Message from the OG-Man: I would like to thank goodboy64 for graciously offering their services during part of their free time to contribute manga reviews. So as long as he/she’s able GB64 will be in charge of the Yuri Manga Corner, and what an interesting choice to debut then by reviewing the one that started it all. Enjoy.
Oh and don’t worry about part of what he says in the intro. He’s just being modest.
Beware, SPOILER WARNING. Go ahead and read the manga, then come back and read this review.
“To know the future, one must know the past,” said by countless philosophers, poets, and history majors justifying their degrees. (Sorry, sorry.) Jab to those aside, there definitely is some truth to that. History does tend to repeat itself, and to appreciate what we have now as a culture, we must understand the origins in which we came from. And instead of covering the subject of global conflict, race relations, or other such issues, today we’ll be looking at the roots of cute anime girls falling in love with one another. Not being facetious, I legitimately take yuri that seriously.
Hello, I’m goodboy64, (barely qualified) author of online yuri webnovel These days, and newly appointed reviewer of this site, where I hope to be consistent with monthly reviews of yuri manga. I won’t be taking over the Yuri Manga Corner, but I’ll have my own little corner of it. In the back where no one can see me. To commemorate my first review, I wanted to cover a manga that doesn’t seem to receive much attention nowadays, but I’d argue is an important work to look at now, especially with how the art of lesbian anime girls has evolved over the last few decades. I am of course talking about Shiroi Heya no Futari (Our White Room or Couple of the White Room). How does it hold up after all these years? Well that’s what we’re here for, and let’s dive in…
Shiroi Heya no Futari is a yuri manga written by Ryoko Yamagashi, a member of the wildly influential Year 24 Group. It was first published by in 1971, making one of the earliest shoujo yuri manga out there. We’re going way back, people. Hell, just wikipedia the word ‘yuri’ and the cover of this manga is the first thing that pops up. A prototype on how yuri is handled even to this day. It’s as influential in its genre as the mangaka who created it. I made a warning before, but I’ll remind you all again; there will be SPOILERS. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, I mean you can, but you’d be wrong. With that out of the way, let’s go a little deeper.
After the death of her parents in an automobile accident, Resine decides to attend a French boarding school, the same one as her mother. Upon entering the school, she learns of her notorious roommate, Simone. Boisterous and rebellious, the two do not hit it off. In any capacity. However, Resine cannot shake off a feeling that begins to bud between them. While she wonders what it could possibly be, if you’re reading this story, you’re probably already a few steps ahead of our main heroine. By that description alone, we can already see some early tropes of yuri, and shoujo in general. The new girl entering a new school, meeting the ‘bad boy’ (or girl in this case) who she can’t stand at first, and dealing with a developing attraction. What I did like early on was the aesthetically beautiful French setting. This is no standard Japanese high school.
The characters in this manga are rather standard fair. Resine is your simple innocent girl, and Simone your simple rebel. However, it’s in their simplicity is why they work so well. Really in this story there is no need for them to be terribly complex. The two girls are simple vessels to move the story along. That isn’t to say they aren’t without their quirks, though. Resine is charming in her innocence, and in watching her struggle with her developing feelings. Simone just by definition of her character may rub some the wrong way, but I learned to eventually like her all the same. Maybe you will too.
The art and writing, on the other hand, is classic. Well, rather “classical” I should say. Obviously very old school shoujo stylings going on here. Big, sparkling eyes that look like entire galaxies are shoved in there, flowing anatomy and flowery architecture are prevalent throughout the manga. Especially in the boarding school. Also large flowers and bubbles galore. Considering how much manga art has evolved over the years, some may be turned off. Personally, I felt the art aided in its classical atmosphere and aesthetic.
Writing wise, it reads very old school as well. I’m too new at reviewing to properly describe it but the dialogue reads like an old Shakespeare play.
