I never write reviews, but I would never write a review for something I didn’t enjoy. I don’t like giving numbers or scores either, so in this review I’m simply going to give my opinion on Shoujo Sect.
Before reading Shoujo Sect in its entirety I had simply assumed it to be a rather shallow, lesbian hentai manga series. I probably felt this way because my only exposure to it was from editing the script for the two-episode OVA. This OVA had mediocre animation quality and an uninteresting story. This isn’t surprising, considering no one watches hentai for the plot. Sex sells. However, only after reading the manga I learned that Shoujo Sect is much more than a contentless porno comic.
From the very beginning, something feels different about Shoujo Sect – something that separates it from other titles that have inevitably been placed within its genre. I cannot quite put my finger on what, exactly, this unique quality is. Part of it is certainly its structure, though. Instead of following a single storyline each chapter follows a different pair of girls through a short story. Toward the end of these stories, sex is always involved. While most chapters follow random, unrelated pairs of girls, two main characters do exist. Some of the chapters center around these two – Momoko and Shinobu. However, all the two ever seem to do is talk to each other.
There is a reason for this. At its core, Shoujo Sect is a manga about lust without love. It’s about being with someone physically, but not mentally. It’s about bittersweet love; the endings to all the chapters (excluding the final one) are not happy. Shoujo Sect says many things that set it apart not just from other yuri manga, but from romance manga as a whole.
Perhaps the subject on which Shoujo Sect has the most to say is lust. Shinobu lives with a harem of beautiful girls all willing to do her bidding. She’s extremely flirtatious and will take whatever she can get. Several of the chapters involve Shinobu and her girls. A handful of these girls admit that they are in love with Shinobu, a sentiment she never returns. At the end of the first volume, however, a shocking and emotionally poignant event takes place that leaves Shinobu wanting what she can’t have. Despite having her lustful desires fulfilled on a daily basis, Shinobu recognizes that lust can only satisfy the mind so much.
Many chapters of Shoujo Sect also detail a sort of bittersweet love. For example, in one chapter two girls are very much in love, only for one to disappear in a flurry of bubbles before the other’s eyes (I later learned that the author intended for the disappearing girl to be the Little Mermaid). In another chapter Momoko sleeps with a teacher and they seem to be happy, but their relationship does not last long. Yet another example follows two childhood friends, one of which is in love with the other, but these feelings are not mutual. Not being able to bear the pain of one-sided love, she has sex with someone else while imagining her childhood friend the entire time.
This is not what I would call a hentai manga. The sex scenes have a very specific purpose: to evoke certain emotions from the reader, most important of which are entirely non-sexual. It manages to do this extremely well; a scene between Shinobu and one of her girls evokes feelings of sorrow, unrequited love on the girl’s part, and of pure lust on Shinobu’s part. Conversely, the scene between “the Little Mermaid” and her partner felt filled with love, real love. Sex is sex, but the emotions involved completely change the entire experience.
Shoujo Sect is really a collection of pained love stories and, for this very reason, is incredibly relatable. All elements of the revoltingly romantic and unrealistically utopian types of love stories that permeate throughout so many forms of media are completely absent from Shoujo Sect. These are sad stories, ones about imperfect love, situations that everyone who has ever been in love will be able to relate to. Love is rarely (if ever) “meant to be,” and Shoujo Sect does not try to hide this fact. No, in a way, it celebrates it. Although every chapter in Shoujo Sect portrays a vision of flawed love, the final chapter paints a very different picture.
After all the stories of failed love, of shallow lust and lack of closure we are given a single happy ending, a glimmer of hope. Through this ending Shoujo Sect acknowledges the existence of true love but does not posit that it is found instantly or easily. Real love, according to Shoujo Sect, is found through trial and error. It is an ongoing process – one that, hopefully, will lead to a happy ending.