REVIEW: My Happy Marriage Soars and Delights

Season aired: Summer 2023

Number of episodes: 12

Watched on: Netflix

Translated by: Ikuko Ohno

Genres: Drama, Romance, Supernatural

Thoughts: Shoujo and josei source material fans have been living in a drought in the anime world for the last decade. Once popularly adapted in the past, it is now rare to see any anime adaptations from those publications, and for years, people have asked. Since the success of the Fruits Basket remake, the number of adaptations has started to slowly climb up again, but none replicated the success of that remake until now. My Happy Marriage dominated not only Anime Trending’s charts, but also the rankings on Netflix and in Japan. However, unlike Fruits Basket, My Happy Marriage has key differences that you might think would hurt its odds: it’s not based on a beloved classic source material, the characters are older, it takes place in historical Japan, and politics play a huge role in the story which  affects the romance. Why did it still work?

It is because My Happy Marriage is undoubtedly a unique twist on the popular and timeless Cinderella tale. Miyo is the abused daughter of the Saimori family. Her parents married due to political reasons, and her purpose as their daughter is to be a powerful mage with the supernatural abilities that come from both sides of the family — specifically her mother’s mysterious Usuba lineage. Unfortunately, Miyo shows no signs of supernatural powers, and when her mother died young, her father quickly remarried, and his new wife gave birth to a child with supernatural powers. Since then, Miyo’s father, stepmother, and half-sister marred Miyo with physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Thinking there would never be happiness in her life, Miyo is surprised to see her life take a turn when she’s arranged to marry Kiyoka Kudo — a man infamous for his cold and harsh demeanor but is actually different than the rumors suggest.

Excellent portrayal of abuse victims

The anime nails two aspects: Miyo’s characterization and the romance. Despite the advantage that comes with retelling such a classic, beloved fairytale, Cinderella’s character has been contentious throughout the years. As culture and opinions towards women have changed, many who liked the overall story now criticize Cinderella for being weak and boring for never trying to fight her situation. Many modern retellings tend to completely rewrite Cinderella’s personality, but in Miyo’s case, her personality is far more reminiscent of the original Cinderella than modern takes: she’s kind, soft-spoken, quiet, and for a large chunk of the story, subservient.

However, what My Happy Marriage gets right is not forgetting a key element of Cinderella’s character from the original tale — her “subservient” nature is not innate but comes out of survival in an abusive family. This important piece of Miyo’s personality is inherent not just in the first half of the series, where her family is the antagonist, but in the latter half as well, when her family is out of the picture. Her experience of abuse deeply affected who she is as a person, and the anime illustrates it wonderfully through the visual storytelling of her facial expressions, the rips on her clothes, and a dedicated scene of her confronting her scarred, withdrawn past self.

Successful characterization is also why the romance works so well. Kudo is different from the usual prince charming. Due to his own upbringing and his personality, he can be harsh, blunt, and accidentally insensitive. The two get into conflicts and even argue in the series, which leaves Miyo in tears. However, these conflicts are what make their romantic journey feel so rewarding. It isn’t a perfect man who pulls Miyo out of her bad family situation, but one with his own flaws. Despite his own shortcomings, Kudo constantly works on himself and their relationship out of nothing but true love towards her. It’s the love coming from an imperfect man that ultimately shows Miyo the truth that was taken from her. Perfection wasn’t what she lacked. It was her own family, filled with imperfect people who were capable of love, but who decided to never afford her any.

Incredible romance

While Miyo’s journey to self-actualization is the underlying theme of the first season, the series is divided into two major conflicts. Of the two, the one at the beginning of Miyo and Kudo’s relationship is the stronger one, which is disappointing because the second half is more interesting. Only families of nobility have supernatural powers, and with the royal family paranoid that any of these noble families could one day overtake them in sheer firepower, it creates conflict when considering the potential threat behind two exceptionally powerful supernatural individuals forming a union. However, when looking at both arcs, the first fares better because of its pacing.

Towards the middle of the second arc, the conflict between Miyo and Kudo drags a little too long, and the new antagonist gives in to Miyo too quickly. If they had cut down on some of the elements of Miyo working herself to the bone in trying to be “good enough” for Kudo and focused more on the resolution of the antagonist, I would’ve liked both arcs equally.

The finale, regardless of my critiques of the second arc, was perfect. While My Happy Marriage’s animation isn’t groundbreaking, the series always manages to pull out the best when it matters most. In the concluding episodes of both arcs, the audience is presented with exhilarating supernatural fights, incredible character acting, and gorgeous scenic transitions. The weight of the resolution feels much more impactful thanks to the animation, thus making it one of those anime with a good storyline and strong animation support.

A happy ending that’s continuing

On top of the production of the series, Reina Ueda’s performance of Miyo also impressed me. Reina Ueda’s voice is distinct in how it naturally sounds soft and light, perfectly fitting her character. Most times, when a turning point happens for a character, especially at the height of emotional turmoil or emotional catharsis, the voice acting changes in pitch, volume, and pacing. Reina Ueda, on the other hand, still manages to keep Miyo’s voice at the exact same volume and pace, but instead shifts the tone, keeping the kindness in her dialogue while successfully showcasing the emotions. The finale where Miyo faces her past self is my favorite portrayal of Reina Ueda’s skills, where the two argue with each other and overlap in dialogue, and Miyo’s change becomes obvious not just in visuals but by the sound of her voice.

Her voice acting is so good that I genuinely look forward to hearing how it will continue to subtly change with Miyo’s character in the second season. My Happy Marriage’s success in the first season easily brought about to the announcement of a second, and I am relieved to see this anime get the fanfare it deserves. There’s so much more to tell of the world and of the characters, and so much more growth and love for Miyo to find. After everything she’s gone through, it’s only fair that Miyo’s happy ending isn’t just relegated to a single line but instead shown in full for the life she has ahead.

Rating

Plot: 8 (Multiplier 3)

Characters: 8 (Multiplier 3)

Art/Animation: 7.5 (Multiplier 2)

Voice acting: 8

Soundtrack: 7

FINAL SCORE: 78

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