Manga Review: Kase-san and, by Hiromi Takashima

by Brittany B. | 08/05/2020

Last week, we reviewed the anime OVA, Kase-san and Morning Glories. This week, we’re looking at the original manga behind that adorable anime movie, the Kase-san and series, written and illustrated by Hiromi Takashima. For this review, I’m only looking at the content from the first four mangas despite there being six currently published in English. Why? Simply because I only have the first four on my bookshelf. (Spoiler alert: I’m totally going to pick up the last two I don’t have from my local comic book store soon, though.) Additionally, as I mentioned in my review of the movie I by no means proclaim myself to be “in the know” on current anime trends and this applies to manga, too.

The Kase-san and manga series is cute and will have the reader rooting for both girls throughout each volume. If manga isn’t your thing, this yuri manga is still worth checking out in my opinion! (Yuri definition: “Japanese jargon for content and a genre involving lesbian relationships or female homoeroticism in light novels, manga, anime, video games and related Japanese media.”)

From the back of Kase-san and Morning Glories (volume one in the series):

Not your garden variety yuri love story!

Yamada may be shy and rather clumsy, but the flower gardens at her school have always brought her happiness. Suddenly, a different sort of beauty catches her eye—the vivacious track star, Kase-san. Although the two girls don’t seem to have much in common, they soon start a romance where each must learn an important lesson in tending their budding relationship. Can two girls, so different from each other, learn how to make their first love blossom?

This series is adorable. Yamada is the shy quiet girl who prefers to spend time rearranging the flowers and weeding the school grounds rather than doing any other sort of physical activity, while Kase is a charismatic star track athlete who everyone wants to hang out with. The two couldn’t be more opposite and are solid individual characters. Takashima made the two girls not only visually distinct but also in personality and mannerisms. I really enjoyed reading this series and watching these two girls come to life on the page.

One of the things that I love most about this series is that is isn’t subtle. As I mentioned in last weeks’ post, many yuri media is so subtle that it is really context clues and desperation from the fandom that makes yuri, well, yuri in my experience. Either that or it crosses the line into explicit media, most of which is made for the male gaze/reader. But that wasn’t the case with Kase-san and. Although, yes, it is manga and there are some things in the stylization of manga that will always read as fanservice for the male gaze, this series has significantly less of it while still giving the reader a satisfying story of the budding romance between these two girls. The girls kiss, you see them get flustered when they realize they’re attracted to the other (before and during their relationship), and navigate trying to date in their final years of high school. Honestly, the manga does a wonderful job of showing that they’re in a relationship, thirsty AF for each other but pretty clueless at what to do with that thirst:

Kase-san and is commonly referred to as “pure yuri” (it was originally published in a “Pure Yuri Anthology” – more on that later) and Takashima even makes fun of it in one of their author afterword comic-strips. I was trying to look up a solid definition of what “pure yuri” is when I stumbled across The Anime Feminist’s article, “Kase san and Queer Thirst: Depicting sexuality in a “pure” yuri manga.” If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading their more critical review, just be warned that it contains some mild spoilers. The author of the article, Saori Mitsueda, had the best definition I could find:

“‘Purity’ is most commonly used as a shorthand for chastity or sexlessness, and generally refers to stories that don’t engage with sex at all.”

It wasn’t until I read that article that it clicked as to why all of the yuri media I’ve consumed in my life wasn’t satisfying because it was too subtle with its lesbian romance or came across as “queer-baity” (I’m looking at you, SOUND! Euphonium). But, like the article stated, even though Kase-san and is commonly categorized as a “pure yuri,” it challenged that subgenre’s limitations and, because of that, it was far more satisfying to read. There are ample kiss scenes throughout the series so far, and mild over the clothes touching.

Despite being referred to as a pure yuri, it shows far more physical affection between the two girls than most yuri media even with the girls not quite knowing what comes next in their relationship. It shows that these girls have legitimate feelings for each other without them coming off as too confused or some sort of high school only attraction. It shows them overcoming communication hurdles, jealously, and other obstacles that end most high school relationships.

