Yuri Manga: GIRL FRIENDS, Volume 5

February 16th, 2011

After a rollercoaster ride of emotional growth, we have at last arrived at Volume 5 of Morinaga Milk-sensei’s definitive work, GIRL FRIENDS. And it is good.

Mari and Akiko have only a few more things left to deal with before they can face the world as a couple. One of these things is the physical component of their relationship, which is played for both laughs and “aww”s and is a sweet, rather than salacious, moment in their journey.

Of course their high school life is another thing they must deal with, and the hurdle of what will they do after they graduate takes up a large portion of this volume. It’s resolved satisfactorily on all sides. Akiko and Mari graduate without problem and in a giant handwave get to live happily ever after – at least as far as into the next stage of their lives.

And, despite the big stick o’happily ever after being applied liberally to the end of this series, I find myself not as satisfied with it as I had hoped to be. Bear with me as I explain why.

There are, IMHO, three obvious and perfectly legitimate reasons why the ending was given to us in an amorphous ball of “and they lived happily ever after,” rather than in any detail. Please allow me to indulge in a bit of overthinking here. These reasons might have been:

1) The author herself is clearly a specialist in the space between realizing “I like you” and getting together as a couple. It may be she has no interest in portraying anything after that.

2) The editor may have suggested that the audience isn’t terribly interested in the non-high school hurdles a gay couple has to face, or that the frisson of first love/first lust is sexier and more appealing to them than the domestic minutiae of buying furniture

3) Since all romances are, in some key ways, fantasies, the author may have wanted to portray a perfect world in which a couple of women, having decided to build a life together actually can, without pressure or difficulty from family or discrimination in housing or employment.

As I said, all three of these reasons are absolutely perfectly acceptable. And yet I remain unsatisfied. Why? Because for 4 volumes, Morinaga-sensei had constructed what I consider to be an incredibly realistic look at two young women in love. No, I absolutely did not need to see Mari and Akiko stressing over coming out to their families, but one handwave to wipe away all the many, many obstacles a young lesbian or gay couple faces was slightly irksome in the face of spending 4 volumes delving deeply into that very thing.

When you are part of a young gay or lesbian couple, your life is never truly private. Every act you do as a couple is a political statement, demanding recognition. As David Welsh of MangaCurmudgeon so brilliantly put it, every time he goes food shopping with his husband it is a subversive act. Constance McMillan never set out to make a political statement – she just wanted to take her girlfriend as her date to their senior prom. But the adults around her immediately turned that perfectly average desire into a divisive political declaration. For those of us who are LGBTQI, this happens every day.

So, when all of that is simply skipped or ignored, after 4 volumes of dealing with every single possible emotional hurdle between two girls and a life together as a couple, I found it to be disappointing. Had Mari at least thought, “Well, we still have a lot to deal with,” as she considered their life together in the epilogue, I would have been 100% satisfied. As it is, Morinaga-sensei gives away a little of the issue with the wrap-up in which we are told that Mari and Akiko still remained friends with Sugi-san and Tamamin and the others. This was never really a story about Mari and Akiko as Girlfriends. For Morinaga-sensei and her readers it was a story about Girls and their Friends. And in that story was a very sweet romance between two of those girls.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 8
Characters – 8
Yuri – 10
Service – 4

Overall – 8

This series, at a comfortable 5 volumes, would be an excellent candidate for a American manga company who wanted to take a chance on a “Yuri” manga.

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13 Responses

  1. Atarun says:

    I fully agree that the whole “Oh, no matter what happens from now on, we’ll never give up on the two of us” felt wrong…
    I mean, they spent 4 volumes figuring and exchanging their feelings, they both rode on the nightmare roller-coaster of “she likes me or not but not in the same way or does she but oh my god what will the rest of the world think and am I ready for this and does she really really love me the way I do????!!!” and if anything the last volume did NOT show them coming to terms with their own sexuality (don’t even get me started on peer pressure)…
    So, yeah, basically, after 5 volumes that were sweet and funny and realistic all at the same time, the abrupt ending felt like “the tale isn’t really finished, but it’s time to go to sleep so, there, they are happy ever after, THE END, sleep tight”

  2. @Atarun- Exactly so. I understand why that might be, but still, I felt it was too pat – and therefore not satisfactory.

  3. Simon B says:

    Even if Morinaga didn’t tackle life as a lesbian couple outside the bubble of school, I was really hoping we’d see Mari and Akko come out to their friends. The story did such a great job of showing those relationships forged over lunchtime conversation and shopping trips – it’s a pity we never got to see how the other girls reacted and adjusted to having a gay couple in their social circle. Oh well, I guess one fan’s disappointment is another’s inspiration for fanfic…

    Still, the series has been great fun and it’s my second most wished-for anime adaptation after Octave. Kahlua and milk all round the day they announce it!

    Btw Erica have you checked out the drama CD yet? I don’t know why Amazon haven’t listed it, but it’s good cute fun.

  4. @SimonB The Drama CD is, I believe, going on sale in March. I’ll get it as soon as I can.

