Twenty-four-year-old Emi Asahina has no job, no direction, and no clue what she wants to do with her life. In an attempt to cheer her up, her friend invites her out to a night at the club—only to ditch Emi as soon as they arrive. After a time, Emi is rescued from her awkward disappointment by Kei, a cool and flirty girl who introduces herself as a DJ. One thing leads to another as they wind up back at Kei’s place. Little can she predict that her one-night stand with Kei could lead her to actually starting a life she wants to live.
Following the success of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, After Hours is the second new-adult yuri title to hit the shelves (in the US) in 2017. Drawn and written by Yuhta Nishio, volume 1 is the beginning of a story that those familiar with the genre will either find positive and refreshing or just sort of slow. I happen to fall into the first category, and not just because the main character and I share the same name. (Ba bum pish.)
Emi and Kei’s relationship is uniquely realistic for yuri, featuring characters who are working young adults. Emi—jobless, insecure, and drifting unhappily through life—is immediately attracted to confident, teasing, and happily outgoing Kei. Despite Emi’s first time being intimate with a woman, there’s obviously a spark between the two and the romance is gentle, with both parties consenting. It’s a story that doesn’t rely on sexual tension and romantic tropes to keep the plot rolling since the characters go to bed together only hours after they meet.
But the story is less an exploration of sexuality and more about finding the confidence to be yourself. Tension is pulled from the characters’ insecurities rather than the expectation and need for sexual progression—although there are plenty of flirty moments and odd-couple humor.
After their night together, Emi decides she wants to spend more time with Kei. And Kei, of course, is more than happy to introduce Emi to her “unconventional” life filled with DJing, clubs, music, lights, cool friends, and parties. Seeing this alternative life style intrigues Emi, and Kei’s encouragement (as well as Emi’s desire to spend more time with Kei) allows her to set aside social stigma and explore a part of herself she never knew was there. These new experiences force her to face the question “What do you want to do with your life?” Something I think a lot of young women will be able to relate to.
As for the artwork, Nishio’s style is objectively a little less mainstream then the yuri typically seen on the shelves, what with the shiny eyes and flowery backgrounds. It’s more minimalistic, with panels that are somewhat sparse and easy on the eyes. Almost-loose linework gives the characters lots of… well, character—while cute and silly expressions enhance (and often create) the humor. Despite the fact that the characters’ early interactions are sexual in nature, the simplistic art style somehow manages to make those scenes not feel particularly graphic or even that sexy, even when the characters are naked (or mostly naked).
As a twentysomething reader of yuri, I appreciate this (hopefully) increasing trend of realistic and mature f/f stories in manga. Emi and Kei’s relationship is strong yet subtle, flowing in between Emi’s curiosity as she learns about the local nightlife. While the end of the volume didn’t have me itching to get my hands on the next one, I’m interested to see if Emi and Kei develop their relationship further, nonetheless.
Story: 3 out of 5 stars
Art: 4 out of stars
Overall: 4 out of 3.5 stars
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