Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone manga title “Claudine,” story and art by Riyoko Ikeda, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


19th Century French Romance

Since he was eight, Claudine was convinced he was born into the wrong gender. He grows up beautifully, more so than any of the men and women in Vernon, yet struggles through life with a series of depressing relationships. Only a handful of people reach out to Claudine and see him for who he is, but no one truly understands his heart. Claudine simply wishes to find true love, yet his efforts continue to end in tragedy as he is unable to be accepted as a man by society and his peers.

As a piece of historical fiction, Claudine offers a timeless story full of heartbreak. Riyoko Ikeda of The Rose of Versailles fame paints a picture of France that is rich in culture, but also a bit too melodramatic at times. Characters overreact to the smallest things with vivid expressions that can dominate several panels, which can make the read feel overwrought with agitation.

Without spoiling anything, some characters even dare dedicate their entire lives to destroying the hearts of others—an unfortunate trend which feels straight out of a wild telenovela or K-drama. Or, you know, The Rose of Versailles. This kind of thing might work well with a long-running series. But as a single volume work, the repetition of shocking reveals can feel overwhelming and excessive.

All that said, however, very few manga can make a drama feel as compelling as Riyoko Ikeda does, and to that I applaud Claudine. As a standalone piece, this is the kind of artistic mastery that most short story mangaka may struggle with. Here, the romance feels real, but so does the grief and misery that comes with rejection. Claudine explores sex and gender identity in a way that is poignant, respectful, and anything but forgettable.

young claudine

“But Claudine, You’re a Girl”

Not sure of what to do with her own child, Claudine’s mother takes him to a psychiatrist who reappears at a few major junctions in Claudine’s life. This was customary for the time, as being gay or trans was considered an illness, and thus treated as something that would eventually “go away” just as it came. We know now that this is far from fact. However, this is the best Claudine’s mother could do, and I believe she meant well by it.

Claudine’s father Auguste, on the other hand, was a mostly good man. A “large-hearted, manly dilettante with a variety of interests,” Claudine’s father was the only one willing to raise the child as he saw himself. Claudine expressed interested in equestrianism, hunting, sports, literature, and world history, to which his father only helped to provide the best resources to raise Claudine just as well as his other three accomplished sons. Loving Claudine wholly, Auguste says it himself: “That she doe not have a man’s body is honestly a mistake on God’s part.”

We follow Claudine through childhood flings, teenage romance, and relationships in adulthood. The women he encounters transform his life, although whether these interactions are for the better or not is definitely up for question. There’s one particular childhood lover, Rosemarie, who annoyingly clings to Claudine and causes him nothing but trouble. As he navigates through life, Claudine finds that it isn’t wrong of him to be a transgender person so much as that being trans is just highly ill-advised when no one can accept you for it. His emotions are understandable, and his actions are largely respectable.

Friends, strangers, and even his own family turn Claudine away from them on account of their own ignorance. A deeply seeded disgust for gay and transgender people plagues the populace of 19th century France, and—as it has continues to do today—only serves to ruin Claudine’s life. Despite his graceful air, his love of knowledge, and his deep compassion for helping others in need, Claudine is dejected again, and again, and again by women who have mixed love and kindness with lust and sin.

we are both girls

Why We Have To Do Better

This is a breathtaking manga. Although it was published way back in 1978, so much of this shoujo-ai drama can speak for the view of transgender individuals held by most conservative-minded people today. The story is highly relevant, and I’m so thankful Seven Seas was able to publish it when they did. Their restoration of this vintage shoujo manga is gorgeous, and the large trim format is greatly appreciated.

More than feeling upset, frustrated, or annoyed at the terrible ways Claudine was betrayed, I can only really sum up my thoughts on the ending with this: Claudine’s story is a sad one. It’s tragic, it hurts, and yet it’s an unfortunate end many transgender people find themselves meeting. Guys, it’s tragedies like this that remind me we still have a long way to go. For people like Claudine, for people who are confused or still in the closet, for people who are out and proud of it—We have to do better. So. Much. Better. And that begins with accepting these identities—NOT just acknowledging them.

From cover to cover, Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality, identity, culture, and self-acceptance in a coming-of-age tale so sorrowful and heartfelt that I can only want to express how important Claudine’s story is. It is works like this that can easily impact people, and even leave behind impressions that can hopefully change lives for the better. Certainly, I won’t be forgetting Claudine anytime soon.

claudine art page


They lived together, deceiving the world, behind the backs of their friends. But like a flower waiting for rain, their caged love finally surged out, shining. I believe this was a true love, surpassing all preconceived notions, entirely moving.Claudine’s doctor


Afterword

What a great read this was. Riyoko Ikeda’s art style is not only iconic, but truly emblematic of early 70s and 80s shoujo manga. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top at times, but what would a Riyoko Ikeda manga be without her signature dramatic twists and sparkling style? For telling an admirable albeit tragic tale about a respectable transgender man and his struggles with finding love and self-acceptance, I welcome Claudine as a “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating reserved only for the bests out there. Did I mention that the dad is actually a GOOD guy in this one? Normally it’s the other way around, so this was quite a pleasant surprise!

Anyone else read Claudine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this old but classic shoujo read. I’m so glad I got to include a manga with a transgender focus this month with something like Claudine. My next Pride Month post will be over something much more modern, Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, so please look forward to that! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic of 2019, “Adore,” I wanted to stray away from the darker content I typically go for with these posts and focus on something lighthearted. Fortunately for me, none come more fluffy and adorable than the one-shot shounen-ai manga that’s got the BL community completely under its love spell: Go For It, Nakamura!

