Reviewby Caitlin Moore,
How Do We Relationship?
Saeko and Miwa are now officially dating! While the sex is great and their close friends are happy for them, that doesn't mean things are going to be smooth sailing from here on out. For one thing, the question of just how open to be about their relationship is constantly hanging over them, especially when they want to be able to act like a couple. For another, even though they agreed that jealousy is pointless and they should both be above it, Saeko can't help but want to keep Miwa for herself, especially as Miwa works on being more outgoing.
The second volume of How Do We Relationship? picks up almost immediately where the last one finished off: Miwa and Saeko having sex together for the first time. After that fade to black, apparently the book wasn't the only thing that finished off, and many times over at that, as Miwa and Saeko stumble out of the hotel room severely under-rested.
Hokey puns about “finishing” aside, this volume displays many of the same strengths as the previous one: cute, expressive art with a lot of fluidity and motion; likable characters trying to figure out new situations and new emotions; and an awareness of the constant, ever-present issues facing LGBT individuals and couples. It builds naturally on the themes and conflicts of the previous one, but I did find this installment a bit less exciting and new, as it seems to be treading some ground that's already well-trodden by previous romances.
That ground is the question of jealousy, and the role it plays in relationships. At this point, I feel like almost every romance manga that continues past the couple initially getting together deals with it, and almost always comes to the same conclusion. The couple agrees not to act jealous of each other. One party, almost always the one who was previously shy and withdrawn, starts acting more social, and the other one starts to feel possessive but also ashamed of their possessiveness. They try to ignore it and convince themself to be happy for their partner, but eventually it turns into a fight. The two manage to talk it out, and the object of the jealousy admits that actually, they're kind of glad their partner feels that way, because it means they really care.
It's not a plot beat I cared for the first, second, or third time I came across it, and I didn't love it any more this time around. One of their bandmates even talks about how he hates the idea of his girlfriend getting close to other guys, even if there's no chance she'll cheat, and how he has started fights over it. I don't believe jealousy is inevitable in a relationship, or that possessiveness is a sign of passion; rather, it signals a lack of trust. It shouldn't be brushed aside as normal, but something to be worked on. Saeko gets jealous when she sees Miwa getting attention from men and women, so no matter who Miwa spends time with, Saeko ends up sulking in the corner, which is a red flag if I've ever seen one. Leaving aside my personal dislike of the trope, it's also just unoriginal and uninspired writing.
Still, I enjoyed a lot about this volume. Miwa and Saeko may be out to their closest friends, but the issue of heteronormativity still affects a lot of their interactions with the rest of the world. Another club member warns them that if they're too physical with each other, people will start thinking they “play for the other team,” as if she's not making her own assumptions. They can't be open about their relationship and do “normal” couple things without running the risk of being outed against their will; when Miwa says she doesn't have a boyfriend, most people assume that means she's single. All of this is part and parcel of being a same-sex couple in a world that assumes you're heterosexual.
The biggest antagonist on that front is the newly-introduced character Kan, who immediately sees through them. Although his whole deal isn't revealed, based on the brief flashbacks we see of his childhood and adolescence and how he resents Miwa and Saeko, I have my suspicions. If I'm right, he'd be a slight twist on the cliche bully suffering from internalized homophobia. He doesn't resent Miwa and Saeko for being openly gay; he resents that they've never gone through what he has.
Kan is interesting, but to me, the standout character of the volume is Saeko and Miwa's friend Usshi. She's lightly gender non-conforming, wearing unisex t-shirts and no makeup, and prefers to go by her surname than her feminine given name. She's never been in a relationship and doesn't want to actively pursue one since she's just fine alone, but would still like to fall in love. She worries that finding someone to fall in love with her would mean her having to change herself to conform to what society deems desirable, i.e. dressing and behaving more femininely. While there are loads of stories with female characters who have a complicated relationship with their own femininity, they almost always end with her deciding that she'd like to try being more girly, thus reinforcing gender stereotypes in a way I've always found slightly alienating. Usshi, on the other hand, reminded me of my college self so much I wanted to leap into the book and give her a hug. I've never seen this kind of character handled quite the same way, and I hope it stays this way.
How Do We Relationship?, from the very start, felt at once familiar and unlike any other manga I've read. I realize now that, rather than other Japanese media, it puts me in mind of North American independent comics like Scott Pilgrim and Octopus Pie: stories about messy young adults trying to figure themselves out and, in the process, crashing into and bonding with and hurting each other. Whether or not that sounds appealing is up to you; for me, it's a good change of pace backed up by powerful, insightful writing.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A
+ relatable side characters; believable exploration of heteronormativity; great art
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