As the light novel series Maria-sama ga Miteru began winding down after more than ten years, creator Konno Oyuki did not rest on her laurels. She immediately moved on to a fantasy romance series called Ame no Tiara (雨のティアラ). I tell you this, because it’s a very human thing to assume that if you’re not personally reading someone’s work, they must have just stopped creating. ^_^
But, no. Konno-sensei is a professional writer and so, has been writing – often several novels at once. And, now a mere two years after she wrapped up the multiple strands of Maria-sama ga Miteru and Oshaka-sama mo Miteru, we are back in her front yard, looking at her with giant eyes, full of anticipation.
In Friends, Konno-sensei tells us the story of Kazumi and Midori, two young women who had been so close in high school, they practically were each other, But now that they attend the same fine arts college, and run in the same circles, Kazumi has basically been avoiding Midori. Circumstances will bring them together again…but in what kind of relationship?
There are many good qualities in this book. First and foremost, Konno-sensei is deft at building the characters. Kazumi has a family, a circle of friends, a history and a future she’s striving towards. There’s nothing about her that we’re left wondering “yeah, but what about…?” She’s fully developed. Midori, at least at first, appears to be more of a mystery. As the book progresses, we come to understand why – we’ve been seeing Midori through Kazumi’s eyes, and she’s working hard at not “seeing” Midori.
They clash during a gokon – a group date. Kazumi is genuinely uninterested in the men in the group, but not really sure whether it’s just that she’s uninterested or that they are boring. Eventually, her friend Mutsumi has had enough of her and tells her to leave, she’ll be replaced by Midori. Midori and Kazumi meet – and decide to blow the others off and go out together.
The book takes a sharp turn as Kazumi starts to realize that her discomfort with Midori was her own feelings for the other woman. She’s infatuated, but has no coping tactics. Kazumi ends up discussing her confusion with her savvy grandmother, who instant recognizes it as love, “koi.” Kazumi suddenly starts to realize that her distance from Midori is her own fault.
The two women are supposed to join friends on a camping trip, but Midori falls sick, so Kazumi cancels. When she visits Midori, she learns two things that profoundly affect her – all these years she’s been friends with Midori and she knew nothing at all about her family. Now, Kazumi is mortified to learn that Midori’s parents are a famous designer and actress. As she visits with Midori, she remembers whole chunks of her life with the other girl – and the dog they both loved – that she had forgotten. Kazumi breaks down and apologizes to Midori for being so aloof for so long.
Their relationship changes again. Hanging out together, going out to eat, shopping, Kazumi is spending more time with Midori, against a backdrop of her own family life and the mild mystery of the old man and young man who have moved into in the “haunted mansion” around the corner.
We turn away from the two women, to watch Kazumi’s family life, with her middle sister, who just started middle school, elementary school-age sister and their parents. Conversations are realistically weird, as the girls imagine whole novels’ worth of intrigue about the new neighbors.
But…there’s Midori. One day while shopping, Kazumi tries on a skirt that looks terrible on her. Midori tries it on and it looks stunning, so she buy it. Kazumi snaps. She leaves Midori and goes home, miserable. Midori is taking everything – her attention, her time, even her yellow skirt!
Miserable, Kazumi calls on their mutual friend Mutsumi to talk it out (although beats me why, since Mutsumi’s been kind of a jerk). They meet at their old high school. Mutsumi admits that she’s always thought that Kazumi and Midori’s relationship is unhealthy and that they needed distance between them. Upon learning that Midori is there at the school, Kazumi runs off to find her.
The two reconcile, and finally Kazumi admits her feelings, but she also admits to Midori that her interest in sex is abstract, at best. Midori says that her feelings are the same. They agree that they don’t necessarily want a physical relationship, but the idea of the other with someone else upsets them. What they both want, they agree, it be together. They hold each other’s hands and look at each other. “Should we kiss?” asks Midori. “I think not.” say Kazumi and they smile and walk off hand in hand.
The last scene is some months later, as Midori, Kazumi and their friends plan for their group camping trip. The girls will get a cabin, the boys will tent outside. Kazumi watches Midori and sees angel’s wings spreading from her shoulders as Kazumi herself wears that beloved yellow skirt that Midori has redesigned for her.
The illustrations which open up the book’s sections, highlight objects like the skirt, or Mutsumi’s lipstick, that are key points of the section. They are competently done, but give no particular insight to the story.
I have a policy when reading anything. It’s based loosely on Maya Angelou’s advice, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Basically, I take most of what I read at face value. I can’t tell what the author’s intent is and unless I bring my own agenda or intent to a character, I have to assume that what I see is what they wanted me to see. So, this story has a happy ending for an asexual, homoromantic couple, as we say in the parlance of the day. ^_^
Story – 8
Characters – 9
LGBTQ – 7
Overall – 8
This novel is once again a chance to spend time with incredibly well-conceived and realistically written characters, and watch them deal with a topic near and dear to our hearts – two women in love.