Alex, Vrai, and Toni shine a spotlight on one of the best modern yuri available, its genre commentary, and its cast of lovable disaster girls.
Date Recorded: June 24th 2023
Hosts: Alex, Vrai, Toni
0:03:11 Spoiler Warning
0:12:22 Parody? Satire? Deconstruction?
0:33:46 Hime AND Mitsuki
0:40:22 Sapphism, voyeurism, and femininity
0:51:47 The anime ending
1:01:30 Final thoughts
ALEX: [Assumes a sunny tone] Good afternoon! Welcome to the salon! This is Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. We serve tea, cakes, and intersectional feminist analysis of Japanese pop culture. On our menu today is something special, just for you: it’s a series retrospective on Yuri Is My Job! My name is Alex, and I [Returns to normal voice] will not be keeping up that customer service voice for the whole episode. Don’t worry. [Chuckles] I am a contributions editor here at AniFem. I’m also a writer and researcher studying queer representation in media for young people. I’m joined today by my fantastic cohosts Vrai and Toni.
VRAI: Hey, everybody. I’m Vrai. I am the managing content editor at AniFem. You can find me being sad about vampires and occasionally doing freelance work on Twitter until it dies @WriterVrai, and I am also on mastodon.social @writervrai.
TONI: Hello. I am Toni. I am a contributing editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @poetpedagogue, where I talk about anime but also about teaching, abolitionism, and occasionally post videos of myself playing the saxophone.
ALEX: Wonderful. Thank you for… [Assumes a bright tone] I feel like I was the only one really bringing the energy— [Returns to normal voice] Sorry, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to commit that hard to the bit! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Are you about to tell me about my mandated pieces of flair?
ALEX: [Laughs] Oh, man. Yes, government-mandated flair! Government-mandated pizzazz! No. So, hello, everyone. We’re talking about Yuri Is My Job! today. This is a series that we have covered a little bit before here at AniFem. Way back in episode 134 of this very podcast, we recommended it as one of our Yuri Manga Variety Hour episodes, which we could probably do a follow-up of by now. There’s been enough new series come out. We’d probably have a nice new pile of things to talk about. We also have a great article by our very own Vrai called “What Role Are You Playing? Communication, queerness, and neurodivergence in Yuri Is My Job!”, themes of which we will be coming back to, I imagine, today.
So, this is something we have on our radar for sure. So, needless to say, a lot of people on staff here were very interested when an anime got announced for the spring 2023 season. So, this has just finished airing. We’re going to be talking about that today, unpacking its cultural and genre context—which is very important to knowing what’s going on there—its themes, and, perhaps most importantly, its messy, messy cast of fictional teenagers.
VRAI: Whom I love.
ALEX: Before we… [Chuckles] Before we go into that, though, would one of you love to give us a little plot summary as a refresher or perhaps if people are listening without being familiar with the work?
VRAI: Yeah. Do we want to say that this will be, ah, some spoiler… if you want a completely spoiler-free sort of talk about the show, you should maybe check out the seasonal podcast, and we’ll probably be wanting to get into the actual meat of the narrative, especially the later stuff?
ALEX: Yes, that seems fair. And I also imagine we might be getting into some manga discussion, as well, to sort of talk about a couple of adaptational decisions or things they haven’t adapted yet but we’re looking forward to. So be wary of that as well.
VRAI: Yeah. We’ll give a heads-up if we’re going to mention any manga spoilers, and we’ll try to keep it vague, I think.
ALEX: Wonderful. Yeah.
TONI: Yeah. And well, I’m sure we’ll give timestamps, too, of beginning and end of them, so it will be very easy to avoid.
VRAI: Yeah, so, a tiny little plot summary. The story begins with Hime, who is an extremely sweet, adorable, popular girl. She’s small, she’s blonde, she gets along with everyone. And from an early age, her plan has been to become beloved by everyone and eventually snag herself a billionaire so that she can live in the lap of luxury. And she has crafted herself a perfect façade from which nobody can discern her true intentions. One day, while she’s on her way to school, she bumps into another girl and knocks her down, spraining her wrist, and gets blackmailed into working at a café, Ouran High School Host Club style. When she gets there, she discovers that the café is themed in a style similar to the classic Class S manga Maria Watches Over Us (a fictional version of that, obviously) where the waitstaff all pretend to be schoolgirls at a prestigious German academy and they have very close bonds of… uh…
ALEX: They seem to be quite good friends.
VRAI: Yes, they’re all very good friends.
VRAI: Sort of nebulously intimate relationships called “schwestern.” And once she’s there, she’s prepared to just ride it out until the blackmailing is over, but she meets her coworker Mitsuki Ayanokouji, who for some reason is the one person who doesn’t like her, and she cannot stand for that.
ALEX: And that is where we begin. So, we are definitely going to be digging into the story and all the character relationships and things, but because of the genre stuff that you mentioned, this interaction with Class S, I think we should start with that before we dive too far in.
So, Yuri Is My Job, as you said, Vrai, is kind of riffing on the aesthetics and tropes of old-school yuri and/or Class S literature. And there’s a lot of historical and cultural context surrounding this, which we won’t get into too deeply today, just in the interest of time. But the kind of quick version is… Class S is a genre of fiction about the intimate friendships and relationships between young women. This began in the early 20th century and often is anchored in settings like the all-girls school, which was becoming a much more popular thing and a prescient setting for stories at the time.
These Class S stories and the tropes and traditions that they established are generally considered to be the kind of prototype for what we would now in a modern context call yuri. Nicki Bauman a.k.a. YuriMother has a neat article breaking down the history of the genre called “Beyond The School Cathedral: How Yuri Grew Up” on ANN, which is a great resource that really kind of breaks down the evolution of how we got from this literary tradition to where we are now with a whole genre and demographic umbrella that we call yuri, which encapsulates a lot of different things.
