|Remember, always read from right to left.
Yeah, we're keepin' it classy.
The most important thing to understand here is that Japanese otaku culture bloody loves its harems. Typically they follow the form of the direst wish fulfilment around: bland and generic loser-ish young guy accidentally manages to accumulate a sampling of women who are inexplicably all over him, "comedy" ensues. For '90s anime fans, Tenchi Muyo! is probably the most familiar example, although there's also noteworthy hack Ken Akamatsu who's founded his career on that sort of trash. And don't even get my started on their prevelance in visual novels with multiple love interests.
Iono stands apart in a few ways: it lasts only two volumes, which is really about as long as the whole joke is funny for; it treats the subject with all the due seriousness and pretense of innocence that it deserves, which is to say absolutely none; and most importantly, the reason why I even care, it's exclusively lesbian. That last part is important for reasons which will become more apparent in a bit.
|Iono propositions a random woman on the street.
|That's a lotta girls!
The story goes like these: Iono, queen of a small country, decides that her collection of thousands of sobame (alternately translated as both "lady-in-waiting" and "concubine") doesn't have enough black-haired girls in it, so she comes to Japan to pick up some more. Along the way, a bespectacled university drop-out falls for her, a soba chef accidentally gets picked up and falls in love with another member of the harem, a jilted princess bride tries to get back at Iono for abandoning her, and various other absurd romantic drama gets calmly resolved. Also, a civil war breaks out between factions of her sobame back in her home country who are becoming increasingly starved for attention while their queen is off having escapades in Japan.
|"Not the only thing! I also think you'd be adorable in bed!"
If Iono the Fanatics works on any level, it's the fact that it's completely unapologetic about its own bullshit. The drama tends to be absurd, but never particularly forced. Lesbian drama—both fictional and real—often tends to revolve around people who refuse to just talk, but Iono's bizarre brand of lesbian utopianism circumvents that, and instead just resolves its problems in the cutest way possible. As it should be.
|"SO STOP SULKING AROUND AND JUST FUCKING APOLOGIZE"
The other thing that it's completely unapologetic about is its sexuality. The sort of things I plan to write about are probably going to give a fairly skewed impression here, because for the most part, even when Japan doesn't hate lesbians, it's sort of reluctant to acknowledge them as being sexual. The preference tends to be either awkward hinting, or "innocence" from the Class S tradition. Iono the Fanatics is adorably innocent about its sexuality, but it definitely doesn't beat around the bush.
|Okay, maybe it beats around the bush a little.
And that's pretty much the thing. By wrapping up its absurd harem fantasies in lesbian utopianism, Iono the Fanatics manages to get away with stuff that a heterosexual story probably wouldn't have the balls to do—and even if it did, would just come across as creepy, rather than adorable. More importantly, by making harem center Iono charming rather than an audience identification loser, it's possible to actually laugh at its jokes instead of feel like you need to take a shower after reading it. I'm not saying that a harem comedy has to be totally lesbian in order to work... wait, no, I totally am. That's exactly what I'm saying.
|One selected part of a whole extended joke about Eto losing her virginity to Iono. Seriously, can you imagine how creepy this joke would be if it was a man involved instead?
|The only men in
the whole thing.
Make no mistake: Iono the Fanatics is about as trashy as a romantic comedy comic can get, and is most certainly pretty embarassing. It might be an outstanding harem comic, wrapped in delightfully absurd lesbian utopianism, but it's certainly not great. It's neither the sexiest comic out there nor the funniest, and despite being incredibly short, on a couple occassions it still manages to feel a bit drawn out.
But if nothing else, it's a fantastic experiment in "What if a harem comedy was actually funny?", and an extremely worthwhile demonstration of how sex comedy can be innocent, sexy, and funny. And if nothing else, it's a comic that appreciates the value of being earnestly cute, and follows through on that consistently. There's no mistake that this is a total guilty pleasure. But it's the best kind of guilty pleasure: one that does something totally interesting and novel, and is only two volumes long.
Iono the Fanatics (いおの様ファナティクス) is created by Miyabi Fujieda, and has been unofficially translated into English by Dynasty Scans. It can be read online here.