I like to spotlight adult-focused manga in this series, but yuri is a genre dominated by schoolgirl settings. It would be nice if adult-focused stuff began to occupy a bigger part of the market and a shift in that direction is occurring, but it’s going to be a long time until that makes up the majority of the genre. For now, anyone who wants to read yuri has to accept that schoolgirls are a part of the genre that isn’t going to go away. And so today, I present a wonderful high school yuri story by acclaimed mangaka Morishima Akiko: Hanjuku Joshi.
As I said, Hanjuku Joshi is a schoolgirl manga, but as with two weeks ago’s Kase-san it throws off the shackles of Class S tropes. This is done to an even greater extent here, which isn’t unexpected. Morishima Akiko is an open lesbian, and almost all of her stories are focused on characters who are explicitly lesbians, not just girls who happen to love another girl. She’s made multiple schoolgirl manga, almost all of them attacking aspects of Class S stories, but Hanjuku Joshi is the most fleshed out of these.
Hanjuku Joshi is a relatively brief series, clocking in at only two volumes, but it packs a fantastic amount of content into those two volumes. The series is primarily focused on one specific relationship, that of Yae and Chitose, and how these two come to fall in love with one another. This is a relatively simple plot, but it stands out for making it clear that they fell in love with each other because they were both girls, treating their genders as an important part of their attraction. Modern yuri may have shed many of the problematic aspects of Class S relationships, but characters who explicitly identify as queer instead of merely being considered queer based on attraction are still rare, and Morishima-sensei does a great job with that here, as she does in her other works.
Yae and Chitose aren’t great merely as representations of queerness though. Both of them are strong characters, particularly Yae, whose worries about her body and how she’s perceived are relatable, while also giving deeper meaning to her relationship with Chitose. The two of them make a cute couple but they also make a strong couple, clearly helping each other grow as individuals. It’s a story focused heavily on the idea that falling in love is a collaborative process. The manga definitely touches on subjects like readiness and consent and while I can’t say it does so perfectly, it certainly does well enough.
The manga features one or two other couples as well, depending on how you define things. The first is a teacher-student romance, which is handled with much more care than you would usually expect. While Yae and Chitose had never been in a meaningful relationship before they started dating, the characters in this couple had, though they had both been with men. The manga does a good job of showing how a lesbian could come to date and have sex with men in spite of being attracted solely to women, which provides a different perspective while still giving primacy to queerness.
There’s also one more side-couple, though they only show up in a side story. This is another age gap couple, where we see Chitose’s older sister, a fujoshi, fall in love with a girl who attends Chitose and Yae’s school. This isn’t a very deep relationship nor is it one that adds much to the queer aspects of the series, but it is pretty cute. That said, it does provide an example of how BL manga is often used by queer women.
The manga has incredibly cute character designs. Morishima-sensei’s art style tends towards rounded-faces, frequent blush marks, and large eyes, though it’s more reminiscent of classic shoujo than modern anime. These designs might turn off some who are interested in the manga for its more adult take on schoolgirl romance, but they absolutely fit the manga’s mood, which is usually pretty upbeat and happy. There are moments of darkness, but it’s ultimately a very optimistic series which avoids permanent queer misery and the art style only compliments that.
It’s worth noting that this is a manga with a lot of sex in it. It ran in Yuri Hime Wildrose, a magazine dedicated to yuri with sex, and while I wouldn’t call it porn, it does get pretty explicit. This isn’t necessarily a downside, and the moments where sex is included feel appropriate, but it’s worth being prepared for before you begin reading. Mind you, this is still a story and character-focused manga, so the sex is never the main focus.
Like I said, Hanjuku Joshi is primarily about schoolgirls and if you have no interest in that setting then you’ll be out of luck with this manga. But if you can stand high school romance stories at all, this is one that’s worth checking out. It stands among the best works in the genre at explicitly broadcasting its queerness, and that’s something worth celebrating. It’s a great step into schoolgirl yuri because it’s so queer, though that might provide false expectations. It’s one of my favorite manga as a whole, and everyone should read it.
Hanjuku Joshi has never been licensed in the United States and the Japanese edition is currently out of print, so if you want it physically you’ll have to buy it used. Scanlations are available online.