But the aesthetic and general framing that the café in Yuri Is My Job! is following is nicely summarized for us in Bauman’s description of Maria Watches Over Us. We’ve got, quote, “a private religious school where only elegant and pure young maidens could attend, an emphasis on senpai-kohai relationships where the younger girl would call her senior ‘onee-sama,’ and deep, powerful romantic friendships.” End quote. And needless to say, lilies and pure white flowers, absolutely everywhere. So, Yuri Is My Job! exists in a very specific kind of genre and media conversation. And I know that this sort of satirical genre-aware aspect was the thing that initially drew me to the series when I heard of it and heard of its premise. What about you folks?
TONI: Sure. I mean, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about checking it out simply because, well, I had seen a little bit of the advertisements that seemed a little bit like it was going to adapt it in a way that felt fetishy or just kind of playing up some of the aspects of the show that would make it feel like it’s missing the point. But Vrai really insisted that I watch it because they know that I love a story about messy, complicated lesbians who really are making the worst choices that they could possibly make.
ALEX: [Laughs] That is a bountiful genre.
TONI: It’s a surprisingly large genre. And so, I watched it. And I’d heard about it from the yuri variety hour episode that they did, and I was just so… Vrai was absolutely correct in every way. I really found myself attached, especially to the way that these characters who struggle to describe their emotional life honestly have so much that each of them is hiding from the others (so much, everybody is hiding everything from each other, except Hime thinks she’s not hiding anything from Kanoko, but she is) and how the Class S archetypes started to give them kind of a language to describe their emotions to each other and to try to be a little bit more honest with those emotions.
But even as it did that, it kind of structured their emotions into this way that was actually not always helpful to get them quite where they need to be. So yeah, I really, really found myself drawn to that aspect of the show, the Class S satire and the way that it asks how having these models for how to talk as lesbians or gay people or whatever can be helpful but also really limiting, too.
VRAI: Yeah, I picked the manga up because Cy, I think, was the one who sold it so well on that variety hour podcast. They really pitched it to me, and they were correct!
I would call this easily the best schoolgirl yuri series currently running. I think you could make a case for it as the best yuri series running, but you would have a real hard time stacking it up against How Do We Relationship? But yeah, I think it’s really, really smart and funny, and it has great depth of character writing.
A big thrust of the piece I wrote about it is that it’s very easy to make stories about misunderstandings trite, where, you know, Romeo and Juliet die because one person didn’t get the right message at the right time because the moon wasn’t waning in Saturn. But the characters misunderstand each other in this series so organically, where a lot of the time they’re really trying to better their relationships with one another or to be earnest, but their approaches to life can be inherently opposed or their values lead them into opposition with each other, which then creates the conflict.
And I’ve heard people say that they have a hard time with this series because they get a lot of secondhand anxiety from that, and I think that’s valid. One thing I hadn’t considered ‘til Peter brought it up in our work Slack is that this can be something of an unapproachable series just because it does have that high degree of literacy buy-in. Like, I don’t think it’s impossible to enjoy if you’re not very familiar with yuri, but I think it gains a lot if you do know the history of the genre and are at least passingly familiar with other popular works of schoolgirl yuri.
ALEX: Yeah, no, I agree with that. I think it does have a bit of a barrier to entry in terms of… Yeah, I mean, actually I don’t think it’s a barrier to entry. It just may be, yeah, some of the jokes of the initial setup may go over your head. Like, if you approach it like, “Oh, okay, well, there’s this weird café where they’re all pretending to be German schoolgirls, I guess? That’s kind of a weird niche, but I’ll roll with it for the purpose of the show,” I think that would still work. But obviously, you get something very much more specific and potent out of it if you have that context, like, “Oh, this is a parody of the genre that this exists in, basically.”
Although, I feel like it’s not necessarily a mean-spirited satire. I don’t know. I’ll be interested to know your thoughts on this, because it’s obviously using this sort of Class S “Oh, we’re all just pure, lily-white maidens and we would never consider these feelings as anything more than sisterhood.” It’s obviously leaning into that. But it’s not… It feels like… I’m trailing off in all directions. Basically, what I’m trying to get at here is that we exist in a complicated conversation with old-school yuri and Class S, as we do with all prototypical and old historical queer fiction, where it can be tempting to look back and be like, “Well, that was all crap, because we’re so much better now.” But I think Yuri Is My Job! has its critiques of this setup, but it also kind of acknowledges, “Well, you know, I am here now telling this story because 100 years ago they were telling this kind of story. And the evolution through different social contexts and different moments in history, that’s all led to this point.” So, I don’t know, it’s paying homage as much as it’s taking the piss, which I think is [Chuckles] an important thing for what it’s going for. What do you guys think?
TONI: I absolutely agree. In terms of my own familiarity with that kind of genre, I actually haven’t watched a lot of Class S or read a lot of Class S myself, but I still really enjoy the show. And I also think that we’re at this point right now where many different series are engaging with the limits of Class S. And I think that there’s been a string of shows that have this very strong representation of girls who are trying to break out of this kind of model of purity and break out of these ideas of girlhood that are so restrictive. We see that with… Your wonderful article on Flip Flappers, I think, really encapsulates Flip Flappers’ critique of that, Alex, in the Class S episode.
ALEX: [crosstalk] Thank you.
TONI: Oh, it’s a great article.
ALEX: Thank you.
TONI: It’s on AniFem if you want to read it. And then Yurikuma Arashi, of course, is a very strident critique. But I think what links all of these different shows is that I don’t think that any of them are particularly disgusted with the concept of Class S so much as they are frustrated with the systems and limitations of the systems that produce it and the lack of other stories. It’s not so much that these tropes are harmful in and of themselves as much as it is [that] absent other representations of lesbian life and the sapphic life, they are inadequate.
VRAI: I’m very impressed with how this series handles its parodic elements—I think you hit the nail on the head, Toni—where the thematic struggle of the series is very much about [how] these sort of coded queer works can be a place where people can congregate and find each other in community, but then at a certain point, they also become limiting or restrictive. And I think that’s something that the series very much gets into in the arcs following where the anime leaves off.
