can be a little frustrating if you’re looking for a more steamy read, but there are some snippets to be found within their pages.

I appreciate that Morishima doesn’t mind making the couples distinct people in their design as well. Women with short hair tend to be the more ‘masculine’ of her duos, but they’re still drawn in a way where it’s clear they’re still a woman and not a stand in for a male figure. She’s also not afraid to draw taller women who are still seen as attractive as well. The only fault is that their body types tend to fit the ‘slim and feminine’ style, but if that’s the only real problematic part, I’m not going to drag it.

About the only thing I can point out as a flaw is the panel layout and lack of background. I don’t mind series that have simple or reduced backgrounds. For two collections of short stories, it’s almost to be expected, and for the most part it works out. These stories are character driven, focusing on their reactions and emotions, rather then being particularly influenced by their setting aside from the historical fantasy. However, when I was thumbing through to check out art and refresh myself on panel layout, art style and choices, it became more and more obvious. This observation is purely one in retrospect, and does not impact your actual experiance while reading.

Overall, if you’re looking for a place to start feeling out what yuri can offer you as a genre, queer identity or not, both Rakuen no Joken and Hajimete, Kanojo. to are a great place to start. If you get the chance, I highly recommend both as titles to try! I hope that regardless of relationship status, you have a lovely Valentine’s Day, and I’ll see you next post!

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