It's great to be done with my college classes and home for the summer! ^_^ Without further ado...
As any fan of Milk Morinaga's Girl Friends would likely agree, this volume is the hardest volume to read. Not because it's bad, by any stretch. This volume marks a definite improvement over the first volume, in terms of more focused story-telling, tighter pacing, and a move away from the more lighthearted set of clothing and make-up themed chapters that make up most of volume 1.
Volume 2 begins with Mari processing the kiss she gave Akko when Akko was asleep after drinking alcohol at the end of volume 1. When she confesses what she did to Akko, Akko is greatly relieved because she thought that Mari's strange behavior since that day was a result of something Akko might have done when she was drunk. lol Akko laughs off Mari's concerns, telling Mari that friends kiss all the time. Mari's (and my) reaction is: Really?! o_o;; But Mari realizes that her kiss wasn't just a "friend" kiss, and comes to recognize (and angst like crazy over) her love for Akko. Unfortunately, Mari attempts to cover her feelings by dating a guy who has a crush on her named Harada in the fruitless hope that she'll fall for him instead, since he is a nice guy who genuinely likes her. The volume ends with Akko helping Mari prepare for a date by doing her make-up (in a really poignant sequence of images), before Mari breaks down and kisses Akko. She says that her love can never be fulfilled, then walks out in the rain. (Of course it's raining right then. ^^;;)
Milk Morinaga does an excellent job of writing this story arc. Mari's realization and denial of her feelings reflect those felt by many gay teenagers with surprisingly dead-on accuracy. When I originally read the chapters in this volume, at the point when Mari began dating Harada, I nearly gave up because "closeted gay girl starts trying to like guys" is one of my least favorite plot devices, and if this were written by a mangaka with less skill than Morinaga, I probably would have stopped reading. However, the amazing thing about Girl Friends is: every time I think that the plot is going to go to hell in a hand basket, Morinaga subverts my expectations brilliantly, like a cruel puppet master compelling me to keep reading. At this point, the characters are empathetic and human enough that one continually feels compelled to see what will happen to them. Thankfully, Morinaga provides relief from the Mari-angst with some well-placed humor from Mari's friends and Akko (and even some from Mari) that never feels out of place or out of character. This volume is probably the lowest emotional point in the story, and its deliberate pacing has earned it criticism from many of its readers, but in retrospect, it makes the emotional rewards of volume 3 all the sweeter.
And the art is essentially the same as in volume 1. Pretty, crisply drawn, and pleasing to look at. Morinaga uses her normally cute, airy, whimsical style to convey the darker mood of this volume effectively.
Story: B (But an A for the skill with which it's executed.)
This is one of the few manga volumes that I've liked better after reading it a second time.