Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 2 - The Complete Collection
Now that Mari is drifting away from her, Akko realizes just how much more than a friend she really is to her. Is it too late to confess? Or can these best friends find true love with each other, no matter what the rest of the world may say?
Why should you read Girl Friends when there are already so many high school romances out there? One obvious draw for some will be the fact that this is yuri manga, so both of the romantic partners are female, but even if that's not something that particularly interests you, the finale of Milk Morinaga's charming love story is still worth picking up for one very important reason – no matter what else they feel for each other, Akko and Mari genuinely like each other as people. This is an element lacking in many a romance, be it heterosexual, yuri, or yaoi, and Morinaga's greatest triumph in these final two and a half volumes (printed as one by Seven Seas) is that her protagonists never lose that platonic side of their relationship even as they enter into a romantic one.
This second omnibus picks up slightly after Mari's announcement of lost virginity, with the girls at Akko's house. The narration has switched to Akko's point of view, and with it we get a different brand of awkward than Mari's perspective offered us – whereas Mari was vaguely aware of her attraction to Akko before she vocalized it to the readers, Akko has only just come to realize that she has romantic feelings for her best friend. As the less emotionally mature of the two (albeit not by much), she can't quite put her feelings into words, and the result is an awkward evening that marks the last time the girls see each other over vacation. Akko is not sure how to deal with this and flashes back to when she first met Mari. This chance to see the opening scene from the other protagonist's point of view makes the series' start seem less abrupt and clears up why it is that Akko approached Mari to begin with. Later in the volume Morinaga begins switching between the two girls in terms of who is the point of view character, which helps to give the story a more rounded, complete feel, although there is the overall impression that Akko's thoughts get more time in the spotlight. In any event, the discomfort that the two feel is multi-fold, comprising confused emotions, mixed signals, and the awkwardness of two formerly close friends who fear that they may have grown apart. Morinaga handles this as deftly (perhaps even a bit moreso) as the romantic scenes, creating scenarios that are relateable even if you have never woken up to realize that you've fallen in love with your best friend. Moments can be overdone, and Akko's brand of gung-ho innocence beggars belief in a few cases. Nevertheless, in a relatively niche genre like yuri, this sort of material is especially important, as it gives the volume readability beyond its narrow target audience.
The hurdles that the girls face as their relationship evolves aren't simply related to their own emotions and misunderstandings, though Morinaga really only touches lightly on the social implications, which is a little too bad. Since they are students at a girls' school, there is nothing particularly odd about the girls' closeness and touching, and both Mari and Akko remark that on Christmas they simply look like friends because girls are allowed to touch each other in public. Still there are some things that they cannot do in front of others that a mixed gender couple might be allowed to and they are wary of others finding out about their relationship. Despite this, there is an increase in the sexual content, but the book remains far from explicit and generally speaking keeps things pretty private.
As in the first of Seven Seas' omnibuses, Morinaga creates an environment that is no different from the average manga high school, devoid of the usual yuri-flavored plot devices. Akko and Mari's friends thus continue to play a role in the story even after the characters get together, with Sugi-san getting the most development. There is also an interesting side plot with the girls' homeroom teacher and her sad desperation to become a married woman, which nicely dovetails with boyfriend obsessed Kuno-chin's character. Tama-min the cosplay nut changes the least over the course of the story, never really progressing beyond comic relief, but since she doesn't get quite as many lines as the other friends this doesn't detract from the story. As an added bonus, the characters actually progress through high school, choosing and applying to colleges and eventually beginning their university careers before the series ends. This allows Morinaga to deal with post-high school fears of separation, and while she doesn't spend as long on it as she could, what she does do is quite effective.
More than a successful yuri story, Girl Friends is a successful love story. By taking into account the girls' friendship, and therefore their genuine fondness for each other's personalities, Morinaga gives us a story with characters in a relationship that is both more believable and easier to get behind than in many a romance manga. It may wrap up just a little too nicely and eyes may still be glassy-looking at times, but overall this is a story that has charm in abundance and is worth a read.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Nice, charming relationship between two characters who genuinely care for each other, devoid of genre cliches. Time actually passes.
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