Syrup: A Yuri Anthology Vol. 1 Review

So, what is it with naming yuri anthologies after foods?

Or, more specifically, after desserts and dessert-adjacent foods? Yen Press has been publishing Eclair in English, there’s the (unavailable in English) doujinshi anthology Galette, and then there’s relative newcomer Syrup, which Seven Seas snapped up for license fairly early in its publication run. And while I read the latest volume of Eclair available in English, Bleue, before I got to Syrup’s inaugural installment, I found the prospect of reviewing the latter a bit more to my taste today (I swear I did not set out to make that pun).

Unlike its fellow culinarily-named siblings, Syrup, in this volume at least, is focused entirely on adults, as blobby and baby-faced as some of those adults may be. Running fourteen stories in all, this was a pretty decent opening move, stocked with some well-known names (Morinaga Milk, Kodama Naoko) as well as some old hands with whom Western fans are likely less familiar (Kurogane Kenn, Ohi Pikachi). I hadn’t been expecting very much given the nature of anthologies, so was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it as much as I did.

Having said that… while I did enjoy a lot of these, I managed to remain largely vexed throughout, a feeling which I have been struggling with how to neatly convey in a review. Syrup suffers from an evergreen anthology problem – so many of the stories cut off right as they’re finally getting started. There are a few exceptions (Kurogane Kenn’s Rose Quartz and Izumi Kawanami’s Night Flight could be expanded, but they also work perfectly well as one-shots), but much of the time I found myself really enjoying where the premise was headed only for it all to be over. This also means that a lot of the stories aren’t quite yuri… so much so that I’m not sure I would identify some of them as even pre-yuri if it weren’t for the fact that they’re in a publication explicitly labeled as YURI. Funnily enough, one of these such stories is one of my favorites in the collection, ‘One A.M. at the Laundromat’ (Yukiko), in which an office lady and a club hostess strike up an odd friendship after meeting in a laundromat, as the office lady is bummed she doesn’t have the next volume of the manga she’s reading. Textually, there’s really nothing here that is yuri. As a set-up, I dig it… but the story’s over before it gets much past “hey, you look sad that you finished that volume, you can read the next volume at my place!”. Maybe it’ll be continued, and maybe some of the other ones I felt similarly about will, too, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Out of the whole collection, I liked eight of them… and cannot make up my mind about a ninth; of these, I really hope four get continuations either in subsequent volumes or, well, somewhere, anywhere. There were only two I ended up not finishing, one of which involved characters who looked like they were in elementary school (stories about shy and socially awkward people are totally fine, but I am not really interested in fetishitic portraits of thirtysomething virgins drawn like they’re nine), and one additional that I did not like at all (its not that I expect someone like Yoshimurakana to write something classy, but…). Speaking of nine, that ninth one I can’t nail down my sentiments on – My Femme Fatale, written by Matsuzaki Natsumi, whose art style is far and away my favorite in the entire collection. It’s about two women, Sawada and Oomomo, working for a publisher (either of magazines or newspapers or online news, its never specified); Oomomo has decided to quit her job, and the rumors are flying that it was probably due to sexual harassment. Sawada is irked when a colleague comments on Oomomo’s large breasts and chases the latter down to try to deliver some “friendly” advice about not wearing low-cut tops; Oomomo gives her the brush-off, noting that she likes wearing the clothes she opts for… and that Sawada’s been staring at her cleavage, too, hasn’t she? The story ends at some unspecified date later when Sawada’s been assigned to write some coverage on the thirtieth anniversary of a strip club (there’s a mild hint that this may be harassment of its own at some level, but its so vague I’m probably imagining it), and guess who the opening act is? No gold stars for anyone who says “Oomomo”. There’s something here about workplace harassment, but it isn’t something I’ve managed to pin down yet – it seems like the story is maybe in agreement with Oomomo that wearing what she wants is her own damn business, but that it ends in Oomomo as somewhat-exoticized sex object for Sawada muddies things a fair bit.

The English-language release from Seven Seas is, as I’d expect, pretty solid. Translation’s tough work, and its all the more so when one is handling fourteen different creators, so kudos to translator Jennifer Ward. One minor gripe I do have is that, at least for the version released on Bookwalker Global, the e-book version of this volume doesn’t have a navigable index, making it difficult to flip to specific stories. Other manga I’ve read on Bookwalker have had a navigable index, so I know it isn’t a limitation of the platform I opted to read it on.

All in all, while I was annoyed at the shortness of several of the stories, I enjoyed it enough that I’ll bop that pre-order button when the next installment gets a street-date. I’ve really been pleased that we now get some yuri anthologies in English and am hoping we’ll see some more make it across the wide sea in the future (Galette, of course, is the first which comes to mind).

 

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