But yeah, so, with… I know people really love it, and I need to try it again and try to give it a fair shake just because it’s very important to people, but I have always really, really resented Maria-sama specifically for coming out in the early 2000s and essentially reigniting Class S as the popular form of yuri after we had what people jokingly like to call the gay ‘90s, where we had Uranus and Neptune and we had Adolescence of Utena and that kind of stuff. Then Maria-sama was a big hit! And for years after that… At least in Strawberry Panic! they got to kiss. That’s something.
I can really respect the sort of loving nature that this takes at that work specifically and works like it while also saying, “Okay, but what else?” You mentioned, Alex, Nicki Bauman, YuriMother. She’s also talked about, in some of her Patreon articles, this sort of theorist concept of the scale of soft to hard yuri, where the farthest end of soft is basically shipping, where you’re taking these dynamics between female characters who get along and mapping relationships onto them as a viewer and extrapolating that through fanwork, and then you have the furthest end of hard, which is explicitly described and termed as lovers with on-screen intimate physical contact. And I think a lot of series like this are mapping out to what degree do we need or want terminology, especially as grounded queer works start to come more into focus in 2010s-era yuri and BL-type works, which I think is interesting.
TONI: Yeah. And just to add on to that, I think one other thing that YuriMother has said in another article, if I remember right, is that one of the main problems with yuri nowadays is a lack of interest in the material experiences and the material conditions of sapphic life, like what is it actually like to be sapphic and to experience societal homophobia, to experience these different forms of violence? And I think since that article was published, we’re seeing more and more series that are actually contending with that, with things like How Do We Relationship? And I think that Yuri Is My Job! is on that spectrum. I think that Yuri Is My Job! is less interested in the more explicit violence of homophobia and that material reality than it is in the psychological process of trying to come to terms with [the fact] that you have feelings for another woman. And so many of the characters are just in complete denial that those are their actual feelings!
ALEX: I agree. It doesn’t explicitly nail this on their head and say, “Oh, these characters have a hard time recognizing lesbian attraction when they see it because their only frame of reference is these very intimate ‘friendship,’ quote-unquote, Class S stories.” It doesn’t come out and explicitly say that, at least not from my memory of reading it and not from seeing it in the show. But that’s kind of the background subtext. If it’s like the fantasy wonderland of the café is the only framework through which intimacy between girls can happen, then it does kind of make sense that they don’t have any concept that it could be any other way. Certainly, for example, we don’t see Kanoko watching TV and seeing a queer couple and going, “Oh, wow! This exists in this format outside,” or there’s not, at least so far, any older queer couples or mentor figures or things like that, for example, like you would get in Bloom Into You. Or even Catch These Hands, which is a very silly yuri that I read recently, has a B-couple, a pair of lesbians who ended up together, who kind of show this is a possibility. You can have this. Your desire can look like this. Your relationships can look like this. Yuri Is My Job, that doesn’t kind of exist.
And so, whether it’s explicitly making it as part of its commentary or not, it’s kind of saying, “All right, the Maria Watches Over Us format is the only place these kinds of intimacies can exist,” so it makes sense that the characters just wouldn’t put the pieces together and assume that their feelings were romantic until of course you get things towards the end where Kanoko is like, “Oh, wait. I can say the words ‘I love you’ and it makes sense. I never said that out loud before.” It’s doing something, but on a more meta level. It’s not really saying it out that explicitly. But again, if you’re wired into the history of the genre and the context and stuff, you put those threads together into this grand tapestry.
VRAI: I mean, there’s Saionji-san, but that is something that’s introduced pretty close to the end of the anime, and you don’t get to… I’m a little bit behind on the manga. I’ve read 9 volumes and the 11th volume is going to release in English at the end of July. But in the most recent volumes, it’s kind of getting into the alumni of the café, so it is looking into that adult element, but you certainly don’t get much of that in the anime. It’s very much about the schoolgirl space. And I think it holds that back deliberately.
ALEX: Mm-hm, yeah, to kind of draw you in and then open it up further as you go along.
TONI: And of course, Saionji’s existence is an incursion in the space and it’s treated as such. We’ll get more into this when we talk about Sumika.
VRAI: Oh, yes.
TONI: But it’s not like the incursion of romance in the space is something that is unproblematic to the functioning of the Class S space. Real romance, I mean.
VRAI: I mean, speaking of, I think another thing that this series does well is sort of balancing the fact that you can look at most of these characters and say, “You are a trope, or a take on a trope!” but also, it takes those and writes them in a way that feels like these are also characters. Mitsuki and Hime are of course the type A and type B girl, the dark-haired beauty and the small, bubbly younger girl, who are the most popular template for yuri couples. Kanoko is every sad lesbian friend.
VRAI: It goes back further than Tomoyo, but I always think of Tomoyo, who just…
VRAI: And then you have Sumika, who is the… She’s both this… She doesn’t want to allow for the romance in this space, but also, she’s very much just… who hasn’t been upset because romance has broken up their friend group? And looking back on it, maybe you overreacted, but it’s like the end of the world at the age where you are.
ALEX: Mm-hm, mm-hm. Oh, man, so what we’re getting to, I think, is that we kind of came for the genre commentary and stayed for all the messy business involving these characters, which I think segues us nicely into how I wanted to do the show discussion, which is… as you have so nicely pointed out, each of these main characters gives us so much to unpack. So, let’s maybe go through it character by character if we’d like to, starting with, of course, our beautiful princess Hime who has never done anything wrong in her life and who everybody loves!
VRAI: I know this and I love her.
TONI: [Laughs] It’s so funny because so many people’s immediate reaction to Yuri Is My Job! when they first watch it is “I hate her so much!”
VRAI: They’re wrong! They’re all wrong!
VRAI: Everyone says, “We want more gremlin girls,” until you get one.
VRAI: Then you don’t appreciate her!
