This essay contains spoilers from Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms.
As a longtime shoujo manga fan (well over a decade at this point) and a relatively new but passionate Yuri fan (Revolutionary Girl Utena was my first foray into the genre back in 2016), the Kase-san series seemed made for me. I was first exposed to the series through the animation clip produced in May 2017, a gorgeous, atmospheric extended AMV of sorts, and then was lucky enough to catch the Kase-san and Morning Glories OVA at AnimeNYC this year (and I got to see it with Yuri expert Erica Friedman, which made the viewing all the more delightful). The OVA left me speechless, and at the Q&A afterward, the director summed the premise of the shoujo series perfectly: he wasn’t focused on conveying a story about women in love, but one about people in love, regardless of gender.
This summary brings me to the Kase-san manga itself. After seeing the OVA, I knew I wanted to read the manga, not only to see the story from the beginning (the OVA smartly adapts parts of volumes 2 and 3, after Yamada and Kase have gotten together), but to see where the OVA left off. Like most shoujo manga, Kase-san takes place high school, in this case, our protagonists are in 11th and then 12th grade. In the most recent volume, the fifth in the series, Kase and Yamada are getting ready for graduation, a process that in Yamada’s case, means taking her entrance exams to determine whether or not she can go to Tokyo with Kase after graduation.
Reading this volume as a shoujo manga fan, I was unsure where the series was going to go. I was pretty sure things were going to work out for Yamada, but they were graduating. The volume was titled Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms after all, a season signaling the end of one year and the beginning of another! I could think of countless shoujo manga I had read that ended with graduation, because of course, isn’t that where life ends for a young girl? (Insert eye roll and genre critique here.) Yeah, you may get an epilogue with the two characters together years afterward, the woman a happily married housewife to her husband (I love shoujo manga, but heteronormativity is often the status quo here), but narratively, graduation is often the cut-off point in many a shoujo manga.
But graduation was far from an end in the case of Kase-san. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Kase-san unfolded the way it did: the series often favors a more in medias res approach to typical shoujo manga plot points: for instance, Yamada is shown to be emotionally getting ready to graduate at the end of one chapter, and then at the beginning of the next, we find out she’d she’s in Tokyo! Yamada passing her entrances exams is given in a brief flashback, and graduation summed up with Kase asking which photos Yamada and her friend Mikawacchi would like, featuring a photo of a particularly emotional Yamada at graduation. Graduation isn’t an end for any of these characters, just as it isn’t an end in real life. A metaphor that I used to refer to my own (college) graduation manifests literally here: graduation is the end of a chapter, not a story.
For a shoujo manga, this continuation would already be noteworthy, but for Yuri manga, it’s especially incredible. It’s rare to get shoujo manga about girls after they graduate from high school (and it’s even rarer to get them about women who are older, middle-aged or above), but for Yuri, it’s even more typical for a relationship with love between to be relegated to a short period at an often isolated, private high school. But instead, we see Kase and Yamada hold steadfast to their love, which remains as constant at their small high school in the country as it does in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. And when the two do make their relationship a sexual one in this volume, it’s done so when both women are independent adults in the “real world,” not another transient space. And when Yamada compares their coming together to the delicate fall of cherry blossoms, this shower isn’t a reflecting the ephemeral nature of the relationship: instead, it’s the beginning of a new part of their relationship together. The volume ends with the two making clear how they will communicate and support each other at their respective universities, and with a note from Hiromi Takashima that “The Kase-san series will continue on to university life!!”
Ending the volume with the two girls together in Tokyo, beginning the next stage of their life as a couple and as individuals, is an incredible message often lost in a genre that focuses so much on the girl getting the guy as the endgame. Yamada and Kase’s relationship is the heart of the series, but their support of each other’s dreams, in addition to their being together a couple, is equally remarkable. Kase remains committed to track and Yamada is ecstatic about her horticulture studies. But Kase makes clear, even if Yamada was inspired to move to Tokyo to be with her, “You’re here because you worked really hard. I might have been there alongside you, but you made it here under your own power!”
Kase-san as a series is a shoujo manga that happens to feature love between two girls rather than a girl and a guy, but it’s also more than that. As Takashima states multiple times in her afterwords, the series is a “pure Yuri.” In translation, the word “pure” is tricky. And while I don’t speak Japanese (or at least not enough to count for deciphering these delicate semantic turns), I see the word less in terms of its moralistic connotations and more for its essence, its genuineness. Kase-san is a genuine, heartfelt Yuri, something soft and sweet, slowly blossoming into something beautiful and lasting. For like the cherry blossoms, Yamada and Kase’s love for each other will blossom again and again. Indeed, this volume isn’t an ending for Yamada and Kase, it’s another beginning.
Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms by Hiromi Takashima is available now from Seven Seas Entertainment, wherever you get your favorite manga!