animefringe june 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Erica Sakurazawa - Bringing Romance to New Heights

The past year has seen a variety of manga distribution companies in America taking chances to release more obscure and risqué pieces of comic art from Japan. In this drive to bring more interesting, adult manga to the American audience, TOKYOPOP has gone out on a limb again, and has come back with a unique contribution to their manga line-up. During their recent round of manga licensing, TOKYOPOP picked up the various works of manga artist Erica Sakurazawa, a manga-ka whose artistic style and racy storylines are intended for women in their twenties.

Kicking off the release of Sakurazawa’s works is the one-book story, Between the Sheets, a torrid, honest examination of the worlds of close female friendship, sexual promiscuity, and same-sex love. Sakurazawa’s works are an interesting injection into the realm of manga in the U.S.. This is a realistic portrayal of friendships and relationships, in comparison to the lovey-dovey, soap-opera romances seen in most shoujo titles released in America. With the release of this book, the American comic audience is fortunate to finally be exposed to some yuri manga, the sub-genre of shoujo that focuses on same-sex relationships between women. This is sure to excite the fans of the topic, who have been (im)patiently waiting for some quality yuri to be released in America.

The story opens with Minako and Saki rebuffing the advances of an unwanted guy by making out, a clear statement that they aren’t interested in him. This racy yuri moment is short-lived, however, as the next scene displays two important aspects of these two characters. Minako is completely straight, while Saki is usually straight, but in love with Minako. This dynamic immediately sets the stage for this tale of unrequited love, providing us with a turbulent ride through their friendship as Saki tries to come to terms with her love of Minako in a destructive manner.

Saki’s attempt to get close to Minako, to emulate being intimate with her, is to sleep with the men of Minako’s life. As will happen when one sleeps with the best friend’s man, complications come up, causing the friction between the two girls to grow. Saki starts to obsess over Minako, almost like a stalker in her thinking. At the same time, Minako tries to cut Saki out of her life, rather than deal with the fact that her friend is in love with her. Saki steals away Minako’s boyfriend, and Minako feels betrayed, even as she cheats on her boyfriend with a former fling.

Those accustomed to the shoujo aesthetics found in the genre will be well surprised by the artwork Sakurazawa employs. Just as the story elements deal with a more realistic portrayal of sex and relationships between adult women, so does the artwork reflect this frank and genuine attitude. Gone are the bubbles and flowers that populate the shoujo landscape: the backgrounds are relatively blank and free, focusing the reader’s attention squarely on the characters. The character designs seem rough compared to most manga fare; the smoother drawing styles are missing here. Yet the lack of such polished art seems to bring out an added dimension to Sakurazawa’s storytelling and dialogue. It’s hard to envision this tale told using the more elaborate art style so common to shoujo. The rough manner that Sakurazawa employs, further enhances the down-to-earth, gritty feel of this poignant friendship.

The release of Erica Sakurazawa’s work is a sign of the expanding manga and anime industry in America. Companies are more willing to release titles that aren’t guaranteed to be big sellers, giving obscure niche titles the chance to be read and enjoyed by the American audience. This is precisely why it is so exciting to be a fan of manga today; we now have the chance to read the sort of works that we couldn’t have dreamed of five years ago. To fall into the world of Between the Sheets is to experience a new dimension in comic art. Don’t you owe it to yourself to take that journey?