Girls Kingdom, Vol. 4

By Nayo and Shio Sakura. Released in Japan by GL Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Philip Reuben.

Because a series such as Girls Kingdom revels in its cliches, it’s not a great surprise that everything that happens in it seems to revolve around Misaki. She has Big Protagonist Energy, and thus is able to be part of events that might otherwise have gone on without her input, or, in other cases, able to accidentally wander into areas that she absolutely has no right to be in. Not to spoil too much, but there is a supernatural barrier in the forest that Misaki just blithely walks past, and the explanation that we get is something akin to “huh, well, she’s just that sort”. Speaking of supernatural barriers, after the reveal in the 3rd book, I was expecting a bit more of that sort of thing, and yet for 3/4 of this book we are once again dealing with Maria-sama Ga Miteru-style school politics and social miscues. Fortunately, when we DO get what we wanted all along, it’s possibly the best part of the book… not because it’s dramatic or action-packed, but more because it’s absolutely hilarious. This series really can go anywhere.

We pick up where we left off last time. Sakura is newly arrived at the school, and the salons are fighting to see who she joins up with. Will it be the Sky Salon, who not only offer business opportunities but also our heroine’s Big Protagonist Energy? Will it be the Paradise Palace, where she can be among other very short young ladies and eat the tastiest sweets in the world? Or perhaps the Gloriana Guesthouse, the British-themed dark horse? It certainly won’t be the Mauve Manor, and relations between Shion and Himeko seem, if anything, worse than ever. After this, we focus on Saeko, the Sky Salon’s “Number Two”, and her seemingly sadistic relationship with her Seraph, Matsuri. Matsuri has now paid off her debt, meaning she does not have to be Saeko’s Seraph anymore. Most would assume that they could thus enter a more natural Mistress and Seraph relationship, but they reckon without Saeko’s stubbornness and Matsuri’s melancholy.

As readers will no doubt note, I left out Angelica from this description. She shows up here and there, and does indeed have a plotline near the end of the book, but I’ll avoid that for now, as it’s better read unspoiled. As for the rest, it was pretty good. The second half was better than the first, and not just because of Angelica. Much as the author did their best to stir up doubt about who Sakura would choose, and how everyone was very close in the end… from a dramatic standpoint, it’s not particularly a surprise. Saeko and Matsuri is more interesting, especially because if everyone finds out about it the whole school is in danger of a Yellow Rose Revolution. It also reflects back on Misaki and Himeko, as Misaki realizes that her own arrangement with her Mistress is not so easily broken. It doesn’t help that Misaki is currently taking baths with Himeko, sleeping with Himeko, being constantly touched by Himeko, and thinking “this must be what Mistresses and Seraphs do”. She’d get along well with Otherside Picnic’s Sorawo.

The book ends with a cliffhanger, and possibly a field trip, but we’re going to have to wait – we’ve caught up with the Japanese releases. Till then, if you enjoy your yuri tongue-in-cheek and can’t get the Maria-sama novels licensed, this will do nicely to tide you over.

Girls Kingdom, Vol. 3

By Nayo and Shio Sakura. Released in Japan by GL Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Philip Reuben.

This series, in general, should not be taken seriously. I know that seems like a really obvious thing to say, but we are dealing with something written for a yuri audience, and yuri audiences have been conditioned to take things Very Seriously Indeed a lot of the time. This works on a 2005 yuri level, but it’s also clearly being written around 2020, and knows that too. So no one is going to be using the words lesbian or queer in this book anytime soon, but bathing together – complete with tickle fights – is still on the menu. Likewise, there are no canonical couples in the book, and yet the entire book consists of plotlines like “what is the perfect present I can give to my mistress” or “I am obsessed with my mistress to the point where I have become a living ghost story”. It’s a lot of fun to read. It also has Misaki, who still makes for a great protagonist, since she is, as I’ve said before, Yumi without all that self-doubt.

