When it comes to grades, bookish high school student Mariko Kumakura is at the top of her class. Socially, however, she is shy and lonely, typically eating lunch by herself. Enter the charismatic and beautiful Akko Oohashi, whose goal is to befriend Mariko and burst her out of her introverted shell.
In the process of transforming Plain Jane Mariko into one of the cutest, most popular girls in school, deep feelings begin to emerge that suggest something deeper than friendship. Will these feelings destroy the budding relationship between Mariko and Akko, or will it turn into something else?
Girl Friends was published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment into two omnibus volumes known as Girl Friends: The Complete Collection from October 2, 2012 to January 8, 2013 and in Polish by Studio JG from October 17, 2014 to August 8, 2015.
Girl Friends is as good as you've probably heard and maybe a little better.
I only discovered this story recently but in a short time, I have read through it twice. I wouldn't do this if I hadn't already had a favorable opinion of the story the first time around but it wasn't necessarily expected that I would find the second read through to be even more enjoyable.
What makes Girl Friends so enjoyable is the construction of the story, being that's it is about as solidly put together as any collected manga this large as I have ever read. To be honest, I don't know what
my impressions would have been if I had been waiting months between each chapter but I have a feeling it would have been a fatiguing experience in impatience. Reading this story as one giant book (or 2 back to back large books in the most likely case) really is the way to go and the reason for that is that really isn't any good stopping points between beginning and end. Even as I read it the first time over the course of a few days, I would find myself reading a chapter or two more than I intended to.
That need to keep reading is the result of the story's excellent flow. I imagine there are some who feel that there are some points where things drag on a bit too long, even I was getting a little restless for resolution the first time I read through Volume 4. Having read some other romance manga recently, ones that really showcase the bounds of dragging things on too long and rereading Girl Friends, my opinion of that point of the story has even improved. While the relationship between our two main characters evolves at a steady but slow pace, the world around them and the story itself never noticeably halts. New and almost always interesting things are happening in every chapter and the story does a masterful job of doing this while managing to connect all these ever changing and increasing elements to the main two characters, be it for emotional development or simple plot advancement in which they are of concern. It also does this without making it feel as if the world is not exclusively revolving around just these two for the sake of the story, as there is a fairly solid cast of secondary characters that all get a steady amount of mostly satisfying development.
Furthering the point that this story is best when viewed as an entire complete work is fairly solid continuity. Many reveals and tied up loose ends in the later chapters are the result of subtle ground work laid in the earlier chapters. A small scene about any particular thing from Volume 2 may wind up being used part of a larger pay off event come Volume 5. This is were reading through a second time makes this story really excel, as you will probably not notice these little things the first time around. I'm not sure how much planning went into this initially, the nature of the manga format can make this kind of story telling a burden and a risk but the results give the story a feel of dedicated craftsmanship in any case.
Aside from the story structure itself you have good bunch of secondary and minor characters. The secondaries, the school friends, get a mostly satisfying amount of development with only one short sticked girl never particularly going forward in any regard. They also manage to stay secondaries in spite of this, with the exception of one arguably ill advised chapter dedicated to the most developed of these characters and personally, I think she earns it.
The artwork is appeasing, particularly in the second half and feels like an important part of the story telling during the more dramatic moments of the story and providing at least a few laughs during the more lighthearted sections. It is an important aspect to the plot, particularly early on, that the characters of the story live out a fairly feminine and somewhat glamorous lifestyle and seeing things like careful makeup application and trying on clothes makes this manga a lot more interesting than it would me to just read about these things happening. That said, I don't think this particular story would translate well to an anime, as a lot of fans seem to want, nor do I feel it needs to.
Further reviewing of the structure of the story is going to force me a bit into a spoiler territory but I would be remiss not to discuss it, consider this a stopping point if you feel strongly about not knowing any part of the outcome of our two main characters. Yes, I recommend this story if you hadn't gotten that.
Maybe my favorite thing about this story is that it doesn't end where you might expect it to. Most of the story is a waiting game to see whether or not a relationship between our two main characters will happen. There is plenty of tension as the story moves between the two girls and their lack of ability to express to each other the entirety of their true feelings and even understanding what their own feelings are. In a lot of stories, once your characters finally get through to each other and come together, this might be the end. Sometimes that's appropriate, sometimes a short epilogue might suffice but in the case of Girl Friends, we actually get a whole final Volume that covers into the relationship.
This is risky in a story that for the most part has been about pre-relationship tension and its no small task to keep things interesting but Girl Friends actually manages to get even more interesting in the final Volume. Things you might not expect to be covered in this story but are covered quite well are post established relationship issues such as jealousy, trust, what love really is, future planning, sexual tension and what it means to be in a same sex relationship, particularly a girl-girl one. The final volume packs all of this very well, giving it a faster pace while remaining satisfying in its payoffs.
