Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another Yuri Classic Revisited: A Discussion of Girl Friends Omnibus 1

Every yuri fan and their grandmother knows Girl Friends- Morinaga Milk's popular yuri romance about Mari, a shy, studious high school girl, and Akko, the outgoing popular girl who becomes Mari's first best friend and turns out to be her true love. :-)

For something different, I thought it'd be fun to review Seven Seas' release of Girl Friends volume 1 in an Off the Shelf-inspired conversation between myself and another blogger- the lovely Day from GAR GAR Stegosaurus. Day is a seasoned yuri fan and a fan of Girl Friends, and a generally awesome person, so I thought it'd be a good idea to discuss this book with her on Skype, before transcribing our meandering ramblings here. (With minor editing for some misspelling, lack of capitalization, lack of punctuation- basically, making it look less like a Skype conversation.) What better way to get a fresh perspective on a story I've read multiple times than to discuss it with someone else?

Day: So, Girl Friends, or, as I sometimes like to think of it, that yuri that really wants the guys reading it to think that it's read by teenaged lesbians but at the same time which is actually way more legit to the lesbians who do end up reading it than 95% of yuri are.

Katherine: Pretty much. lol

Day: I'd forgotten how much of the early story is taking clothes on and off.

Katherine: Yup. And beauty tips. So many beauty tips.

Day: I remembered it had a lot of make-up stuff, but the changing stuff, forgot it was quite as common. And there are those weird moments very early that just feel like they were tossed in to satisfy the male demographic like Sugi taking her shirt off in the photobooth to show off her bra.

Katherine: Eh, yeah, Sugi's convenient top-shucking.

Day: Or when Mari is trying on clothes at Akko's

Katherine: And the swimsuit scene.

Day: and Akko starts stripping her... because she's worried she's influencing her too much.

Katherine: Right.

Day: Of course, the oddest bit may be that the panty-shot in that scene doesn't feel like it was fanservice intent at all. It felt natural for Mari to look in the mirror, notice that her panties were showing and that she had cleavage and to be embarrassed about it.

Katherine: Ah, that one. It actually took me a minute to remember it when you mentioned there being a panty shot. So yeah, guess that kinda proves how un-servicey it feels.

Day: Yeah, "panty shot" isn't a great descriptor, but best one I could think of. It just felt like, "Oh, yeah, this isn't really Mari's style."

Katherine: Right. It feels incidental, not intentional. Intentional as titillation, at least.

Day: I'm sure the LFBs were all "Hnnnngh panties" but I didn't feel alienated as a female reader

Katherine: Same.

Day: which I guess is a lot of the series!

Katherine: True, true. Yeah, the inherent premise is gong to be "Hnnngh"-inducing for most of Comic High!'s audience. I flipped through an issue of it once. Girl Friends was the only non-shitty series in it. The rest were like...Kodomo no Jikan and Oniichan Something Something.

Day: Vomit.

Katherine: Yup. But yeah, knowing the audience...

Day: I feel like Milk Morinaga in general is being kind of subversive, not just with Girl Friends, in that she has these cutesy, borderline-moe-looking characters, so the LFBs are all "Sweet hnngh", but then she does stories that actually feel legit to lesbian and bisexual women who are reading them.

Katherine: She absolutely does. I understand that she left Yuri Hime in the first place because in its early days, the folks managing it weren't all that good at dealing with their mangaka, at least compared to today. Morinaga was one of the artists they lost due to that (another being Hayashiya Shizuru, the author of Strawberry Shake Sweet), and then she popped up at Comic High!, under a different publisher's wing. She really didn't change her storytelling style or her aesthetic from when she wrote for the more female readership-dominated Yuri Hime.

As you've mentioned, her art style satisfies readers who are into the moe aesthetic, but I think Girl Friends could artistically fit into a shoujo mag. But as you said, it's really her storytelling that has made her a hit for female yuri fans, not just Comic High!'s target audience. So I agree with you re: it being subversive in a way. Given where it's running.

Day: You mentioned The Secret Recipe [another Morinaga Milk series] in a recent post of yours... I take it it ended up being decent?

