Sasameki Koto

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I believe this is what you’d call an “iconic scene”.

Sasameki Koto (ささめきこと, Whispered Words) is a yuri manga by Ikeda Takashi (いけだたかし) that’s fairly well-known in yuri circles. It had an anime adaptation that was pretty good (in my opinion) and ran in a seinen magazine rather than a yuri magazine, making it a little more famous on top of its general yuri renown. It has the honor(?) of being the series that made me realize I was a big fan of yuri. So, is it good? Well, yes, because if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it, but to be perfectly honest it is far from my favorite yuri manga. While there are things you could consider “special” about this series, at its base it is definitely typical. Thinking about it, I wonder why it ended up being such a standout manga, but I guess you could mostly attribute that to it running in Comic Alive and thus having more exposure.

Hm, I feel like it sounds like I’m shitting on the series. I mean, for the most part the series is competent, and there are some things about it that are excellent, but aside from some niggling details I personally don’t care for there’s the ending parts of the manga to consider. This manga doesn’t stick the landing for its end very well. The very end is good, but getting there is rather bothersome. I’ll go into more detail on that later, though. Most of this review I’ll be explaining the manga and trying to understand why it was this one that made me a yuri fan.

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The premise and setup for this manga is very simple. Murasame Sumika is a tall, somewhat masculine-in-personality high school girl who is in love with her best friend, Kazama Ushio. Kazama is an open lesbian who adores cute girls. Sumika isn’t cute, so her love is a secret and unrequited. Kazama falls in love easily, but hasn’t fallen in love with Sumika. Therefore, Sumika suffers watching her friend fall in love and get heartbroken repeatedly (because homosexuality is not the norm). The first chapter follows one of these moments of love’s blossoming and ending, Sumika comforting Kazama in the end but revealing nothing. There you go, that’s all there is to it!

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It didn’t surprise me to learn this series began as a one-shot that wasn’t going to have a continuation or anything. Maybe because of that, the series progresses pretty much exactly how you might expect. That said, there is more to it, but the core of it (the relationship between Sumika and Kazama) remains unchanged throughout.

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The airhead.

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The not “yuri-esque”, but yuri couple.

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The useless addition.

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The curveball.

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The late additions.

Here is the cast. Among them, the most important characters are from the third and last pictures: the yuri couple and the freshmen introducing themselves. After that, the rest are side characters who aren’t as important. Two hang out with Sumika and Kazama regularly (the beaming girl, and the little girl), the other two (the boy, and the girl with glasses) serve a purpose and rarely appear after that purpose is fulfilled.

This is an overall pleasant cast, and the only one I can’t recall actually liking was the girl with glasses, Aoi Azusa. Mercifully, she is also the character who appears the least in the series. The rest? They’re funny! I don’t find Sasameki Koto to be hilarious or top tier comedy, but I recognize how lighthearted the series and its cast are. Main characters included (Kazama is super excitable, Sumika is an awkward goofball), this is a cast of quirky students reflecting Ikeda-sensei’s wacky sense of humor. This is nice, since the series can get fairly dramatic at times and some smiles and laughs can really alleviate the tension. I will say that sometimes the manga gets a little too wacky for my taste, but for the most part it works.

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I don’t want to fully discuss the cast, though, because talking about the important ones can get spoilerific and talking about the other ones beyond what I already said is almost pointless (though I can say the first character I pictured, Torioi Kiyori, is welcome and wonderful). I can talk about the two pictured just above a little more, however. Hachisuka Tomoe and Taema Miyako are an openly lesbian couple that we encounter very early on in the series. Miyako does not do much beyond scowling and being rude in an amusing manner, but her other half is like a goddamn pillar in this series. Hachi, while definitely a strange girl with plenty of quirks, is also mature beyond her years (and is actually more mature in years over the rest of the cast by two). She’s very interesting, so much so that I think it’s a shame she (and other characters) don’t get loads of focus and development. Instead of getting lots of focus, Hachi serves mainly as a subtle guiding hand for Sumika and Kazama. This is very good, but I’ll explain why that is a little later.

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First I’d like to explain why talking about the “non-important” characters is merely almost pointless. I could examine them, but they don’t actually affect the whole manga that much save for arguably Lotte — but even she could just as well be removed from the series without changing most of the story. Here’s something special, though: they have their own stories in the manga and those stories range from somewhat to really rather nice. I mentioned Sasameki Koto began as a one-shot, right? Well, I think Ikeda Takashi recognized that he’s pretty good at making those because quite a few of the chapters in Sasameki Koto read like good one-shots more than they do chapters in a serialization. Aoi, Akemiya (the crossdressing boy), and Lotte all have at least one one-shot-like chapter dedicated to them (rather than Sumika or Kazama) and honestly, I liked all of them (even if I didn’t like Aoi herself). Each is unique in storyline and themes and you could pretty much read those chapters start to finish with no prior knowledge of the manga proper. Naturally, Hachi and the two freshmen also have chapters like this, and Sumika and Kazama have the most like this.

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I think this makes Sasameki Koto unique and special, but I hesitate to champion this as a selling point. I think this one-shot style is a skill of Ikeda-sensei’s that’s interesting, but it doesn’t change the manga from being a mostly standard unrequited yuri romance manga. To sell this manga, I’d say what I said at the start: Sasameki Koto is mostly competent, and in some regards excellent.

Reading this, I think this doesn’t look like the opinion I should have on the manga that hurdled me into the endless field of lilies with a blissful expression, careless and free. Is it the “excellence” of the manga that pushed me over the edge? No. It isn’t. I’ll tell you what’s excellent about it: Ikeda-sensei can capture emotion very well through expressions and paneling — both the beauty and ugliness of emotion. There is power, here, in scenes where emotions run high. Ikeda Takashi is a grown man who understands the hearts of 16-year-old girls. It’s sweet, it’s painful, and that’s all great. Not why it made me fall in love with yuri, though.

