Yuri done right.
I was totally shocked, and totally delighted when I heard that Seven Seas was going to be doing a physical release of Girl Friends in North America. Girl Friends is a title I read as it was coming out, and I can still remember how excited I got whenever a new chapter was released. This was something special – a yuri manga that actually felt legit, that felt like it could’ve actually happened, that I felt resonance with. But I never dreamt that I’d get the chance to own a physical English-language copy.
I think you can probably guess that I pre-ordered it about a month in advance.
Girl Friends is the story of the bookish Mari and the outgoing Akko, two girls who move in completely different circles despite being classmates. But Akko strikes up conversation one day with Mari, and the two become friends. In becoming friends with Akko, Mari also gains a couple of other friends, Sugi and Tamamin, two of their other classmates, and is introduced to the world of, well, shopping, clothes, and make-up. But even with the conversations focused on fashion, the real storyline never becomes obscured – the social blossoming of Mari, as well as her slow realization that what she feels for Akko is romantic in nature.
In the first omnibus, we cover the meeting, and what is essentially a make-over of Mari similar to what we see in movies like She’s All That, but with the focus on how it makes Mari feel, not how it suddenly draws boys to her like flies. We also see the very start of her understanding of her crush on Akko. The book ends on a cliffhanger – its actually the mid-way point of volume three of the series (its a five volume series, Seven Seas is doing two omnibuses) – and we have yet to see Akko start to work out her own feelings yet.
I’ve described Girl Friends elsewhere as “that yuri that really wants the guys reading it to think that it’s read by teenaged lesbians but at the same time which is actually way more legit to the lesbians who do end up reading it than 95% of yuri are.” And that this ran in a seinen magazine shows a lot more early on than it does as it progresses – I’d forgotten how weirdly jarring some of the moments in the first few chapters were, such as Sugi’s propensity for shucking her top with no provocation and little reason, or when Akko starts stripping Mari, only to state that its since she realized she’s pushing her own style onto Mari. But these moments stick out so obviously because the rest of the material here feels actual gay as opposed to Girls Gone Wild “gay”; I may’ve been one hell of a neurotic closet case in high school, but this still feels like something that could’ve happened, were I not so in knots over a straight friend the whole time. Mari’s development feels natural, and she doesn’t fall into the “only gay for you” trap.
I do want to take a moment to comment on the other girls, since, although this is Mari and Akko’s story (and its more Mari’s than Akko’s), Sugi and Tamamin don’t just get shunted aside. Sugi in particular is fascinating to me, since she’s a character that doesn’t really exist in other manga or in anime – she’s the sexy-type with a rolodex of boyfriends who is never maligned for it, and she’s also demonstrated to be smart. Sugi is also completely confident in herself. What’s not to like? I only wish we had more female characters like her. I don’t have as much to say about Tamamin, although I will note that she’s an otaku who works in what Sugi calls a maid cafe. She’s our cute and short girl, and, well, I do like her, but there isn’t much to her, to be perfectly honest.
Moving along to the production values, unfortunately the Japanese release of Girl Friends featured small page size, and you get exactly the same dimensions in the American release. Its unfortunate, since Milk Morinaga is a good artist with a strong eye for the cute and the fashionable – I’m not typically into looking at clothing, but she manages to make me interested with the outfits she draws. There are a couple of typos in the volume, which always peeves me big time, but the translation itself is smooth and won’t trip a reader up at all (a nice change from the JManga translation). Seven Seas also wisely ditched the “forbidden love’ descriptor in the back-cover summary, something which pleased me big time, as the phrase had popped up in some of their promotional chatter.
If you’re a yuri fan looking for a great yuri manga in English, or you’re a yuri fan who wants to read something more realistic for a change, you can’t go wrong with Girl Friends. Discussion of clothes, hair, and make-up may try some early on (and I did have some issue with that initially myself!), but don’t let it get in the way of enjoying a genuinely great manga. And at nearly five hundred pages for $13-$15 from online retailers, its a bargain to give it a go.