GIRL FRIENDS Volume 4 is the kind of story-telling that fills volumes of literature, but manga fans generally can’t stand. Having established in previous volumes that both Mari and Akiko feel the same way about one another, manga fans (who have been trained to be terrible readers by illicitly scanned porn doujinshi and impatiently written fanfic) bitch endlessly “why don’t they just get together (i.e., have sex) already?”
Maddeningly for them, this series is not a porn series. Instead it is a graphic novel series about a shockingly realistic – and therefore frustrating – relationship between two girls young enough that merely identifying one’s feelings at all is problematic. One of the complaints I’ve heard regularly about this series is that it is not realistic at all, but I feel that it absolutely is realistic. The folks I’ve heard this from the most live in a culture and with families that are largely tolerant and accepting of same-sex couples. I can assure you that in parts of the world where there is not a high level of acceptance and/or tolerance, this kind of agonizing hesitation is quite normal.
In Volume 4, Akiko is confused, hurt, frustrated and puzzled by Mari’s lack of response to her kiss at the end of Volume 3. It seems obvious to Akiko that she’s communicated her feelings properly but, inside Mari’s head, the bunker has been shut down. Having only words and unreliable emotions with which to parse Akiko’s actions, Mari has convinced herself that this was merely a kiss between friends…despite all evidence to the contrary.
The bulk of the volume is taken up with the class trip, and the comedy of errors, misunderstandings and miscommunication that keep Mari and Akiko apart. Some of it is not their fault, but a great deal of it is simply lack of a quiet moment to have the talk that they need to have. When, over a heart-shaped stone that is supposed to guarantee eternal love, they finally have that talk – amazingly – much of what keeps them apart dissipates into the nothing it really was.
Now, at last, the two can start developing their relationship. We watch their first halting steps through the jaded eyes of their friend, Sugiyama, in what to me was a really miserable chapter about broken dreams and the death of innocence. But, hey, that’s realistic too.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Characters – 8
Yuri – 8
Service – 4
Overall – 8
Volume 5 will simultaneously bring fans the climax they desperately want and the end of the series so they have something to whine about – also a critical factor in fan enjoyment. ^_^