ALEX: It’s funny, right? Because on one level I get it, because my emotional, gut reaction is to find Hime very frustrating. But when I actually engage with this as fiction, [I] look at her as a character, and when I do that, I find her fascinating. Especially the… Like, she’s running a con, right? I don’t know, explicitly, at what point in her life she started this grand plan of hers, but it’s basically like… I don’t know, I’m picturing her as a six-year-old or something, coming into this self-awareness of how she is in the world and how the world sees her, and her immediate thought is, “Ah, I have to turn this into a grift to ensure my own financial security,” because she’s already got her whole façade thing going in primary school when she meets Mitsuki. So I’m obsessed with that as a character detail and as a motivation that she’s just carried with her for her entire life. You know?
VRAI: It’s so interesting to me, because we don’t hear a lot about these characters’ home lives, but there’s a lot you can potentially read into it. I think you can read a lot into Hime’s obsession with wealth and the fact that she immediately notices Mitsuki is rich.
TONI: Absolutely. And this all is a plan to get a husband in the end of the day. That’s the entire plan. It’s her plan, but it’s also… is she just saying that because she really is actually just scared of what people will think of her and she’s scared of social rejection, right?
VRAI: I really, really don’t—I think she’s so deep in the comphet she hasn’t even considered being attracted to women. I really do.
ALEX: [Chuckles] And I think… I don’t know. Yeah, because her plan is to get a husband but her attraction or interest in men doesn’t come into it. She’s like, “That’s my piggy bank, buddy! That’s what that is.” And I think the thing that I enjoy most about Hime is that her façade is a façade is a façade, in that she’s like, “Ah, yes, I have this grand plan. I’m so ahead of the social curve. I’m playing everyone like a fiddle. I’m on top of this.” But you spend ten minutes in her headspace and you’re kind of like, “Ah. No. Your real motivation is ‘I need everyone in this room to like me so much, all the time, or I will die!’”
VRAI: This is your brain on—
ALEX: [crosstalk] This is the most evident when she freaks out and is so confused and so confronted when Mitsuki doesn’t like her, which, you know, is for real, tangible reasons, not that she knows that at this point because she forgot that they used to be friends. Oops!
TONI: Like, imagine… And that’s the thing about her. I cannot tell if she is… Like, some people say that she’s incredibly emotionally intelligent.
VRAI: [Laughs] No.
TONI: And I’m like, are you high emotional intelligence if you’re as miserable as she is, 24/7, because you’re constantly desperate for everyone’s love and affection? Are you high emotional intelligence if you cannot even remember and figure out that this girl who does not like you is the person who you totally trashed on in primary school and were besties with? I don’t know! I don’t even believe in emotional intelligence; I just… I think things are so much more complicated than that. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Hime is your brain on rejection sensitive dysphoria.
TONI: Yes! [Chuckles] Absolutely!
VRAI: Like, for real, I think you can read her and Mitsuki as like, “Oh, no! Two neurodivergent partners do not automatically make a perfectly harmonious relationship!”
TONI: If I remember right, I think it was… I think it was… Gosh, her… Can you remind me what Nicky Enchilada’s name that…?
VRAI: Her byline’s Monique Thomas, but she goes by Nicky in This Week in Anime.
TONI: Okay. How should I refer to her right now, you think?
VRAI: Nicky’s probably fine.
ALEX: [Obscured by crosstalk]
TONI: [crosstalk] Yeah, I think it was Nikki from AN— Sorry.
ALEX: Oh, I was gonna say don’t mix it up with Nikki Bauman, who I said before, but that’s okay. “Nicky from ANN” will make sense.
TONI: Different Nicky. So I think Nicky, who does This Week in Anime for ANN, was talking in our Discord that Hime is the ADHD to Yano’s autism spectrum. And I can see that, pretty profoundly, just in terms of completely forgetting important details and having no idea how to take people’s orders because she forgot to read the employee manual, which unfortunately the anime glossed over but I think is a really important insight into her character, that she just does not have the energy or time to do the study that is necessary to be an effective worker at this café.
VRAI: Yeah, I feel like that’s a big background detail that explains a lot of why Mitsuki is understandably frustrated with her, is she was given the tools and she just didn’t do it.
TONI: And it’s like, this is Mitsuki’s hyperfixation presumably now, whereas presumably from before it was piano. And then here is Hime just being like, “Oh, whatever! I’ll just wing it!” And any autistic person who, when they see somebody else pick up their hyperfixation and just be like, “Oh, whatever! I’ll wing it!” is… I find that I’m always a little bit like… “You’re gonna do what now? How dare you!”
TONI: “How dare you!”
ALEX: “You can’t do that!”
VRAI: I wouldn’t call the job her hyperfixation so much, but I think it is her safe space where she is able to practice social roles and she has a set script that she can… Within this space, as long as she acts according to these guidelines that she’s been told and follows those rules, she will have positive social reactions, and that is a safe thing that she can always fall back on and feel comforted and know that people will back her up. And I don’t know, I just… You know, we’ve referenced it several times at this point. My God! Mitsuki Yano is the most autism girl of all time, and I…
TONI: Absolutely! [Chuckles]
VRAI: I’m not somebody who often vibes with characters that people point out as autistic. Haru from Free! does nothing for me. But it’s her and it’s Armand and it’s Pearl. And I see myself in Mitsuki so much it hurts!
TONI: I feel that very profoundly.
ALEX: This is the nature of this show, I guess, is that the characters are all so intricately knitted into each other’s lives. We kind of started with Hime and have naturally segued into Mitsuki.
TONI: Oh my God, I love them so much.
ALEX: [crosstalk] So, let’s talk about their relationship, maybe, their absolute gut-punch for the reveal of their past. Which, again, I love because the “Oh my gosh, we’ve met before as children” is a… it’s a romance trope across all genres, but it’s a thing that I have seen multiple times in yuri or yuri-adjacent work, Utena being the massive, most devastating, amazing one.
VRAI: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers!
ALEX: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers! Never mind! Never mind!
ALEX: Forget I said anything. Don’t worry about it. [Chuckles] But this is such a funny and interesting and maybe more realistic, I daresay, version of that, where it’s like, “Ah, we knew each other as friends and you fucked me over when we were 12, and now we have to live with that, and we’ve found each other again.”
