Last week I looked at My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, a series which strays a lot from yuri’s classic tropes. This week’s manga is the Kase-san series, beginning with Kase-san and Morning Glories, and unlike SabiRezu it thoroughly fits within yuri’s many established conventions. It’s set in a high school, focuses heavily on first love, and is ultimately a very flowery affair. Kase-san is a classic yuri series made today, carrying the genre’s lineage while still feeling up-to-date, avoiding the problematic tropes of the past. If I were to use one phrase to describe Kase-san it would be well-executed, because while it does little in the realm of innovation, it’s constantly firing on all cylinders.
It’s important to note that Kase-san is very much a shoujo yuri series. It initially ran in a general yuri magazine, but it’s recently been restarted in a magazine which is specifically aimed at the shoujo demographic. Shoujo yuri tends to be less creepy and fetishistic than shounen or seinen yuri, but the demographic has its own set of harmful tropes, described by the somewhat dreaded phrase, “Class S”. To put it simply, Class S is a pseudo-genre in which two girls have close feelings for one another that resemble romance while lacking sexuality. Class S series are almost always set at all-girls schools, and the relationships in them are sure to be broken up, either by time or by death. In Class S works, the sexuality of the girls is not taken seriously, and their feelings are generally seen as a passing phase, only preparation for the “real” romantic feelings that the girls will eventually have for their husbands.
At the time it was created, Class S was pushing the boundaries of how much you could portray queer women in Japanese art, but by the 2000s it had long since become an outdated and harmful genre, abound with heteronormativity. It led the way to current yuri, but it needed to be abandoned at some point, and fortunately it was during the mid-to-late 2000s.
Kase-san obviously is influenced by these Class S stories, but it avoids almost all of the problematic elements. Kase-san might be shoujo, but it definitely feels like it’s coming from a queer perspective, something I’m aiming to broadcast in the schoolgirl works I look at in this series. Kase-san is flowery, and it is very interested in the idea that these feelings of romance are associated with youth, but it never argues that the feelings are tied to youth, ready to fade as soon as the girls grow up.
Getting to the actual content of the manga, one of the most important things about this work is that it has fantastic progression. The manga takes place over multiple years, and just recently it actually went past high school, with the main characters entering college with their relationship intact. Kase-san totally ignores the idea of “gay until graduation”, and there’s never any sense that the main duo’s relationship has any chance of falling apart for trivial, heteronormative reasons.
And that’s all part of the manga’s fluffy and happy tone. There is drama of course, but it’s usually only for a few chapters at most, with the longer drama spawning from simple nervousness and poor communication that you would expect in an early romance. The relationship here is totally healthy, and it meaningfully evolves over time, showing more communication and less doubting of one another.
Our two leads, Yamada and the titular Kase-san, are both great characters in spite of their simplicity. Both of them come across as real people who could exist outside of a romance story. They have interests and personalities that aren’t directly tied to one another, making them feel like they don’t exist just for the purpose of the relationship. You can imagine how their lives would have gone if they had never met and fallen in love, and it wouldn’t be that bad. At the same time the romance doesn’t feel unnecessary. They were fully formed people before they met, but they do change each other for the better, helping one another to grow into their full potential. By the point we’re at now, they’re recognizable as the people they started as, while still showing clear signs of growth. This kind of development is great in a romance, and Kase-san does it better than many other examples I’ve read or watched.
Ultimately, Kase-san doesn’t diverge a ton from other schoolgirl yuri series, it just happens to execute everything really well. Its short, somewhat self-contained chapters and likeable characters do a lot, and its happy, slice-of-life-esque atmosphere combine with cute and bubbly art to make it a fun read at almost any time. I can recommend Kase-san to almost any yuri fan; I’d argue it’s the best currently publishing yuri manga, and it’s absolutely going to go down as a classic in the genre.