The title is pretty self explanatory! Spoilers for all of these unique chapter 1’s, except Tadokoro-san and Video rental shop as these stories are too scarce to really dive into just chapter 1.
- Dark forest, white road
At first glance Katsuragi is an empty protagonist, with nothing but studying to her name. She’s unsure what to do with her newly acquired free time and feels as if the time from when she awakes to when she goes to sleep stretches on indefinitely. We get a glimpse of her as one of those “I live in a boring town where nothing ever happens” characters. She doesn’t fit in with her classmates, but it’s no different when she’s at home either. Her gloomy expressions sticks out, as her mother worries about her despite her nonchalant older sister, who brushes off her concerns. This opens up to something deeper as she deflects her mom’s remarks about Katsuragi’s possible plans with her friends. “She doesn’t have any friends to begin with”. Their relationship is so obviously strained yet nuanced, the manga does a good job at keeping the tension between the two, even in the very 1st chapter. Winter break is chosen almost specifically to showcase how the main heroine’s life is cold and corners her in, making her feel as if there’s something wrong with her.
The dark atmosphere lightens as we see the back of another girl. It’s as if all the darkness of the previous pages disappeared with the sight of her. She approaches Katsuragi with the request of locating her radio and cane, and we get a not so subtle clue that the girl is blind. Katsuragi retracts from her touch and runs off home. Hands still shaking, she recalls the encounter to her sister, who notes that it sounds like the girl looks like a ghost. The next day that Katsuragi goes to the same park, she sees the girl again. She introduces herself as Chiharu and the two talk about how no one seems to come to this park anymore. Katsuragi thinks about how none of it matters what her sister made her think of. The radio, the ghost, being scared, not scared… Because Chiharu was looking at her and those eyes were not trying to hurt her at all.
One of the things that grabbed me instantly was the art style. The quick lines give off almost a sketchy feel, while the more detailed panels look like an intricate and highly atmospheric graphic novel, focusing on the main character’s emotions towards herself and others.
- Hakugin gymnasium
From the very first pages it’s obvious that the tone while similar to Dark forest, white road, isn’t as melancholic to almost a painful degree. The story follows Amy and Fiona who spend their days as part of the Hakugin Gymnasium, a boarding school for orphans. The two are not related, yet call each other twin as they were taken in the same day, much to the bafflement of both the staff and other residents who continue to question when they’d be go off to their new families. Why would they need to leave when their family is here, all around them? When one of the residing twins asks about mariage, we see Fiona’s happy expression falter somewhat. Later at night she even asks Amy if she’d want to get married, and as she replies that she might someday, we see only the turned away face of Fiona. Amy laughs at the needy and sulking Fiona and the two share a bed. But as we see from her internal monologue, Fiona’s feelings are more complicated than that. She worries what will become of her if Amy gets a new family. Fiona’s happy world comes to a stop as Amy gets invited to speak with the headmistress and receives news that her mother is coming to see her. Fiona even goes as far as to speak with the headmistress herself, arguing her that her mother is the one who abandoned her, can’t be a good person, so why agree to see her? This brings up and interesting debate over children who were left by their birth parents and later are faced with the fact that they want to meet them or be in their lives again. While the headmistress agrees with Fiona’s statements, she says that in the end it’s Amy’s decision, revealing that her mother had even preserved a photograph, dreaming of the day where they could live together. This way light is shown to a more delicate problem of parents not always being able to raise their kids out of circumstance, not malicious intent, lack of abilities of care for or even apathy, as it is often portrayed.
Nevertheless, we get a glimpse of hope for our protagonist, as Amy agrees with her saying her mother must be awful. As we can see, Fiona can’t let go of her conflicting feelings, being torn between wanting Fiona to stay with her and wanting what’s best for her. Her hopes are shattered as Amy’s mother greets her crying and apologizing profusely. The two embrace, both crying, as Amy is seen completely isolated and separated from the two by the shadows.
