Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kindred Spirits On The Roof
Shiori and Mako have been friends forever, but when Mako confesses her love to Shiori at their middle school graduation, Shiori panics and runs away. Now two years later, Shiori realizes that she misses Mako and seeks to repair their relationship. But is what she misses simply Mako's friendship? Then in the second half of the book, Chiharu and Tokino both join the Quiz Club at school because they love watching their upperclassmen interact with each other. Could they find themselves playing cupid for the older girls…and each other?
Kindred Spirits on the Roof is based on the yuri visual novel of the same name, and if you aren't familiar with it, there's a good chance that the book won't hold a whole lot of appeal. This isn't because the two stories told within the volume aren't cute and sweet, because they absolutely are – it's more due to the fact that the book clearly assumes familiarity with both the game's plot and its world, and if you don't have that, the manga feels rather random and more than a little dull. This is a case where the frame story as presented in the original material really does matter.
Fortunately, for those interested, the game is legally available in English; there's even an ad for it in the back of the book. Hailed as one of, if not the, first uncensored yuri games available on the Steam platform, the visual novel has gotten a fair amount of praise in terms of both story and character development. That's part of what makes this manga collection, a compilation of two volumes by two different artists and authors, so disappointing. The six main characters, two in the first half and four in the second, are all book-original, and none of them are particularly well-developed. The first part of the manga, written and illustrated by Hachi Ito, has more potential on this front. The story is a childhood friends narrative, following Shiori and Mako. Inseparable since early childhood, their relationship is shaken when Mako confesses her love for Shiori at their middle school graduation. Shiori, frightened by the prospect of a change in their relationship, runs away without answering Mako, and even though both girls are headed for the same high school, their friendship is left in tatters. Mako is afraid that she can't simply be friends with Shiori anymore, while Shiori can't quite grasp her own emotions where Mako is concerned.
On paper, this sounds great – an iteration of a tried-and-true romance narrative that has worked for years. Where Kindred Spirits on the Roof falters is that it never fills in the gaps. We aren't privy to the girls' friendship, picking up in high school and only getting glimpses of what life was like for Mako and Shiori before. It therefore becomes hard for us to understand how deep Shiori's feelings run (she's our point-of-view character for the tale), which makes really empathizing with her situation difficult. Mako herself is barely in the story, making it equally hard to get a handle on her feelings and take on the situation. Instead we have Shiori interacting with characters from the game, who, if you are familiar with the plot, are working to establish lesbian couples at their school in order to help a pair of ghosts consummate their relationship and move on. Given that the ghosts only get a cameo and zero mention within the story, this is a relevant plot detail that is lost. Since the manga is ostensibly to give us more insight into some of the relationships facilitated in service of the main plot, the loss of context just makes the story feel a bit bland and very cookie cutter.
The second half of the book, illustrated by Aya Fumio and written by Toitentsu, suffers from similar issues. This story focuses on the four members of the Quiz Club at the high school, and how the current members are clearly mad for each other without acknowledging it and the two freshmen join because they both love overseeing “friendly girls,” which sounds like cutesy code for “girls in love with each other.” This adds an uncomfortable voyeuristic element to the story that, while it does work with the game's premise of the ghosts learning by watching other lesbian couples, also feels uncomfortable given the lack of game context. This story does work a little better, however, because we're there on the ground floor of the budding relationship between Tokino and Chiharu, and Natsuki and Rika's relationship is arguably also in the formation stages since they haven't made any confessions. The body language is also better drawn here, with Tokino and Chiharu walking closer and closer together as the story progresses until they're bumping hips even before they come to realize that they have feelings for each other.
That bit of detail aside, it is somewhat surprising to see that both halves of the book were drawn by different people. There's a sense of continuity to the artwork that makes the volume feel like it might have always been one collected book rather than an omnibus of two, and it looks pleasantly similar to the original game art as well. “Cute” is really the best word to describe the artwork – there's a sweet roundness to all of the characters that projects innocence and charm and if perspective isn't always perfect, there also aren't any glaringly off elements or a feeling like the art is trying to pander to the reader. The only real disappointment that some readers may find is that unlike the game, this manga has a strictly “G” rating.
Kindred Spirits on the Roof is not, sadly, a particularly interesting manga. Lacking game summary or framework, readers who have not played its source material may find themselves feeling bored by the lack of compelling story and equal lack of romantic action. It is cute and has sweet elements, but as a G-rated spinoff of an R-rated game, it just doesn't quite work. Fortunately, there's more yuri manga being released, so fans of the genre needn't feel compelled to pick this up unless they've played the game.
Overall : C-
Story : D+
Art : C+
+ Cute art, second story has some nice body language and a better sense of the relationships.
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