by Rebecca Silverman,

Whispered Words

GN 3

Whispered Words GN 3
Sumika and Ushio both know that they're in love, but neither of them is quite ready to take those final steps and admit it – to each other and to the world. Ushio knows all too well what it means being “different,” and Sumika is just generally not as comfortable with strong emotions as Ushio is. But as their feelings grow stronger and as adulthood rears its sometimes ugly head, both young women must come to fully accept both themselves and their feelings for each other if they are ever to find happiness once they leave high school behind them in the tender conclusion to Takashi Ikeda's love story.

There are plenty of books, manga, prose, and poetry alike, which deal with the troubles that come with adolescence, not the least of which is the issue of being “different.” That word can mean many things in the harsh land of high school, and Takashi Ikeda's Whispered Words has consistently handled its take on it – homosexuality and gender fluidity – with understatement and kindness. This final omnibus, containing the last three volumes of Ikeda's nine volume work, takes the story through to the end of high school and discusses the issues that heroines Ushio and Sumika have as they move past “high school crush” stage and into wanting a more permanent, serious relationship...which of course involves making their relationship known to people outside of their circle of friends.

The book starts fairly slowly, picking back up with the day-to-day of the girls' lives, but also introducing Ushio's older brother's former girlfriend, whom he dumped in order to take over Ushio's care when she became depressed living with her grandmother. While it isn't overtly stated in this volume, it is fairly clear that Ushio's sexual orientation became a bone of contention, and her brother has been accepting and willing to devote his life to protecting his sister. It's a sweet gesture and proof of his love for her, but it also seems as if he treats the fact that she's a lesbian as a disability, one which may prevent her from living a normal, safe life. Interestingly it is the return of their grandmother which allows him to see that Ushio will be fine, and that paired with his realizing how much she and Sumika care for each other helps him to move on with his own life. His girlfriend is likewise accepting, as the final chapter shows, and their acceptance of the girls' love for each other marks the first adults to truly see the girls as a real couple, not just something childish that they'll grow out of. Other grown-ups do find out about the relationship and appear to condone it, but not with the strength that Ushio's brother does, and that seems to speak about the lack of understanding in general the girls will face. (A look at the priest in the last panel and his body language confirms this in an all-too-familiar way.)

This volume also returns to the story of the girls' classmate Akemiya, who for a time in the first book was modeling as a girl. It is nice to see Ikeda return to the character and to give us a conclusion to that sub-plot. More striking about the book, however, is when Ushio is thinking about her experiences as a lesbian in a heteronormative society: “Even I don't know why, just because I like girls, I have to endure stares from people, or feel ashamed about myself.” We've seen her being outwardly strong throughout the series; to now at the end finally see her admission of discomfort just as she and Sumika are preparing to solidify their relationship really drives home the troubles they may face. There's also an honesty about Ushio's words that many who see themselves (or are seen) as different can relate to. Plenty of authors have tried to put that feeling into words – for me at least, few have succeeded like Ikeda does in this brief statement.

Regretfully this book is still not perfect. There are a couple of sections where Ikeda is attempting to show parallel storylines, generally a flashback and something currently going on, where it just feels like we're missing important parts of both plots, and there are also a few sections that suffer from a lack of transition, even within a single chapter. (Oddly, this lack of a smooth transition is rarely, if ever, seen between chapters.) One Peace Books' edition also suffers in its grammatical content; while not nearly as big an issue as it was when the first book came out, there are still missing commas and other punctuation errors, misspelled words, and in one case a mix-up between homophones “shoes” and “shoos.” I personally am not a fan of writing the English text in out-of-bubble speech right next to or on top of the unaltered Japanese text, and there are a few times where even if that does not bother you the two languages are too close together, resulting in neither of them being readable. There are also a few small words left untranslated, although they never have anything to do with the plot. (An example for the concerned would be a waitress greeting a customer as he enters the shop.)

Despite these problems, Whispered Words' finale is still tender, thoughtful, and sweet. It allows for a happy ending while still acknowledging the problems that a lesbian couple might face in society, as well as the issues their parents might have simply because a formal marriage is out of the question. The final chapters about the end of their high school experience feel rushed, but on the whole this is a series that works as more than a blanket yuri title. It is a love story which pays attention to the way the outside world can make things uncomfortable, but ultimately shows a resolution that makes the heroines come out the stronger for having stayed together.

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

+ Charming and thoughtful, pays attention to both the good and the bad. Understands how difficult it is to be different from society's norm, even if it handles it with a light hand.
Some pages can be confusing in both writing and art, grammatical errors in the English translation. A few too many side characters look alike, hand may be too light for some readers hoping for a more in-depth treatment of LGBTQ issues.

Story & Art: Takashi Ikeda

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