The roses haven’t been farewelled yet as the story picks up where the first volume left off, which is to say that more and more people are becoming concerned that Alice’s enthusiasm for her maid Hanako is of a decidedly socially unacceptable bent. Granted, Alice has some of her own misgivings in that she is worried she’s on the path to “ruining” the life of another of her family’s employees, as we learn about her past with her former tutor Eliza… who conveniently enough turns out to be someone Hanako herself knew and admired, the woman, in fact, whose actions ended up leading to Hanako’s presence in England, seeking a career as a writer. Hanako for her part comes to the realization that she is jealous of Alice’s clear love for Eliza, and also works out what this means regarding her own feelings. Alice’s mother, well-meaning in a very specifically heterosexual family member way, moves to separate the two after Hanako comes down with a fever, but we all know it won’t last – and a tearful reunion on the beach in Hastings is exactly the sort of thing readers and characters alike needed.
Goodness, I love this series. That’s the very short version of this review, but I suppose it really deserves a bit more comment from myself – other than those of you who agree with all of my reviews, me simply saying I love this one isn’t much of a useful recommendation is it? And the fact is that while it being a yuri manga is part of my enjoyment of it, it is very specifically that it reminds me strongly of lesbian romance novels set in distant historic periods that I dig. There’s a tone of melodrama throughout that is nevertheless paired with a sense that somehow, some way the limits of society – sexist, homophobic – will be overcome in the end. Its so easy to exult in the angst present because I know that these characters will manage to reach happiness in the end. And while it isn’t as if yuri manga doesn’t do these sorts of things normally, it just reads so much more like anglophone queer romance lit than it does like titles like Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl or the stories featured in anthologies like Éclair or Syrup.
Having written all that, though, there’s also the fact that there is some sense of queer identity in this series, something which even now remains frustratingly elusive in yuri manga, particularly of those titles which are published in English. Oscar Wilde isn’t in here simply for garnish! Alice’s unhappiness is pretty explicitly because she wrongly understands her sexuality as being poisonous and harmful; its not yet a positive identification for her, but she knows her attraction to Eliza wasn’t a one-off matter of youthfulness.
As was case with first volume, this is a well-produced release from Seven Seas. I’ll admit I’ve basically run out of ways to say that since its true of pretty much everything they put out! But kudos to translator Amber Tamosaitis and editor Cae Hawksmoor nevertheless for delivering a good reading experience.
There’s only one more volume to go, which is a drag considering how much I’ve enjoyed reading it. Presumably we will need to actually deal with the fact that Alice is engaged to someone else; Alice appears on the cover in wedding attire, so the chance of a re-run of The Graduate is almost certainly guaranteed! Which isn’t a bad thing at all – tropes that have been bashed to death gain an amazing degree of freshness when rendered queerly, after all.