It isn’t often that a story can be just as good in all of its various adaptations, but Akumi Agitogi‘s My Happy Marriage is that rare case. The original light novels, anime, and manga all bring something a little different to the table, and all three of these forms allow us to pick up on different elements of the story and the characters. These three manga volumes cover Miyo’s ups and downs as she’s beginning to feel comfortable in her new life before circumstances (and people) conspire to bring her down again, and series artist Rito Kohsaka does a particularly good job with body language and physical appearance to mirror people’s emotional states. Even before Arata and Kiyoka remark upon Miyo’s weight loss and frailty, we can see it in the progression of images, something that’s especially clear if you read at least books three and four back-to-back. We can also clearly see shifts in Arata’s attitude – or at least in what he wants to project – in the changes in his posture, both seated and standing, with scenes where he moves from an informal (or at least less formal) position to one that shows his intent more clearly.
Since Arata’s motivations are a major factor in volume four, that’s a definite plus. He’s one of the more interesting players in the tale at this point, even if you already know his true role from either anime or light novels. Although Kohksaka leaves out his glasses, they aren’t needed to emphasize his ambiguous plans because of the way his body language and facial expressions are shown as a whole, and the art does a very nice job of showing how Kiyoka finds him uncomfortable without really understanding why. There’s something quietly alarming about Arata, like he’s very close to his boiling point, and seeing the other characters almost brush past the warning signs because they’re preoccupied with other concerns is both impressive and tense. Since we’re seeing this at the same time as Miyo’s clear decline and the rise in Kiyoka’s work issues, volume four stands out as especially good.
Fortunately, all three volumes are solid. Volumes two and three cover the kidnapping storyline, and anime viewers will notice a definite difference in the way Koji, Miyo’s erstwhile suitor and childhood friend, is portrayed. Koji comes off as simply too milquetoast for action in other versions of the story, but here there’s a very concerning edge to his actions – his initial plans to “save” Miyo and himself speak of his depression and desperation but also show that, like Miyo, he’s been beaten down by his family and made to feel as if he doesn’t matter. Since Lord Tatsuishi is a clear villain in this arc, that gives us a better idea of how Koji was treated growing up and how he may have been driven to nearly fatal choices as his father’s overweening ambitions took over life in the Tatsuishi household. Koji’s a sadder character than he at first appears, and while he obviously wouldn’t have been a good choice for Miyo (although they’d likely have rubbed along well enough), it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. He’s almost an Ashlad (male Cinderella) figure, but one without any saviors waiting on the horizon.
The idea of so-called fairy tale endings comes up in interesting ways in these books. Alongside Koji still being trapped in an engagement he doesn’t want, we also have Hazuki, Kiyoka’s older sister. Hazuki comes in when Miyo asks Kiyoka for permission to study how to be a proper lady. She, at first, seems like his total opposite, something he wholeheartedly agrees with. But it later comes out that Hazuki is a modern woman in more ways than one – she’s not only got bobbed hair and dresses in high Western fashion (something this does much more faithfully than the anime), but she’s also divorced. Although divorce was much more common by the 1920s in most of the world, Hazuki still clearly feels the stigma of it, especially since she wasn’t the instigating party. When she relates the story to Miyo, it’s plain that marriage wasn’t a good fit for her personality, despite her love for her husband, and that he realized that, implying that divorcing, not marrying, was the key to her happier life. But that’s too modern a take for Hazuki to be fully comfortable with, especially since it’s a refutation of what is working wonders for Miyo.
These books suggest everyone is allowed to be their own person with their own wants and needs. This is, in part, what Miyo was denied growing up; in her stepmother’s quest to make her feel less, Miyo learned that she didn’t deserve anything – not to be herself, and not even to eat or have basic necessities, let alone things specifically left to her by her mother. She’s trying to move past that mindset, but the nightmares we see her having speak to the lingering damage within her mind, and that’s not something that anyone is fully able to understand. Kiyoka is making an excellent effort to, although he’s stymied by her reticence, Arata is very much caught up in what he thinks she deserves. It’s better than what the Saimoris believed she deserved, but it still doesn’t take Miyo herself into account. Miyo, like Hazuki, won’t be happy until her truths are understood and catered to, and no one can know what they are until she’s able to recognize them herself. By the end of volume four, that still seems like it’s a long way off. Fortunately, the story is good enough that reading until she finally reaches that place doesn’t feel like a chore.