Miyo Saimori is finally free of her abusive family; her half-sister is in service to a family far away, and her father and stepmother live out in the countryside due to being disgraced. Now officially engaged to Kiyoka Kudo, the head of a powerful family, Miyo decides she wants to better herself and take lessons on how to be a proper lady, to feel fit to be Lord Kudo’s fiancée. As the lessons progress however, her nightly nightmares get worse and her health starts to decline, just as Kudo’s workload increases due to an escalation of the grotesqueries’ activity. At the centre of it all, a mysterious man named Arata comes into their lives, who seems to have a hidden agenda and a special interest in Miyo.
If you’ve been watching the Netflix adaptation of My Happy Marriage, currently in syndication at the time of writing this review, then maybe you’ll want to know where Volume 4 lies within the first season. This volume (covering Chapters 21 to 26 of the manga) takes place from the second half of Episode 8 up till the first few minutes of Episode 10 of the anime. However, the manga and the anime are not identical; whilst the broad strokes of the story are there, they both focus on different parts of the material to accommodate their medium. For example: from the very start, the anime version does a great job of fleshing out the world building from the power levels of the magic users to making the grotesqueries look and feel like a legitimate threat. The same goes for this part of the story; in the anime we get a deeper look at what happened at the grave that released a bunch of grotesqueries into the world, and the impact it has not only on the safety of the city but also how important Kudo’s role is. In the manga however, all of this is merely a backdrop; we see Kudo working hard, and are told he’s coming home later every night, but we never see what the grotesqueries look like or how much harm they’re causing. This is on par for the course of what we’ve seen of the manga so far, the magic and grotesqueries have always felt like second fiddle to the romance and so it may seem underwhelming here if you’ve seen the anime first. However, on the flip side, the manga does a much better job at developing the complex feelings of both Miyo and Kudo, and continues to shine in how Miyo’s abusive past still shapes and haunts her actions. Whilst we do see some of this in the anime adaptation, the manga goes much deeper and a lot of the emotional gut punches, that are character and emotionally driven, hit harder in the manga version as a result.
Let’s start with Kudo this time. His role in this book has been hands off regarding Miyo, but it doesn’t come off as cold or abusive. His unit oversees protecting the world from grotesqueries so their sudden escape has put him under a lot of pressure to get them under control, especially as his audience with the prince in the last volume warned him that many lives will be lost if he makes a mistake. He’s also a good manager, trying to make sure his staff get staggered shifts and rest in-between, whilst sacrificing his own time to rest. But then there’s Miyo. He’s been trying to ease her nightmares but as his shifts get worse, he’s no longer able to be by her side, yet continues to discreetly investigate her family and try to find out more about her gifts, thinking it’s the cause of her nightmares. When the mysterious Arata Tsuruki comes into his office, first on the pretence of helping him with grotesqueries but then criticises his ignorance of Miyo’s health, Kudo is distraught and realises he’s been going about this the wrong way. When it all comes to a head between him and Miyo, he realises that despite Miyo’s family now being far away, the effects of the abuse still linger, and he can’t just assume she will tell him if she’s not all right. It’s a personal growth for the character that’s been great to see in Kudo; Miyo’s putting in everything she can to be a good fiancée, but now Kudo needs do the same to learn how to be a good fiancé to her.
Then there’s Miyo. She’s now away from her abusive home and has found her place by Kudo’s side, but being in a happy environment doesn’t automatically cure a childhood of trauma. It might help the traumatised person learn to relax over time, but Miyo has learnt through years of abuse to hide her emotions and ‘not to bother’ those around her. So understandably, when she sees Kudo getting increasingly long working hours and showing sign of tiredness, Miyo reacts as she always has; stay out of the way and don’t share anything that could (in her mind) impose on him. It’s heart-breaking to watch her suffer alone, and see nightmare visions of her family, reiterating what she’s been told her whole life and making her think that Kudo will eventually turn on her too. When the pair clash towards the end, and when he slips out her worse fears, your heart breaks for her and you can feel her world shatter around her. This is the point where the pair reach their lowest moment and must grow and heal together to make their marriage work. Will finding out more about her past really help? We’ll see in the next volume.
We also get a small side story at the end, courtesy of the light novel author, this time from the point of view of Kudo’s sister. Here she recalls the moment when Kudo asked her to tutor Miyo and reflects on their childhood a bit. It’s a nice moment for the character, and to also see Miyo from a fresh pair of eyes.
A lot happens within this volume, but it’s paced very well as the pair, despite having overcome a large hurdle already, now realise there’s a lot more they need to learn to get to the ‘happy’ part of My Happy Marriage. It’s an emotionally gripping volume, and I’m glad the series is providing more for the reader outside the ‘Cinderella’ story it started off with.
Our review copy from Square Enix Manga was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).