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.
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).
Girl Friends was one of the first manga I read when I started getting into yuri. Strangely, rereading it made me realize I lost my passion for a romance with no guys. I don’t dislike yuri, but I can’t be bothered to read something anymore just because it’s a girl-on-girl romance. I say this because my mistake reading it the first time was expecting yuri right away, leaving me disappointed. Don’t do that.
Part of the reason Girl Friends can disappoint impatient readers who expect yuri right away is its story. It’s the classic tale of a popular fashionista—Akko—bringing an unassuming bookworm—Mari—out of her shell. But
the more this bookworm steps out of her shell, the more she steps into feelings she’s never experienced. Much of the story focuses on Mari’s growing feelings for the oblivious Akko, so actual yuri events—whatever it might be—won’t be there to instantly satisfy readers.
Instead, readers will confront an emotional gauntlet. It’s easy to feel frustrated when Mari rationalizes wanting to kiss Akko by thinking of her as a cute pet, and there’s a certain hilarity in their friend Sugi who has a habit of stripping. Basically, Girl Friends teases out every emotion from jealousy to bliss. And that’s how it should go. People experience a variety of feelings, especially when dealing with teenagers, and moreso with a teenager who loves someone of the same sex.
The story itself smoothly flows from one emotion to the next. Partly because the story never hangs on the inner musings of a character for too long, and partly because the characters themselves show considerable maturation to resolve conflicts a little easier. Early in the story, Mari worries about something she did, and Akko casually breaks the ice saying it’s a natural thing for friends to do. Later on, a conflict between Mari and Akko involving college is resolved by the former’s own, indirect way.
And it’s moments like these that emphasize how far a character has come. Mari starts out introverted, tongue-tied, and not too worried about her looks. But by the end, she’s outgoing, speaks smoothly, and becomes a fashionista in her own right when she helps an old friend. The development itself is fantastic, not once going too fast. The blush crossing Mari’s face resulting from Akko’s honesty slowly becomes a flush of love, hidden behind a series of questions wondering about her own anxiety over Akko’s friends and lovelife.
There’s not much else going on with Mari, but it makes sense since Akko essentially gives her a social life. As for Akko, she’s got it going on being the center of attention, a fashionista, and generally outgoing, determined to bring Mari out of her shell. Later on, Akko’s backstory gives a sense of WHY she wanted to bring Mari out of her shell. But it isn’t until after a certain event a little under halfway through that Akko starts to change. She becomes noticeably more tongue-tied as she questions her feelings for Mari, and this change makes sense considering the suddenness of this certain event.
That said, the story doesn’t give a definite reason for why either character ends up feeling the way she does, nor does it draw a line—at least not until the end—for when friendship ends and love begins. But why does it have to be that way? One of the central conflicts on Mari’s side of the story is how she can’t tell if what she’s doing, what she’s feeling, is normal for friends. And it’d diminish their feelings if there was a definite reason. Love doesn’t happen because of one reason, but from a multitude of things unique to each person. In other words, Akko and Mari are believably compelling characters.
Rolling the third wheel from the side characters is Sugi. She doesn’t change much throughout the story, but she doesn’t need to. Beneath her extensive line-up of boyfriends is a maturity to match the body that unveils itself every time she strips. She’s very much learned a lot of harsh lessons in love, shown when she’s giving up-front and blunt advice for Akko on more than one occasion, or when reminiscing about how she used to act. Jaded but well-meaning, she’s Girl Friends’ most developed (ahem) side character.
The other side characters aren’t explored much, but it does show how the world still moves regardless of what Akko and Mari are feeling. They have their own aspirations (tennis), their own hobbies (cosplay), their own delusions (‘I’m going to see my Prince!’), basically their own things going on from ghost stories to boyfriend talk. When Akko, Mari, or Sugi can’t do it, anyone of the other characters will basically break the ice to stop the story from staying serious for too long. The story isn’t afraid to be heavy, but it knows when to lighten up.
Oops, I mentioned guys in a yuri story. In a breath of fresh air, Girl Friends isn’t afraid to fully explore sexuality by bringing guys into the mix. From Akko and Mari’s side, it explores the complicated feelings of loving someone of the same sex, while the male part of the equation poses a problem for Mari especially. That isn’t to say the story uses guys as antagonists but, for the two major guys it brings in, they are simply two, genuinely well-meaning people. Signs of deviancy still show from them, especially with one of their backstories, but the same can be said for Akko, Mari, and Sugi.
See, when I say Girl Friends explores sexuality, I mean that in every sense of the word. It very much addresses what lovers do, and doesn’t play cloyingly with its subject. It knows infatuation can create fantasy, as Mari can attest. It knows the cluelessly curious will look things up to not be clueless, as Akko will admit. And it also knows being drunk can cause strange behavior, as Sugi unwittingly demonstrates with Tama. Because of this, Girl Friends is a case where fanservice makes sense (save for that one moment in chapter two...); love is a sweet thing carried out by saucy actions.
Carrying every moment from the sweet to the saucy is Morinaga Milk’s artwork. Apart from being the most aesthetically pleasing thing you’ll ever see, character designs are distinct. Akko and Sugi are both fashionistas, but the curves greatly favor the latter. Tama and Mari are petite, but there’s a sense of energy only the former has. And when the lovely art isn’t sensually and sensitively expressing any of their feelings, it becomes a veritable fashion show for all the stylish outfits the characters wear. If nothing else, the story can’t be knocked for having school uniforms all the time.
Not that there wasn’t much to knock down the story over anyway. Even in its final volume worth of chapters, Girl Friends manages to stay fresh. It brings in new angles, commitment, and addresses the real amount of effort any relationship needs to last. That said, if the pacing was a little tighter, or if the story did something crucial that Akko and Mari need to eventually face, I’d have no qualms about calling Girl Friends a masterpiece.
But as it stands, it’s still an excellent, heartfelt story with a dash of honest naughtiness, not to mention easy on the eyes. Readers who don’t mind a slow but deliberate pace will find a lot to like, while people new to yuri expecting yuri right away might want to look elsewhere. It might not be a story everyone loves, but for these girlfriends, loving each other would be enough.