Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hoshimiya Academy has a secret – this elite girls' school carries on a long tradition of its third-years sewing the uniforms of its first-years. But it's more than just a sewing project; the girls of Hoshimiya use a secret sewing notion in their work: their own long, lustrous hair. Some of the girls believe that this gives the uniforms life. What harm could there be in that in this quiet, cloistered world?
There's a very uneasy air about the first volume of Yuriko Hara's Cocoon Entwined yuri manga. It feels more like yuri-themed creeping horror than the Class S story it at first appears to be, and the combination of the two seemingly disparate genres is one that largely works to keep you reading, even if the narrative itself doesn't feel entirely cohesive just yet. The central premise is one we've seen used before – the closed world of an exclusive girls' school – but with one very important difference: at Hoshimiya Academy, the third-year high school students create the uniforms for the rising first years with their own hands.
Looked at from the outside, this is a perfectly charming idea that fits nicely with the fantasy of all-girls schools being gardens of femininity and girlish charm. But things are slightly sinister from the opening page, when one of the characters comments that she can feel her uniform breathe. This is directly attributable to the fact that, as it turns out, the girls of Hoshimiya Academy don't just sew the new uniforms – they make them out of their own long, flowing hair.
Anyone familiar with Victorian mourning customs may make the quick connection between this and the practice of using the hair of the deceased to create art pieces and jewelry for memorial purposes. Since hair lasts longer than many other fibers, its seeming “eternal” qualities made it attractive for both being an actual piece of the dead and also its symbolism as an everlasting remembrance of those lost. Although nothing in the story as of now indicates that death plays a major role here (or at least not overtly), the durability of hair seems to be a piece of the overall world of the piece. Not only do the uniforms seem alive to some of the students, but the lustrousness of the girls' hair becomes directly linked to the quality of the uniform they will create. Those students who fail by their senior year to have grown their hair to an appropriate length for uniform creation are overwhelmed with a sense of shame, and to outgrow your specially made uniform before graduation is a fairly serious problem.
All of this can be said to be linked to traditional ideas of femininity. Although most of Japanese social history has been more concerned with the length of the man's hair (at least in terms of samurai culture), during the Heian period women were encouraged to allow their hair to grow as long as it could as an integral piece of their beauty. Later elaborate hairstyles could be a mark of status or your particular line of work, and Western cultures have similarly placed an emphasis on the length and beauty of women's hair, whether that means that hiding is mandated or showing it off. In addition to this, sewing is largely considered a women's occupation, as is the production of clothing and sometimes fabric. We can add to all of this the idea of heirlooms being passed down, not just among family members, but from woman to woman; the women's college I attended has a similar (albeit not hair-based) tradition.
All of these threads loosely come together in this volume, linked with gentle crushes and one particular girl who seems to be at the center of everything, although we never actually see her face. Hoshimiya, the granddaughter of the head of the school, is a character who barely speaks and is mostly seen from the side, giving that impression even when she's drawn head-on. She clearly feels caught in a web of tradition, as we see when Hana, one of the other main characters, catches her when she either jumps or falls from her window (which she was doing or her intention in doing so is deliberately left unclear). Hana immediately develops an almost-crush on Hoshimiya; it's perhaps less romantic at this point as it is sheer fascination tinged with sadness. Hoshimiya is the one person Hana doesn't mind seeing her as the “prince” of the school, a role she otherwise resents, with her classmate Saeki as the only other person who is aware of that.
Saeki has a crush on Hana, setting things up for a love triangle as the story progresses. But more than that, Saeki and Hana are both outsiders to a degree at the school – they both commute daily instead of being boarding students. This means that although they are immersed and active in school life, they're still not fully integrated and are a little creeped out by some of the habits of the boarding students. This fringe status may become important as the story progresses, if only because it allows them, perhaps, to see what is too close for the others to notice.
Yuriko Hara's artwork is appropriately delicate for this story, but readers who are uncomfortable with seeing just tangles of hair such as you might find on a pillow or hairbrush should be aware that there are a lot of scenes like that. Although you wouldn't necessarily know that they were hair without being told, the text makes it very clear what you're looking at. The hair is the most interesting feature of Hara's art if only because it's also the most dynamic part – movement otherwise is a little bit stilted or awkward, particularly where the movement of skirts is concerned. While the pages are easy to follow, keeping characters straight isn't, which may also be an issue.
Cocoon Entwined's first volume feels a bit like a prelude, the start to a story that hasn't quite gotten off the ground yet. It's an interesting one, but also kind of nebulous. If volume two is able to solidify things more, this could be a series worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Effective creepy overtones, interesting use of hair and ideas of femininity
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