VRAI: God, younger than that! I think they’re like, eight.
ALEX: Yeah, actually, I kinda wasn’t sure. But yeah, “when we were very small, impressionable children.” Which, again, Hime is an eight-year-old and is already running a con [Chuckles] and being like, “Oh, I lie to everybody all the time.” I’m like, “You should not be thinking this hard about your performance of girlhood and your whole financial gain.” [Chuckles]
TONI: I think that makes Yano’s response to Hime having that attitude towards things, of publicly being indifferent towards her but then privately really caring for her… just completely baffling, because not only is Yano autistic, presumably (I mean, I perceive her as that), but she’s also eight! And I don’t know. I think that one really common experience for autistic people… I experienced this almost arrested development, not in the sense that, like, “Inside I am 6 even though outwardly I am 17,” but just that it took me longer to learn the social codes and to figure out certain rules of communication and how to explicitly directly ask about boundaries and yadda-yadda-yadda. But when I was that age, I too would have seen that and been like, “But why? If you like me, say you like me to your friends!” You know?
ALEX: Yeah, and if you don’t like these people, then why are you pretending to be nice to them? It makes sense that she is, yeah, as you said, baffled by Hime’s whole thing of saying one thing and meaning another and having these different personas, where she’s like, “Just be nice to people if you like them and don’t hang out with people that you don’t like.” It’s very straightforward logic, surely.
VRAI: Yeah, I tend to tell people that if you get to episode 4, which is the flashback episode, or at the beginning of volume 2 of the manga, and that whole little scene doesn’t click for you, this probably isn’t going to be a series you get anything out of, because that flashback just destroys me. It so epitomizes what I think the series does well emotionally, in that they are both doing what they think will protect the other person, where Mitsuki really wants to be earnest and stand by what she believes, that Hime should be able to do what she wants, and Hime, whose biggest problem is often not thinking that other people have emotional complexity or agency, decides that she’s going to protect Yano by pushing her away. Never once does it enter her mind to tell her this, that this is her plan. It hurts me in my feelings.
ALEX: Yeah, and then they are thrown back together and forced to reckon with their shared past, and it’s very juicy melodramatic material!
TONI: And I think that is fundamentally the problem with Hime’s attitude towards the world, is that she sees everybody else as objects to manipulate, right? Except for the people who she’s decided that she cares about, right? And on some level, she does care about their feelings, but she cares about their feelings in a way that’s not about “How can we work together to figure out these situations?” And at least in the beginning, it’s “How can I protect you from your own social ineptitude?” Or not even “own social ineptitude,” but “from these other people who are being mean to you.” And I think that the Class S tropes start to force her, in a sense, to reckon with how that attitude has harmed people around her.
VRAI: But it’s very believably teenage, too, right? Because I don’t think Hime inherently lacks the ability to feel for others or anything so much as she’s at an age where being self-centered is natural, where you assume that your worldview is the only one or the correct one. Hime, to some extent, seems to operate under the belief that “Well, obviously everyone has the end goal of wanting to be popular and liked so that they’ll have a comfortable life. And I’m going to help them get there. I’m just so smart that I figured it out early,” which you can see in how she treats Kanoko and, once she realizes that Mitsuki can’t do that, how she tries to shelter her as if she has this inherent fault and that’s just how the system is.
ALEX: Which, I mean, hey, that could be a good segue. Want to talk about Kanoko?
VRAI: Oh, Kanoko!
TONI: [crosstalk] Yeah!
ALEX: [Chuckles] I’ll take that as a yes. [Chuckles]
TONI: Yeah. I mean, to kind of build on what you were saying, Vrai, what Hime constantly tells Kanoko is like, “Yeah! You’re building your façade! You’re building your ability to seem like you like other people even when you don’t.” But the thing is that Kanoko’s whole problem is that she is constantly holding up a façade around Hime! She is not telling Hime how she actually feels, and that is Kanoko’s whole problem around Hime. Around other people, it’s just that she… It’s not entirely clear what happened to Kanoko to make her distrust everybody.
VRAI: Okay, pause for a moment. So, the anime as a whole is pretty one-to-one in terms of adapting two chapters an episode or whatever. Kanoko’s is the only one where her flashback episode is just one chapter in the manga and they kind of embellish it out for a whole episode of the anime, and I think that that was a bad idea, because a lot of the flashbacks in the manga are very elegantly broad, if that makes sense. There’s a lot alluded to, like I mentioned with Hime maybe coming from a poor upbringing or having this sense of need; you can kind of read that into some of her statements. I think that you can read, to some extent, that maybe Kanoko is just… she has a little bit of the smart-kid misanthropy. But also you can read that maybe she was bullied to an extent by kids around her in some of her dialogue. But when you’re spending more time than the couple of very brief flashes that you see in the manga, there’s the vibe here that she should be being bullied by these nice kids around her. But you’re not really seeing that, so it just kinda seems like she’s a stuck-up jerk, and I think that’s unfair to her.
ALEX: Yeah, that’s such an interesting point, too, how, yeah, maybe fleshing things out and adding more material without necessarily adding more information is not a super wise adaptational choice. Because again, Kanoko kind of… Like everybody, she’s kind of archetypal, at least initially, because we all recognize this trope of “Ah, she’s the pining best friend with the unrequited love,” which, to be clear, is a character type I always have a soft spot for in yuri or sapphic media or otherwise. I don’t know. There’s almost an element of chivalric romance or something to it, just like “Ah, yes. I don’t expect anything out of this, but I am noble and loyal, and I will stay by your side and never mention it.” I go crazy for that when it’s played straight, but when you get a piece of media that attempts to unpack that a little bit and is like, “Hey, I think that’s making you miserable. Do you want to do something else?” and the character has to confront that, that is really interesting, which is what I find so intriguing about Kanoko’s arc, which we do get a decent chunk of in the show that we’ve seen thus far.
