Um… yeah, this volume was a surprising misfire for me. Mainly because I’ve been enchanted by mangaka Kaoru Mori’s works for years and this is the first time I’ve read something from her that has really failed to satisfy or entertain me. While she’s always had stellar instincts for characterization, they’re not employed well enough here to make for an engaging story about a concept she finds utterly fascinating.
Vol. 7 starts off by introducing us to Anis. On the surface, she’s living a life that most other people would envy. She’s married to a man who loves and understands her, lives in a big fancy home, and has already had her first healthy child. Yet she feels that there’s something missing from this picture. As Anis’ maidservant is on hand to inform her (and the reader), it’s because she’s lonely. Having no other women around, who aren’t the hired help, to talk with it’s suggested that Anis go to the local bath to meet some new friends. This turns out to be the case as she quickly strikes up a friendship with the voluptuous Sherine.
Anis and Sherine’s friendship progresses to the point that they eventually become Avowed Sisters -- BFFs, essentially. Mori talks about the custom in the afterword, noting that it existed through the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and was done exclusively between women. While the insight into other cultures is welcome, the custom is at the root of this volume’s problems. It feels like Mori was so taken by this idea of two different women who pledge to become as close as sisters that she designed the characters to fit the story instead of having things be the other way around.
So what we get is a largely drama-free story about two women coming together as Avowed Sisters because the story demands that they do. I’d probably have less of an issue with this if they were better developed than this volume makes them out to be. All we really know about Anis is that she loves her husband, but is also lonely for other kinds of companionship. With Sherine, we learn that her family is poor, she’s a cat person, and really likes watermelon. Given the well-rounded characters this series has featured up until now, the thinly developed protagonists of this volume are a real disappointment.
Then you’ve got the strong yuri/lesbian subtext that runs throughout the entire volume. It’s not a problem in itself by any means. The “but” you’re hearing after reading that sentence is that this subtext is delivered in a particularly unsubtle way throughout the entire volume. There’s the fact that most of the volume takes place in a bathhouse where the women are mostly naked, the chapter break illustrations that have Anis and Sherine embracing while surrounded by flowers, and the very concept of Avowed Sisterhood as described here. While there’s no actual acknowledgement of sex or romance between the two main characters, you’re given plenty of evidence to presume that their relationship could head off in that direction. Unfortunately it’s all administered in such a heavy-handed way that makes the whole thing wind up feeling like an episode of “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” that forgot it was meant to be funny.
I should also note that I’ve been giving this series to a friend of mine, one volume at a time, as birthday and Christmas presents for the past few years. This time, I’m throwing in the first volume of “My Neighbor Seki” as well because she likes fluff and that title is a superior example of it. Vol. 7 of this series is not completely without its charms: Mori’s art is amazing to look at as always, we get to see the grumpiest Persian cat, and there are some amusing bits of humor sprinkled throughout. I should also note that the story itself does work, but only on a functional level. The relationship between Anis and Sherine never really comes alive because it feels like they were created just to fit the idea of Avowed Sisterhood. For a volume that hinges upon that concept, that failure leaves you feeling nothing but disappointment.