The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
One Week Friends
What's It About?
Much as milquetoast Yuuki Hase wants to befriend demure but sweet classmate Kaori Fujiyama, one massive obstacle stands in his way. It's not that she doesn't return his affections; it's just that each and every Monday, Kaori wakes up with all her best memories of the past week erased. Those she doesn't consider friends stick around in her memory, as do her parents, but close friends and cherished events fade. Yuuki's not deterred, of course, but while he eventually wins Kaori over from her “no-friends policy” with his earnest insistence, the fact is that even the most sincere and devoted companion might find the emotional wear of being constantly forgotten too much...
Available December 19th for $15.00 courtesy of Yen Press, the first volume of One Week Friends introduces English speaking audiences to the wave-making manga that inspired the 2014 anime and 2017's live action series.
Is It Worth Reading?
Rating: 3.5While on one hand, the premise of One Week Friends makes for an intriguing hook, on the other, its strangeness beggars belief. There are medical conditions that result in recurring short-term memory loss, but Fujiyama's one-week reset of only the memories of those she considers her friends—and always on the same day of the week without fail—seems distractingly implausible in an otherwise realistic setting. True, it may be connected to childhood trauma as Shougo suggests, but it's still a quasi-unbelievable hook for a series. That said, the story is a slow-building but earnest demonstration of the level of dedication Hase and Fujiyama put into their friendship. Their relationship means enough to Fujiyama that she forgets it—tellingly, she doesn't forget Hase's friend, Sougo—and yet still quickly comes to care for him each week, and it means enough to Hase to do everything he can to make the most of each moment with his friend/crush. Both Hase and Fujiyama are good-hearted, genuine characters, though Sougo's blasé and straightforward attitude actually make him a more interesting character, even if he's just a secondary one. However, the story laser-focuses on the friendship between the two main characters to the point where there's almost no scene outside of their timid and earnest interactions. It's sweet story, but there isn't much to it.
Hazuki injects a syrupy, laidback vibe to the art with overly rounded character faces, a frequent lack of background detail, and a regular reliance on sparkling and bubble screentones to invoke that calm mood. However, their choice to switch between four-panel comics and traditional layouts on a frequent basis—not just for brief between-chapter jokes, as many other mangaka do—is an odd one. The four-panel comics don't really pack much of a humorous punch. The only reason they seem to be there is so that Hazkui can cram in as much dialogue as possible because most of the manga is just the two main characters talking.
One Week Friends volume 1 is a soothing read that shows how beautiful friendship can be, even in the face of obstacles. It's almost too slow-paced and too focused on the burgeoning friendship, but it does what it sets out to do and then some. Fans of iyashikei who can get past the strange setup will enjoy this tale about two friends who are potentially at the beginning of a slow-burn romance.
All my favorite romantic comedies privilege the latter half of their genre title over the former. It's not that I'm adverse to the mushy stuff; I just find that creators who focus on romance tend to privilege the most powerful emotional aspects of a relationship to the exclusion of other, quieter elements. You witness it all the time in comics like Nana, where affection is measured mostly in grand gestures and flaring emotions. Conversely, works more willing to crack a joke – works like His and Her Circumstances or Ouran Highschool Host Club – also seem generally more game to explore the most subtle aspects of a relationship. To maybe deflate the myths of romance in favoring of exposing how the laughed-over misunderstanding or the goofy flub are every bit as bonding as the moving monologue.
And make no mistake, One Week Friends is a romance, despite protagonist Yuuki's insistence that he's only interested in becoming friends with the amnesiac Kaori. The way the two moon over each other, the way they blush at the mention of one another: these aren't the buddings of an early camaraderie, but something deeper. It's also a comedy, though, one that's interested in how two doofy adolescents navigate the day to day strangeness of budding love when saddled with an additional gimmick, and a disarmingly sweet one at that. Yuuki's sincerity – his honest desire to please and help Kaori – is far more fetching a character trait than the perpetual apologizing of nondescript harem leads and the aloof, badboy theatrics of certain romantic lead. Kaori is similarly adorable and provides him with a clueless springboard to play off of when the story shifts into the 4-koma format it favors for the day-to-day, more humorous interactions of these goofs. It's not biting satire; it's not clever, deadpan absurdity; but it is a sweet, warm little slice of life that lovingly captures the awkwardness of fresh-blooming romance.
When it shifts to larger, more open panel and page arrangements (a clever conceit that frees author Matcha Hazuki from the jokey expectations we've attached to those narrow vertical grids while signaling a change in tone to the reader), however, the story falters. Selective amnesia is convenient in that it just so happens to sweep all the most difficult day-to-day concerns of such a condition under the rug to focus instead on the bittersweet appeal of such misfortune, but it's also very nakedly a plot device meant to tug shamelessly at the heartstrings.
When I watched the first episode of One Week Friends during a Preview Guide a while back, I remember wondering how it could sustain its storyline over a prolonged period of time. Now having read the first volume of the manga, I'm still apprehensive, but much more willing to give it a chance. The story of the girl who loses her memories of her friends with each new week and the boy who befriends her (and would absolutely be more to her if she remembered him long enough) is a nice concept, but it risks both wearing out its plotline and delving into either sickly sweet or terribly tragic territory. That latter is definitely implied as the volume comes to a close, with protagonist Hase's buddy Kiryuu mentioning that it could have been some elementary school trauma that triggered it. That seems very plausible, not just in the sense of the timeline working, but also given some of the bullying that manga has depicted in the past. That Kaori only forgets friends has to be significant – it isn't a blanket “people she loves,” because she remembers her family from week to week, but it also isn't decided by gender or general interactions: she only forgets people she considers actual friends.
That definitely makes Hase's attempts to befriend her difficult. Although he does wear her down that first week and gets her to reveal her secret, it has to be draining for him emotionally to have her forget all of their interactions from week to week. The diary she agrees to keep – and for the first time doesn't find depressing – is a good sign, of course, and it also suggests that perhaps if Hase was her boyfriend rather than friend she might have a better recall of him, especially since her amnesia is locked on to “friends” specifically. Not that this volume really delves into how semantically oriented her amnesia is, but it feels like an interesting possibility.
Mostly this volume is just setting up the premise and story. While the plot, as I said, has its charming points, the way the manga is presented is a little odd. Each section (subdivisions of chapters, basically) uses regular manga panels for serious moments while the lighter portions are told in four-panel style. It's a little jarring, and while I appreciate the author's intent, I'm not really a fan. It definitely decreased my enjoyment of the otherwise sweet and harmless book.
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