The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Mushroom Girls in Love
What's It About?Years ago, the gods colonized a planet with mushrooms, and chief among them were the mushroom girls: humanoid female fungi who formed specialized tribes and eke out a living in their forested world. Arialla is a Scribe and her spouse Eriella is a Herder, which shouldn't allow them to make a happy marriage, but the two are so in love that it doesn't matter, even when Arialla comes down with dry rot when they try to have a child. But the third princess of the kingdom has had her eye on Arialla since childhood, and when she learns that her crush is already married, she arranges to have her kidnapped and brought back to the palace. The two mushroom girls will have to do everything they can to keep their happy life together – it's a good thing they're so determined!
Mushroom Girls in Love is written and illustrated by Kei Murayama. It will be published in July by Seven Seas and will sell for $13.99.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
It's no surprise that the world for this one-shot yuri tale comes from the same creator as A Centaur's Life – it's remarkably well created and the short graphic novel is full of full-page text explanations of the life forms, colonization, and other historical and general facts about the planet where Mushroom Girls in Love takes place. While we technically don't need quite so much information for 150 pages of story, it says a lot about how Kei Murayama goes about creating manga, and the world building does answer all of the questions raised in the story itself, meaning that you can walk away after reading it feeling satisfied.
The story itself is a little garbled, but that's in part because all of the mushroom girls from a specific tribe tend to look alike, so unless someone's using a specific name, it can be hard to figure out who's doing what. The basic plot is a “true love conquers all” story: even though they're from different tribes and aren't compatible as far as reproduction goes, Arialla and Eriella are so in love that they'll even defy the rulers of the land to be together. That's a nice premise to build a romance around, and Murayama has plenty of panels that show just how close the two mushroom girls are – they may not be talking about their relationship or consummating their relationship, but they're always touching each other or as close together as possible.
It is a little off-putting that they (and all of the mushroom women) are clearly divided into “feminine” and “masculine” types. This is shown both physically and in terms of personality – in the case of our main couple, both look more feminine, but Arialla is stereotypically girly (clumsy, more emotional, sweeter) while her spouse is active and takes on the savior role. She also has short hair to her spouse's long, flowing locks, adding a visual dimension to the gendered behavior. That's much more subtle than many of the other masculine-coded mushroom ladies, who are drawn basically as men with breasts. It's also a bit odd that there's a firm “husband” and “wife” in the marriages, with the more masculine-presenting mushroom girl as the husband. At one point a child is told that her mom is the one who actually gave birth to her, so perhaps that decision factors into who goes by what title. In any event, it's not quite what I expect of yuri manga, and I do find it a sour note in an otherwise charming book.
If it doesn't bother you, however, or if you're a fan of excellent world-building and highly detailed, soft art, this is an interesting read. It's sweet and fascinating, and definitely off the beaten yuri path.
The title Mushroom Girls in Love seems to indicate a gentler, sweeter story than what you'll find in volume 1 of the series. It certainly has its lovely moments and, though they're given only a limited number of pages to establish themselves as characters outside of their romance—they get married on page 1—both Arriala and Erriela do manage to assert themselves as appealing characters to follow by volume's end, Arriala in particular. (Their names being so similar, however, doesn't help, nor does the crossover of Arriala's design with that of other women in her tribe.) However, there's danger and darkness in this world of fungi, and adventure quickly beckons when Erriela's former tribe declares war on a princess' orders to get Erriela back and then Arriala must penetrate the royal capital in order to save her wife—all in this first, fast-paced volume. The fact that Arriala insists so desperately that she wants to stay with her wife even when her own tribe counsels divorce because of their physical inability to produce offspring together (due to fungi type, not gender) helps sell the romance even in the limited amount of pages. However, as Erriela is the shyer of the two and seems to exist asa damsel to be kidnapped and rescued, she's less memorable. Hopefully, that will change in future volumes.
Murayama has created a visually distinctive world for these fungi women to live in, though the character designs are simplistic and often repetitive to the point where it can be difficult to identify one character from the next. The backgrounds are often lacking in detail, resembling sketches more than a realistic setting, and Murayama underuses screentones, so the whole thing seems too bright and white. However, the outfits the mushroom women wear, as well as the somewhat diverse body types for the women, are definite highlights of the art.
Mushroom Girls in Lovevolume 1 packs more in its fast-paced pages than one might expect, and so far this “doomed romance” tale offers plenty of intrigue to keep the reader invested in what these two will do next. With the couple serving as political pawns between royal sisters, even their self-imposed exile into a wandering tribe is unlikely to go smoothly. These mushroom girls might be in love, but their tale is more about how that love is challenged on every side than it is about the romance or the girls themselves. Still, it's off to an intriguing start.
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