VRAI: Yeah, I was talking with my partner about the show, and they made an interesting point about how where the anime leaves off with Kanoko’s arc sort of ties into Yurikuma and the café itself with this idea of sapphic attraction as inherently treated as for consumption, “If you don’t say anything, it didn’t happen,” and how that can be a double-edged sword, as it were.
ALEX: Yeah, because that’s… You know what? I hadn’t even thought about that. But yeah, that whole thing of “Oh, they don’t say anything; it may as well not exist,” which is obviously pertinent in the moment in the conversation between those two characters. Like, “Well, hey, you know, say your feelings out loud. You’re allowed to say those feelings out loud and make them real. Don’t be frightened of making them real.” But that line does also echo nicely into this discussion around canonical or more explicit textual yuri. Like, if you have all the shipping fuel in the world but they don’t say “I love you,” does it quote-unquote “count”? Which is still, unfortunately, very much part of the discussion around subtext and text in queer media—
ALEX: —that’s happening today.
TONI: Yeah, and I think that there’s also this aspect of “If you don’t say it, then you are going to be erased.” And the thing is, sometimes… I don’t know. What I experienced in my job is even when I do say it, I’m erased! When I’m in my teaching job, I constantly tell my kids I’m nonbinary and trans over and over and over and over and over again. And every single time they’re like, “What?!” And I’m like, “Yeah, I told you this like a month ago. I just don’t wear femme outfits to work. Why are you shocked by this? You literally call me Teacher Sun.” You know? And there’s this element in these kinds of emotional labor professions of… you tell yourself that if you are visible, that if you represent yourself, then that is going to change other people’s perspectives and understandings of your experience.
But then it’s a little bit like… The cishet gaze is gonna cishet gaze. It’s gonna erase even what is visible unless you are putting yourself in a position where you will be harmed. Until I actually wear a real dress to work and experience all the harms that can come with that, it is going to continue to be erased. And it’s interesting when you try to ask, “What is for other people’s consumption?” And I think that the fact that this café is… The desire to keep romance out of the café keeps it a little bit more safe in the sense that you’re not putting actual relationships on display for other people. But you kind of still are. They’re not doing a very good job. [Chuckles]
ALEX: [Chuckles] Yeah, I was wondering where this kind of discussion was going to fit in, so it fits in here perfectly. The thing that kind of bugs me a little bit (and I recognize this is just because we’re still early in the story and it will probably get to it later) is that the weird voyeurism of the café itself isn’t really unpacked. And again, I get that’s possibly also because we’re initially very anchored in Hime’s perspective and she’s just like, “Well, this is kind of weird, but it’s a stage upon which I can do my thing.” Again, “I need everyone in this room to like me or I will explode.” But… Okay, here’s a question, actually. If this café was real, would you go?
VRAI: I feel like if I was younger, yes. Now, I’m 29 or what-have-you and I’d feel like a creep.
VRAI: Because these are teenagers!
TONI: Yeah, same.
ALEX: I don’t think I would go. I mean, the audience… or, not the au— Yeah, they don’t call them the audience; they call them the patrons, the guests, the customers. But they’re an audience. They’re not really characterized explicitly. They’re pretty generic. But I find that… I don’t know. I’m wondering if further on in the manga it would take more time to be like, “Hey, this is you, yuri reader. This is you, men and women and everybody, all different demographics, sitting in this café, basically being served up tea and cake and shipping material for these girls doing improv in front of you.” I don’t know. It sells the allegory of the whole thing beautifully, but I could also wish… You know, occasionally I get distracted by all the beautiful melodrama, and then there’ll be a scene in the café [and] I’ll be like, are we going to talk about all those adults who are sitting there, sipping Darjeeling and watching these manufactured pseudo-gay emotional turmoil and cute little flirty things happening and then clapping and posting about it on Twitter? We going to talk about that?
VRAI: Yeah, I mean, it’s kayfabe, right? They’re essentially doing wrestling.
ALEX: [Laughs] That’s true.
VRAI: But yeah, I mean, I think the closest that I remember that it gets into that is with the rumors arc. Which, boy! [Laughs] It’s interesting… We had two arcs this season about the terrifying power of jumping-to-conclusion internet rumors, and one of them was more ethical than the other. It was this one.
ALEX: [Chuckles] Yeah, the other one being not in this series but another one that was airing in the same season. Is that what we’re alluding to?
VRAI: Yeah, no, yeah, we’re talking about Oshi no Ko not talking to Hana Kimura’s mother.
ALEX: Yep. Yep, yep, yep. Okay, got it. [Chuckles] Oh, man.
VRAI: Yeah. But, yeah, no, I think that’s something that’s still kind of on the table. Yeah.
TONI: Yeah. I mean, to me, it felt very real, true to life to a lot of, again, experiences I’ve had in emotional labor professions, where people talk about you. And oftentimes those people who are better able to perform this kind of sweet, gentle, excited but not too… just this particular role of femininity are the ones who do not experience the harassment, who are considered better at their jobs, regardless of how well they’re actually doing. And that’s always coded and related to whatever marginalizations that people have, and especially when it comes to neurodivergence. Like, the entire way that Hime is able to navigate the café is through her mask. Any time that she is slacking on the job, when she cannot remember what tea is which, she’ll be like, “I’ll use my façade to get around this.” It backfires in her face, but it still demonstrates how you can use that kind of mask as a crutch. Versus, Yano has to use all of her knowledge and expertise on full blast all the time. But yeah, and still Yano ends up getting trashed on because she’s not perfectly playing the role that the script wants her to play.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s very much going into how this is lose-lose. It touches on some of the same material as MagiRevo, in this winter, 2023, about how it sucks to be the woman who isn’t feminine by acceptable margins because she is ostracized and talked about and treated as a failure, and it also sucks to be the girl who conforms to societal expectations of femininity because she is invisible and her interior life is discarded.
TONI: And they’re so limiting. [Chuckles]
ALEX: Yeah! The roles are really limiting. And I think that’s one of the interesting things the show does kind of touch on, is that they are literally playing roles and the roles are very limiting. Like, I don’t know, if someone came in and tried to play a character who was maybe less traditionally feminine, they’d be like, “What? No, get out. That’s not in the script. That’s not in the book. What are you doing? What are you talking about?”
