Since it was just announced that Morishima Akiko will be working on the manga for Kunihiko Ikuhara’s new anime, Yuri Kuma Arashi, I want to spend a little bit of time talking about her, for the benefit of Ikuhara fans who might not be familiar with yuri.
First of all, if you’re not familiar with Kunihiko Ikuhara, he is the creator and director of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum. Ikuhara is a visionary director who is incredibly skilled at combining wordplay, symbolism, humour and tragedy into his work. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Utena or Penguindrum just… just go watch them. You’ll thank me.
It seems that Ikuhara always makes very conscious decisions about who he wants to work with on his projects, and there’s a good reason why he chose Morishima Akiko for this one.
Morishima is a yuri mangaka; that is, she creates romantic stories about girls/women. She is probably best known for her distinct art style; her characters often have soft, cute features and round cheeks. But more important than her art style is what she writes about. She is a very unique mangaka who spends a lot of time breaking the “rules” of yuri and subverting tropes:
She often writes about adults: If you’re familiar at all with yuri, you know they are almost always about high school girls, but Morishima often writes about women who are 20-30 years old.
Why is writing about adults so important? Well, to answer that question, we need to know a bit about what Japan thinks of homosexuality. Basically, the culture in Japan is still quite homophobic, and this is reflected in subtle ways in the yuri genre. Most mangaka will include elements in their work that are non-threatening, so they are still appealing to a wide (potentially homophobic) audience. Writing about school girls is non-threatening, because there is an extremely pervasive idea in Japan that girls may “experiment” in their youth, and will form temporary pseudo-romantic relationships with other girls before they “grow up”, move on, marry a man, and become “normal”. Most yuri is not explicit about this eventuality, and the story ends while the girls are still in school, leaving it up to the reader’s interpretation. Other elements that make yuri non-threatening are all-girls schools, avoiding LGBT issues that characters would realistically face, and avoiding any mention of homosexuality at all. If the reader is uncomfortable with homosexuality, these elements help them interpret the story in a non-threatening way (as teenage hormones or experimentation or friendship or whatever).
However, writing about adults does not allow this interpretation. If an adult chooses to be in a homosexual relationship, it is a serious decision. It isn’t just based on hormones, or pseudo-romance. There is no room for interpretation: they are straight-up not heterosexual. And that’s pretty threatening to a homophobic society!
Pardon my wordy detour! I get excited about this stuff!
She writes about LGBT issues: When Morishima does write about high school girls, she subverts safe yuri tropes, and draws attention to society’s harmful views of yuri. For example, in Hanjuku Joshi, a snide upperclassman directly tells the main couple that their love is just a pseudo-romance, and they’ll grow up and marry men eventually. Directly addressing the issue in this way leads to the couple reassessing their love and overcoming the hurdle together (and causes the upperclassman to reassess her love life, as well). By addressing the issue instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, Morishima is challenging the reader to reassess their own interpretation of yuri in an active way.
She writes about LGBT stuff!: Morishima has several series about adult lesbians living normal, social lives with other LGBT friends, and has written several times about gay communities such as Shinjuku Ni-choume, which I’ve never seen mentioned by other yuri mangaka.
Basically, Morishima Akiko is a talented creator who is genre-savvy, hyper-aware of gender/sexuality issues, and actively works to challenge society, and if that doesn’t sound like Ikuhara, I don’t know what does.
If you’re interested in reading some of her work, here are some picks: (Note: some of her work is NSFW.)
Hanjuku Joshi [NSFW] - Probably the most well known of Morishima’s works, about a girl who dislikes how feminine she is and her classmate who is her complete opposite.