On Manaria Friends and the Pacing of Intimacy

Let’s cut to the chase: this season’s Manaria Friends is a weird show, with often confusing pacing and a structure that doesn’t make much sense from a traditional narrative perspective, even given its episodic nature. Simultaneously, it’s filled with an awful lot of fanservice, and while I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem per se, it is cause for concern for many viewers, and I get that. But the show is doing one thing incredibly effectively and I think that’s being undersold.

When you’re intimate with somebody for a sustained period of time—and by this I mean “emotionally close” not “sexually active”—a certain rhythm develops, a baseline mundanity(I sort of discussed that in this post). This is not exactly easy to portray in media; it’s the kind of thing most viewers would just call “boring” and move on. You can certainly get calmer, fluffier stories fairly easily, the world is full of works which portray mundane situations in the lives of its romantic pairs, but portraying the broader rhythm of the relationship is significantly harder.

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And this is where Manaria Friends’ approach impresses me. Say what you will about Anne and Grea’s canonicity but their relationship, more than any I’ve seen in the last year at least, feels the most like mine. And that’s not due to a commonality in the characters, or a similar dynamic overall. What’s important is the sense of comfort between them and the manner through which the show gets across what their day-to-day life looks like.

The first of these, comfort, is far easier to explain, so I’ll begin with that. While Anne and Grea still feel plenty of embarrassment when things get a tad racy, there’s a level of openness there that feels very tangible. When Anne stares in awe at Grea’s figure, that’s a level of closeness that the average relationship doesn’t allow for, and while Grea may quip back at her for it, there’s an allowance of it that wouldn’t exist if they were just friends, or even if they hadn’t spent so much time together. Grea may be unwilling to let Anne sleep with her but within their every action there’s the kernel of an even more intimate relationship. That is to say, the pair are less intimate than many other anime couples and yet their relationship is so comfortably healthy that it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t become one of the most intimate in anime if we were ever to be shown its continuation.

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So, how does the show manage to successfully capture the pacing of an intimate relationship? It doesn’t simply show every day of their lives, hoping the sheer amount of content will overwhelm the viewer into understanding how they behave around one another. That might work, but it would be boring, and if they tried to make their days more fascinating in order to maintain interest, it would ruin the whole point, destroying any sense that this is what their every day lives in the relationship are like.

Instead, it shows a series of short stories, each a snapshot of their life together. Some of these are remarkably mundane, some more emotional, and others are major events in the world, with a lean towards smaller narratives. In an actual long-term relationship(or at least mine, I can’t speak for others) there may be days on which big events occur, such as a mock battle for the school, but there are also little trips to the beach and simple time spent together after classes. Focusing too much on mundanity is a problem in itself; every relationship has to have some times where major events are going on!

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But in this, it always manages to bring things back to the key point: the relationship between the two. The episode focused on the school play doesn’t highlight the play as its focus, because the nervous interactions between the pair are far more important, both to the viewers and, more importantly, to the memories of those involved. The book motif only seals this interpretation: we are, in many ways, seeing a memoir of sorts written by either Anne or Grea, portraying the moments they remember. When I think back to times I’ve spent with Lachlan, there are plenty of major events, yes, but there are also simpler times. A relationship is built on this duality and to ignore it is to fail at accurately portraying this romance. Of course, this isn’t going to suit every viewer’s fancy but it certainly makes me happy every week.

To relate this to the romance genre more broadly, I’d say this duality is often missed. Many shows, as I have said, are slow and mundane, many are full of drama and major events, but few quite manage to nail this. Even ones I love, like Kase-san, Bloom into You, or Spice and Wolf always focus on Things that are Happening and while I certainly enjoy Things Happening, they don’t always need to Happen. Perhaps this is part of why I also enjoy Nettaigyo, but I think Manaria Friends might straddle the line even better than that series. What this says in an even more general sense, I dunno, but it’s why I enjoy the show so much, and I wanted people to be aware of that fact.

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