Yukarism (Vol.1-2)

I imagine a lot of modern shoujo fans wouldn’t know who you were talking about if you asked them about Chika Shiomi.  Despite having a number of previous works published by companies like CMX, Go!Comi, and Viz, her works tend to fly under the radar of most manga readers, and this seems to still be true for her latest work, Yukarism.  This is a real shame because Yukarism is an intriguing little tale that puts a few new spins on some old ideas with plenty of style and atmosphere to boot.

Yukari has always been different, right from the day he was born.  He possessed a weird birthmark like the slash of a sword, and a priest declared that Yukari's own life had not been disconnected from his previous one.  Seventeen years later, Yukari spends most of his days adrift in half-remembered memories of the past.  He’s managed to turn himself into a successful writer of historical novels, and his many fans marvel at his ability to evoke the details and feeling of Edo-era Japan.  Those fans include Yukari’s classmate Mahoro, who from a young age was drawn to his works and is looking forward to meeting her idol.  The two feel a strange connection to one another, one that only becomes more enhanced when Yukari hires his housekeeper's nephew Katsuhiko to tend the house.  Thanks to their presence, Yukari now finds that he is not only able to remember her life but now can temporary possess the body of his past self, an 18th century oiran called Yumurasaki.  Being a woman is disorienting enough for him, but he soon discovers that Yumurasaki’s life ended in a mysterious fire, and that those involved may be closer to his present self than he could have expected.

We’ve seen a lot of shoujo about modern kids who get sucked into the past, through various means but this may be the first time I’ve seen one that crosses genders in the process.  What’s interesting is that the story (and Yukari by extension) never makes a big deal out of the gender swapping.  Yukari has lived his entire life with one foot in the past, his mind filled with half-
remembered memories, and as such he has a hard time connecting with anyone or engaging with the modern world.  When he finds himself in the past, he regards it not with shock but bemusement and curiosity.  For him, it’s a new way for him to experience Edo-era life, and while Yukari has some trouble adjusting to ladylike movement and some of the more intimate details of Yumurasaki’s life, he adjusts to the situation with incredible speed and makes the most of his time to gather information about Yumurasaki and those around her.  In a rather fitting twist, his increased connection to the past gives Yukari the push he needs to start engaging with his present as well.  Once he starts projecting himself, he also starts to talk to Mahoro and many others, and in doing so he finds not only more connections to his past life, but a sense of contentment and purpose that he had never possessed before.

In some ways, Yukarism becomes something of a time-travelling murder mystery, and it’s the mystery of Yumurasaki’s death that drives Yukari to explore both his past and present for answers.  He soon puts together that his past death is tied to two different men in Yumurasaki’s life: Shizuka, a powerful witch doctor, and Kazuma the brothel bodyguard.  Both were extremely possessive of Yumurasaki in life, and more than willing to get violent over the matter.  In the second volume we learn that the two of them have been reincarnated as Mahoro and Katsuhiko, and it seems their past selves are more than willing to pick up their rivalry where they left off.  To say that it makes things uncomfortable between the two of them is an understatement, but Yukari appears to be oblivious to it all…at least, he seems to be.  After all, his newfound interest in Mahoro may stem from raging teenage hormones, but he also may be trying to observe Mahoro’s life in much the same manner he observes Yumurasaki’s to find some answers for his own purposes.  We’re halfway through the series, but already this mystery is deepening and I find myself genuinely curious to see just how it ends.

Shiomi’s story starts strong and only gets more intriguing after she gets past all the necessary
exposition and lets the pieces of past and present start falling into place in Volume Two.  What really distinguishes this story is its ability to capture and maintain its very particular sort of mood.  The whole story has a dreamy, almost detached quality which allows the audience to immerse itself in Yukari’s own outlook.  That dreaminess helps to smudge the borders between the past and present narratives, thus making the shifts between the two all the less jarring for the reader.  It also makes the fights between Mahoro and Katsuhiko all that much more unnerving, serving as the dark and violent shadows to what has been a relatively pleasant story so far.  In comparison, Shiomi's art is fairly conventional and often literally flowery, and save for the cast’s oddly squared-off eyes it wouldn’t seem to stand out all that much from anything else in the Shoujo Beat line.  Still, she makes the most of those artistic conventions to serve her story.  Her androgynous character designs help to sell the resemblance between the main cast’s past and present selves, and their swirling hair and angular eyes make them seem all the more sinister when they fight with blade and magic and the scene seems to drown in scribbled curses made real.  

Yukarism manages to take some tired old shoujo story tropes and craft them into an intriguing little mystery with a lot of moody, dreamy atmosphere to spare.  Shiomi makes the most of each chapter to inform the reader about either the past or present of the characters, and as she reaches the halfway point of the story she’s starting to tie the two together into something more cohesive and satisfying, and I hope that the second half of the story continues on much the same path.  Chika Shiomi might not be a household name to most shoujo fans, but Yukarism is a testament to her skills and a great jumping-on point for those wanting and willing to explore her works.
This series is published by Viz.  Volumes 1 & 2 are currently available through most comic retailers, and available digitally through Viz.com.


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