by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 1

Mashiro has always had the ability to see ghosts of all kinds – human, animal, and some that don't seem to fit any categorization. She's never quite sure what to do about it, but errs on the side of trusting…and one day that nearly gets her eaten. She's saved by the ghost of a crow named Bazu, who, along with a woman named Nelly, tells Mashiro that those ghosts are known as “nomans.” Nelly (and an unwilling Bazu) get Mashiro involved in helping them police the nomans of the city, and thus a whole new chapter opens for Mashiro – and for Bazu as well.

If the name “Neji” sounds familiar, that's because Dear NOMAN is their second title to be translated into English, with the first being the charming Beauty and the Beast Girl. Dear NOMAN takes an equally interesting approach to the yuri genre, once again using fantasy as a major story element, but this time adding some horror to the mix while taking a bit longer to get to the romantic parts. It works impressively well, blending a lesbian love story with a ghost story and hitting a lot of good emotional beats along the way.

The story follows high school student Mashiro Unohana. Mashiro has been able to see what she thinks are ghosts or spirits since she was little, identifiable by the triangular scarves they wear somewhere on their bodies (usually around their necks). Some are human, some are animal, and some don't seem to be ghosts of anything at all recognizable. Mashiro's never been quite sure what to do with these spirits, but she's not necessarily afraid to interact with them, in part because she's still grieving the loss of her older sister some years ago.

Naturally Mashiro's fearlessness when it comes to these ghosts is going to get her in trouble, and sure enough, that happens when she follows a small, unrecognizable one into an alley. The ghost quickly turns on her and is obviously going to eat her when someone shows up to the rescue – a ghost named Bazu, who works with a woman named Nelly to monitor the spirits around town. Nelly tells Mashiro that they're actually called “nomans,” and they can transition through several phases. Nelly's and Bazu's job is to make sure that the ones who are dangerous move on, and hopefully to prevent the harmless ones from transitioning into dangerous spirits. A select few, such as Bazu, are able to remain in the world of the living without becoming dangerous…and since Mashiro and Bazu accidentally kissed when Mashiro woke up in Nelly's office, they're now bondmates, meaning that Mashiro can help out with policing nomans, too.

The kiss between the two is the most overt romance we get in this volume, although the final chapters bring Mashiro into contact with the ghost of a girl who jumped from the roof of the school after getting her heart broken by another girl, so there's clearly going to be more. Instead this opening volume of Dear NOMAN focuses on the inherent tragedy of the ghostly state, and what it is that makes some beings turn into nomans in the first place, evil or otherwise. (The implication is that they don't start out as dangerous; it's something that happens over too much time spent on the plane belonging to the living.) Since one of the ways to tell an effective ghost story is to lean into the tragic element of it – that someone has to die in order to become a ghost – this means that Neji's approach is going straight for the heart, and it proves an effective tactic.

Largely this is because of Mashiro. Early on we see her writing letters to her sister, and all too soon we realize that the latter is dead – the letters are Mashiro's way of coping with her loss, as well as for, we can guess, the fact that of all the ghosts she's seen, her sister has never been one of them. Because of her compassion for the dead born out of her sister's death, Mashiro is more likely to view nomans in a sympathetic light, something that Bazu simply can't understand. Despite looking like a human, Bazu was actually a crow in life, and one mistreated by humans to the point of causing her death. (Bazu's backstory does come with a content warning for animal abuse, in case that's a trigger for you, although the art isn't all that explicit.) When she and Mashiro encounter a noman who was once a cat on the verge of turning into an evil spirit, Bazu is all set to destroy him, but Mashiro, noticing that the cat's ghost is sitting beside an old woman, insists on trying to find a different way. It's heart-wrenching, and it brings two very important plot points to the fore: that simply staying too long, no matter how well-intentioned, can push a noman over the edge into evil spirithood, and that a ghost can be brought back from the brink with a little compassion.

To say that Bazu doesn't understand either the cat's or Mashiro's motivations is perhaps to understate things, and given her past, it does make sense. Bazu is, despite appearances, not human, and part of the work of the story seems to be helping her understand others and perhaps to become more human herself. The experience with the cat does guide her reaction to how Mashiro interacts with the noman who used to be a student (as do her own developing feelings for her partner), but she still ends the volume without her feet quite under her. Mashiro keeping her off-balance feels important to both the ghost story and the love story, because if anything is going to help her to change – and perhaps to move on – it's likely to be Mashiro's own empathy for those around her.

Dear NOMAN's first volume is an unexpected tearjerker and a musing on what loss means to different beings. It's bittersweet and has the potential to be not only an interesting entry into the ranks of English-translated yuri, but also a good story on its own. It's not light and fluffy, but it is worth reading, especially if your experience with yuri has been limited to the more typical tales of sweet schoolgirls, because this shows that we can expect more from the genre.

Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ Lots of emotion and interesting implications for Mashiro and Bazu further down the line. Interesting world.
Art can be stiff, some issues with Bazu's body in general. Humor doesn't work quite as well as the sadder storylines.

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Story & Art: Neji

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