The rattling of a train; Quiet loneliness in a new seaside town; A classroom aquarium. And then suddenly, a chance encounter between two solitary girls. These are the panels that introduce us to Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru, perhaps the absolute best yuri manga currently being published. A lofty statement, perhaps, especially given its status as a schoolgirl work rather than an adult one – and yet it is difficult to deny its truthfulness. If I were to compare it to another manga, it would have to be the inimitable Bloom into You – but even that can not compare to the subtle elegance contained in this work.
So, what exactly is Nettaigyo, also known as Hanigare? It is, much like its aforementioned cousin, a yuri manga published by ASCII Media Works in a seinen magazine. While it is technically referred to in official venues by the nonexistent word “girlship”, mangaka Makoto Hagino’s strong yuri resume shines through quite brilliantly here, and as a result the presence of girls’ love can scarcely be denied. A soft and slightly wistful series at heart, the story of these two girls who find solace in each others’ friendship manages to strike a perfect balance between melancholy and majesty. Our leads, Konatsu and Koyuki, are alone for their own seperate reasons. Konatsu moves away from her old friends in Tokyo after her father is assigned to a new job overseas. Koyuki, meanwhile, is beloved for her seeming perfection, but that admiration comes at the price of leaving her nigh-unapproachable. And this is where the story of the connection between these two begins, as Koyuki sparks a conversation with her new kouhai, a scant few minutes after she first arrives at the school. What made her reach out to Konatsu in particular? Why are they so desperate to spend every moment together, and so anxious about doing so? These are the questions that drive the narrative.
Quote: “I knew it… She’s an honor student out of reach to everyone, and she’s an older girl who gets beet red from an indirect kiss with another girl… She’s been all alone without interacting with anyone inside this cave-like aquarium…”
Were I to use a single word to describe Hanigare, it would be “delicate”. The panel transitions frequently employ movement-to-movement cuts, with Hagino-sensei devoting page after page to the intricate mannerisms of its characters, from their interpersonal gestures to their relatively mundane acts. This clever panelling, once again, bears striking similarities to Nakatani’s techniques, but I’d argue the work here surpasses even Bloom. The character’s perplexing yet intense feelings for one another come across in every pose and panel, with not a single stroke of the pen being put to waste. This skillful composition is just as beneficial to non-romantic scenes, of course, with the comedy standing out in particular. Not a single page or chapter feels flawed in any way; every one of them perfectly conveys its meaning almost through art alone, to the point that much of the work would be understandable without the text at all.
Quote(end of chapter 4): “…Ahhh, what should I do…? Ever since I met Konatsu-chan, I’ve…”
However, do not take any of this to imply that the words spoken are lacking in any way; no, they’re just as mesmerizing as the art they add weight to. Not to be left behind by said art, the writing is an equally essential part of making this into a work which has, in a scant 14 chapters, become one of my favorite manga of all time.
One of the most common complaints surrounding romance anime and manga is their focus on the “will they or won’t they”, a complaint that’s even more prevalent when the topic of schoolgirl yuri arises. Certainly, it’s something I myself have felt frustration over in the past. Kase-san is such a compelling read precisely because it manages to slip free from this paradigm. However, Hanigare succeeds in spite of using this trope due to its careful focus. Generally, girls in these kinds of series will understand their feelings but struggle to find an approach to deal with them. Not so, here. Koyuki and Konatsu, smart as they are, do not understand their feelings. And it would be unreasonable to expect them to; adolescence is a difficult time, a period in which emotions can be difficult to decipher. These two have never felt such strong feelings, never known a world that was not exclusively platonic. This could come up for anyone in this age group, but for a pair of evidently queer girls, it’s an even more prominent concern. Moreover, this trial of the two is merely a single factor of the difficulties they face in their daily lives; the weight given to it is no more than should be afforded to the early romantic blossoming of two high-schoolers. The story does not belittle their feelings, but it does not exaggerate them, either. Essentially, Konatsu and Koyuki’s relationship is beautiful in how ordinary it is, easily contrasted with the average shoujo romance and the yuri spawned from that tradition. This could be a dangerous game, but the characters are enchanting enough that it never causes the work to suffer. Fear not; these are just high schoolers, but everyone of every age has an interesting story to tell, and this one is well told.
Quote(end of chapter 8): “Honami-senpai, when we first met… why did you call out to me?”
As with my previous review of Seabed, this is simply not a work built to sustain its audience through narrative intrigue alone. The focus is, as I have said, on the subtle feelings of the characters, on the ways their daily lives are affected by these stirrings of the heart, and in this it does a superb job(use page 47-48 of chapter 12 here). The quiet, melancholy, and ultimately hopeful interplay between Koyuki and Konatsu is never anything less than transfixing, true proof of manga’s power to capture in full the way people behave in both a broad and minute sense(use page 28-29 of chapter 14 here). Our main pair is far from lacking in specificity, truly coming across as real people in their own right, a trait that the rest of the cast more than shares. In exploring the specific difficulties the characters have in putting a name to their feelings, the struggles of queerness are put on display in perhaps the softest way possible, clearly causing difficulties without truly showing suffering, striking that delicate balance between beneficial struggle and painful despair. It is, genuinely, a brilliant yuri story, an outstanding manga, and an exemplary work of fiction. I implore you to read it.
Quote(from end of chapter 14): “I was just fine during grade school and junior high, so I won’t get homesick… …Or will I? …So, then what what about you, Konatsu-chan? Are you gonna be lonely without me?”
“Do you want us to always be together?”
“Come on! It’s time for the club!!”
“For me, I’m sure that I…”