Three teenage girls from the Japanese countryside excitedly begin their high school lives in what (to them) is the big city. On their first day, they meet a girl who had recently moved there from Tokyo, which seems like another world from where they are, and the four of them quickly become friends. Our Wonderful Days Volume 1, a slice of life manga with yuri (girls’ love) undertones that’s quietly funny, subtly original, and features some of the best art you’ll see in the genre.
Characters of Our Wonderful Days
Koharu Nicknamed Haru is the shortest and most child-like of the girls. She’s also the most outgoing and cheerful.
Mafuyu Soon to be known as Fuyu-chan, is Koharu’s polar opposite. She’s quiet, reserved, and hardly ever smiles. However, as the girl from Tokyo, she’s kind of a minor celebrity within the group.
Nanaya Nana for short, is the energetic loudmouth of the group. She’s excited by the prospect of growing up and is fascinated by aspects of big-city life that Mafuyu takes for granted.
Minori AKA Mi-Chan is the most mature one of the group. Calm and level-headed, she is the yin to Nanaya’s yang.
More than a slice of life?
Haru, Nana and Mi-chan meet at the beginning of the school year. They’re in the same class and are excited to finally be out of the sticks and in something resembling a city. On the way to get their textbooks, Haru gets separated from the others by the mass of students trying to do the same thing. Taking a break by a vending machine, she runs into Fuyu-chan, and finds that they have an unexpected connection.
Nana and Mi-chan soon find the two, and the four of them decide to go cherry blossom viewing after school. Nana is blown away by Fuyu’s stories of the big city, much to Fuyu’s bemusement. Ultimately, the trip ends with a beautiful view of the cherry blossoms.
The girls continue to do things together, like hanging out at one of the girl’s houses after school, check out after-school clubs, and fulfil one of Nana’s long-standing goals.
So far, it sounds like a typical slice of life. So what makes this book different? The most significant difference lies with Mafuyu. Mafuyu is the absolute opposite of the “perfect girl” yuri trope. Her real personality begins to show through halfway through the book, and it was at this point that this book, which was already pretty good, got a lot more interesting.
There is also enough romantic undercurrents to promise interesting goings-on as the series goes forward, beyond just the everyday humour of the typical slice-of-life manga.
Our Wonderful Days spoilers
Yuri stories like this all tend to have the same type of central character: a tall, beautiful girl with long dark hair who is practically perfect. She gets top grades in everything, excels in after-school activities, is appointed to student leadership, and is admired by everyone. This perfection makes her all but unapproachable. This trope is so common that the yuri vampire comedy Killing Me! (also reviewed on this site) parodies it in its first few pages. At first, it seems like Mafuyu fits this description to a T. But then, the manga pulls the rug out from these expectations.
As it turns out, Mafuyu is a mediocre student, someone who barely gets passing grades. She’s the worst student of the group, by far, and light-years behind Koharu (who is the smartest). And after-school activities? Don’t even bother mentioning them. Mafuyu has zero interest in any kind of extracurricular activities. What about unapproachable? Maybe, unless she’s talking to Koharu. She turns into absolute putty in Koharu’s hands.
It’s not just about Mafuyu, though. Much of the story revolves around Nana and Mi-chan. Both live together by themselves in an apartment some ways from school. And there’s an exciting subplot concerning Nana and her intense admiration of (some would say crush on) Kusakabe sensei, the female assistant coach of the basketball club.
The art of Our Wonderful Days
The art, just like the story, sneaks up on you and winds up being far more impressive than you might think at first glance. There’s a high level of attention to detail in both the backgrounds and the characters. Even this simple shot of the girls going into an apartment building is bristling with detail and perspective — the shingles on the nearby rooftops to the gradually out-of-focus buildings and mountains in the back.
Here is one of my favourite series of panels, which occur just a few pages later. The girls are just sitting around drinking tea, but the care put into these images is incredible. The wrinkles in the girls’ shirts, the details and positions of individual fingers on their hands, the pile of sweets on the plate, the computer chair in the background – none of this stuff was necessary for the scene. Still, these details help to make these scenes, both absorbing and convincing.