Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Our Wonderful Days volume 2 - who's it for really? (Manga Review)

two teen girls shopping for fruit at an outdoor market
Our Wonderful Days vol. 2 - 5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Our Wonderful Days volume 2 (Seven Seas) really left me wondering who the target audience is. Is it for girls and women who want to explore the intimate friendships and relationships that are possible between women or is it for boys and men who like to think about cute girls getting together?

In many ways, the closest analog I can find for it is the anime Minami-ke (I haven't read the manga, so I can only speak to the show). The Minami-ke manga is a seinen manga, and the show features a trio of sisters and their female friends, with only the occasional male character. It's one of those shows about cute girls doing cute things cutely. There's no real plot to it, sort of a slice of life, but with an underlying titillating tension of knowing that you are objectifying and sexualizing the girls.

That doesn't necessarily make Minami-ke wrong or bad. I actually really enjoyed it. But as a lesbian, I was fully aware of my own underlying sexual tension as I watched it. I own that, whether I like to admit it or not. The show was cute, and funny, and kind, and the characters were great. But there was definitely that less than wholesome subtext that had us looking at the girls from a sexual lens, even when they weren't doing anything at all (and pretty much the entire four seasons was them not doing anything at all).

So that brings me back to Our Wonderful Days. The first volume set up two sets of female friends and seemed to make clear that the point of the series was watching each set of friends grow closer and grow towards (and maybe into) a relationship together. The second volume is light on the burgeoning relationship aspect and heavier on the slice of life portions, at least until the final chapters.

But it is very heavy on the objectifying through very fan-servicy art as well as lots of unnecessary hugging and cuddling which I can see serving no point other than to have the girls in their tight tank-tops nuzzling each other. Having been a teen myself once, and currently having a 16 year old daughter, I am really certain there is not that much snuggling between teen girls outside of male-gaze fantasy (or maybe lesbian-gaze fantasy - which is at least a little bit better, I think).

Doing some checking, it appears that Our Wonderful Days is serialized in Comic Yuri Hime, so ostensibly its targeted at a female audience. So that begs the question then, is all the big boob, tight shirt, wet shirt (yup), snuggling, and other fan-service meant to appeal to female readers? Is it meant to appeal to lesbian and queer female readers? I'll be honest, as a lesbian reader, while I can admit that I find some of the images a turn on (and I'm not proud to admit that), mostly I find that it distracts from what I care about which is honest emotional depictions of the complex lives of women and relationships between women. Much like I think Sakura Trick (I've only seen the anime) would be better without any of the fan-service and jiggling boobs, I think Our Wonderful Days would be better without the sexualized art.

So about the story. In volume 2, we start off with a dinner party at Minori's older cousin's house. The four girls are there, plus Minori's cousin and two of the cousin's friends who just happen to be two teachers at the girls' school. One of the teachers is the PE teacher that Nanaya (I think it's her, I was too lazy to check volume 1) has a crush on. But Nanaya's feelings for the teacher are never actually brought up in this volume even though it comes up several times in volume 1. Nothing happens, it's just the seven girls/women hanging out and being cute and chaotic.

Next we get a sequence of stories about how hot it is. In one, despite being so hot, there is a lot of unnecessary nuzzling and snuggling which sets up an awkward practice hug between Mafuyu and Koharu. However, this does lead later to a real hug between the two that goes over much better and is our first glimpse in this volume of some actual relationship development.

There's also a trip to the beach, in their uniforms for some reason. The sole point of this seems to be to see the girls getting their white tops wet and therefore clinging to their curves.

There's also a sleepover with Koharu at Mafuyu's house and we get some honest-to-goodness hints that this is actually a yuri series rather than a voyeuristic male fantasy series. The interactions between the two moved them forward slightly, and Mafuyu's inner dialogue really does suggest she's attracted to Koharu. It wasn't much, but it was something. What's interesting is just how much more explicit the yuri undertones were in the first volume, and how much less the two not-quite-yet relationships were explored in this one. This volume was much heavier on the four girls hanging out together, rather than the developments of the two pairs.

There's also some detail about Minori's background, losing her mother at a young age, and how Nanaya befriended her. It's sweet, with a funny and sweet visual punchline at the end of the flashback chapter. Hopefully this history will inform how their relationships progresses (please god, let it actually progress, rather than this being just another pseudo-yuri, queer-baiting, ship-fest of a series).

