Yukarism, Vol. 1
It’s hard to pin Yukarism down, even after a few rereads. Chika Shiomi throws several tropes together—history, reincarnation, romance, time-travel—and while the result is entertaining at first, the story quickly loses its ability to intrigue the reader.
Main character Yukari Kobayakawa’s literary talent is evident at 17 years old, awing his readers with hyper-realistic descriptions of the Edo period (1603-1868). He’s published several books about life during Japan’s last “peaceful” era, and their success has set him on the path to becoming a household name in his city. One reader in particular is a new student at his school, Mahoro Tachibana. She’s not just any reader, however—Yukari can’t shake the feeling that he knows her despite never having met her before.
The connection and his curiosity only get stronger as he spends time with her, culminating in an afternoon where Yukari passes out and wakes up in the body of an oiran, or high-class concubine, in the middle of the pleasure district. Yukari quickly realizes he has woken up as Yumurasaki, his past self, and she is the reason he knows so much about the Edo period.
Chika Shiomi spends much of the first volume setting up the emotional ties between Yukari and Mahoro, and that of Yukari and his past self. And by setting up, I mean repeated panels where the reader sees: Yukari getting dizzy, Yukari impressing the people around him with his knowledge of the Edo period, Yukari flustering Mahoro with a single look. There’s not a whole lot of other information about Yukari that’s shared with the reader. The most interesting thing about him is his past life.
Yumurasaki’s status as an oiran provides most of the intrigue in the first volume, and it challenges Yukari to maintain her identity so as not to arouse any suspicions. Understandably, he doesn’t have an easy time of it. Chika Shiomi uses just enough historical detail to differentiate the past from the present, but there were more than a few pages where I had to backtrack to make sure I was still imagining the right time. The tone and vocabulary used in Yukarism barely shift between time periods, driving that disconnect further. The art is similarly humdrum, becoming a little more compelling during the Edo period, but otherwise nothing spectacular.
Details like that can be forgiven, however, if the characters are strong enough to shift the focus off the details and onto their interactions with each other. This is not the case in Yukarism, as Yukari and Mahoro don’t seem to have any real chemistry whatsoever. Granted, that might be a deliberate choice, as the reader doesn’t get a hint to Mahoro’s identity until close to the end of the volume. But the lack of chemistry still means that the first volume feels slow, dragging along until Yukari returns to the past to unravel a little bit more of that mystery.
I assume we’ll eventually find out why Yukari was reborn as a male in his present life, while some of the other characters remained the same gender throughout the cycle of their lives. I hope that it’s a choice that wasn’t just done for humour, as Yukari struggles with the physical and mental differences between men and women. Otherwise, it becomes a lazy choice, one that won’t add anything to either side of the conflict.
Yukarism has the potential to be a funny and engaging series, if it gives its characters more room to inhabit their personalities. Let Yukari be awkward and clumsy, let Mahoro be calculating and observant. Give the reader characters that can be recognized as developed versions of their past selves and still works-in-progress. If nothing else, writer Yukari would appreciate it.