My favorite moment may be when a relatively minor character gives her explanation of the nature of a loving relationship to one of our mains. Its a very grounded and I think, realistic view that somewhat clashes with the type of love that had been built up to this point which had been very young and storybook with a large emphasis on dependency and possessiveness. In many stories, you never get to see both of these types of love represented and even less so, see the former evolve into the latter. The result of it in this story is played to the last page, where we see the love between these two had indeed evolved to a place where the reader can feel assured that their love really has a chance of lasting against any detrimental odds.
As solid as the story is, it is the unfortunate reality that the story did need to end at some point and while the aforementioned conclusion is a satisfying note to end on, you can always expect a lose thread or two. One thing that is acknowledged in the final pages but that we never get to see fulfilled, is that someday these two girls are going to have to come out to their family and friends, if not to society in its entirety. It's a shame we don't get to see this for a couple reasons. For one, the taboo of their relationship is a source of much of the stress for at least one of the girls, who at a few points actually feels disgusted with her feelings. While I have no reason to feel she hasn't overcome this on a personal level, publicly kicking this sense of shame to the curve almost always has a good feeling in a story about it. The other part of the problem is that the secondary characters of the story, their various school friends, all seem like they would be anywhere from very supportive to even enthusiastic about their relationship. That they keep this from them, for the time being that is included in this story, feels a bit unfortunate. If there were ever a down the road sequel, these reveals have a lot of potential, especially with the girls' respective families.
Girl Friends gets my full recommendation and since it has been read and acclaimed by many before me, I would not be surprised if you see me using it as a benchmark in other reviews of applicable works.
Anyone who can appreciate a good romance story will enjoy Girl Friends, even if they do not specifically love shoujo-ai/yuri.
*This is the pinnacle of the genre, in yuri romance for slice of life manga. This is the masterpiece of its era and is likely not going to be dethroned from most highly rated and best critically received yuri for a long time.
Most of my thoughts are unchanged. I am mostly just following up with the review to assure people that this is well worth it all the way to the end.
When it comes to school & slice of life manga, it often feels as
if there is not much of a story, just a setting that you let characters loose in. What I can say is that unlike many shoujo-ai, Girl Friends takes a much more “true to life” approach, on the girl/ girl romance. The approach is fresh, interesting and helps the audience relate. The only complaint here is the amount of small talk involved can sometimes be too much.
*Story is solid, my only nitpick is petty… I wished that there was more. It’s usually the hallmark of a good story. (Unless there is a case of a rushed ending or unresolved plot lines) Might be a little spoiler-ish under, skip to art if you want nothing to do with it:
In this case I would love to see Morinaga pick these characters back up some time for a sequel exploring their college life and coming out story.
The art is as good as what you would expect out of a, decent manga series. Morinaga Milk’s art style and character designs are top notch.
*I have to say that the art really remained very consistent all the way through to the end, and a few panels where the quality was buffed up for a dramatic moment. Over all I have to again compliment the artist very pretty character design, nice backdrops and everything inbetween.
The main character Mari, is one of the most emotionally complicated (different from other means of making a complex character) and troubled character I have ever seen. Emotional complexity comes from trying to understand why you feel the way you do, it’s feeling having a contradiction between the way you feel and the way you rationally think would be the best way to feel, it’s questioning your own motivations and intentions in the interactions you have with others. To some it might seem melodramatic but, that is the essence of creating great internal struggle, which is relatable in multitude of different ways.
The other characters are more, for the everyday interactions, kind of like a lucky star sort of thing but they are fun, unique, and amusing. At some point during the manga the main character changes to Akiko, the person of Mari’s feelings. Akiko stood out quite a bit as an eccentric, but when the main focus becomes centered on her perspective she starts to come to life, as a well fleshed out character. Her time in the spotlight is just beginning but there is much hope for good things in the future.
*I was right about Akko, she was awesome, as she was a much more confident character. That had to “catch up” to Mari in terms of figuring out her feelings for the sake of continuity, but once she did, Akko was much more sure of herself compared to Mari. She would made decisions on how she felt and stuck to them, as well didn’t mind putting herself out to get to the truth. The character dynamic, by the end is the most satisfying romantic interaction that I have read.
Emotional drama and self-torment in a realistic setting is a very gripping read. This isn’t something everyone enjoys but for the target audience, this series will be pure bliss. The small talk sections may be boring for some however, but it is forgivable. This manga will hook you in and have you honestly caring about its characters, which is a good measure to its enjoyment.
If you are the type to enjoy the things mentioned above, you will love this, especially if you also have a love for shoujo-ai
Fan for life. I will read everything Morinaga, Milk makes for a long time just to hope that she can do something like this again.
