Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Conditions of Paradise
Sarina and Sumi have been best friends forever, and when Sumi's travel-heavy lifestyle lands her home in Japan, she always crashes at Sarina's place. They're completely and totally comfortable with each other, and when Sarina has a bad breakup with her latest boyfriend, she starts to wonder if maybe they couldn't become something more…women find each other and navigate the tricky roads to happiness that lie before them in this collection of short stories from the creator of Hanjuku Joshi.
While it's a shame that Akiko Morishima's best-known work, the two-volume Hanjuku-Joshi, hasn't yet seen an English language release (at least as of this writing), there's still something to be said for the fact that we're getting any of her work. It certainly speaks to the increased awareness of a market for yuri titles, and F/F stories where both protagonists are fully grown women at that. Conditions of Paradise follows three couples in short two-story arcs as they begin and continue romantic relationships with each other, and while there certainly are some more cliché aspects to the tales, they for the most part feel a little more grounded than your typical schoolgirl fare.
The main story involves Sarina and Sumi, two women who have been best friends since their school days. Sarina works at an office, while Sumi is a writer who spends most of her time traveling the world, resulting in it not making much sense for her to keep an apartment in Japan. That means that whenever she's back – whether it's passing through or staying for a longer time – she crashes at Sarina's place; that she often does this without warning seems to be the only real bone of contention between them. The catch is that Sumi has been in love with Sarina for years, with Sarina mostly oblivious to the fact, possibly because Sumi is doing a really good job of hiding it. When Sarina suffers a bad breakup with her boyfriend, however, Sumi makes her move, and things change between them.
Obviously, this is a fairly pat storyline, and one we've seen before in numerous BL and GL series. That does detract from the overall romance somewhat, although not so much that it isn't still an enjoyable read; the bigger issue is that the three stories about Sarina and Sumi don't feel terribly chronological. The opening piece, which naturally serves as the introduction to the characters, doesn't make any mention of the ex-boyfriend and seems to simultaneously present the women's romantic relationship as a done deal while feeling very much like it's meant to let us know that Sumi just sort of pops up from time to time and that Sarina isn't bothered by it. The second story, however, gives us the way they got together romantically while still feeling like it takes place later in the timeline than the first piece; this is less a result of the order they're in in the book and more due to the ways the characters interact with each other. While the third story picks up directly after the first, smoothing a few things out, it still means that there's a disjointed element to the women's tale, and that unfortunately detracts a bit from the overall experience.
The second set of stories follows Keiko and Emi, a college instructor and an of-age student prepping for her exams. Emi, the younger woman, is the aggressor in the relationship, and what's interesting about this couple is that Keiko, although aware of other people's attractiveness and moderately interested in romance, really doesn't think to pursue a relationship with anyone until Emi offers her one. While it wouldn't strictly be fair to say she's demi-sexual, it does feel like a valid way to read the character (although “naïve” also works depending on your viewpoint), and the fun of these pieces is watching Keiko try to wrestle with her own growing interest and excitement about just being around Emi. This is a less sexual storyline than Sumi and Sarina's and lighter-hearted in general, which makes for a nice balance with the third couple, Lalah and Shinobu. These two have been together since school, when Lalah saved Shinobu from what she felt was a dangerous situation, and it offers a different take on a longstanding relationship than the first couple, since theirs has essentially been romantic from the start. The idea behind their plotline is that although Lalah, the elder of the two women, looks very young and favors Gothic Lolita style, she's the protector, and Shinobu depends on her for emotional and sometimes physical support. They're completely comfortable together, accepting each other's quirks and working together to live a mutually happy life, and despite the more fanciful artistic aspects of the story, theirs is easily the most grounded of the pieces.
The book also contains two standalone stories, one featuring two high school students trying to get a relationship off the ground (while still feeling weird about it) and another taking the form of a literary fairy tale set in the Edo era. (Morishima admits that's because she loves the Fukiwa hairstyle.) This is the most striking of the works in the book and makes for a strong ending – not just because of the bittersweet quality of the romance, but because of the way Morishima uses the themes of yuri manga to influence what is otherwise a very traditional story in folklore. The art here is also particularly beautiful; while there is a pleasing softness to most of the work (Lalah in her Loli Goth is the exception, oddly enough), the use of curved lines, period detail, and petals really makes this final story something special. That it feels fully told is also a point in its favor; this also sets it apart from the other works in the volume.
Conditions of Paradise isn't quite as captivating as Morishima's full-length stories, but it is a very nice read nonetheless. Each couple explores a different path to love and the fact that most of them are adult women may also be a bonus for some readers. With soft, lovely art and a varied balance of plots and characters, this makes for a very nice English-language introduction to the creator's original works.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Variety of relationships and ages, final fairy tale story is very strong in both art and story.
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