Yuri is My Job!: The performance of Schwestern
Ach ja, summarizing the premise of Yuri is My Job! is actually a bit of an experience, as it is not only quite telling of me as a person, but also not as clear as one might guess, considering what the bulk of the story is actually about. Alas, Yuri is My Job! takes place in a themed cafe in which the employees role-play as students of an all-girls boarding school attending to the patrons of the in-house salon. The presentation of it all will look very familiar with anyone knowledgeable about Class S and its associated tropes in yuri media. Simply taking a peek is all it takes to kind of get it.
As such, I initially read this series as something between parody and a form of meta-work. After all, no matter how close the kohai comes to her dear onee-sama, with the background turning into a field of flowers and all, at the end of the day, the relationships are not real, but solely acted, though this will not stop the audience, both in-universe and as a viewer, from squirming and loudly supporting the pair. Feeling myself be “caught” might be stretching it a bit far, but the irony was certainly not lost on me, considering I am the type of guy that bought the first volume of the manga, because I have to convince myself to not purchase the next new girls love series, instead of the other way around. If I would be less embarrassed and actually understand the appeal of such establishments, I would absolutely be sitting in this cafe.
However, this is only a part, if even, of the series at large. Instead, one has to understand the cafe as a stage, not just for the audience, but explicitly the actors as well, considering the line between performance and reality is constantly blurred, crossed and challenged by the characters. The thing about the main girls working at the cafe is, that they all consider themselves to be broken in some way, specifically in regards to how they want to be perceived by others or keep up appearance and how the resulting misery manifests in the two Schwestern pairs at the end of the first season.
The term Schwester is never really defined in concrete and I actually prefer it to be rather vague, as it allows the pair to define what the specific bond is, that connects the two, but still holds equal weight in the context of the cafe, as keeping up the image on the stage is ironically also a way of expressing oneself without the façade that is normally put up when not wearing the uniform and thus the main drive for character development in this series.
Initially, Hime might come off as a bit of a shallow person, given her self introduction of a dream to marry a rich guy and live life on the easy road, but it doesn’t take long to realize just how compulsory her actions are to keep up the façade of a nice girl. She doesn’t allow herself to act as herself, tells lies and approaches every confrontation as if minimizing any potential damage is a given. Secondly, the only thing she is more afraid of than not keeping up the façade, is other people finding out that it is a façade at all, as being found out in grade school lead to her being ostracized and lonely. This all leads to her first honest show of character when put in an environment where she would not know how to put up her normal façade. When first encountering Yano in the cafe, she was immediately struck with awe at her and when it came time to put on the uniform, she reached out to her by calling Yano “Onee-sama” in front of all the customers, unaware of the entailing implications, as this was simply the impression Hime got from her. Thus, the first Schwerstern pair kind of formed out of necessity.
The relationship between Hime and Yano is weirdly uneven at first. While Hime wants to be liked by Yano and tries her best to become closer to her via advances done at the cafe, Yano initially opposed becoming Schwestern and only reluctantly plays the part and seems to otherwise dislike Hime, who in turn interprets this as her being bad at the job and starts extra leaning into the role of a Schwester, much to the dismay of Yano. It is eventually revealed that Yano knows Hime and that her apparent dislike of Hime is actually uncertainty, as the person who hurt her in the past seemingly doesn’t recognize her and tries her best to be liked by her now. The rift that initially separated these two characters in the past is the same that keeps Hime and Yano apart in the present, with no real way to overcome it. As such, it is instead done via the performance as Schwestern, in which both are ironically able to be honest to another and not put up a façade, as the cafe allows them to take off their masks, unaware that the other does the same.
The inciting incident essentially boils down to a misunderstanding caused by both characters' flaws. In grade school, Hime started spending less time with her usual friend group, as she began practicing the piano with Yano, something she actually enjoys, opposed to keeping up the façade of a nice girl in front of the others. However, as Yano was considered a bit of an outsider, rumors started spreading and people assumed that Yano is bullying Hime and forcing her to spend time with her. To stop the rumors from spreading further, Hime went back to her former group of friends, only for Yano to drop the ball and tell the others that Hime actually doesn’t like them. The fallout resulted in Hime being revealed as a faker and Yano changing schools.
Now, if these two disasters were normal people, this could be resolved rather quickly by simply explaining it all. All Hime needs to do is tell Yano why she acted the way she did and that her lies were never supposed to hurt her, while Yano needs to come out with her exposing Hime in front of her group was not done with the intend to harm her, but rather as a plea to be honest with herself and to stop putting up a façade. However, this is obviously complicated by the fact that Yano can not fully trust Hime, due to her being a compulsive liar, while Hime has all the reason in the world to believe that Yano is genuinely mad at her.