Katherine: Eh... Better, but

Day: Haha, or not.

Katherine: still skippable.

Day: I guess I'm wondering based on what you said there if she's slowly pushing the envelope? For example, how Girl Friends shows Akko and Mari as together after high school, although it is scant on details. And I think you said Secret Recipe had a coming out scene?

Re: Girl Friends, it isn't going, "Teehee, lesbian until graduation! Then we grow up and get men!" (Admittedly, we're dealing with baby steps here.)

Katherine: Right. I said that about Morinaga's continuation of Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. It did a great job handling coming out realistically. But The Secret Recipe...well, I've just read its first volume, but it's just Wakatsuki (The Secret Recipe's protagonist) being like "OMG Cooking Club President, KISS ME, MUAH MUAH!"

Day: Oh, ok.

Katherine: Yup.

Day: "I will grope you until you love me!"

Katherine: Pretty much. -_-; At the least, the girl Wakatsuki likes does not respond positively to Wakatsuki's obnoxious behavior, but warns up to her (as a sempai to a kouhai) when she acts like a human being.

So yeah, Morinaga's seinen manga work is subversive in her Comic High! series (at least Girl Friends and Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink), but not her work for Tsubomi, which feels like she's phoning it in. Weird, since Tsubomi itself has ran yuri that contains nuanced characters and some envelope-pushing when it comes to addressing certain issues (like domestic violence and gay-bashing). Go figure.

Day: Have you read any of Gakuen Police yet?

Katherine: Yup, just the first chapter though. I liked it.

Day: Who knows, maybe she finds it more amusing to push the envelope in less envelope-pushing-friendly places?

Katherine: Ha, could be.

Day: Or she's just lacking ideas when she writes for Tsubomi haha.

Katherine: More likely that, yeah. lol She has to turn in work for Tsubomi less often than she does for Comic High!, and hey, it's an extra source of income.

Day: Pays the bills, ha.

Katherine: lol Right.

So, so, thoughts on this volume?

Day: Well, let me just get technicals out of the way. The production is... Well, I feel guilty for dinging smaller publishers on things like "This is too small!" but, I do wish that the page size was even just a little bit larger.

I get that they're not a Viz or a Yen and that this is a title that wasn't expected to sell a massive amount (although it did surface on the bestsellers list the week it was released!) but given how little of the cost of releasing books is in the actual physical aspect of the release (paper, ink, etc), would've been happier with a larger format.

So far in my read-through, I don't recall any typos, thankfully. And the translation is pretty solid. In terms of flow, I mean.

Katherine: Right. I agree with you regarding the translation. And I only recall one typo.

Day: And I liked that they didn't try to localize it too much insofar as pop culture references went. They had the little translation notes where they left refs as is, which I appreciate, and which I also think goes a long way toward avoiding having the release feel dated very fast because, haha, let's face it, most readers aren't familiar enough with Japanese pop culture at large to be all, "Man, Morning Musume is soooo olddddd."

Katherine: XD Right.

I'd enjoy a larger page size also because, you know, Morinaga's pretty pretty art, but

Day: I also was pleased to see that the blurb on the back left out the stupid "forbidden love" thing that had popped up in some of the promotional stuff Seven Seas had for it.

Katherine: the page size is the same as the Japanese release's. Blame them. lol

Yeah, I don't like "forbidden love" as an advertisement for yuri either.

Day: Oh, I assumed it was a Seven Seas thing since I measured it against other releases I have from them.

Katherine: Or lesbian/gay stuff in general.

Ah. That's understandable.

Day: Yeah, I mean, if the forbidden love angle was more about the actual ramifications of homophobia, ok, maybe. But as a titillation point, blech. (Coming from a person who is addicted to gay male romances taking place during the age of sail. >_>)

Katherine: XD


But yeah.

I totally agree. I can't stand straight male yuri fans who are like "Forbidden love is the best love!" 'Cause it sucks, you know, for people whose love is actually forbidden just based on it being gay.

