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by Rebecca Silverman,

Yuri Espoir

GN 1

Yuri Espoir GN 1

High school third year Kokoro has just gotten some unwelcome news: after she graduates, her father expects her to marry a business associate. Not only is this an ultimatum Kokoro's uncomfortable with, it's also a direct refutation of her sexual orientation. To make herself feel better about what she views as the impending death of her self, Kokoro enlists the aid of her art club friend Amami to fill a notebook with sketches of yuri couples, a memory that Kokoro can look back on during her bleak future. But as Kokoro and Amami embark on this fantasy journey, the real world has a few things to say that could change everything.

Yuri Espoir is translated by Caroline Wong and edited by Lena Atanassova.


Kokoro's death is impending. That's how she puts it to her friend Amami, anyway – her father is forcing her into an arranged marriage as soon as she finishes high school. The man she's meant to wed is a youngish (probably in his thirties) business associate who helped out her father's company, but to her, that's not the only distasteful aspect. Kokoro is a lesbian, and though she's still in the closet, that doesn't change the horror she feels. To Kokoro, this feels like a death sentence in more ways than one – not only does she make the aforementioned statement about her coming death, but she also describes penetrative sex as being slain with a bladed weapon, implying that once she is breached by a penis, her lesbian life will be destroyed. While this is phrased somewhat histrionically, the feelings are still valid, and that alone gives this a darker edge underneath some of the fluffier aspects of the story.

That fluff begins to emerge almost immediately: to make herself feel better about never even having had a girlfriend, she enlists Amami to accompany her as she draws yuri couples in a notebook and tells herself stories about the girls and women she sees. After a bit of humorous misunderstanding wherein Amami doesn't realize what “yuri” means (perhaps making that case for the term GL), she agrees, at least in part because she very much has a horse in this race, even if Kokoro doesn't realize it. Well-intentioned fluff or not, this could have been a bad plot move – the idea of using real people for your fantasies isn't one that sits well with me, and neither is the fetishization of LGBTQIA+ couples. But Kokoro has no illusions about what she's doing; she's well aware that she's making things up and creating fantasies out of whole cloth to suit her own needs. She even makes up some rules she has to follow, one of which is that if she or Amami ever see the people they draw again, they can't say anything, keeping the women's real lives separate from whatever bedtime stories Kokoro needs to tell herself. It's the only way she's able to cope with the heteronormative life she's being forced into, and creator Mai Naoi makes that clear in the art very effectively: whenever someone talks about how great her marriage is going to be, all the light goes out of Kokoro's eyes and her expression freezes. It's like watching her just die while talking, whereas when Kokoro spots two women or girls together, she gets angel wings and sparkles in her eyes.

All in all, this is kind of grim for a book with "hope" right in the title. (That's the meaning of the French “espoir.”) But it's not entirely without it – Amami has a four-bubble rant that strikes at the core of the entire story after Kokoro encounters an aunt who spouts a lot of garbage about marriage to a man being a woman's ultimate purpose in life: “Why do we have to get hurt because of people who can't differentiate between their happiness and someone else's? Why do we have to pay the price because those dinosaurs think that young people having the freedom to make their own choices negates the ones they made?”

That's the heart of the book right there. Kokoro's fantasies aren't negating any choices or imposing her thoughts on anyone else; they exist only to soothe her. So why is her family and the world forcing their choices and dreams onto her? We can see this as well in the people she spins her dreams about, because each couple (or “couple”) she spots has two chapters devoted to them: one that's Kokoro's fantasy and one that tells us the truth about them. Some of them really are on the verge of becoming a couple, like Amai and Tsu – Tsu is cross-dressing as her twin brother who's dating multiple women, and when Amai finds out, she makes a choice that Kokoro could get behind. Others, like Seika and Eve, are trapped in a true love triangle that Kokoro never anticipated, while Sumika and Hitomi are worlds away from anything Kokoro could have come up with. It's a good way to tell Amami and Kokoro's story, because we can see many different relationships unfolding in each chapter, no matter whether they're real or imagined, and that gives us different lenses through which to view Kokoro's life – even when it turns out that her art teacher is an acquaintance of her fiancé and what that brings to the table.

Yuri Espoir is an odd combination of froth and sadness. The way that the world seems hellbent on crushing Kokoro under the burden of false heteronormativity is undeniably tragic, but there is still hope in the form of Amami and her fantasies. That Kokoro gives all of the girls she's daydreaming about names that involve the word “yuri” is a fun touch, and if the art isn't spectacularly attractive, it still works quite well. It's a series worth checking out, even if parts of it can be a lot to take.

Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-

+ Nice blend of sweet and bitter, some good touches in the art.
Has some uncomfortable elements of both queer fetishization and queer erasure, art works but isn't particularly attractive. Dollars used for money amounts rather than yen.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Mai Naoi
Licensed by: Tokyopop

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