It’s always a struggle to find a manga that uses a setting you’ve never seen before. We’ve all seen so many high schools, post-apocalyptic wastelands, apartment buildings, wars etc that it becomes a real challenge to be able to say ‘I’ve never seen that before’. Yuta Nishio’s After Hours manages to do that by setting his yuri romance in and around the night club scene, specifically the world of the DJ. Now there likely have been other series to use a similar setting but I couldn’t think of a single one personally. This, combined with the fact that After Hours is so good, certainly sets it apart!
Emi is a bit of a drifter. She has no real direction in life and a boyfriend whom she doesn’t really have any feeling towards, so when her friend ditches her in a night club she ends up hiding away in a corner until Kei walks into her life. A proud, strong-willed DJ, Kei is captivating to Emi, who ends the night going home with Kei and beginning what soon becomes a full-fledged relationship. Whilst Kei begins to put together a full-on Rave, Emi begins to learn the art of the Video Jockey and draws the strength she needs from Kei to come out sexually and become the person she always wanted to be.
I. Love. This. Manga. There, I said it. Up front and with no beating around the bush. There is so much to love packed into this tight 3 volume series and precious little wrong with it.
Emi and Kei are beautifully presented as real people, both taking steps into a relationship that neither expected and pursuing a dream that is so much more real than many found in other series. They don’t want to win the ultimate tournament or escape from a fantasy world – they just want to be able to make other people have a good time! The supporting cast are a little thinly-drawn and tend are a little on the wacky side to be sure, but they never really intrude into what is primarily a love story between two people.
It also has to be said that it’s refreshing to see a series that both centres around a romance between two adult women and makes absolutely no issue about it. There are no moral quandries or shocked friends to contend with. It’s never presented as a big deal.
The artwork is gorgeous. Refined, simple and very grounded in its presentation – there's no exaggeration, just well presented reality with nothing to distract from the drama at hand. Even sex is presented in a similar fashion, with Nishio not shying away from presenting sex and nudity, but also refusing to allow it to veer too much into the realm of the erotic or risk allowing the activity to overwhelm the character work that it’s supporting.
In fact, the only real flaw is that the ending of the series comes with a bit too much of a left turn and feels suspiciously like Nishio couldn’t quite work out how to end the series, borrowing inspiration from elsewhere. But even then the character work is still so strong that you can be forgiving of it.
This is easily one of the best series that's been out for a long while in my opinion. Now that volume three has finally dropped you can read it all without the horribly long wait between volumes (there was a YEAR between vols 1 and 2!). Pick this one up – you won’t be disappointed!