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Here. I think this explains it.

I’m a romantic and always have been. I like reading and writing love stories and thinking about love. I fantasize about it and am warmed when fiction explores it. What particularly interests me is difficult love. I like love that is a struggle, so long as it’s not contrived. In that vein of thinking, I like strange love: love that isn’t standard. A non-standard love comes pre-equipped with challenges, which feeds into my first interest by starting from a difficult place. If a love is fulfilled in spite of the hurdles and pain that get in the way, is that not a wonderful and powerful love? Is that not a ~pure love~?

What Sasameki Koto made me realize was that yuri fulfilled my ideals on a basic level. With any yuri story, the love is between two girls, and biologically-speaking that’s not normal. So, there’s already one hurdle of operating beyond the basic instinct of opposite sex attraction. Plus, because of Japan’s cultural views and really most cultural views from the world at large, the love between girls is going to be looked down upon. From all I’ve seen, the majority of Japanese see homosexuality as either hilarious or just a teenage phase — either way, a joke. Thus, if two girls still remain together in the face of this ridicule, it must be true love. Look to the page above: Kazama is fantasizing about a situation where her new love can be realized, but she’s doing so with a hurt expression. That really sums it up. No matter what, it’s going to be tough actually falling in love and being loved in return for homosexuals in this society. It’s not likely: it’s fantasy. Sasameki Koto deals with these troubles on top of the basic “unrequited love” premise, meaning it hurts a lot sometimes, but eventually a love between Sumika and Kazama will bloom. And when it does, it will be hard-earned and real.

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Oh, and I’m not gay myself so that’s why I find it difficult to be interested in boys’ love.

So that’s that. Sasameki Koto unlocked my yuri limiter and opened my eyes to the beauty of girl/girl relationships that I’d always been somewhat interested in, but never enough to actively seek it out. In terms of romance, Sasameki Koto is nice. Sumika and Kazama are really great friends, and we see that, so their good relationship is believable. The two of them develop character individually at times rather than always growing together, making them not seem overly dependent on one another. Kazama’s troubles from being an open lesbian and not having much in the way of hobbies or interests define her character arc, and Sumika’s troubles with loving Kazama but being unable to accept her “uncute” self as a result define hers. Since Sumika is the protagonist, we mostly focus on her (and how she’s a karateka who’s reluctant to return to the sport), but Kazama takes a sort of “main character” role as well sometimes which is interesting. We also thankfully get to see how the two became best friends and how Sumika fell in love with Kazama, which I am very happy with. It probably would have been fine just accepting that they were already friends with the start of the series, but getting to see their relationship grow in a flashback arc was lovely.

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“Negative energy”, huh?

Yeah, let’s talk about that “negative energy”.

A major criticism I have no problem lodging against this series is how it’s 9 volumes long and it could really have finished within 7 — maybe 8 if you’re being generous. Indeed, I believe this series is overlong by two whole volumes’ worth of content and a big reason for that is the negative energy of Sumika and Kazama. It is so, so, frustrating. Like, “spoilers”, Sumika and Kazama get together by the end of this series. That shouldn’t come as any surprise because this is a romance with no real harem or love triangle elements — this ain’t no “will they/won’t they”, but “when they”. Oh, it’s damn nice when the confession happens. It’s great! But what surrounds it? Nrgh. Because of some…some nonsense their love takes longer to come to fruition than it ought to. At times, they just act annoying. Whether or not it’s believable is one thing, but it’s definitely aggravating. Plus, at least one roadblock to their progress comes up and almost gets in the way that I feel I could call a contrivance, because it almost comes out of nowhere.

Pacing and story structure almost fall apart in the last stretch of the manga, and I do not like it very much! Thankfully, Hachi is around to make things go smoother and clear some things up, but she can only accomplish so much. The story feels muddled all of a sudden and unclear. When it ends, it’s nice, but by the end I wasn’t completely satisfied with the journey. If a story doesn’t end very well, that can sour your impression of the entire thing because it’s the last thing you come away with. Thus, I’ve noticed Sasameki Koto doesn’t have a spotless, remarkable reputation on the boards where I discuss manga, but I think most would agree that on the whole it’s fine. Most of it is a good series and even in the mire of the final volumes it’s got some of the best scenes in the whole manga. The series took a while to finish (it was bimonthly while being serialized) so that certainly contributed to any negative opinions, also. I’ve read this series thrice: once while it was running/being translated, again last year just to read it all at once, and this third time for review. When I first read it, I remember coming away from it in a foul mood over much of what had transpired. On my second read, I reconsidered strongly. This series is much better when you have it all before you. After my third read…well, my opinions are in the form of this review, are they not?

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I would recommend reading Sasameki Koto. Even though there’s “bad”, “good” is what you’ll mostly find in this manga. The art is cute and goes into simple style often for comedic effect, and like I said before Ikeda-sensei has a good grasp on portraying emotion through his drawings and through the manga medium itself. Although I think the series could have ended sooner than it did, it doesn’t actually feel like a long series. Sasameki Koto reads fast and is rarely dull, so that’s nice. Note: that means a hell of a lot coming from me, as I am a very slow reader. Anyways, I may not hold Sasameki Koto in the highest esteem, but I do recognize its special place in my life. I shall bow to it respectfully, like a pompous douchebag.

You may import Sasameki Koto from Bookwalker (guide), honto (guide), or ebookjapan. It is also available in English from a publisher I have never heard of before in three big, fat volumes as Whispered Words. I know nothing about this company or this translation, so do as you like! For now, toodles, and have a good weekend. Thank you very much for reading.

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