But for me, of all the different stories in this volume, it was the one that featured the two teachers and Minori's cousin alone together that had some real poignancy.  Minori's cousin calls the PE teacher over because the other teacher has come over drunk. So while the three continue to drink together and hang out, the first one actually passes out completely. This leaves some time for the cousin and the PE teacher to just sit in the dark heat outside, smoking, barely talking. There's some real atmosphere to this moment and some hopeful hints that this series might also give us an adult lesbian couple. THAT would be amazing!

I already talked about the art being heavy on fan-service, tight shirts, big boobs, wet shirts, hugging and snuggling, etc... It clearly sexualizes the teens. Right from the first page, we're given very erotic depictions of the girls. On that first page, we see Mafuyu in a white t-shirt, sitting, from behind, as she slightly turns her torso, pulling the white t-shirt tight against her breasts, while a bead of sweat glistens on her face and the arc of her lower back is showing exposed skin. It is a very sultry image, and it is of a TEEN GIRL. Come on, we can do better. If that was an adult woman depicted that way in a comic for adult women who are attracted to women, then fine, whatever. The female form is beautiful and can be depicted both sexually and respectfully. But there is no need to have this sort of sexualization in what is otherwise a very low-key, slice of life style yuri about young teens. These depictions add nothing to the story what-so-ever. It's pure titillation.

Also, where volume 1 established a pretty interesting personality in Mafuyu, she really loses most of her personality in this volume. In volume 1 she had some snarky, sort of ass-holey lines. In fact, all four girls are somewhat moved towards the bland middle rather than the four unique personalities on display in volume 1. That's a shame.

I do want to mention, that while the art is definitely filled with fan-service in its physical depiction of the girls, it also has some real strong elements. The one that kept sticking out to me in this volume was the use of cross-hatching instead of screen tones for shading and depth. I really like that quality of draftsmanship (draftwomanship, draftpersonship, drafting?). While I'm a huge fan of sparkly screentones in shoujo and yuri, I also really appreciate when the artist shows high-quality line usage. Much like the texture that the line work ads to Emanon's images, the line-work and cross-hatching really set this art above the norm, even though other aspects are very genre-typical.

So in summary, there was mostly just cute girls doing cute random things cutely. That can be okay (think K-On! or A Place Further than the Universe). But it can also be a bit skeevy (think Minami-ke or worse). There is so much fan-service and sexualization in the art, as well as unnecessary snuggling just to have girls pressed against each other, it really hurts this volume. There are a few moments where we see that there might be grounds for actual relationships between Mafuyu and Koharu, but we're largely left without much intimate interactions between Nanaya and Minori (their flashback story not withstanding). We do get some interesting time with the adult women that suggests there could be some richness to their storylines in the future. 

But it's hard to know where this volume fits and who it's for. It certainly isn't as strong as the first volume, but it isn't without its merits. It does however have so much unnecessary sexualization as to detract from its good points. Our Wonderful Days volume 2 gets a mixed 5/10 for an overall bland, fine, but nothing happens yuri with almost no actual developments in the relationships. I'm sure I'll read the next volume, so hopefully we'll get some relationship movement moving forward.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 5 - meh, some parts yes, some parts no, all of it just random hanging out.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 5 - not so much in this volume which is sad, because there was promise in the first volume with Mafuyu's personality especially. I am though intrigued by the adults. We'll see.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 5 - it's pretty average, nothing special.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - the adults help, Mafuyu and Koharu's last chapter helps, but some of the rest of it doesn't quite work.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 1 - there are some moments between Mafuyu and Koharu as well as with the adults that rise above.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - not yet, here's hoping.
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - not the point of the series, and frankly all the sexualization of the depiction of the girls hurts this.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - nope, less than even in volume 1.
  • Quality art (0-5): 2 - while much of it is a bit cutesy for me, there really is some excellent draftsmanship in spots. The cross hatching really stands out as a cool enhancement within this genre.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 1 - it could be much much worse, but there is a lot. However, while there is a lot, the actual drawings at least have a realistic proportion to the anatomy, even if they are teens in wet shirts.
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2):  -.5



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