Day: So glad to see that was dropped from the physical release... I know that Seven Seas is an LFB bastion but, still. I find it amusing, btw, that despite being an LFB bastion, they seem to be the only company bothering to license stuff lesbian and bisexual yuri fans love.

Katherine: At least for print releases. JManga has some good titles available digitally. 

Day: Yeah

Katherine: But yes, aside from their Morinaga Milk stuff and Strawberry Panic (and Hayate x Blade, RIP),

Day: but I'm an old-fashioned fart.

Katherine: nothing of theirs has interested me much.


Day: Lizzie Newton's first volume was pretty good.

I want my paper-copy yuri! *whines, throws fit*

Katherine: Oh yeah, I know you recced that. I should try it.

lol Yeah, I still like mah dead tree format manga too.

Day: Btw, one of the things I noticed for the Girl Friends release, too, was that much of the production staff on the English end were women. I def fist-pumped over that.

Katherine: *looks at production credits*

You're right. XD

 Gah, I didn't notice earlier, but yes, that is cool.

Day: Hehe, I check that stuff a lot when I read manga.

Katherine: Six folks worked on it, five of whom are ladies.


Day: I think this release was the one with the most women out of any American release I've read.

Katherine: ...Man, you do check that stuff a lot.

Day: Hahaha

Katherine: Neat to know, though.

Day: I think Lizzie Newton's credits were pretty good on that front, too.

Katherine: Hoho

Day: Which I found interesting since, again, Seven Seas has such an LFB image.

Katherine: Yup, they do. ^^;

Day: And I'm all, "Hmm, maybe I should give you lot more credit" but then they license something like Haganai.


Katherine: They licensed that? Ah...yup. Yup. LFB.

Day: It does seem they are trying to diversify a little bit, since they've got stuff like Young Miss Holmes, and also those Alice in the Country of [pick a card suit] manga.

Katherine: Man, you know, when I was reading this omnibus, I used little pieces of paper to mark places in the book that I found memorable or striking for some reason or another, but looking at it now, there are so many that it's kind of useless.

Huh. Interesting.

Day: Hehe, sorry, I've gotten us really far off-topic, haven't I?

Katherine: No no, it's cool.

You were just discussing the context for this series' release. =)

Day: Also, I'm happy that Seven Seas has gotten more into releasing ACTUAL yuri since, Strawberry Panic notwithstanding, its early offerings were ridiculously NOT yuri. I'M LOOKING AT YOU, VOICEFUL. That damn thing made me so mad, bought it at a con and felt totally cheated.

Katherine: I just flipped through it at a bookstore. Expected yuri, did not see what I expected, and was like, "Eh, pass."

Day: You were smart. It wasn't yuri.

Katherine: lol

Day: It was two girls meeting each other and becoming friends and helping each other out. It was boring, too!

Katherine: Yeah... It didn't seem bad. But so not what I was looking for from, you know, a yuri line.

Day: Exactly. Kind of like when Media Blasters put out Otoboku under their yuri line. *eyeroll*

Katherine: Yup. I never watched more than one episode of it. lol

Day: Haha, speaking of LFBs...! But I guess at least at Media Blasters they are equal opportunity loser fans, given their BL and BL fan-friendly releases.

Katherine: True, true. And they did bring us the delightful trashiness of Strawberry Panic, and Simoun.

Day: Yes.

Katherine: And, ahem, Maka Maka.

Day: And they brought us Weiss Kreuz, which is pretty much awesome in anime form.

Katherine: I still haven't tried that one. ^^;

Day: It's...awful.

Katherine: XD

[Surreal discussion of Weiss Kreuz takes place]

Day: So, yeah, Girl Friends!

Katherine: lol


Day: It felt good to re-visit.

Katherine: Yes~

Day: I had recalled the earlier bits as being better than they were. Although they do hold up pretty decently- it's those weird moments that stick out as being not terribly well integrated into the narrative, like the ones I mentioned previously.

Katherine: Ah, the changing. Yeah.

Day: Photobooth bra moment, stripping moment.

Katherine: Also, have you ever tried Kahlua milk?

Day: No, but I've heard that I should.

