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.
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.