Moe is a gorgeous high school student whom others find difficult to get along with, as her blunt honesty often comes off as insensitive. However, after meeting Eiko Sakamoto, a plain but exceedingly gracious girl, Moe feels she has finally found someone who truly understands her. Ever since then, the two have been inseparable best friends.
Because Eiko has an exceptionally kind heart, Moe takes it upon herself to protect her because of how much she cherishes their friendship. With guys often asking her out, she immediately lays down a single rule: dating her means they must also spend quality time with Eiko. Though the affections of others may push them apart, the two girls refuse to falter and show just how deep their bond truly is.
[Warning] This is more of a word vomit than an actual review. I apologize.
Friendships in mainstream shonen anime usually mean having two bros punching and kicking, shedding sweat and blood to prove their bravery, perseverance, strength and physical sacrifice. I came across this manga out of sheer coincidence. In fact, I rarely read any shojo, but I'm glad that I read this one.
The "Secret of Friendship" between Eiko and Moe is nothing less compelling - just perhaps, a hell lot less painful in comparison. It's rare to find a story that centers around a friendship between two young girls, who are so utterly devoted to
one another, that they would choose to be with each other any day over their boyfriends. They are self-revealing, accepting and intimate; they wear their hearts on their sleeves for the world to see.
Personally, I found it refreshing and rather touching. It is a pure relationship that is so down-to-earth yet so beyond my comprehension. My cynical little heart felt warm by the time I finished.
“The secret of friendship” is a shoujo romance manga with a school life setting, but that’s only what the genres tell you. The art and plot execution is far more josei than shoujo, and friendship easily trumps romance as the central theme of the story. But these dichotomies make this title all the more engaging and memorable, one you’d like to revisit every time your friend cancels on your dinner plans to hang out with their significant other instead!
We have our two leading ladies, Eiko and Moe who meet in those initial turbulent days of high school when classmates are forming cliques, forging friendships and
assigning ruthless stereotypes to each other based on those tiny insignificant details and interactions that adults have difficulty comprehending but high school kids find most absorbing. The circumstances under which they befriend each other, while not groundbreaking, are definitely relatable and realistic enough to cement their status in the readers’ minds as true blue friends. What follows is their journey in this cruel circus we so innocuously label high school and how they help each other through the trying times which accompany dating, relationships, break-ups, bullying and so on.
Characters are marvelously unique in this story. Never have I read a shoujo story where a girl is willing to give any guy a chance, solely on the premise that he include her best friend in their relationship and not patronise her like a third wheel. While this may seem a childish request from Moe’s side, three long chapters delve into these characters and their motivations and reveal why Moe feels so strongly about not abandoning Eiko and why Eiko guiltily admires rather than envies her best friend for her gentle affection.
Now this story may seem the female equivalent of a sausage-fest (a donut-fest?) so far but fear not, there are male characters aplenty in this refreshing tale and all of them are solid, sincere fellows who may not be immediately likeable but work their way to winning your approval over the course of their interactions with the ladies. We have Tsuchida with his bedroom eyes and rolled up pants who sweetly declares himself upto the task of respecting the unique dynamic Eiko and Moe share and giving Eiko equal significance while going out with Moe. Sounds ideal right? Tsk, If only shoujo romances were ideal!
Secondary characters, who may or may not step up to become major players in the remainder of the storyline include Tsuchida’s best friend Narugami (a black swan of an anti hero if there ever was one!) who can’t help but be suspicious of the sincerity of Eiko and Moe’s friendship and Eiko’s younger brother who is very contentiously trying to disguise his whale of a crush on his sister’s best friend. They both contribute in different measures to the drama and further fortification of... you got it, the two protagonist’s friendship!
Art style is interesting and unique; it’s a little soft and fluid, uses a lot of tonal greys rather than the stark black and whites we’re accustomed to with most mangas. Personalities are not just stated upfront and then shoved down your throat through repetition. If Eiko is timid and indecisive, it comes across in her facial features, her body language, her gestures and even her hairstyle. Ditto with the actions and expressions on Tsuchida, Narugami and Moe, they serve to reveal more about the characters and their intentions than their dialogues or internal monologues can express. It’s not an instant stunner, but you get accustomed to the art soon enough and start to enjoy the slight edgy factor of the school uniforms, the styling in character wardrobes and the overall feel to the backgrounds and ambiance.
Overall, this is a story which will divide dedicated shoujo readers. You’ll either be deeply touched by the strength and sincerity beneath Moe and Eiko’s friendship or rubbish Moe’s bold claims as naive and overly demanding. You’ll either detest Narugami for foolishly labeling all women vapid and shallow and his subsequent actions or applaud him for standing up to the intimidating juggernaut that is Moe’s possessiveness of her best friend. But that in itself is a tremendous feat of achievement. I fondly recollect this story whenever I see two friends walking arm in arm in front of me, I still look up to Moe and Eiko as the benchmark for all future friendships I want to form and begrudgingly admire Narugami and his loyalty towards his best friend, the kind of pal you can always count on to ‘have your back’!
Gripes? I have a couple. NOT long enough! I want to see more heated interactions between the best friend and the boyfriend, the best friend and other boys she turns down and just teenagers in general from this mangaka's point of view, because she makes teen angst palatable! Another takeaway that I find a tad difficult to digest is how Tsuchida kun's status is left at the end of the story. It's not unresolved exactly, but you're left feeling sorry for the chap and devoted readers wouldn't think twice before campaigning for an additional chapter to give him his own ending, happy or otherwise!
I would highly recommend this story for its refreshing perspective on young love and balancing friendship with romance, the healthy resolution that Moe comes to realise towards the end of the story and the endearing interactions between both sets of best friends which leaves a pang in all our hearts when we realise we may be guilty of the very indiscretions and prejudices Moe and Narugami were cautious to avoid.
Though some people might say that this manga could be longer, it's short and sweet, yet quaint story, is a perfect fit for three chapters.
What I really enjoyed about this manga was the fact that both the relationships between a significant other, and a best friend are equally well explored. The manga manages to delve into what it really means to have a best friend from a few select angles. As someone who really loves his best friend, the story really rang true to me, but perhaps a bit more extreme.
As for the significant other aspect, the story shows more about what it
means to really care for the person you're interested in because a real relationship isn't without it's obstacles along the way. One has to put up with many different things, whether they stem from the person they love, or from other obscure sources. This manga does a good job of highlighting that.
However, for those that really like a more traditional manga style romance, the real hidden gem in the 4th chapter that takes some small measure of digging to find on the internet. The 4th chapter goes on to explore more about what some people would do for other people, and accentuates the theme of obsession to a very finely honed degree.
Overall, a short, yet worthwhile read, and easy to take some small measure of wisdom from.
Overall: Incredible story about friendship.
And a very charming one regarding romance.
Would love to give a higher score, but I can't help but wanting just a little bit more.
One more chapter (not including the last one). One more character story. Just to give it that final touch.
Other than that, it was incredibly refreshing, and fun paced.
Story: (8) Really well paced, and very touching. But definitely needed at least one more chapter.
Art: (8) Fitting for the tone of the manga. Not my usual personal favourite, but it was very fitting.
Character: (9) For every character covered in depth, it was beautiful. Unfortunately, it would have been nice to
have one more character focused chapter.
Enjoyment (9): This manga definitely kept me reading. Completely engaged with the story. My only gripe was that it ended far too soon.