The manga was originally published as one-shots in Shinshokan’s Hirari magazine (a Pure Yuri anthology that published 14 volumes before stopping publishing in 2014) and on Flash Wings web publication. These types of magazines are quite popular in Japan because they have one chapter from many different mangas that typically later go into serialization. Kase-san and falls into this category and the one thing that doesn’t translate well into a book bound series is that every chapter includes a tiny recap of who Yamada and Kase are:

At first it is cute, but by the time I was getting into volume three it started to become annoying, especially with constant chapter recaps to the effect of “this is Kase-san […] she’s a bit boyish. […] We’re dating but we’re both girls.” In a monthly or quarterly magazine publication it wouldn’t bug me as a reader, but in a chaptered manga, it just got to be really repetitive. I did like that it constantly validated the two girls’ relationship status and Yamada’s feelings for Kase, as the manga is from Yamada’s perspective. The pacing within the volumes was really spot one, keeping the reader engaged and actively wanting to know what happens next. So, while I understand why each chapter started that way, it was one small thing that I didn’t enjoy.

One of my other criticisms is regarding Yamada. Like I said, the story is from her perspective and she and Kase are the same age but Yamada reads like a middle school student. She’s not the brightest and she seems woefully unprepared for life post high school. She’s easily embarrassed and startled and has no clue about relationships or even the lecherous intentions of men who often approach her. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing – like I said, I like their individual characters and both Kase and Yamada are well developed, fully realized characters on their own. However, Yamada just felt drastically younger than the rest of the characters in the story. One of the main reasons I don’t read or watch yuri media much anymore is because it is often centered around middle school or young high school girls (“pure yuri” or not). As a 31-year-old adult, I feel REALLY cringy reading stories about love between girls in that age range.

And because of the inexperience between the two girls is so heightened, the pacing of the overall story feels a tiny bit off to me. Again, the pacing of the volumes themselves were good and kept me engaged as a reader, but looking at the timeline of their relationship, it felt pretty sluggish for an almost two years of being together by the end of the fourth volume. I say this with a grain of salt, as I know culturally, my lived experience as someone raised in the Pacific North West of the United States is vastly different than to that of a Japanese high school student. If the narrative of the story showed or hinted that Yamada was asexual, I wouldn’t have this critique, but in my opinion there is no evidence to support that Yamada is ace because she does experience sexual attraction to Kase, she just doesn’t understand it or know what to do about it. Which is valid – we all learn at some point how to handle those feelings. But Yamada and Kase meet in the equivalent of their Junior years (second years in Japanese high school) and although Kase shows interest in wanting to do other things than simply kissing, Yamada has no clue and doesn’t take the initiative to figure out what Kase means really means when she says she wants to do more.

As one of the main characters of the story, the drastic difference between their sexual maturity felt inauthentic. The story shows them overcoming a lot of other relationship hurdles and I absolutely believe it is true to Kase’s character to be patient and not pushy. I don’t believe, however, that if Yamada had asked Kase to actually explain what she meant that Kase wouldn’t have been able to. There is a scene (pictured above from volume three) where Kase is about to show Yamada what she means, but then they are interrupted and it isn’t brought up again through the end of volume four. I know eventually they figure it out (thanks internet spoilers), but as of volume four in the series, Kase and Yamada have yet to figure out their relationship past kissing and the occasional over the clothing touches without there being believable interruptions to keep them apart in most instances. It simply goes back to sexual maturity disparity between the two.

Overall, I really enjoyed this manga. It is satisfying to read. It’s funny. And I live for the level of thirst that the two have for each other, even if I don’t quite buy them not figuring their relationship out past kissing. It’s also beautifully drawn and has some wonderful dynamic illustrations of Kase running or being protective over Yamada when men start flirting with her. It’s a series that I can’t wait to read more of and hope to see more of it in the future.

4.5 out of 5 Rainbows

Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for a slice-of-life manga that showcases two girls falling in love without having to suffer through gratuitous “panty shots” designed for the male gaze/reader. Or for manga readers who are looking for a solid yuri love story that is relatively free from explicit illustrations or content (a few minor illustrations of bare breasts in changing rooms but no sexual acts).

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