Btw, I think ultimately my feeling on Girl Friends is I like it so much since it feels like something that actually could've happened in my life, although at the same time I feel like, "Man, wish high school had been like that for me!"

Katherine: lol Same.

Day: Instead of just being "lulz I'm straight" or "lulz I'm not straight but I'm still trying to be so I'm going to rebuff you now...even though I'm the one who has been passive-aggressively coming onto you for a while now!"

Katherine: XD Awww.

Reminds me of how a friend and I used to interact. lol

But yeah, large portions of the story from Mari's perspective, pre-her getting together with Akko, feel like they could have been lifted from my high school life. It's the getting a girlfriend at the time part that doesn't. lol Although it's still nice, in a way because it's nice to see someone like Mari, who I could relate to that much, get what she wanted and be happy with Akko.

Day: I think my feelings on Girl Friends with that, that it's sort of what I wished had happened to me when I was in high school, goes back to a sentiment I have about a good chunk of yuri and BL, which is that it functions in some ways as a sort of fairy tale (in the Disney sense) in that so much of it ignores the entire aspect of homophobia and identity - it just *is*, these two folks are just in *love*. and I do think that can be extremely problematic, as it ignores the reality for LGBT folks in current-day japan, but I also think that it can be a really nice experience as a reader, so long as it isn't one of the ones that takes pains to be all, "They're not gay! It's just that they like each other, but no one peeps of same sex!"

Katherine: I agree.

Day: I also liked that in Girl Friends, a lot of the dancing around with them miscommunicating and not getting together, it feels legit- I didn't just feel like we were being stalled for time.

Katherine: Right. It can be frustrating at points, but it's frustrating in a way that feels organic to the characters and story.

Day: Sure, maybe on the face of it trying to say that your friend kissing you doesn't mean they like you like that seems silly, but I can see it happening. Even if me at 24 goes, "Wtf stop being stupid ugh."

Katherine: lol

Yeah, being an out adult and all.

But yeah, this series really explores the line between friendship and love, friends and lovers, and how one's perception of those lines is influenced by social norms. In relation to oneself and others.

Day: And also how culture re-inforces this idea of girls and women as having more of a blur between friend and romance. That, well, oh, girls kiss all the time, its cool!

Katherine: Right. In her commentary in the back of this omnibus (the omnibus includes the commentary that came with volumes one & two of the Japanese release), Morinaga even states that when she was a young 'un in high school, she and her friends kissed each other, and it wasn't read as "gay", but when they saw two guys do it, well, that was totally different. 'Cause you know, different attitudes re: male and female sexuality.

Speaking of double standards, the most telling (to me) scene in this book, re: the idea of girls & women having more of a blur between friendship and romance than two guys, or a girl and a guy, as influenced by social norms, is when Akko asks Sugi for advice about Mari's confession. When Sugi thought Akko was talking about a guy instead of a girl doing what Mari did, she took it seriously, but when Akko revealed that she was talking about a girl, Sugi's response?

Day: No big deal! Girls being girls!

Katherine: "Jeez, you should have told me the friend was a girl. I think your friend [referring to Akko, since Akko's pretending she's asking for advice on behalf of a friend who was kissed by a friend] is making a big deal out of nothing. I mean, the other girl didn't actually ask her out, right? I've kissed Tama-min a hundred times." In short, yeah, what you said. lol

At least to Sugi's credit, after Akko was like, "But this... This felt different. I mean... She was crying." and Sugi realized that Mari was being serious when she kissed Akko, she gave pretty good advice, going on the assumption (that Akko gave her) that Akko wasn't interested in Mari. But, still, double standard. Albeit one that sadly makes sense given the context.

Day: And I think we can at least safely say here that Morinaga juxtaposes the response from Sugi to point to that double-standard.

Katherine: Yes. Since, as the story itself shows, Sugi is wrong.

Day: Btw, I like Sugi, I love how she's the "sexy" character, but she's totally confident in herself and clearly wouldn't take any crap from the guys she dates.

Katherine: I like that too. She also seems to get the best grades out of all of them.

Although Mari seems to be good in that area also.

