Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
After the death of Hokuto's father, Chiwa learns some things about his family history that could have serious repercussions on the way Hokuto has lived his life until now. As it turns out, she needn't have worried, because the truth comes out anyway, forcing Hokuto to face some facts he might not have wanted to. In the aftermath, he decides that he needs to make some changes, but to do that, he has to ask Chiwa one very important thing – for a divorce. How will things work out for Hokuto and Chiwa in this final volume?
It is always a little disconcerting when you realize that how you see the main characters of a series and how the author sees them don't quite line up. In the case of Chiwa and Hokuto of Maki Enjōji's Happy Marriage!?, that turns out to be the case, at least for me. Enjoji states several times in the book how she sees them as an argumentative couple, one who spend a lot of their time together fighting. And until she said that, it isn't anything that had occurred to me. Perhaps this simply speaks to differences in the Japanese and Western romance genre – bickering couples are, if not the norm, at least not unusual in anglophone romance novels. Whatever the reason, Enjoji's assertion may color how you view the end of the series.
The ground was laid for this finale in the previous volume, with the death of Hokuto's father. Upon his death he left a letter to be delivered to Chiwa, which revealed not only that Hokuto's mother died protecting her son from an attacker, but also that he suffered from aspermia, meaning that he was infertile. Chiwa spent most of the past book trying to decide if Hokuto needed to know only to have the decision made for her when his despicable cousins publicly announce it at a family meeting. Chiwa is now forced to tell her husband that she knew, if not all along, than at least for quite some time, and Hokuto is forced to deal with the consequences.
It is heartening that Hokuto takes it all in relative stride and doesn't get mad at Chiwa for keeping the knowledge from him. Instead seems to take everything in relative stride, immediately making plans for how to cope. Being Hokuto, however, he wants to do everything himself, which essentially leaves Chiwa out to dry. Knowing the character as we do from nine previous books, it is a plot twist we could have seen coming. From the beginning Hokuto has been reluctant to let Chiwa take the lead in almost anything, expressing unhappiness whenever she strikes out on her own or gets herself into a situation he deems not intelligent. On the one hand, given his past traumatic loss of his mother right before his eyes and his unhappy growing up in a hostile environment, it makes a certain amount of sense that he would want to keep the person he loves in as safe a position as possible. By separating himself from Chiwa until he sorts things out, he believes that he is doing not just the right thing, but the best thing. Unfortunately this world view does not take into account the fact that Chiwa is a thinking human being in her own right, with her own emotions and baggage to bring to the table. Thus he inadvertently wounds her through his actions, and Chiwa spends much of the book being generally unhappy. When she does get off her behind and start to do something, it feels almost too late, as it coincides with Hokuto's endgame. So perhaps it isn't that they are a couple who fight a lot, as Enjoji says, but rather that they are one where Chiwa has to fight to make herself heard. In either case, it makes for an uncomfortable realization about them at just the moment when we should be eagerly anticipating a happy ending.
And the ending is happy and full of the basic conventions and tropes of the romance genre no matter what continent you're on. This is also the smuttiest of the volumes, with the longest and most detailed sex scene of the series, although the dialogue is more likely to raise blushes than the artwork. (Though that is a bit more explicit too.) Hokuto does seem more emotionally involved in this book in general, which is a definite plus in a happy ending, and we do eventually see Chiwa grow up a bit and become stronger. Enjoji's art remains clean and highly readable and Viz's translation really does sound as if it could come from any non-manga romance novel, which honestly adds to the book's appeal.
Happy Marriage!? isn't as strong as some of Enjoji's other series, none of which are available in English as of this writing, but it still comes to a satisfying conclusion. All threads are gathered up and happiness is assured for those we care the most about, and if Enjoji goes a bit too much with her vision of the two as a bickering couple, well, even that can't quite detract from the joy of seeing things finally work out. The characters never quite feel like adults but the story is fun and comes to a good ending, which when you get right down to it is perhaps the reason why most of us read romances in the first place: in this genre, more often than not, a happy ending is guaranteed.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Nice ending, characters seem to learn from their actions, at least a little. Hokuto seems more emotionally involved.
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