Girl Friends is a Shoujo, Yuri, Romance manga about the friendship between girls slowly developing into something more. Manga readers who enjoy reading, or just feel like trying some Yuri manga, will probably be satisfied with this one.
Set in a typical Japanese all-girls Highschool, the story is about your shy, attentive girl (Mariko Kumakura) who’s lived a fairly dull and uneventful life but things change once she becomes acquainted with her brash, popular classmate (Akko Oohashi). That basically sets the foundation for this story, revolving around Mariko, who changes in many ways, after being exposed to a variety fun experiences that her new friend has
exposed her to. The story itself develops at a steady pace, with each chapter dealing with something specific but that helps the story to progress without dragging things out for to long. Even though this manga feels like a mundane ‘slice of life’, you can expect some minor surprises along the way.
Just as the title implies, the characters of Girl Friends are formed around a bunch of schoolgirls who become friends. Guys don’t play much of a part in all this; however when a guy does appear it usually causes a stir. The lack of guys isn’t a problem as the girls have well-defined personalities and are generally enjoyable to read. Yet it comes to no surprise that the bulk of the story focuses on Mariko and Akko.
The artwork is that of a typical shoujo manga that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure there’s little detail in the environments but the generic-looking character designs have plenty of detail put in them. The girl’s features are brought out well, in the close ups but it can be difficult to tell some of them apart.
Overall this is a great yuri manga in showing the dilemmas faced by your average girl dealing with her feelings for another girl. Things do become quite tiresome when a lot of the time is spent on mundane girl talk (boyfriends, mixers, make-up, etc) but at least it does a good job in realistically depicting what it chooses to depict, like love & infatuation. Shame that after 3 years it came to an end, even though Girl Friends could have broken free of the mold and taken things further; like going into college lifestyle and showing some very fundamental issues of being in such a relationship. Alas, I guess it was never meant to be.
Yuri is a really misunderstood genre. Usually it is paired up with hentai because of its occasional sexual nature (Lesbianism). However that is not usually the case when reading actual good yuri that is not a one shot. Girlfriends is a prime example of that.
At first this series doesn't feel that much like Yuri. Even with some elements of ecchi being thrown into the mix. It takes a while for Mari, and Ako to go from point A, to point B. And that is why this manga series is a delectable buffet. The writing is just superb. It's as if the
author poured her very soul into this, and it really shows. Yes, there is some girl on girl action going on after a few chapters (Errrrrmagerd! Boobies!). However that is not the absolute reason for Girlfriends being good. There is also some humor, and a pretty big tangled web of misunderstanding between the characters that becomes untangled piece by piece very delicately.
The problem with Girlfriends (Depending on which volume was bought first) there are some typos in the grammar (Which were resolved in later re-prints of the manga). Sometimes the facial expressions are stretched pretty thin (Especially during the beginning). Later on that gets fixed, and the art gets even better. Plus reading "EH!?!" all the time becomes funny at first, but later on it feels pretty dumb. Background characters get their own voice through this story as well. Plus one of Mari, and Ako's friends gets a chapter devoted to them. Those who don't still find their own niche, and stick by it. The ending is abrupt. However at least it didn't end with a cliffhanger. It is still satisfying none the less. A lot of loose ends get tied for sure.
On A Personal Note: I got to admit this. When I found this series online, I was expecting wall to wall porn (I was looking for that in the first place, Im sorry). During the first time when I read the first chapters, I kept thinking "Alright...... they're talking, this is funny...... but get on with the lesbian stuff already!!!". I wanted to stop a few times because I wasn't getting the *ahem* hentai that I was looking for. However..... then I ended being sucked into the story soon enough. And......I felt pretty stupid waiting for porn. Then I enjoyed reading this......I found myself rooting for Mari, and Ako to be together a lot. The last few sentences of the ending made me cry really hard too. Later on I bought this series at a Barnes And Noble. I re-read this series three more times afterwords throughout a course of a year. And I plan to re-read it yet again in a few months. The last time I read this, my heart felt pretty good going during every sentence. Im not the type that reads romance novels, and I gag every time I see make out scenes in movies (Unbelievably that's coming from someone who was looking for lesbian porn). Yet every word, and scene felt like magic to me. It changed my mind on a lot of things. At times it felt rather painfully slow when reading this, but it was worth it. Now when I see a lesbian couple from now on. I don't think "AWW! YEAHHH! That's hawt! WOOOOO! Strap on!!!!", but now Im like "AW YEAHHH! I hope that they get married, and adopt because they look like two wonderful human beings who love each other very much!". Girlfriends evolves into something more than what the genre dishes out. A romantic manga that will touch the heart, and change the minds of those who read it. Thankfully, I am glad that I was wrong the first time when I stumbled upon Girlfriends. The writing actually changed my life (At least a little......still looking for lesbo action online).