But Sugi's the only one planning on going to a university that'll require taking entrance exams, which as I'm sure you're aware, requires a lot of preparation.

And there's no implicit slut-shaming of her character.

Day: Yeah, she doesn't suffer in-text from having multiple boyfriends. No one chides her on it seriously. On the brief moments where it comes up, it's more sort of minor awe mixed with light teasing. Nothing malicious.

Katherine: Yup.

Day: And I do appreciate, too, that Girl Friends doesn't just go the easy, crowd-pleasing route of pairing off its supporting cast. It always feels so lazy when that happens! Unless the author actually works to give it enough development, which is rare.

Katherine: There are some well-done examples of it (I really like it in Fu~fu, Hanjuku Joshi, Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu, and some others), and I do like seeing stories with more than one yuri couple, since it's nice to see the characters have friends who are queer too- but if it's just pairing up for the sake of pairing up, then eh.

Day: Although I wasn't crazy about Sasameki Koto.

Katherine: Like...augh, you know what I mean. Like that musical number at the end of Grease where the guys line up and the girls line up and everyone pairs off in one big happy dance number.

I like Sasameki Koto. XD But I understand why it isn't your cup of tea, re: Ushio.

Day: I think I liked its approach with that better, in that the couple in the supporting cast came in as an established one, so it didn't feel like laziness by the author.

Katherine: Mmm hmmm.

And not every queer character got paired with someone.

Day: I guess I just have seen too many where they just pair up supporting charas for the sake of pairing them up and that drives me crazy! Because I feel like, "Grr, are singletons not allowed???"

Katherine: lol For something like Girl Friends, it'd be harder to pull that off than with something like, say, Strawberry Panic, which is much more fantasy-ish.

Day: Yeah, Strawberry Panic is in a ridiculous universe anyway so

Hahahaha sometimes I think, "Gee, wish my high school had been like that." XD


Katherine: Yeah, so it's like "Why not pair up Tsubomi and Yaya at the end!?"


You're not alone.

Oh yeah, another thing I noticed more on this read through was the juxtaposition between Mari, as a shy, not terribly social girl who has a perfectly loving, functional family, with two parents and a little brother, and Akko as this outgoing social butterfly whose home life is the polar opposite. Her dad's...somewhere, she doesn't reveal why. (Understandably, especially considering her personality.) And her mom...well, this time around, I was more struck by how alienated she is from her mom. I mean, they hardly seem to see each other and mostly communicate via text.

Day: Y'know, Akko actually made me think of Minako from Sailor Moon in a lot of ways. Not so much first season Minako, who was cool as a cucumber and way more mature than in later seasons, but maybe Sailor Moon S Minako. In part because the home life seems not exactly ideal (although it doesn't seem to affect either of the girls much) although Minako's relationship with her mother was explicitly stated in additional materials to be bad, whereas with Akko they just seem disconnected as opposed to actively hostile. They're not the brightest young things, if we're being honest, but they're both fairly independent and confident in themselves.

Katherine: Right.

And you'd never know how unideal their home lives are based on how they act.

I'm not saying that Akko wouldn't be outgoing if she had a home life more like Mari's, but having a "normal" life at school is more vital for her than for Mari, giving her more motivation (unconciously, I think) to cultivate one, hence her putting more of an effort into being social on her own in the first place.

Day: Yeah, I can see that. I think she has to have started out with a more extrovert-type personality, since I think that Mari in similar circumstances would be likely to just keep turning more inward, but I do think it probably propelled her even more to be very social and outgoing.

Katherine: Yes!

That's, imo, a perfect assessment of nature vs nurture here, regarding Akko and Mari's personalities/home lives.

Also! Girl Friends, I love you, but I gotta mention a couple things that

Day: need fixing

Katherine: Yeah.

Day: Handwave-ish ending.

Katherine: Yup.

And the clothes changing/removing

Day: gets boring.

Katherine: Yup.

But also, you know that guy who Akko "lost her virginity to."


Day: All the make-up crap

Katherine: Yeah.

Day: (reminded me of an ex XD)

Katherine: lol


Oh my.