TONI: [crosstalk] No butches here.
ALEX: Nope. Cannot be done. If we do want to talk about a—
VRAI: This is exclusively a femme-for-femme space.
ALEX: Yes. [Chuckles] Which, again, fits in with the historical… everything. But if we do want to talk about a character who is talking about keeping the performance as it should be, I think we should take some time, before we run out of time, to talk about our girl Sumika, because…
VRAI: I love Sumika!
ALEX: I love her too. I mean, I love them all in their own different ridiculous ways, but Sumika… I don’t know. She’s real good. I find her and Kanoko’s plotline fascinating.
VRAI: Yeah, their whole B-couple vibe is very good. And I feel a little sad because the things I like best about Sumika are after the anime. Like, I like her first arc about her own lack of emotional intelligence and realizing that she’s aiming at something to disguise from herself the thing that she really wants. But to me, her second arc in the manga, starting around volume 6, is really the good stuff. If you at home watched Adachi and Shimamura, it kind of dips into some similar stuff as far as sort of torturing yourself about failing to live up to the standards of pure yuri. And it gets me right in my heart place.
ALEX: Hm, interesting, because I have read some of the manga. I think I’ve only read a teeny, tiny bit ahead of what the anime covered, though, so I’m pretty much [Chuckles]… I’m in the same bucket. But it has encouraged me to pick it up again and see what happens next, because unfortunately the nature of the beast is that this anime is a short adaptation of a long and slow-burn source material.
VRAI: So slow!
ALEX: So slow! This is the slowest-burning candle. Which… Is the manga still ongoing, actually?
VRAI: It is, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, there are 12 volumes out in Japan. Like I said, volume 11 is about to come out in English. It’s a monthly series. So, it’s been going on since, I think, 2018 and it’s got… there’s only 61 chapters collected in tankobon format. That’s through volume 12.
ALEX: Mm-hm. And it will… I don’t know, is it heading towards any believable conclusion, or are we just going to be on the Yuri Is My Job! train for the foreseeable future?
VRAI: Like I said, I’m a little bit behind. I think it could end within 15 volumes. But, you know, could take a couple more years to get there!
ALEX: [Chuckles] Okay.
VRAI: I do want to say for anime-only people that I’m a little disappointed in the last episode of the anime, because—
ALEX: Oh my God.
TONI: Oh, God!
VRAI: Okay, okay! I’m not even talking about the boobs.
VRAI: I’ll be honest. I kind of think that the boob chapter in the manga is cute. Like, yeah, we’re doing a thing where we’re making boob jokes about the teenager, and that’s… nyeh, but there’s not egregious jiggle physics on the page. It’s just the focus comes through more clearly in the manga that “oh no, Hime is too gay to function and hasn’t realized it. How can she be expected to have a brain cell when she lives her life at boob height?”
TONI: And Yano constantly shoves her face in her boobs.
TONI: Which is… [Chuckles] a lot.
VRAI: It is. So, I’m a little annoyed that the extra jiggle physics that the anime added in, but I think it is closer to working as a comedy-of-errors boob joke in the vein of the stretched T-shirt from Asobi Asobase, the best boob joke in all of anime, than something that feels…
TONI: I need to watch that.
VRAI: Yes, absolutely. I’ll send it to you after this. [Continuing from prior thought] … more than something that’s like fanservice for fanservice’s sake. But what really disappoints me is that the B-half of episode 12 is the very first chapter of volume 5. So, the anime is kind of ending it on, you know, Sumika’s talked about how, “Alright, having won the Blume election, I’m going to return everything to the status quo, where we all take care of each other and we’re kind of existing in this stasis.” And then the tea chapter starts off cycling back from talking about Sumika and Kanoko, back to talking about Mitsuki and Hime. And the tea chapter is meant to signal to the viewer or the reader, “Why are you still doing this? It’s not cute. Why are you still acting like it’s cute?” And everybody is justifiably upset with her. Whereas the anime is treating it like, “Oh, things have gone back to normal and Hime’s still slacking off on the job.” And it really mischaracterizes what the purpose of the tea scene is, I think. it’s like you’ve aired only Act 1 of Into the Woods and called it a day.
TONI: I was literally about to say that! No, it’s like not only have you only shown Act 1 of Into the Woods, but then you also go on to the first number of Act 2, “So Happy,” where everyone’s like, [Breaks into singsong] “I’m so happy! Everything is great! There’s nothing wrong in the world!” [Returns to normal speech] But very obviously, there’s something very wrong here. And that’s where you leave it! That’s literally what the anime does. If I remember right, isn’t one of the last scenes of the anime Yano being like, “I don’t have feelings for her, do I?” [Groans nervously]
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah.
ALEX: And the final shot, of course, is—
TONI: And it’s like, you’re leaving it there?
ALEX: Yeah. And then, yeah, the final shot is that very sparkly promo image kind of thing. It shows you the fantasy vision of the actual salon in the fantasy girls’ school, and they’re all like—
VRAI: They do the Ouran shot! They do the Ouran door shot!
TONI: They literally do! They literally do!
ALEX: Very much is like, not only are we reestablishing the status quo; we are kind of leaving on the note that “Isn’t this pretty and lovely and wonderful?” I’m like, didn’t we just spend 11 episodes starting to unpack all of that and say that, no, it is actually more complicated than this and we shouldn’t just focus on this shiny, plasticky, lily-covered outer image? Huh?
VRAI: Like, the manga is literally about to go into “And the status quo is untenable and it will make you all miserable.”
ALEX: [Chuckles] But I guess they… I don’t know. Maybe they were not sure about what could happen regarding a season 2 getting made, so they were like, “Everything is fine. If this is where we leave you, go home happy! Don’t worry about it.”
TONI: I refuse to be happy!
VRAI: These lesbians are disasters!