In February, we will be exploring love and romance. The word selected is “adore” because it has two main connotations: to be loved and respected or to feel worshipped. We will analyze characters that give us a feeling of admiration and explain why we love those characters. We will also be exploring different forms of love (familial, friendship, and even self-love) and how those types of love influence our lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

I myself happened to have recently finished the book, so this prompt came in good timing. Thanks Lyn!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the one-shot (11-chapter) manga “Go For It, Nakamura!,” story and art by Syundei, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.  

Ganbare! Nakamura-kun!!

Nakamura Okuto may be a shy gay high school boy, but he sure knows what he wants—the love of his life, his adorable high school classmate, Hirose Aiki. He constantly daydreams of just about every cliche romance scenario ever written, but when it comes to executing his charm, Nakamura is a total klutz! To make matters worse, the two haven’t even formally met yet, and Nakamura’s clumsy streak is sure enough to botch things before they even begin. Oh boy, good luck Nakamura!

Serialized in Opera magazine over the course of a couple years, the 11 chapters that make up this volume comprise the existing story as it currently stands. It is a collection of vignettes from the titular character’s high school life sectioned off in a way not unlike that of a 4-koma manga.

It’s also a comedy manga—and one that’s fun as heck to boot. The comedic timing will leave you giggling in your chair, and the few moments of genuine connection between Nakamura and Hirose will make your heart all warm and mushy. There’s never a dull moment in Nakamura’s pitiful yet utterly relatable life.

As mentioned earlier, the romantic scenarios are cliche: staying after class, school festival drama, chance meeting in an alley, school plays, CLUBS, you get the picture. Even though you know how the story might play out that particular chapter, Nakamura’s inner dialogue and anxious turmoil transform repetition into a breath of fresh air. And yes, the retro art style contributes immensely to Nakamura‘s uniqueness.

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A Lost Art: The 1980s Japan Aesthetic 

I’m not a historian by any means, but if I had to pin a time period, I’d say that Syundei’s story takes place in 1980s Japan. Regardless, it’s old school, but cute. Really cute. Think Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) printed in modern day. Wacky expressions, explosive bangs, random chibi appearances, traditional hair and clothing styles, that kind of 80s Japan. Between the bright colors on the cover, the fuzzy glow effect of Nakamura’s daydreams, and the flowery patterned backgrounds, Syundei has created a retro aesthetic that is quite the rare find these days.

I really loved the revival of the cartoonishly big hair bangs (a nice choice!). Not only does this design detail take us back to the past, but it makes the characters seem even fluffier than they already are. Hirose in particular is just such a kind, SOFT boi, and I totally understand why Nakamura’s enamored with this sparkling chestnut head! Hirose’s large round eyes also make him seem more gullible, innocent, and inviting, a stark contrast to Nakamura’s gloomy aura. For a guy who is used to hugging against the shadows, Hirose’s radiant light is blinding. So pure!

The duality of Nakamura’s expressiveness—from the estranged slim-eyed “bully” look to this blushing, red-faced, obsessive weirdo—establishes an even stronger bond between Nakamura and the reader. He may have a scary exterior, but he’s just a big softie (and one who’s madly in love!), and I found myself rooting for Nakamura throughout his antics because I relate to his struggles of silent obsession and unrequited love. Slowly but surely, Nakamura is crawling out of his shell and opening up to people, and I really look forward to further developments should Syundei return to this wonderful title.

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A Refreshing Spin on BL

Although he may be a closet gay to his peers, Nakamura isn’t afraid to let the reader know, and I really enjoy how being gay isn’t a big deal in Nakamura. Even his classmates don’t mock him for desparately wanting to hang out with Hirose, and it’s just so, so refreshing. If you’re new to BL, this story would make an excellent entry point. (Being a single-volume story helps make this a recommendation even more convincing!)

Additionally, this isn’t a BL story about lust and skipping the foreplay just to do the deed. Go For It, Nakamura! is as innocent and pure as they come, and for all the right reasons. Sure, Nakamura is a bit obsessive for Hirose, but not much more than any other girl or boy tailing after their romantic idol. The story sticks to themes of adoration and manages to run as far as a lovely, blossoming friendship. And interestingly, its lack of explicit content is what marks it as one of the bests.

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A Story That Loves Love

Watching the push and pull between Nakamura and Hirose grow with each chapter sure doesn’t leave the heart with much time to rest. At times stupidly funny, other times highly resonate and heartwarming, I couldn’t think of a high school couple more deserving of mutual love and affection. More than they realize, they need a person just like the other, and the ending will leave you with so much hope and happiness.

Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! is a story that loves love, and about loving yourself, too. Its characters are cute and fluffy, and despite my wanting to smash the two together and shout “NOW KISS!”, I wouldn’t have wanted the story (as it stands now) to end any other way. I was left squealing and stirring in my chair for hours after reading the last page, and if there’s any BL title out there to boast the word “adore,” this is easily the one.

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Y-you’re the one who said it was important to be true to yourself. — Nakamura Okura


Afterword

Well, when you don’t have to cover animation, music, voice acting, and directing, this makes for a pretty short post! Reading Go For It, Nakamura! easily became the highlight of my week, and its short single-volume release makes it easy to consume yet hard to let go of. It’s fun, simple, and it’ll make your heart go doki-doki for sure! As if I needed to reinforce its notability, Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! establishes itself as a “Cafe Mocha” title, an absolute hit for anyone wanting to spend an afternoon enjoying the softest BL manga ever written. Seriously, you’ll love it.

This concludes my February 3rd entry in the OWLS “Adore” blog tour. Man, when was the last time I went this early!? In fact, it looks like I’m the one kicking off the February tour, so I hope I set the groundwork well enough for all the great posts to come. Now, look out for my good friend Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post about After the Rain on Wednesday, February 6th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host