In the first part of the book, Misaki and Kirara, along with the other first-year maids, get that most important of things – their first paycheck. It’s tradition that part of that check should go to their mistress, but it’s up to them to figure out what the perfect present would be. After this, there’s rumors of a ghost on campus, and the student council president is trying to see what’s really going on, though it’s Misaki who has already worked things out. All of this is going on, of course, while Misaki and Kirara are still trying to learn how to be the best maids out there, and realizing they still have a LONG way to go. Especially if they want to compare themselves to Sara, whose mistress, who had been in England, is finally arriving to join the school. Will she upend the salon system? Or just create chaos? Probably, it’s that kind of series, but I expect all will work out in the end.

My favorite parts of the book are when you’re able to spot the tongue lodged firmly in the author’s cheek. Sometimes this is obvious because Misaki, our “common sense” character, points it out, such as student council president Angelica pulling a map of the campus out from between her breasts. And sometimes it’s obvious simply because it’s too ridiculous not to giggle. Sara’s past is tragic, but it’s tragic in a “Little Match Girl” sort of way that makes the denouement that much funnier. I’m amazed Sakura didn’t find her abandoned in a box with dog ears on her head. And sometimes the ridiculousness is actually a plot point, such as Sara’s “very English” mistress being named Sakura, which is noted by the characters but which we might have to wait till next time to actually figure out why.

Next time promises a 3-way Salon War – at least- and, I suspect, will have a lot more of Sakura and Sara, a relationship I can see going in several direction. Still, this was an excellent volume in the series, if only as I made it through the entire book without wanting to kill Kirara with my laser eye beams. Also, thanks must go to Angelica, for adding another common yuri trope the the overflowing stack already on the table.

Girls Kingdom, Vol. 2

By Nayo and Shio Sakura. Released in Japan by GL Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Philip Reuben.

For those of you who sighed with relief when Kirara got her heart’s desire at the end of the last volume of Girls Kingdom, hoping that now she would be a normal character that would not make you want to throw yourself out the nearest window whenever she appeared on the page, well, I have some bad news for you. Turns out that’s just her, and everything she does is designed to make us cringe and cringe hard. Honestly, it’s almost a relief when, several times in this book, she’s left at the mercy of the twin Ayakas, who are of course also terrible but they are terrible in a far more acceptable yuri light novel way. Fortunately, Kirara is not the focus of this book, it’s still Misaki, who remains a great protagonist, desiring to improve herself in the present while, admittedly, having very little regard about her future. Which, again, contrasts her with everyone else in this school whose entire purpose she was completely ignorant of when she applied.

After a prologue where our newly minted maids make a grand tour of all the other hot spots on campus, which is good in that it gives up a quick character sketch of most of the cast but also leans a bit TOO hard on the wacky side, the story essentially has two main plotlines. The first involves Kirira’s mistress Kagura, who plans to start a sporting goods store after graduation, and her desire to have the school’s star volleyball player, Minako (yes, it went there – she even has a ribbon in her hair. No talking cats, though) promote the company. Minako, though, already has an agreement with a mom-and-pop store, and is stubborn about dropping it. The other story involves the restaurant we saw in the first book, which is always empty and gets few return customers. What are Erisu and her admittedly eccentric and goofy staff doing wrong?

Kirara only features in the Kagura plot, mostly out of desperation to get promoted as soon as possible, and drags Misaki along with her. Fortunately, the bulk of the book is still reflected through Misaki, a decidedly non-rich girl (her backstory helps make more sense of the whole “I saw there was free room and board so did not bother to check why” phenomenon) who provides sensible solutions to problems. She is the sort who, when told she is doing something wrong, does not furiously deny it or sink into depression, but thinks hard about how to fix that. She works well with Himeko, a young lady who has to have her own thinking process explained to her multiple times. The yuri here is still mostly on the MariMite level, though I doubt Yumi and Sachiko ever bathed together as much as Misaki and Himeko do. There’s even a side story towards the end of the book about two other residents of the Sky Salon who I would go so far as to call an actual couple.

So, one frustrating character, but overall I still quite enjoy this series, which knows what its audience wants and delivers it with all the subtlety of a pie to the face. But it’s tasty pie.