I said in my post on Their Story that I would be branching out beyond the narrow band that is yuri manga, into works that are yuri-adjacent, or not manga. Today’s post is looking at an example of the latter; Kindred Spirits on the Roof, a yuri visual novel released by Liar-soft in 2012 as Okujou no Yurirei-san. Kindred Spirits is a great VN and one of my favorite yuri works, and I’m excited to get into why that is.
Kindred Spirits focuses on a pair of ghosts, Sachi and Megumi, who are in love with one another but can’t pass on because they don’t know how to have sex. Because of this, they enlist our protagonist, Yuna, in order to have her play matchmaker for other gay girls in the school, thus teaching Sachi and Megumi what they need to do. Yuna starts out reluctant and somewhat annoyed, but as time goes on she realizes she’s a lot gayer than she thought she was. This silly premise is used to explore a total of 7 couples throughout the game, meeting more as the game continues through its calendar system.
One area Kindred Spirits stands out in is its characters. As a VN there’s a lot of time spent with each of them, and this time is used well in fleshing them out. Yuna stands out the most here; as the viewpoint character for the main story scenarios, we get a real sense of who she is. Her vaguely sarcastic and detached outside slowly melts as time goes on, and we see that on the inside she’s vulnerable and sometimes a bit of a nervous wreck. We get to see how much passion she has for cooking and helping others despite her protests, especially when it involves Hina, her best friend.
The other characters are all great as well. They’re unique but none of them really feel like archetypes. The serious girl on the disciplinary committee is the forward one in the relationship. The student in love with her teacher isn’t feeling admiration confused for love. The third wheel in a group of three friends doesn’t feel left out in the slightest. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they feel exactly like real people, but they’re certainly as varied as real people are. It never feels like anyone’s personality can be summed up in one sentence, or in the fact that they’re gay.
This variety in characters leads to a great amount of variety in the relationships as well. We do get the traditional senpai-kouhai and teacher-student pairings so common to yuri, but we get much more than that, and even within those relationships, there’s a good amount of deviation from the norm. For example, there’s a relationship between two third years within the story who’ve been dating for multiple years when Yuna meets them. They began dating when competing against each other in track. This on its own would be unusual; yuri often gets a pass for being in the walled garden of an all-girls school, but they met outside this walled garden.
Even more subversive is the fact that they specifically plan on going to the same college and living together. Of course, gay-until-graduation has been fading in yuri manga for a while now, but a lot of stories kind of just ignore the question of what to do at graduation. Kindred Spirits wastes no time on that; it’s very clear what their plan is. This same amount of detail and life exists in all of the other relationships as well. None of them feel like an afterthought; they all have appropriate build-up and follow-through, which is no mean feat when juggling 7 couples.
One common area of interest in this game, especially among queer women, is the art. This is a game where sex scenes exist, but despite that, the character designs shy away from being highly-sexualized. At the same time, they aren’t particularly “moe”, which is a turn off to some readers. All of the characters are certainly cute, but they’re cute in much the same way that girls can be in real life. The best way to demonstrate this is a look at the clothes the characters wear. Unlike in most otaku media, the clothes they wear are loose, hanging off of them rather than clinging to their bodies. To put it simply, the characters look comfy, and that feeling of comfiness easily spreads to the reader. They don’t particularly stand out, but the art is nice to look at and doesn’t ever get creepy, and it deserves props for that.
One area that’s a bit divisive is how it handled queer issues. Kindred Spirits still falls into the somewhat lazy trap of having characters say things along the lines of “but we’re both girls” or “even though we’re both girls”. These lines are trite, boring, and really ought to be removed from yuri except in cases where they’re directly addressed. At the same time, the game does a lot of good on this front, so I think the issues are forgivable. While it’s almost pathologically resistant to using the word lesbian(perhaps due to sexual connotations the word has picked up in Japan), certain characters clearly identify as such. One character describes later in the game how she’s only ever fallen in love with other girls. Another character describes how a friend confessed to her before taking it back as a childish feeling that isn’t really romance, an idea which is promptly rejected.
Even among the characters who don’t seem to explicitly think of themselves as lesbians, this dealing with queerness as a real phenomenon is clear. Late in the game, when Yuna realizes she’s in love with Hina, she freaks out about it, and a large reason for that is fear and anxiety over whether Hina would be receptive, and how the world at-large would react. At this point, Yuna’s seen plenty of lesbian couples and no longer has any idea that queerness is inherently bad or weird. Despite that, the realization that she herself is queer comes as a shock to her and makes her quite afraid. I think this is something that most queer people can relate to; even nowadays, with the much greater prominence of openly queer people to look up to, self-exploration and coming out are very hard to do. All of Yuna’s thoughts while she was worrying were piercingly relatable, to the point that it gave me anxiety as well. I wish the game didn’t fall back on using trite phrases at times, but its ability to create characters like Yuna more than gives it value to queer readers.
Kindred Spirits is long and full of content. Finishing the game itself takes a good 15-20 hours, and after that, there’s a bunch of bonus content to drive up the time. All of it is worthwhile, and I would definitely say that the game is worth the money at full price. You’re not getting a 5-hour game here.
The game has a sequel/spin-off manga and a set of drama CDs that are absolutely worth it if you enjoy the base game. The manga is written by two different mangaka and explores two new couples after the game ends. The main connection is that both these couples go to the same school as those in the main game. Due to the significantly lower amount of time spent on them, these characters aren’t nearly as interesting as those in the game proper, but they’re still fun and worth reading the stories of. The drama CDs, on the other hand, explore the characters we’ve already met in more scenarios. I haven’t gotten around to them yet, but I have it on good authority that they’re a ton of fun and worth it if you like the game’s characters in the slightest.
Kindred Spirits on the Roof is certainly the most expansive traditional yuri VN. It comes from the same lineage as yuri manga as a whole while still fitting in just fine with modern works, even going beyond them in many areas. If you enjoy reading VNs and have even the slightest interest in schoolgirl yuri, this game is worth a shot. You won’t be disappointed.