Miwa and Saeko are committed to being open with each other in their relationship but, relationships are hard and this is the first truly serious one either of them has been in! It’s difficult to navigate feelings of jealously and openness and that’s without the added detail of navigating being hit on by fellow (male) classmates who they aren’t out to.
They do have a good group of friends, loving family, and great sex, but should their club band really be this stressful?
While How Do We Relationship? isn’t an episodic story — it’s a drama told in chronological order — it’s the little moments of the series that I find myself enjoying the most. There are plenty of good, short gags that got me giggling on a regular basis, like the stress of driving to the music festival (it’s a real struggle not to take screenshots of every single moment that makes me laugh!). There were also a number of more serious character moments which I also really enjoyed, like one of the members in their band privately asking the other members if he’s “doing a good job” about being cool with their relationship since he knows he hasn’t been the most supportive of his gay friends in the past. I really do enjoy a lot of the cast, especially Saeko and Miwa navigating how they want to relationship, and it makes me wish that this series came out more frequently than it currently does in the US.
That being said, there are a few details in this second volume that bugged me, all relating to queer issues; as a non-lesbian, I can’t really judge the details of Saeko and Miwa’s relationship, but I do feel perfectly qualified to say when other, general queer details come off strangely to me. As I’ve similarly said in some other reviews about series with adult queer characters, it feels strange to me that Miwa and Saeko exist in a seemingly all-straight universe without another lesbian, bisexual etc. person in sight. I had queer classmates literally from day one of college and by the time I was “out” a few years later a good chunk of my friend group was also LGTBQ+.
This set-up was completely by accident but you can see how I find it puzzling that Miwa and Saeko, aka two young women who enter college already knowing they like other women, have far fewer queer friends than my seemingly straight self did at the time! I’m not sure this can be chalked up entirely to cultural differences, even if my college of ten years ago had a “hippie/stoner/laid-back” reputation to it which can encourage a freedom of expression that might not be present in their Japanese university, but I hope it does change in future volumes especially given just how big a role Miwa and Saeko’s friends/bandmates currently play in their lives.
There are a few hints that some of the side characters might be queer as well but so far those moments are vague enough that it’s hard to tell if it’s intentional foreshadowing or if I’m seeing something that isn’t there. One of their friends has a scene where she defends how she has fun doing things on her own, not feeling lonely in the slightest, and a follow-up scene where she tries to puzzle out why people fall in love. It could just be a part of a larger reflection on relationships but to me it felt like a slightly ham-fisted scene of someone beginning to work out their own aceness/aromanticism, someone beginning to articulate the idea “A Romantic Partner Won’t Complete Me, Because I Was Born Complete” (ignoring for a moment that ace and aro aren’t the same thing, I did say it was a bit ham-fisted!).
There’s also the virally homophobic Kan, another member of the larger band club, who seems to be struggling with some internal issues about not being “normal” (as described by his own mother to a doctor) and, while he’s clearly not well-adjusted and has issues with nearly everybody in the series, he is particularly offended by Saeko and Miwa’s relationship. I’ve seen some other folks speculate that this might be the “homophobia masking a closeted person” trope which is such a tired trope and I hope that’s not the case, but I think there’s merit to that theory (it crossed my mind as well). I’m sure that sometimes closeted people are homophobic to start with but, while I’ve never been friends with a person like that, I have been friends with many people who identified as an ally before articulating that they were also queer and that’s a plot line I would much rather see in stories.
It’s little details like that which lead me to wonder if Tamifull is queer or not; I certainly don’t want to say that you have to be some flavor of queer to write any kind of queer character but I can’t help but wonder if Saeko and Miwa’s college experience is so different from my own because of real-world cultural differences or if it’s because of the creator’s lack of experience. It’s simply so baffling to me that they have no other queer friends, which is often a fundamental part of the queer experience that I keep thinking about it. It’s an odd position that the American publishing industry at large is also struggling with, several writers working on “#ownvoices” stories lately have had to come out as a result to prove their “authenticity” and that’s not the position I want anyone to be in on either side of the Pacific!
I do get the sense that the storyline with Kan at least will come to a head in the third volume and that should give me a better sense of where the story is going from there; I suspect that Kan is being set-up as a chance for Miwa to better learn how to assert herself and to respond to nasty comments on the fly but, you know, I’d still like this plot line to end with the idea that sometimes a homophobe is just a homophobe.