Friday, June 14, 2019

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up was less problematic than expected (Manga Review)

Kodama Naoko
I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up - 6/10

I purchased "I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up" (by Kodama Naoko, published by Seven Seas) with mild trepidation. With a title like that and the premise that two women fake a marriage then really fall in love, I was skeptical that it would handle a gay relationship with any validity. Surprisingly, it wasn't bad, and actually had a few solid moments.

As premises go, this one is pretty flimsy. Two young woman (Morimoto and Hana), who have known each other since high-school, decide to fake being married in order to get Morimoto's parents to stop setting her up with various eligible men. With that, there were  three possibilities for handling this that came into my head:

1) This manga might just be a male-centric lesbian fantasy - ie, put two women in the same room long enough and they'll get it on, or

2) This manga might be a silly, light yuri fantasy - ie, put two women in the same room long enough and they'll fall sweetly in love, or

3) This might actually be a story about a genuinely gay couple with meaningful backstories that makes the shaky premise make emotional and logical sense even with the forgone conclusion that they will fall in love and live happily ever after.

Much to my surprise, it's closest to number 3! Thank goodness. I have no desire to read any that are in category number 1 but a bunch of so-called yuri manga being published in English seem to be leaning in that direction. On the other hand, much of the rest of yuri being published in English seems to be in category number 2. Sometimes that can be enjoyable, but it isn't usually very emotionally sound, nor realistic, nor deep, nor moving.

Thankfully, "I Married My Best Friend" is closer to being an actual LGBT manga than a yuri manga, maybe a bit like an LGBT josei comedy (if I had to really label it). Yes it is about two women, but they are adults (about time), one of whom is openly gay, and they actually talk about discrimination (briefly at least), how people will take it if Morimoto comes out, etc...it actually touches (albeit minimally) on the complexities of gay life that are essentially absent from most yuri (I'm looking at you "Kiss & White Lily For My Dearest Girl" - not that that's necessarily bad).

Getting down to brass tacks, Morimoto, the one who reluctantly agrees to the marriage charade to get her parents off her back, is given several flashbacks to high-school and college where her ambivalence about the boys and men she is dating helps situate the possibility that she hasn't realized her sexual orientation with just enough believability to make the conclusion feel okay. (Wow, that was a long sentence)

Hana, her friend, came out in high-school, has dated other women (one of whom we meet), and has long-standing ulterior motives for suggesting the fake marriage (ie, she's always crushed on Morimoto). While not the most in-depth back stories, given that the main story is only three chapters long and thus must move briskly from setup to the inevitable conclusion, this is enough history to make the premise and resolution plausible(ish).

In these three brisk chapters, we see the evolution of Morimoto's feelings for Hana, we also get some interactions with Morimoto's angry parents, and a pretty sweet blossoming of Morimoto both at work, standing up to her parents and defending Hana, and with Hana herself. There is actual character growth! Who knew?

Further helping this story is that there is no sex, nothing dirty, and while there is visual service in the form of big chests and cleavage shots, there really isn't any from a narrative standpoint. This is basically a sweet story about two women falling in love and one coming to terms with her long-simmering but un-realized sexual orientation. It's not delicate writing, it's also pretty predictable, but it was still enjoyable in a simplistic way, and it was actually kind of sweet. It thankfully treats a lesbian couple with dignity and not as service for male voyeurs.

The art is pretty simple in a modern manga style. The backgrounds are barely there at all, there isn't a lot of complex screen tone usage either. It definitely has the overall visual style of a comedy manga, which it more or less is (call it a rom-com). The art is competent enough and works perfectly fine for the simple story. In addition to the main three chapters, there is an unrelated side story that is pretty middling and a couple 4-koma pages at the end.

To be honest, I almost expected the worst, especially given some of the other one-shot's that I've read recently and hated. But, while this wasn't profoundly deep reading, it was pleasant, sweet, and had some legitimate LGBT representation rather than being the pure angelic fantasies of so much yuri manga or service for the male crowd. While I wasn't overwhelmed, I did like it. It gets a solid 6/10 (it would be higher if the art was more detailed and emotional and had less breasts).

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