Penned by Masaya Hokazono (Inugami, Watashi wa ai) and illustrated by Court Betten (Prince Standard, Harukaze - Bitterpop), Girlfriend features charming and sexy short stories involving romantic relationships between high-schoolers in contemporary Japan.
Gilfriend is an ecchi, romance manga made up of really smutty stories on different teenage relationships. Well it's supposed to be an "ecchi" title but I felt that this manga was borderline "hentai", with all the pointless sex. The stories are entirely sex-driven, which leaves no room at all for character development, making the characters the weakest aspect. Another problem is that after the first volume only some of the stories were revisited later on but at least the good ones were revisited.
The artwork is pretty decent for this romance, and was really good ind depicting the explicit scenes however the characters were very indistinguishable,
as there was very little detail put into the character designs.
The problem with this being on different stories is that it's easy to forget what just happened in one story however at least you're not burdened with learning the character's names. One serious problem I had with this was the sheer amount of sex and it was just missing one thing to be classed as a porn (genitalia). This manga could have done so much better, if only it focused on 1 or 2 different stories and developed the relationships but I guess the horny teenage boys who read this wouldn't mind.
This is definitely NOT for everyone.
This is absolutely NOT for those who have a strong sense of moral/ethical values.
If you are willing to question what 'ethical' actually means - what is considered right, what is considered wrong - and especially, what are YOUR reasons for it - then you should definitely take this short but equally vast and variegated manga up.
It deals with the taboo, it deals with headstrong and underconfident characters, it questions love, sex, the body, the woman, the man - it pinches your conscience, twists it, emotionally disturbs you and puts a question bang in your face - What
do these things mean to YOU?
There are two ways this manga can be read:
1) Like an ecchi. And you get what you want with a bit of spicy stories around.
2) Taking it seriously and understanding those characters.
I never expected this manga to be so mature, to be so realistic, to actually be able to have SO MANY different characters all looking quite different, each having their own quirks, their own problems, their own defence mechanisms and their own set of values.
Initially I thought I'd be embarassed to read this and show it on my list, but now I demand, what is there to be shameful about this? Just because it has a lot of sex? I'll tell you, it gets boring to see body after body and no foreplay at all! Hahaha! But it is precisely this feeling that the characters talk about and the mangaka wonderfully makes you feel as bored of sex as they do. Because sex is only fun and healthy if there's an emotional connect. Otherwise, what's the point? It's just irritating.
All the stories show relationships after the 'I like you' part, well, not always but in a generic sense. It starts off with the premise... 'I like you (maybe)' - 'Okay... now what.'
What do you actually do in relationships? What ARE relationships? What are you looking for in relationships? Is it always sex? Is that the beginning and the end? And one more thing - if you were in their shoes, what would you have done? No, not what you think you would have done, but what would you have actually done?
That, you can never say. And that is what defines you, your values, your choices and whether you like it or not, that's who you are and you gotta accept it. The moment we tangle ourselves into other people's lives, everything becomes complicated. Just because humans are the more evolved species who make societies and set rules to its functionality. But when the functionality that you seek is not in tune with the larger 'demanded' ethical values, how do you deal with it?
All the stories here start with or lead to a problem - and find a means to resolve it, whether it is right or wrong. The body is fickle. The heart is fickle. Is the mind also fickle? You see excerpts of different psychologies, confused decisions, teenagers just discovering themselves, their personalities, their bodies, and coming to terms with what relationships mean. And nothing can be concrete because it never is. It is curiosity - and whether it kills the cat or helps it have an epiphany, it is definitely an experience you've gained.
I like the fact that some of the stories are actual one-shots while others continue over the volumes. It gives you different perspectives, different states of mind.
One thing I love about this, is that the mangaka, Masaya Hokazono, discards the idea of the girl as the feeble, cute, fuwa fuwa lolita. And thank god for that. The girls here are not the popular tropes, everyone's hidden side is revealed, their vulnerabilities, their overconfidence, their utter confusion, their selfishness. And the guys are not the knight in shining armour guys either - they are hurt, they are cowardly, they wonder about their own choices, they want to be loved emotionally. You may end up hating the characters, but I saw more human characters in this manga than any other I've read and that's why I love them so much. There is a strong sense of the statement 'Fuck Perfection - it doesn't exist'.
The characters are always curious - the 'what if...' hangs at the tip of their tongues. They are teenagers, young adults, both mature and immature, testing the waters, exploring, gaining insight, understanding bit by bit and thus, seeking something - solace, refuge, affirmation - a way of functioning in their own lives.
I feel Hokazono has definitely been in some of these situations. You wouldn't know to write of it otherwise. He has captured the psychology, the complex mental mechanics so very well, that even if the stories are short, you get a glimpse of that complexity.
Much of the stories deal with the idea of cheating. And Hokazono's not out there telling you if it's right or wrong. You hardly have dialogues that are preachy. He is not here to preach but to display what is as is. Even if your heart says one thing, your body reacts differently. And it can be the other way round. Which space you find comfort in, and how you go about using that comfort in order to deal with other things, whether it's escapism, fantasy or plain selfishness, is really upto you.
