Among the many items I picked up in Japan last month was the first volume of Girlfriends, the newest manga series by Morinaga Milk.
Girlfriends runs in Comic High, a “shoujo” magazine for men. The stories in Comic High are shoujo-esque, girly romances and the like, but the intended audience is adult men. These are guys who read shoujo, but feel embarrassed picking up Margaret or Ribon, etc., in the store. I can’t help but feel that this is pretty much a perfect audience for Morinaga’s blend of blushy-cheeked sweetness, service and Yuri.
If you have read Kuchibiru Tameiki no Sakurairo by Morinaga, it might seem difficult to *not* make comparisons between the two volumes. In one sense, this story seems to be a few steps backwards from the story in Kuchibiru. And the character designs are very similar. (Similar, in fact, to all of Morinaga’s Yuri couples.) However, the characters here are different enough that you can read Girlfriends without making too many mental comparisons.
Mariko is a quiet, introverted girl. One day, quite out of the blue, it seems to Mariko, Akiko speaks to her in class. Akiko (called “Ah-ko” by her friends) is very extroverted. She rapidly draws Mariko (now called Mari-chin) into her circle. The two quickly become best friends.
The early chapters each focus around a very typically girly sort of topic. Hair. Clothes. Makeup. As the conversations and circumstances center around these things, we’re watching Mari balancing an undefined need to please Ah-ko, and a struggle to shed her introverted isolation and find herself. But don’t get me wrong – the story is about the hair, the clothes and the makeup. Mari’s struggle is happening in the margins of the story.
What isn’t happening in the margins is Mari’s infatuation with Ah-ko. That’s pretty much front and center. When she and Ah-ko change classes, Mari’s taken aback by the rapidity and familiarity of Ah-ko’s overtures to their new classmates. But Mari comes up from behind and makes new friends too, alongside her best friend.
Until a “go-kon,” a group date, where Mari simply cannot handle the thought of watching Ah-ko being super friendly to a bunch of guys, which precipitates a crisis. Ah-ko picks up on the signal pretty quick and she and Mari bail. They go back to Ah-ko’s place where they have a few drinks, since they didn’t get to drink at the go-kon. Ah-ko has no tolerance for alcohol, so she falls asleep and Mari, who can’t stop looking at Ah-ko, leans over and kisses her.
The volume ends with Mari being shocked/mortified/titillated at her behavior.
So far, the story is that of a crush in progress. Ah-ko, being the kind of extrovert she is, and with the kind of devil-may-care friends she has, is just the kind of person to practice kissing with her best friend, or have a breast-size competition with no deeper meaning in it. (Not that she does in this volume – it’s just the kind of thing she might do.) It is Mari who is so serious and who over-thinks things. It’s also Mari who is quite gay. Ah-ko *might* be, but Mari? Definitely. She just doesn’t know it yet. With apologies for paraphrasing an over-paraphrased line, “I have seen Girlfriends, and they are us.” If you take my meaning. ^_^
Girlfriends also has a fair dollop of service, mostly in the form of playing dress-up. This *is* a manga for guys, and generally shoujo manga has a a fair bit of that kind of thing anyway. Japanese women seem to have no qualms about enjoying other women’s bodies – as a point of comparison and as something nice to look at. Can’t really argue with that. (Although I personally prefer clothing to underwear for visual appeal.) The only really extra servicey bits are one of Ah-ko’s friends who seems to shuck her top at any excuse, or for no reason at all.
Without spoiling anything, I think it’s safe to say that the point of this manga is the journey not the destination, so expect a lot more delaying tactics as the story goes on. Will Mari and Ah-ko actually get together? No way to know as of yet. Guess we’ll just have to keep reading.
Art – 8
Story – 6
Characters – 6
Yuri – 6
Service – 5
Overall – 6
I have a 5-minute attention span for conversations about hair, clothes and make-up. After that, I’m done. If your tolerance for such things are higher, you’ll probably want to add a point or two to the Overall score. ^_^