Between 2003 and 2004, Tokyopop published six manga by Erica Sakurazawa, some of the very first josei manga to be released in English. More than a decade later josei has still yet to establish a firm foothold in North America, though things seem to be improving and publishers continue to make an effort. Most of the josei that I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. I wish that there was more available in English, but in the meantime I make the point to support what is currently available and to track down those titles, like Sakurazawa’s, that have gone out of print. The first of Sakurazawa’s manga to be translated was Between the Sheets, which was originally published in Japan in 1996. The volume was not my introduction to her work but out of all of Sakurazawa’s manga that I have so far read, I feel that it is one of the strongest in terms of storytelling. Between the Sheets was initially brought to my attention due to the elements of same-sex desire that play a critical role in the manga’s story.
Minako and Saki are extraordinarily close friends. They frequently hang out together, enjoying the bars and party scene where Saki, despite having a boyfriend, is constantly on the lookout for men. But when Saki and Minako share a drunken kiss in order to convince an undesirable suitor that they’re a couple and to leave them alone, Minako finds her feelings for her best friend beginning to change. Minako had always admired and cared deeply for Saki, but now her love has turned obsessive. She wants to be with Saki. In some ways she wants to be Saki. Saki views Minako as an extremely important person in her life but nothing more than a friend while Minako wants to be everything for Saki: her lover, her protector, her one and only. Convinced she knows what’s best for Saki, Minako will do anything to get closer to her and to drive others away, including sleeping with Saki’s boyfriends.
Frankly, Between the Sheets is an exceptionally disturbing and even horrifying work. Minako’s obsession with Saki creates an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. Each turn of the page seems as though it could reveal some sort of horrible tragedy worse than what has already occurred. Minako’s feelings become self-destructive and her way of dealing with them hurt not only herself but Saki and the men in their lives as well. Often in fiction and romance one person’s utter devotion to another is held as an ideal. However, Between the Sheets takes a much more realistic approach to this sort of extreme, obsessive desire. Minako’s fixation on Saki becomes all-consuming. It’s not flattering and it’s not romantic. In fact, it can hardly even be called love anymore. Her friendship with Saki has evolved into something much darker and much more dangerous. The damage done may be irreparable.
Because of its subject matter Between the Sheets can be a tough and uncomfortable read; it is not at all a feel-good story and there is very little happiness to be found. The characters are entangled in a web of lies, cheating, and betrayal. Unpleasant emotions like hatred, anger, and jealously overshadow those of adoration, love, and affection. However, Sakurazawa handles the intensity of those feelings in a believable way. That realism is probably one of the reasons that Between the Sheets is so troubling. Minako appears to be normal and innocent, her twisted way of thinking hidden safely from view. Sakurazawa’s artwork reflects this–on the surface nothing seems amiss. If readers weren’t privy to Minako’s inner thoughts, they might never suspect the unhealthiness of her state of mind. But eventually her actions and their tragic consequences cannot be ignored and make it quite clear to everyone involved how unbalanced she has become.