All Miyo Saimori has ever known is fear, pain, and hopelessness, due to being raised by a cruel stepmother and half-sister, who saw her as less than worthless, and a father who seemed to always turn a blind eye to it all. So, when she was shipped off to be become the bride of the cold, ruthless Kiyoka Kudo, it was meant to be a death sentence. But instead, Miyo finds a place she can finally call home; Kudo isn’t like the rumours about him at all, instead he has shown her kindness, and given a home where she can feel safe. But Miyo’s family are not done with her yet; when word spreads that she’s not on the streets, but happy instead in her new home, half-sister Kaya decides she wants to take away what Miyo has only just started to enjoy.
Volume 2 of the manga adaptation of My Happy Marriage continues right where Volume 1 left off, not only continuing the love story of Miyo and Kudo, but expanding the world they’re in. The book manages to follow up on the soft teasers about the paranormal world that we barely grasped in Volume 1, whilst also giving focus to characters outside of the main cast, heightening the drama with every passing page. It’s a very compact book and manages to pack a lot into its 175 pages, but every passing chapter gets you really invested in what’s happening. There are three main developments in this book: the romance, the politics and family drama, and the soft look at the supernatural side of the story.
Let’s start with the romance first. Miyo took baby steps in the first book into accepting that she can have a home that she’s safe in, not one that’s filled with abuse and hardships, and that she is worthy of love. But like all journeys of self-love and healing, there are always backward slides, and Miyo suffers a big one when she sees her sister for the first time since living with Lord Kudo. Through the artwork and darkening of the text, we really feel Miyo’s pain and how the abuse has really been drilled into her very soul, making her believe that the treatment she received before is all she’s worthy of. We all know that she’s not, that happiness is within her grasp, but as anyone who’s struggled with depression or lack of self-worth can agree, knowing and feeling it are very different things, often worlds apart. Even later in the book, when she starts to crawl out of the dark pit again, there’s always an understandable doubt troubling her emotions. Like the first book, Kudo continues to be high-grade husband material: incredibly patient and kind when it comes to Miyo’s fragile state. He even uses his high power and status to help her, including telling her family where to go in no uncertain terms. It’s a great power move that normally comes much later in these stories, so the fact that Kudo isn’t afraid to play that card now, shows how serious he is about this relationship. In the coming volumes however, it’ll be great if we can get to see Kudo’s more vulnerable side as well; there’s been a lot of talk of Kudo being a shoulder for Miyo to cry on, and in this stage of the relationship it’s the right call, but once Miyo starts to feel more like his equal, it’ll be wonderful to get a better balance of Kudo leaning more on Miyo for emotional support too.
Next we have the expansion of the cast, as well as a deeper look into the political and personal dramas that come with supernatural families all trying to marry upwards in life. I won’t go into all the minor details, although it’s nice to get a fuller picture of what the family dynamics are, but I will focus on two characters. One is Koji, the childhood friend of Miyo who was the one small sliver of hope she had growing up. Now he’s her sister’s fiancé and from his point of view we get to learn not only what his father is plotting, but also Koji’s own dark side. In the book, he calls himself a ‘nice guy’, which will a be a red flag to anyone who knows what that really means. The book deconstructs his character as his unwillingness to push back against the abuse Miyo’s received, or offer any comfort outside of hollow words which have done nothing but make Miyo miserable and land him in the situation he’s in now. You almost feel sorry for him, but the story reveals a much more sinister side to his ‘nice guy’ actions, because like everyone else (despite him not thinking so) he sees Miyo as a possession, something for him to fix and eventually own one way or another. It’ll be interesting if the story attempts a love triangle, and how it’ll deconstruct his character type further down the line.
Then we have Kaya, the evil half-sister who played a large role in making Miyo’s life miserable and doesn’t seem to want to let her even have a sliver of happiness, even though they don’t live in the same house any more. There’s a fascinating chapter where it’s revealed briefly that Kaya, like Miyo, also received abuse from her parents but in a different way. She was made to think that she should never make a mistake and must always be better than ‘that thing’ (dehumanising language used toward Miyo). So, Kaya’s state of mind is explained; her mother has drilled this concept of perfection and bullying thinking so far into Kaya, that she cannot live outside of what Miyo is and isn’t, EVERYTHING must be better than Miyo, and therefore Kaya has no identity of her own. She kicks off some incredibility cruel plans in the latter half of the book, and it’ll be really interesting to see what becomes of her as Miyo drifts further from her. Will Kaya learn to break away from the toxic thinking she’s been doing her whole life? Or will she, ironically, live in her sister’s shadow forever?
Lastly, we have the paranormal side the story starting to bloom in this book;. In the review for the first volume, I noted that the ‘grotesqueries’ were brought up but never given any context. Well, in this book we finally get some, and I’ll admit, I was quite disappointed. We get a throwaway chapter from a side character’s perspective that explains what they are, but also mentions that they hardly exist anymore because no one believes in them and therefore their power has drained over time. It felt like a cop-out to me: teasing an interesting new word associated with a threat that apparently need powerful magic to deal with…and then it turns out they’re not really a threat anymore. I’m hoping we’ll get a ‘resurgence’ of them, and this is just a false lead. But I am glad we finally get to see some magic; it starts small with an amulet for protection, but we get a cool spell in the few last pages, ending the book on a cliff-hanger and hopefully this will continue into the next book with more magic being shown, especially since one of the leads is meant to be one of the most powerful in the land.
Like the first volume, the second also contains a short story from the original author of the light novel, this time a story from the point of view of Kudo’s right-hand man. Yoshito Godo, set during a character-driven scene where Miyo and Kudo have him round for dinner, midway through the manga. The new mini-story is a nice addition, but the more serious inner monologue doesn’t suit the character we see in the manga; perhaps that was the intention but to me it didn’t feel like I was reading the same scene from a new point of view, but someone else’s interpretation of it.
My Happy Marriage continues to be a really good romance series; the world-building is getting there but it’s the gentle romance of the leads and the peeling of layers of the growing cast of characters that make it an absorbing read. Let’s hope this continue in Volume 3!