  5. Ashrie says:

    When Mari looks at the sticker photo on her phone, she has to lift the lid off the phone, because the photo is stuck inside, on top of the battery case. Now, I don’t know if this is a Japanese thing, sticking photos inside the case of one’s phone, hiding it away from prying eyes, but I thought it was a hint of how Mari still has to hide her relationship to the rest of the world… Hence, there is still a road of struggles ahead of them…

    Or am I looking into it too deeply? XD

    Overall though, I thought it was a very sweet series, if a little naive by the end… Very idealistic :)

  6. Ichigo69 says:

    I’m wondering if Morinaga-sensei was “forced” to wrap up Girlfriends because the magazine in which it ran (don’t remember if it was Yuri Hime or some other mag) wanted it to be over. If this was the case, then that might be why it seemed rushed at the end…

  7. @Ichigo69 There does not appear to be any sign of that. Morinaga-sensei’s posts and tweets on GIRL FRIENDS have remained positive, there’s even a Drama CD coming out.

    The magazine she drew this for, Comic High, was apparently much less pressuring than Yuri Hime, because when she left Ichijinsha, she wrote about how working with them had been hard on her, but she has said nothing like that about Comic High. My gut tells me that it was a good place to stop for all three reasons I outlined.

    Most mangaka do not get a long running manga series until they have a few short or medium-length series under their belt. She had one 1-volume collection before this, so I think 5 volumes is a pretty good length.

  8. Anonymous says:

    i’m hoping seven seas who are dabbling in the Yuri market (they’re the ones who released kashimashi, strawberry panic, hayate X blade, and so on and so forth) will pick this up too. Even if they release it in 2 omibus editions I’d buy them both and even preorder. It’s a good Yuri series even if the ending is kind of fluff. A lot of us Yuri subculture would love to be able to add this series in english to our collections

  9. @Anonymous – You make a pretty big assumption there – because you’d like to see that book, you generalize it into “a lot of us.”

    The reality is that that “a lot” of us, is still such a miniscule number that it is a huge risk for any company to bring a series even only 5 volumes to the English speaking market.

    Scanlators have already scanlated it. That means that a much larger portion of “us” already have it for free. How many of those people who read it do you really think want to then pay for a version that will be different than what they read first, and will be therefore seen as inferior?

    So, your “a lot of us” isn’t nearly the amount you think it is.

    THIS is why not so much Yuri is over here. Not because companies resist bringing it over…it just doesn’t make money. Hetalia hit the Best-seller lists almost instantly. GIRL FRIENDS, no matter how popular among Yuri fans will not. Not because Hetalia is better…it just has that many more fans.

    If I thought I could see 10,000 copies of GIRL FRIENDS, I’d license it. But I can’t. I’d be lucky to sell 2500. When that “alot of us” equals 10,000 actual sales, then you’ll see more Yuri here. It really is that simple.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “THIS is why not so much Yuri is over here. Not because companies resist bringing it over…it just doesn’t make money. Hetalia hit the Best-seller lists almost instantly.”

    Just curious, how about backlist titles? In the non-comics side of book publishing, there seem to be 2 ways to make money: the books that hit the bestseller list by selling a lot of copies at first (or maybe at second like Harry Potter and Twilight did after each got a few years of word-of-mouth)…

    …and the books that sell a bunch but not a lot at first…and then sell a bunch more copies a bit later…and then sell another bunch more copies another bit later…and so are kept in print for years and years and years as a more consistent revenue source than most bestsellers are. In other words, the backlist.

    I have no idea what the odds are of Hetalia staying in print in English for even a decade, or whether by “lucky to sell 2500” you mean lucky to sell 2500 in 1 month of 1 year or 1 decade, but I guess it’s something to think about for the long term. :)

  11. Jez Sharp says:

    You’re right about the stopping point Erica, in a way it did well to go as far as it did with the 5th Volume. Pushing the series beyong College is something even hetro mangas and animes struggle to do, let alone Yuri.

    As for the fairytale ending, I don’t think it was brushing aside troubles. There was a point where their parents met and Mari accepted there were to be harships ahead/difficulties. But ultimately those are for the readers (and ff writers) to take on into the future – because serious Yuri romance doesn’t yet move books and bring in the money.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is the usual problem with scans. I went to the trouble of buying all Girl Friends volumes from Japan, paying almost three times the normal cost. Because I like her work so much, I wanted to support her. But for understanding them I “had to” refer to the scans because my Japanese is still too poor. The good thing is they are now published in French (vol4 in September!) so I bought them, and enjoy it once again! Besides the translation sounds very good. The story feels even better. France is lucky, but I still wonder what made the French publisher decide to publish it? The success of English scans ? The absence of French scans ? Or the simple fact that the French market for mangas has matured a lot ? From another perspective, instead of paying two third of the price for the transporter (Japan->Europe) and one third for the book, I wish you could buy the PDF copy online (or whatever format they use for printing) that would not be so complicated, and that would also save some CO2… Another thing : if some mangaka were to put a “donate” button on their webpage I guess they would get some money from overseas readers, but that might be impossible due to their contract with the publisher. Still, I wish I could give some money to artists I like once I bought all of their books (buying them twice is wasting paper and the environment, I wouldn’t do that ). There is still plenty of room for new business models…

  13. Anonymous says:

    About the end, I remember some Japanese readers posts that Morinaga sensei has to struggle for a fifth volume, is that true ?

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