Genres: Manga, Romance, Young Adult
Sumika and Ushio have been friends for years. But Ushio hides a secret: she likes girls! Especially cute, small girls. Sumika also has a secret: she loves Ushio! But she is neither cute nor small, to her dismay. Regardless, Sumika will do whatever she can to ensure Ushio is happy. Two girls try to navigate life together, and learn about love, sexuality, being true to yourself, and even a little about karate.
Welcome! Today’s Manga Monday takes a look at Sasameki Koto, or Whispered Words by Takeshi Ikeda.
Sasameki Koto was first serialized in Monthly Comic Alive between May of 2007 and September of 2011. It gained a 13 episode anime series in 2009, and gained some notability on its handling of subjects such as same-sex couples, cross dressing, and how one handles their sexuality in this age where being open about who you are and who you like is difficult because of the conflicting decrees of the ages gone by and the new era opening up before us.
But before we wax philosophic, let’s look at the first cover. We see two girls, and the one in the foreground appears to be tall, wears long, thigh-high socks, and a very cute but conservative uniform. Her hair is long and she sports a pair of glasses, making her look intellectual. The girl in the background seems to be waving to the other, and has shorter socks, lighter colored hair, and would be (if side by side with the other girl) shorter.
The tall girl is Sumika Murasame. Her family owns a karate dojo, and trains many atheletes. Sumika herself is trained in martial arts, and therefore is athletic. And in spite of her nerdish exterior, she is very out-going. He friend Ushio Kazama, on the other hand, is shy, soft-spoken, and not as smart or athletic as her friend Sumika. Ushio and Sumika are best friends and have been so for years. But, Sumika harbors a secret. She’s in love with Ushio. Ushio herself keeps her own secret: she’s a lesbian. She likes girls. This wouldn’t be a problem, but Ushio likes girls who are small and cute. Sumika is neither of these things in Ushio’s eyes, and while that breaks Sumika’s heart, she attempts to help her best friend find romance anyway. The two attend a co-ed high school, and are glued to the hip in regard to how they interact. In this volume, Ushio is pining for the girl who runs the check-out at the school’s library, and wants to know more about kissing (since she’s never really kissed). Sumika tries to help her out in any way she can, even by getting a mask for Ushio to practice on.
The girls eventually are approached by two others. A lesbian couple, comprised of Tomoe Hachikusa and Miyako Taema, who want the two to join them in a ‘girl’s club’ that they are petitioning to open. The club’s premise: Only lesbians can join! They are met with opposition, however, and eventually, a karate club is formed instead, with Sumika heading and teaching the students who join. Among the other friends of these two young ladies is Sumika and Ushio’s friend Kiyori Torioi, who eats lunch with them everyday. She’s not a lesbian- she’s straight- but she supports her friends and wants them to find happiness, so long as she gets her lunch. There is also Masaki Akemiya, a short and studious boy with very girly features. He cross-dresses, originally doing it as a means of getting Sumika’s attention (because he has a crush on her), but eventually he does it because he likes it. The girls keep his identity as a girl (Akemi) a secret. Then there is Azusa Aoi, who loves yuri (or lesbian) manga, but pretends to find homosexuality as ‘wrong’. Still, she is invited in among the other karate club members.
There are more characters that come along as the story progresses, but this title is primarily two genres: Yuri and Slice-of-Life. A yuri manga, as I mentioned, is about lesbian couples, or two girls falling in love with one another. A Slice-of-life is about the day-to-day trials of high-schoolers, middle-schoolers, and even college and career men and women. It’s just stories about life and what people go through. And this title, while the premise seems boring, is anything but. The girls ask the same questions that every teenager does, and you feel very drawn to their plight. Ushio wants to go out with girls, but she always feels that her feelings are unrequited, and while she doesn’t deny her attractions when asked, she can’t be as open as Tomoe and Miyako due to a past rejection. Sumika, on the other hand, wants to protect Ushio, and wants her to be happy, so she puts her own feelings aside and does her best in the name of friendship. Meanwhile, Tomoe and Miyako forge ahead, unafraid of any rejection or disgust those who are against their relationship could bring.
While the story is compelling in its simplicity, the artwork is another matter. The artwork is dull and, while the hair styles for the characters and their heights and builds differentiate them, there aren’t much details or really popping colors or stand-out features that could make them grand and eye-catching. Some might like that more, but I’m one who enjoys exceptionally detailed artwork in manga.
Over-all, I give this manga 3 stars. A story about life for two girls that, while good in its simplicity, is paired with ‘eh’ artwork. Give it a read, I do encourage you, but don’t expect super-realistic or intricately detailed drawings.