Because manga is primarily a visual media, I’m always fascinated by the transition of a manga story to Drama CD. Where something like Maria-sama ga Miteru is primarily communicated in words, a story like GIRL FRIENDS is first and foremost visual. And this manga, as good as it is, would probably make a relatively dull anime, as most of the “action” exists only in interior monologue.
The GIRL FRIENDS Drama CD does a decent job of balancing story framework and character development and, as a result, becomes something slightly different than the manga itself.
The manga starts off, (if you recall from my review of Volume 1,) as a catalog of fashionable girl interests. Hair, nails, clothes, etc., are the primary focus, and Mariko’s interest in Akiko grows from that. Because we’re listening to the conversations on the Drama CD, rather than watching the girls shop, the chapters feel very much like a tutorial. Bearing in mind that the manga ran in Comic High, which is generally targeted to men who want that glimpse behind the gauze curtain of girls’ life, this works amazingly well.
Let’s take a step back to the story itself to understand why. Mariko is a quiet, introverted girl. She is studious, has no real friends and generally lives a life of the mind. You know the type – reads during homeroom, lunch and any study periods. She is us. When Akiko breaks past her shell, Mariko finds herself dragged into a world she knows *nothing* about. This is a world in which girls talk about hair, clothes, fashion models, makeup colors and the like, endlessly and with actual interest. Mariko isn’t interested, per se, in the new fall colors for makeup, but her new friends’ interest interests her.
These sections of the Drama CD are the absolute best tutorial on what average girls like that I’ve ever heard. Because there are no visuals, and the spoken words have to provide the actions as well as the words, the dialogue very much sounds as if Mari is receiving training on “How to Be a Girl, 101.” Mariko even considers this, towards the end, as she’s rapidly slipping into “more than friend” feelings for Akiko. She recognizes that she never really had any girl friends before and never really had been socialized, so, she may be overreacting to just having a friend….
As in the anime, it’s the night of the group date that changes everything, irrevocably. After falling apart watching Akko with the guys, Mariko and Akko end up at Akiko’s place. After Akko drinks too much and falls asleep, Mari kisses her, then spends the rest of the week excoriating herself for it. Even after Akko laughs it off, Mari-chan realizes that her feelings aren’t just friendship.
The Drama CD comes to an end, as Mariko admits to herself that this is, quite probably, love. So, this CD covers chapters 1-10 of the manga.
There’s still a fair dollop of silly service in this story. Perhaps in some circles it is common for girls to kiss one another and feel each other up, but I can tell you that that never happened with any group of friends I had growing up. And we were on all sorts of sports teams, camp, school gym, which meant dressing and undressing in front of one another. No groping, peeking, breast size comparison….none of that ever went on anywhere I was. So, I’m still marking all that in the fanservice column as something things boys would like to think girls do.
The CD technicals were quite good. Everyone did a very decent job of voicing their characters. It was all very natural. I found Mari’s interior monologues (which were absolutely necessary to the story) a little cringe-making at times, but that was also necessary to the story. There is one short extra comic insert in the CD case, no cast talk track, though.
Noticably, this was a really long Drama CD. I had to drive quite a distance yesterday and listened to this CD for most of the trip there. Easily an hour, probably more. That was a pleasant surprise, as Drama CDs more commonly tend to be in the 30-45 minute range.
Overall – 8
I wasn’t sure how well this story would translate to Drama CD (I think some series are more suited than others, obviously) but overall found this to be a more than acceptable adaptation of what I considered to be a very good manga about first love.