This whole conflict is eventually resolved by providing a parallel to the situation in grade school, only this time it is happening in the context of the cafe. Some customers started suspecting that Hime only became a Schwester to Yano, because she was roped into it by her and while Hime almost defaulted back into her normal behavior and opting out of the role as a Schwester for the sake of Yano, she instead decided to double down on her decision to stay Schwestern and face the problem head on. Hime wants to be Yano’s Schwester, not because it is part of her façade or even to keep up the performance of the cafe, but because she genuinely likes Yano and wants to be close to her, just like she wanted to play piano with her in grade school all those years ago. The cafe and especially the performance as Schwestern allows her to take off the mask and be herself, because the way she wants to be a Schwester is just her honest feelings on the matter. It is through this display of resolve that Hime and Yano finally find common ground again, because the both of them need the interactions in the cafe, as they can’t just “talk about it” off the stage.
This is why, at the end of the first arc with the relationship between the two “reset”, Yano is able to pull off an honest love confession in front of Hime and the entire cafe, because, similarly to Hime, Yano too wants to be Schwestern and feels the same way about Hime. However, unlike Hime, Yano doesn’t really have façade and barely differentiates between herself and the role she plays at the cafe, so those feelings of hers can be channeled directly through her performance as a Schwester, which, while played, are not fake. I am normally not a big fan of a confession being disguised as an act, as it gets the point across, without actually having to commit to the consequences, but it kind of works for me in this case, as the confession will not evaporate into nothingness. Yano will continue to be Hime’s Schwester with this sentiment in mind and it is up to her to make Hime realize these feeling in the same way Hime made hers clear.
However, Hime and Yano are not the only Schwestern pair in this series and their bond is, with the exception of the twists along the way, not that surprising, as most people probably saw that ship sailing when it was still docked at the wharf. On the other hand, Kanoko and Sumika’s bond is primarily not based on any romantic affection to another at all and instead being characterized by a similar relationship to other people, even if the specifics couldn’t be more different.
Kanoko is in love with Hime. One might say “obsessed” is a more accurate assessment, but we don’t have to be so pedantic. In the cafe, she mostly appears in the background and keeps to herself, but does take action when Hime is involved, primarily if she thinks Yano or Sumika are up to something. She is actually rather wary of Sumika, as her scary gyaru appearance outside the cafe plays perfectly into her own discomfort with other people. On the other hand, Sumika gets along with everyone in the cafe just fine, which is actually the part of her complex that brings her closer to Kanoko.
Sumika believes that the cafe only operates as well as it does, due to the shared friendship of the employees and one is inclined to believes this might actually be the case, as seen by Hime and Yano, when things got temporarily awkward between the two of them following the reveal. Additionally, she disapproves of any kind of romance between the members of the staff, as a former case ruined the bond she had with her own Schwester and the two girls later left the cafe. When she finds out that Kanoko harbors feelings for Hime and confronts her about it, we actually get to see how the two have completely different perceptions about romance and how these views eventually bring them closer together.
Sumika projects her own insecurities onto Yano, as she herself was hurt when another person broke her Schwestern bond, something she is afraid of if Kanoko brings romance into the cafe and potentially steals Hime from Yano, which is something she wants to make impossible by being elected as the Blume. What she doesn’t know is that Kanoko actually has no intention to confess her feelings herself and essentially criticizes Sumika for having a very narrow view of romantic feelings, something that is later brought up again by her former Schwester telling her that a romance not working out is simply something one has to accept the possibility of. But what really puts the last nail into the coffin is that Sumika adressess her worries to Kanoko at all, as there is one very more obvious candidate for the warning. Remember the love confession I mentioned earlier? It is very ironic that Kanoko actually read the room, while Sumika, the one with the highest stakes in this matter, did not.
What essentially follows is that the Schwestern bond is build on a kind of co-dependency, as both Kanoko and Sumika can find help and comfort in each other, something that they can not do with the other members of the cafe, as they are actually bigger messes than they lead to believe. The anime basically ends on the two officially becoming Schwestern, so one doesn’t actually see the two much in action, but I doubt there will be any romantic development between the two, as their specific relationship is build on how they relate to the other romances around them.
Generally, one might consider Yuri is My Job! to be rather contrived in its structure, as it feels a bit hard to connect the dramatic beats to the characters directly, despite them being all around fleshed out in their own way, but I am eager to overlook this, in addition to all the other weird parts, as I think this series has a very clear idea of what it wants to portray and it just so happens to fall directly into my interests, which is funny, because I initially dropped the manga after the first volume, because I couldn’t really connect with it… I will have to start reading the manga again now, huh?
Fun fact: I initially thought about writing this post as a video, but considering how much I struggle to actually make a point and succinctly elaborate on it, without just summarizing the whole anime in the process, you just have to believe my ramblings make sense and are not just an excuse for me to talk about another girls love series.
Yuri is My Job! is available on Crunchyroll.
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