by Caitlin Moore,

How Do We Relationship?

How Do We Relationship? Volume 1
Miwa Inuzuka has always known she's attracted to women, but as a teenager, she never really had a chance to meet anyone in her suburban small town. Now that she's starting college in Tokyo, she hopes to find a girlfriend, but is finding it difficult to put herself out there. That is, until she and her friend Saeko get drunk together and Saeko admits that she herself likes girls. The two decide to try dating, but Miwa has no idea how to actually be in a relationship!

In her author's notes at the end of the volume, Tamifull comments on how most romance stories end when the main couple gets together. It makes sense, if you think about it. The contentedness of two people who have realized their affection for one another, in most cases, just can't match the tension and drama of crushes and pining, and one or both parties finding the courage to put themselves out there and confess their feelings makes for a perfect climax. In response, she decided to try writing a story where the main couple gets together right away, and focus on the oft-neglected moments that come in all new relationships. And thus, How Do We Relationship? came to be, in all its delightfully charming and sweet glory.

Tolstoy once said that all happy families are alike, and he wasn't totally wrong. There are a few factors essential to any healthy relationship: communication, respect, mutual attraction, and others. However, even happy relationships are all a little different from one another, because every person is a little different. Every couple is a unique chemical reaction, healthy and unhealthy alike.

With that in mind, it's essential that any happy couple romance story features interesting, dynamic characters with strong chemistry. For all that Miwa was unsure about her feelings for Saeko at first, the two are a lot of fun to watch together. Saeko's outgoing personality complements Miwa's more reserved nature well, and the two treat each other with care and respect.

Unlike in many romance stories as well, their relationship doesn't exist in a vacuum. The two are surrounded by friends, and their presence affects their dynamic as well. The two join a band at the beginning of their first year, and their bandmates are all male. They seem sweet, but they're often clueless and kind of dopey. Saeko even has to fend off the too-common question of how two women have sex. Saeko has her own friends as well, with their own strong personalities. No new relationship is perfect, however, and the way Miwa and Saeko fumble through conflicts is just as appealing as their good moments. Tamifull admits that they're a bit idealized, initiating a relationship without ulterior motives, but there's a realism to the kind of problems that crop up in their first few months. Saeko has dated and had sex before, but Miwa is totally inexperienced. Saeko doesn't always think before she speaks, and Miwa tends to disregard her own feelings. These gaps can lead to issues even between long-established couples, and are a sure thing with two people just starting out. However, the ways they find resolution - talking with friends to sort out their feelings, communicating with one another, and above all treating each other with respect - keep things from ever getting ugly or out of hand. This is especially nice when sex comes into the equation, and How Do We Relationship? isn't shy about its sexual content. In fact, the first few pages are a flash-forward to Miwa and Saeko having sex. Saeko is upfront about her own desire, while Miwa has yet to really tap into that part of herself and often fails to pick up the hints that Saeko drops. While Saeko wants Miwa, she's also careful to make sure everything that happens between them is fully consensual, paying attention not just to Miwa's words but her body language as well.

There's an authenticity and joy to the sex, as well. Rather than the soft focus and pseudo-poetic internal monologue lines like, “My body is melting” or so on, Miwa and Saeko's sex is full of smiles and laughter and silliness as well as sexiness. Like so much in the story, it seems to come from lived experience rather than an idealized reiteration of tropes and expectations.

How Do We Relationship?'s realistic approach doesn't apply just to Saeko and Miwa's relationship, but to their queerness in a larger context. Both of them are fully aware of their attraction to women, so there's no blushing and sighing , “But we're both girls,” but their hesitance comes from a deeper place. Tamifull touches on how everyone is presumed heterosexual until otherwise, the question of whether to be open about one's own sexuality, and the intrusive questions of straight people. Saeko implies she was bullied for her first relationship in middle school, which may be explored further in future volumes.

Tamifull's art plays an important part in bringing these characters to life. The character designs are cute and rounded without being childlike, just exaggerated enough to be expressive. Each character has a distinct look, in their facial expressions and hairstyles and even fashion sense - Saeko tends to stick with baggy t-shirts and shorts, even on dates, while Miwa favors long skirts and flowy tops. What stands out most about it, however, is just how full of motion it is. Manga art can often be a bit stiff, expressing motion through black lines that mostly serve to make the image look a bit busy. Each character has a distinctive body language, which Tamifull expresses with just a touch of squash and stretch. Saeko's more assertive personality comes through with big, full body motions, Miwa is more reserved and subtle, and every secondary has their own full set of expressions as well.

How Do We Relationship? walks a careful balance for its entire first volume. It addresses queer issues without being preachy while staying joyful. It offers relationship conflict while keeping everyone likable, even as they make mistakes.

Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A

+ With great art, lovable characters, and strong writing, every page is a delight; great attitude toward sex
The next volume isn't out yet

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Story & Art: Tamifull

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