15 Years of Yami to Boushi: Retrospective Review of the First Major non-Class-S Yuri Anime

While there had been a handful yuri anime works prior to the turn of the millennium, it was around this time that a significant paradigm shift began to occur. Gay Until Graduation was on the way out for the new, worrying trend: tragic lesbians. While there were, and still are, a handful of conceptual issues with the premise, there were an influx of characters that queer people could relate to on some degree, and media was willing to portray these characters more sympathetically than evil.

By 2003, many anime were already beginning to gradually include this idea, most prominently within Devilman Lady. But it was Yami to Boushi (henceforth, YamiBou) that was first in making the tragic lesbian its primary goal.

Title: Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito/Yami, the Hat, and the Travellers of the Books
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Adventure, mystery, romance, ecchi
Year of release: 2003

YamiBou is a real hodgepodge of ideas, and hard to really put a finger on at any moment. It’s sort of based upon an eroge visual novel, except the anime doesn’t follow the protagonist but a side-character, Hazuki, though keeps some of the general ideas intact. There’s a meta-library, where books within this library are alternate universes. On a quest, the protagonist finds their way to that library, and goes through different books trying to find their lover, and on the way, find a lot of hot babes to sleep with in these alternative universes.

The anime differs such that Hazuki is not necessarily on the hunt for her lover, but Hatsumi, her sister – or possibly step-sister, or simply a character she treats as a sister (it’s hard to tell). Hazuki has a crush on her, and feels deeply ashamed about her feelings – demonstrated somewhat poignantly in the first episode, during a scene of her moping after she touched herself due to seeing Hatsumi naked in the bath. On Hatsumi’s 16th birthday, she suddenly disappears into a ray of light, and a weird parrot-creature offers to let Hazuki follow, and she takes him up on that in a heartbeat. Enlisting the help of the librarian, Lilith (who forms a crush on Hatsumi for some pretty silly reason), the trio travel around various different universes on the hunt for Hatsumi. And, somewhat like in the original VN, Hazuki is low-key forming a harem from the new women introduced in these worlds.

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Some of the universes include warring states era, a ‘20s steam train thriller, trying to make sense of a tribal caveman’s culture, a space-station or orphans, and my favourite, being stuck on an isolated island with a girl that cannot age and her protective tiger. They’re pretty creative environments, and the series usually gives more than episode to delve into these worlds with some amount of reverence, even as Hazuki uses a sword to create some blunt solutions. But each one of these worlds serves the grander purpose to reflect back to Hazuki for some much needed personal growth.

As we learn throughout the series, Hazuki has been over-reliant on Hatsumi, emotionally. She turns away everybody else at school and lives simply for her sister, who she worries she lusts for. Over the course of this adventure, she learns to come out of her shell a little, even if she’s still got a bit of hedgehog dilemma, and most heart-warmingly, she analyses her feelings for Hatsumi and realises they are beyond lust – she loves her, romantically. Considering prior yuri being so insistent on romance devoid of sexuality, as well as a classic trope being that queer feelings are looked deeper upon and explained away (looking at you, Cardcaptor Sakura), it’s really refreshing to see. Hazuki’s queerness, along with her sheer determination and skill with a sword, makes her a really awesome lesbian lead that learns to stop feeling so ashamed of who she is and who she loves.

romance

I’ve talked a lot about Hazuki as a lesbian protagonist, and that’s because the target of her affections, Hatsumi, neither gets significant screen-time or dialogue. Well, the premise is her absence, and furthermore she’s mute, so that’s to be expected. For that reason though, YamiBou struggles to take off as a romance, even if the romantic affection that we understand from its principle character is so strong.

Unfortunately, the compliments are going to end there.

The pacing of the show is really off. Episodes aren’t cut up equally at all, such that the halfway point of an episode would begin a new arc, and further, there’s a lot of intermissions. The series antagonist, the spiteful Gargantua who simply wants the only thing he couldn’t have (Hatsumi), randomly gets given a backstory during the halfway point of an episode, and it continues in that vein for another episode or so, and it’s difficult to understand what’s going on when it has timeskips, too. It’s a hard pill to swallow as Hazuki’s screentime was far more compelling than this privileged baby throwing his toys out of the pram.

The genre list doesn’t necessarily sell the extent of this series’ off-putting excursions. While I listed ecchi, that’s largely because of the laughably scant costume design, but the camera generally doesn’t leer as hard as the tag might suggest. The weird parrot creature I described earlier is the source of slapstick comedy – and both this, and his weird vocal performance, is grating against the series’ generally quiet tone.

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The show’s production is generally a decent affair for the period, on the other hand. Some action scenes actually look impressive, too. But there’s a few problems, of course: the OST is extremely repetitive, and that damn vaseline filter. During the second episode, I was quite fond of the dramatic background music, but after hearing it almost every episode, I began to yearn for something new. The vaseline filter creates a lot of murky lighting, which is often fitting, but I struggle to say it ever looks good.

Now it’s time to really talk about why this show has been, and probably deserves to be completely forgotten: the ending. The themes up to this point are unceremoniously defecated upon, and the framing of the series loses any and all sense. One of the key characteristics of early, tragic yuri anime was unfulfilling endings that begin to throw a handful of fetishes about, and, well, YamiBou simply shows up the rest of the competition outside of hentai. It really has to be seen to be believed, though I wouldn’t recommend it at all. In fact, a fan-edit exists of the final two episodes to make something less nonsensical, and while it has that patchwork feeling, as well as being eyerollingly cheesy… it’s far better than the table-flipping alternative.

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In the end, it’s really sad that YamiBou is such a mess. There’s a dichotomy to it, as Hazuki represents a lot of positive growth for lesbian protagonist representation within media and is simply a great character fullstop, yet the series writers couldn’t do her justice in the final hour by simply following the trajectory that had been setup. Even beyond her, though, the setup of the series as an adventure is a ripe one, and many of the individual arcs are actually quite compelling. But the pacing is a nightmare, the antagonist is a loser, the tone is schizophrenic, the ecchi is apologetic yet hamfisted and the ending is one of the worst in anime. Historical significance and scarcity of yuri aside, I really can’t recommend this for any other reason.

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3 thoughts on “15 Years of Yami to Boushi: Retrospective Review of the First Major non-Class-S Yuri Anime

    1. Yami to Boushi is a weird one. I really like it, and also really, really dislike it! It’s a kind of marmite-show, but there’s better marmite yuri anime out there that this one really isn’t worth going to until you’ve exhausted all the other options!

      Liked by 1 person

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