TONI: I am the one, the only, the fan of Madoka Rebellion, and I’m fine with Madoka Rebellion not getting a new sequel. Okay, that’s not true.
TONI: But I’m fine with things being messy. And I think one thing that— I really do hope that this does not enter the pantheon of shows that end on this weird note where they hint at some very large, overarching narrative that’s about to happen and then don’t deliver on it. I’m talking about Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, Land of the Lustrous… The list could go on. Bloom Into You…
ALEX: I mean, even… I was gonna— Yeah, there you go. That’s exactly what I was gonna say. I was gonna say, in a yuri context, remember how Bloom Into You just kind of finished, even though it really felt like it was building up to a particular climactic event? Which is obviously covered in the source material, but they were like, “Well, we ran out of time, so…”
VRAI: At least it has an ending, [unlike] Adachi and Shimamura, the ending where nothing happens and no one realizes anything.
ALEX: Ah, this is the curse of slow-burn, I guess. Or specifically, slow-burn being adapted into short media, because you gotta make some adaptational choices to see what you can… I don’t know. Either cram it all in or leave it on this unsatisfying note. I don’t know.
TONI: I mean, I was so worried when I first started watching this that this was gonna turn into an Otherside Picnic, where it’s just like, “Well, this is a great advertisement for the source material! It absolutely stinks in every other way!” I’m glad that I picked up the light novels. By the way, if you haven’t read it, read Otherside Picnic. It is fantastic.
VRAI: It’s really good.
TONI: But I do think that… Last episode notwithstanding, I think this show, this adaptation was successful. I really do believe that. It made me cry multiple times, which is not something that happens often with anime.
VRAI: It’s very odd that there’s one or two kinda creepy foot shots in the whole series and they put them all on the trailer.
ALEX: [Chuckles] Yes! And it’s like the most pathetic, plasticky-looking stocking you’ve ever seen. I’m like, come on. This is gonna sound really weird, but if you’re gonna do stocking fanservice, put the effort in. [Chuckles] Or just don’t do it at all! Don’t half-ass this!
VRAI: Sometimes the anime sort of… I think it must just be crunch issues, but the girls sometimes look a little bobble-headed, especially in mid and far shots compared to the manga, just because it’s hard to make an anime, so it’s not as consistently pretty as a manga can be. But I think it hits most of the right notes. You know, my quibbles with the last episode and sort of stretching out Kanoko’s arc not well, notwithstanding.
Also, this isn’t an anime thing; it’s actually a subtitle thing. So, within the context of the anime, the subtitler made the perfectly valid choice to translate the “suki” misunderstanding as “love,” because it’s a yuri series! It’s romantic! Honestly, a lot of subtitlers err on the side of using less romantically loaded language where more would be more appropriate in my opinion, so I can vibe with that. The manga uses “like,” and that’s really important to Mitsuki and Hime’s relationship and the ways that “like” is an extremely malleable word socially, especially in relationships with girls. That’s about to be a big deal! So if you use “love,” it is still kind of an imbalance an ambiguous word, but it’s less so than “like,”
ALEX: Mm-hm. As in like, “Okay, but do you like her or do you like-like her? Or do you, like, like-like her?” Yeah, the ambiguity is pretty important for the whole thing it’s going for, again, with just building its melodrama naturally and hinting back to this Class S history, which is always going to be there in the background. It’s always going to be the set dressing that is going to be informing what’s going forward. So, again, it’s kind of why the final shot, that final blush of the episode in episode 12, felt weird, where it’s like “Here we all are in the salon! Come in! Isn’t this fun?” I’m like, I didn’t think that that’s what we were saying! But I guess here we are.
But as you said, Vrai, all of that weird stuff notwithstanding, I think it was a pretty solid show. I think it looked pretty good. It was paced pretty good. It’s quite a… yeah, quite an addictive drama. You know, very binge worthy if you ever want to get sucked in now that it’s finished. But do go pick up the source material as well, if you’re interested. As we have said, it has that extra material in it and will continue beyond this point into even more juicy stuff that keeps taking down this foundation brick by brick.
Unfortunately, we should start bringing this show to a close. Does either of you have any final thoughts you would like to get out into the salon before we must close our doors?
TONI: I really feel like… I am so happy that we are seeing such a boom in these relatively high-quality yuri titles, with this show, with Magical Revolution, with all these different yuris, and G-Witch of course. And I guess Birdie Wing, too! Ah, just so many! And not to be that person, but I really, really want to see that happen with some boys’ love. Give me just a little bit of that with boys’ love because I’m so thirsty. I’m so parched for boys’ love right now.
VRAI: I mean, there’s a little bit of it in Sasaki and Miyano. But yeah, we could use more.
ALEX: Mm-hm. Which, again, the more of these queer series that come out, the more range that we have and the less pressure there is on any one of them to stand as the one BL series or the one yuri series, which, yeah, gives you the space to have one that’s maybe not a fantastic adaptation, like Otherside Picnic, which you mentioned before; or you have something for people who want something really wholesome and fluffy and then you have something for the people who want something much more dramatic and angsty, which Yuri Is My Job! kinda… it ticks both those boxes, depending on the episode.
So, it’s an interesting series to me because it stands so much in conversation with the past of the genre and also the future of the genre, as well. I think it’s making a statement about where we’ve come from, and it’s kind of helping pave the way for where we’re gonna go. So, I am certainly crossing my fingers and toes for season 2, but we’ll see what happens with that. For now, though, this has been season 1, hopefully season 1 of multiple, but I think it had a good run, and I hope that it encourages people to dig more into the genre, dig more into the source material, and just see what’s out there.
And with that, unless there’s anything else pressing… You folks want to dive onto the stage and profess? [Chuckles] Wonderful. I am gonna wrap us up there. Thank you so much for listening, everyone. We hope you enjoyed. If you like what you heard, you can of course find AniFem content all around the web. We got our full website with all of the fun stuff that’s contained in there at animefeminist.com.
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[Assumes a sunny tone] So, thank you for visiting the salon today. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon, and please don’t step on the lily garden on the way out.