She stares on as Amy interacts with her mother. She confronts Amy, accusing her of going away with her mother. To her, they might as well be strangers. She even mentions something that one of the other residents noted, them being sisters is just foolish. “How so “naturally”?” she asks as Amy continues to look at her with a hurt expression “Liar”. And so, a wall build between the two girls who were seen as inseparable. Time passes on swiftly, despite Fiona struggling to bottle her emotions up, with no words passing between them. Soon comes the day where Amy has to leave and she asks for a letter to be passed to Fiona. She is seen staring out the window, looking at the fancy car, as the letter is given to her.
We see the whirlwind of emotions that Fiona’s experiencing as tears start flowing her cheeks. The headmistress talks with her later on, telling her that this kind of separation is part of growing up. Amy replies with a smile and says that she’s leaving on her next birthday, sure that on no point in her life will she ever start a family of her own. The chapter takes a sad turn as Fiona leaves in winter and reminisces about getting used to the cold and how Amy was more precious to her and wonders where she went.
Tropes like this that separate two girls in love are now seen as something ancient and harmful, worth throwing out. However, I do think that there are cases like this even know. Two people that separate for reasons of their own, not only societal expectations or pressure. Besides, Fiona could very well search for Amy, as she has finally left the orphanage a mere year later at the end of chapter 1.
- After hours
“Our night’s only begun” with these words we dive into the nightlife filled yuri manga “After hours”. The story follows Emi as she meets the cool and casual Kei who decides to spend time with her, after Emi gets stood up by the girl she was supposed to be meeting in that club. The two spend the night drinking and listening to the countless records that Kei has. We get this intensely casual feel from the whole thing that is incredibly refreshing after all the blushing first love school girl stories. Both Kei and Emi are open and comfortable with who they are and their sexuality. The 1st chapter is quite funny as well, as Kei is unapologetically sexual towards the more flustered Emi. Nevertheless, the attraction is obvious from the 1st chapter and the liveliness of both the art and premise leaves the reader hooked for more.
- Sayonara folklore
The premise for this one was so weird I just had to check it out. Hayase is not a newcomer so she knows that you can’t touch anyone on Monday, and if you do, there’s a little incantation that must be recited. But Mashiro has just transfered in and Hayase is tasked with showing her around, and does not know these things. Hayase explains that we do not touch on Monday, because not too long ago two girls did – and they fell in love, became lovers and tried to die together. Therefore, if you don’t recite the charm, you might fall in love with whomever touched you…and that would be bad. Of course Hayase explains this after Mashiro has touched her on a Monday and this is where the drama tag comes in, with all of its glory. Mashiro quickly earn the favorite character tag, as she completely ignores the superstition and boldly asks her senpai “What even is the right path? Why don’t the two of us stray off of it together?”. Their dynamic is clearly established, with Mashiro being bold but easily embarrassed and Hayase being either timid or incredibly flustered by Mashiro’s advances.
Hayase even gets reprimanded for not showing a proper example, while another classmate just waves it off as them being touchy over what happened to those girls. Mashiro, on the other hand, gets incredibly angry over Hayase not saying that it was Mashiro’s fault as she was the one bothering her. Mashiro is surprisingly childish, going as far as to cry when called out for it, not wanting her sister to hate her for wanting to go home as Hayase comforts her, not bothering to recite the promise that she would not stray. If Mashiro’s wish came true, they’d part ways.
While the art is pleasant to look at, it’s nothing to write home about. Where this story truly shines, is the setting and the contrasting personalities of the two characters. The end of the chapter showcases Hayase’s determination to sacrifice her own happiness to the “Monday curse” and serves as a good hook for the reader to grab and carry onto future chapters, wondering how will their romance continue.
- Video rental shop and Tadokoro-san
These two are my last recommendations are fairly short chapter wise, so I decided to lump them together as one entry. The first one follows a woman clumsily attempting to ask the girl workint at the counter of a video rental shop out and falling into her jokes, while failing to make the impression that she wants. There’s a really charming B plot of another couple that’s way closer to an actual couple but hilarious nevertheless.
Tadokoro-san follows the titular character who is known by an alias for drawing incredibly cool and shounen like pictures online. One day a classmate notices it and falls in love at with her for how hard she’s always working. The story follows their awkward yet adorable romance that continues growing with every bit of plot added.