Day: No, not the guy she supposedly slept with. XD

The make-up convos constant.

Katherine: Oh XD

[Superfluous discussion of love life stuff. Nothing embarrassing for me here, nope.]

Katherine: Okay. I should make my point about GF. So how did Mari peg Kuno's boyfriend as Akko's supposed one night stand if Akko never told/showed her what he looked like?

Day: Hmm.

Katherine: Did she just assume, "Oh, they look like they're getting along! It must be him!" Cause that's kind of how it struck me.

Day: Maybe it's just she figured they got along well and was in a paranoid frame of mind so went "Must've been him!"

Katherine: Hmm, I can buy that.

Ok so

Kahlua milk, Girl Friends' alcoholic beverage of choice. It made Akko pass out all night, it made her pass out again before her "encounter" with that dude, Sugi and Tamamin are even like, "Rule number one: If you're a lightweight when it comes to booze... DON'T DRINK KAHLUA MILK! When a girl says 'I don't drink much...' the guy will tell her 'Try this, it's nice and sweet!' and get her nice and drunk that way. Yep, some girls still fall for that old trick!"

But the thing is...

I'M a lightweight. I think that Kahlua milk is weak. It's a dessert drink, it's tasty and sweet, but

Day: Oh yeah!

Katherine: it's not remotely something you'd get drunk on easily.

Day: I thought you were talking about a manga! Because I'm pretty sure there is actually a manga with that title or something like it.

Katherine: Oh XD

IIII see.

Day: Kahlua milk is such a weak drink.

Katherine: RIGHT?

How the hell did Akko pass out from one or two servings of it?

Day: Uh.


Maybe she didn't eat at all???

Katherine: I guess...?

Just seems kind of funny to see it being touted as something that guys can use to get girls smashed by pretending it's weak...but

it really is weak.

It'd make more sense to make it, I don't know, a tequila sunrise.

"Here baby, it's weak because the alcohol's diluted by juice!" Or something.

Just...frigging Kahlua milk.

Day: Or, I dunno

Katherine: Akko must have the alcohol tolerance of an ant to get drunk on it.

Day: "Here, have a jello shot! they're delicious."

Katherine: Yes.

That works.

Makes more sense.

But yeah, the Kahlua milk thing isn't something I'm really holding against the series, it just seems... like an odd choice.

So yeah, I think we've covered everything there is to bitch about regarding this series. lol

Day: Maybe Morinaga got drunk off of it once? XD

Katherine: XD

Oh man, that'd be embarrassing.

Man, now I want some Kahlua milk.

Day: Maybe Kahlua milk is strong in Nihon?!?

Katherine: XD Suuuuure.

(One of my favorite nighttime snacks

Day: Well Guinness is very strong in Brazil, so who knows.

Katherine: when I was there two summers ago was Kahlua milk with a slice of castella. Mmmmm.) But, like, I ordered it at a bar [in Tokyo] once. I expected it to be stronger, based on Girl Friends. -_-;

Day: Oh man.

Katherine: Yup.

At least I haven't taken beauty tips from this series. I'm sure there's someone out there who's done that. (Although at least, as far as I can tell, the beauty tips in this series are accurate.)

Day: I did think some of the clothes were cute.

Katherine: They were. Morinaga put together some cute outfits.

Akko's favorite brand, Liz Lisa? I actually quite liked that reference, since that brand's style would fit Akko perfectly.

Day: I don't know stuff at brands. ;_;

Katherine: Admittedly, I did get a Liz Lisa dress in Tokyo. But not because of this series. XD It does have some cute stuff.

That's normal, though. ^^;

[More off-topic conversation as we wrap up]

Day: Don't leave the door open and let an alligator crawl in overnight or something.

[The end!]

Again, my sincerest appreciation to Day for being willing to do this! *hat tip*

I should also mention that, even though the bonus stories from volumes 1 and 2 of the Japanese release of Girl Friends aren't included in this omnibus, according to one of the page notes in the commentary section towards the back of this book, all of the Girl Friends bonus stories will be included in the next omnibus. I know some people were wondering about that.

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