Given how old it is, and how influential it came to be, it features a lot of classic romance tropes and clichés not only limited to yuri. Just go through its TV Tropes page, you’re bound to recognize a few. The boarding school (all-girls one at that), traumatizing parental relationships, obligatory gayngst, and even the Romeo and Juliet play for the school festival. Because of that, some may find it now too clichéd to a detriment, but I understand the context and time period when it came out. Those tropes and clichés that you all recognize now had to come from somewhere. On a refreshing note, however, the manga does touch upon the social pressure of a lesbian relationship by actually using the word “lesbian.” You’ll be hard-pressed to find characters address themselves or others as such in mainstream or popular yuri today. (You will get a lot of “But you’re a girl, and I’m a girl”-type lines instead.) The characters and tropes that are featured in the manga all work together as an exercise of story. And the story this manga wants to tell is a tragic one.
Now it’s time for the true meat of this story. Shiroi Heya (is how I’ll shorten it) is a tragedy. One that sticks with you. Tragedies were popular among early shoujo manga, and this is no exception. Another interesting aspect is how short it is. Only four standard length chapters. It goes in, does its job, and leaves the reader a ruined emotional wreck. It’s impressive how much the ending stayed with me, especially considering how concise it is. After constantly battling her feelings for Simone and the social pressures relating to them, Resine pushes Simone away, forcing her act irrationally and lead to her unfortunate death. Since the manga is so short, I won’t summarize too much of the ending, but seeing Resine left in disarray on the last page is quite disheartening. As I said, like how all the tropes and characters don’t seem too fleshed out by today’s standards, they all work together to showcase these characters experiencing this particular story how and how it relates to them. For comparison, no one remembers the particular character quirks of Romeo or Juliet (hell the side characters had more personality to them), but everyone remembers how their story started and ended. Shiroi Heya functions a lot like that in a way.
To say it bluntly, and maybe a bit obviously in the context of the manga, Shiroi Heya no Futari is the Romeo and Juliet of yuri. When Resine reads Simone’s poem at the end of the manga, while a tad predictable, was when the emotional weight of the story began to hit. This was a story of two star-crossed lovers, a relationship shakily built on uncertainty and misunderstandings, and a tragic end that leaves the reader wishing there was a way to explore these characters if everything turned out all right. However, that would defeat the purpose of both Romeo and Juliet and Shiroi Heya, wouldn’t it? Even if Resine didn’t die, her wide-eyed innocence at the beginning was all but gone, and her giving up on love for anyone else and bearing a “stone heart for the rest of [her] life” is as tragic as any other death. Maybe even more so.
As I previously stated, this manga was not only influential as a romance manga, but in the genre of yuri as well. Even if the influences are not necessarily direct. The currently popular Citrus features a new girl at an all-girls school, having to deal with a cold hearted student council president, and the tumultuous relationship that spawns from their meeting. Even the equally legendary Girl Friends has an inkling of influence. A shy girl getting “better acquainted” with a more carefree and wild girl. The misunderstandings and frustration and angst from their developing feelings. They all may not be directly borrowed traits, but you can see where they originally stemmed from.
“To know the future, one must know the past,” a phrase that is as true as it is now than it was with every other funny retort I can’t come up with right now. And as just recently explored, it is definitely the case with our favorite genre; yuri. Even if you end up not liking Shiroi Heya no Futari, it’s imperative you understand its importance in order to better enjoy the art of cute anime girls in love. To obtain a deeper appreciation. If I did have to but a number on this manga however, I would have to give it an 8. It may not hold up spectacularly amongst some yuri out now, but it certainly has aged gracefully. At the very least, it is worth checking out. And among all the easygoing and lighthearted yuri that has gotten popular over the years, to revisit that white room and read the heartbreaking tale of Resine and Simone is as vital today as it has ever been.
I apologize for my first review on this site to be so verbose, and probably closer to an overview than a full review, but I felt it was important to go over this. Please check out what I review next month, and please let me know what you thought of this manga, and my review, in the comments… and all that jazz. Thanks again.