I find it fascinating that the characters come to life and are not mediated by the author. At no point do I feel that Hokazono is forcing characters into the direction he wants - instead, it's liberating as the characters decide how to deal with themselves, whether they know they'll regret it or not.
Some of the characters develop, while some are there just to show that such a situation exists, and yes, it can happen. It's true that it falls flat when the character just goes 'let's do it'. You wonder how easy they are with their bodies to fling it around. But in a society that has no conservative restrictions and peer-pressure is galore, modern Japan is something to wonder about. I come from a conservative family so it was a bit hard to digest some of the scenes, but I realise that generations younger to me are perhaps all the more liberal, maybe naive or just wanting to fit in. At times I wonder if teens would really act this way, but as I gather more stories from my friends, I realise all the more how varied lives and lifestyles can be.
Art: 10/10 ; Enjoyment: 7/10
I club Art and Enjoyment together because there is strategy used here. The artwork as such is fantastic, wonderful skill with lines, detailed backgrounds, wide variety of angles, very differentiated character designs (although, initially the girls would all seem to have rounded faces and broad jaws). The backgrounds could have been better, it does get better later on. But while the characters break ground, their designs are still popular - thin, sexy, handsome, cute. Come on, where are the fat people, the freckled etc? Well, they wanted the manga to sell so they catered to the popular demand. I wish at least one story would have had an unpopular, unexpected couple. The spectacled characters are cute too.
When it comes to the sex scenes.. Bettencourt (the artist) in combination with Hokazono's stories makes you question your own excitement of seeing nude bodies. If the excitement is only about the revelation of the body by stripping clothes to see how they actually look underneath, then the mangaka easily dishes out to your fantasy and strips body after body after body to please your eyes and you can masturbate to your hearts content - but that just means you've lost the point and you're looking at this work pornographically. You're losing the essence, the whole implication. The body is just the body, what is there to be aroused by it? It is the person inside who arouses you.
Wow, I can't believe I wrote that much. But that's what I feel. This manga makes you think and think hard. I definitely feel that some places, a few more frames would've been better to emotionally connect with those characters and their thoughts, even if it seems the mangaka was aiming for something. There is a deliberate attempt here at subversion. As much seinen it is, it is also josei.
I definitely recommend reading this through.
The title of the series is "Girlfriend" and the author makes a few attempts to link the title with the content. In my opinion this link is unsuccessful -at least in a western context- since a title like "f*ck buddies" or "Friend with benefits" would do for most of the stories.
Don't get me wrong, it makes an interesting read and it can make you root for a character... it can disgust you a lot too. If you feel uneasy about cheating boyfriends/girlfriends or adult-teenager relationships, be ready to feel very uneasy at some points. There are however some bitter-sweet stories (never entirely sweet) that
are worth the while. Also, be ready for a lot of sexual scenes depicting various poses. The author is specially attracted to bj's, but worry not, the male reproductive organ is only implied.
The stories are rarely revisited and never conclude entirely. It's like a feeling of a lot of knots being tied and problems that arise without ever being resolved (I can only think of one or two stories that do reach an ultimate conclusion). There are of course a lot of cliché stories being exploited. Of how realistic they can be I guess depends on what sort of sub-world you live in: there is without a doubt teenage sexuality without love, based on self esteem problems or even loneliness and curiosity. However, being in my late tweens, I don't really think I've ever been in a relationship that twisted or at least never really thought of them in this depressive angle.
The art is good. It may not be extremely beautiful, but it fits the realism the author wants to imprint the stories with. Still, it's not realistic enough as to draw fatty girls, for some reason all the girls in the series seem to be pretty and the one complain is to be plain (then again it's mostly a guy's point of view).
The characterization: Yes, there are horny girls in the world and I can identify myself with that (not all of us are so crazy about bj's, though). Men can be sometimes more prudish. The author seems to enjoy portraying women using men for their status, their vulnerability, their shyness, etc. Women in the series mostly want to use the men to experience sexuality without strings attached or for selfish reasons (eg. boost their self-esteem so they can chase after another guy). The one exception to the rule I can think of is the only story told in the girls pov. Guys are masochists: be ready for a lot of "I know she's playing with me, but I can't help it".
You will be drawn to the series. You will want to read more to see if you'll finally learn what happened with x couple. As the dread pirate Roberts said: Get used to disappointments. It will make an impression on you, whether good or bad depends on how much you feel related to the story and how much offense you take on the chosen topics.
I can't say I enjoyed it, I can't say I suffered it. I certainly would have chosen NOT to read it if I knew how most the stories would turn out. I would not read it again either.
All in all: inconclusive storyline, nice art, semi-twisted but possibly lovable characters, will make an impact on you.
I think, this series show why teenagers or not mentally adult people shouldn't play with sex. And that sex isn't way to show or perceive a love. It can be fun but it's not enough to fill the heart's content.
But for those who can understand this moral there not necessity to read Girlfriend.
Though, even if it has few sweet moments, mostly it was sad for me to read.
It's a shame that parents wasn't guide their children through puberty and didn't explain them what real the love is. So that children was pushed on the painful way of raising experience by method
of efforts and mistakes. And yes, they got experience, some of them understood their feelings but... they never could again start relationship with someone as pure, innocent human being....