Thursday, January 23, 2020

If I Could Reach You volume 3 is emotionally detached (Manga Review)

An adult woman holds a sad teen girl in a uniform
If I Could Reach You volume 3 - 5/10

I've been really on the fence with "If I Could Reach You" as a series, mostly because it's about a high-school girl in love with her older sister-in-law and I don't dig child/adult relationships.

But volume 3 (Kodansha Comics) barely addresses that and is quite bland and emotionally distant compared to the prior volume. For all it's faults, volume 2 added an interesting relationship between two female side characters (high-school friends of Uta's) and really used that to explore our lead's, Uta's, feelings. Volume 3 does practically nothing so interesting (and leaves that couple mostly on the sideline).

Background: Uta is in high-school, no parents, living with her brother and his wife, Kaoru, who she's known her whole life. At some point, Uta realized her feelings for Kaoru were romantic, but obviously Kaoru is married (to her brother) and unavailable.

In volume 3, we pick up with Kaoru having had an accident and waking up in the hospital with a broken ankle. The accident happened as she watched her husband walking with another woman when he was supposed to be away. Although she didn't see anything specifically romantic between them, it was enough for her, and us, to believe that he might be cheating.

The first half of volume 3 centers on Kaoru's doubts about her husband's fidelity. We get almost no Uta, our lead, but Kaoru isn't that interesting a character given her "screen time". Additionally, these couple chapters are just all speculation in Kaoru's head, awkward moments with things unsaid with her husband, and no real solidity to what happened. That could be fine, things left unsaid can be a powerful narrative and prose device. However here, it just feels like the series is spinning its wheels since it is so heavily about people other than our lead, Uta.

We don't really know or care about Kaoru other than that she is Uta's love interest. Kaoru is sort of personality-less so far in the series. And she comes off pretty strangely in this volume (which we'll touch on here and a bit later as well). So the heavy focus on her experience here isn't engaging. It doesn't help that she ends up mostly blaming herself for her husband's probable infidelity. That anti-feminist/internalized misogynistic viewpoint undermines any emotional weight we might feel. As always, a person/character might feel those things, but if the author doesn't critique it, make it plain that they are opposed to those character's views, then it becomes problematic.

Unfortunately, we get no evidence that the author disagrees with Kaoru when she has thoughts such as: "Maybe, even now, he doesn't trust me like a member of his family. But it's my own doing...I know I can be a bit cowardly sometimes..." As if a) it absolves the man of guilt for cheating if the wife isn't perfect [which it obviously doesn't] and b) that it's her fault that he cheated [which it isn't because he makes his own decisions, no one forced him to cheat on his wife]. At no point does the author offer any counter point to this, such as having Uta refute it when Kaoru tells her. So we are left thinking that the author believes that it can be a woman's fault when her husband cheats. That is a terrible message to send.

The second half of the story is very strange. Feeling the need to get away and regroup, Kaoru invites Uta to a hot springs inn while her husband is out of town again. The entire time, Kaoru is in relatively creepy mode, being overly affectionate with Uta in ways we hadn't seen in the prior volumes. She even tickles her while they're naked in the bath, and makes uncomfortable comments to her such as: "You're so sweet, I already feel better just from looking at you" or commenting on Uta's birthmark on her butt.

It's a very strange change in Kaoru's personality. It's possible that this was brought on by her grief over her husband's presumed infidelity (we still don't really know, although he seems to suggest in his own internal monologue that it's happening). But it felt out of character for her. I wonder if the author wanted to move the Uta/Kaoru relationship forward in readers' minds but if so, this was a clunky attempt. To this point, we've had no suggestion that Kaoru would ever reciprocate Uta's feelings. But if her husband cheats and now Kaoru is flirting with Uta, then the reader is left to think that they will ultimately end up together.

There's also a section where Uta talks about not wanting to burden the person she has a crush on, knowing that that person is unavailable. And she's right. You don't tell someone who is already married that you have feelings for them. You don't get in the middle of a marriage. But then Kaoru gives her different advice, basically to think about how intense her feelings are, and if they are that strong then she should confess to the other person. Unburdening yourself knowing it will harm others isn't okay and this passage also suggests that there might be some sort of future relationship in store for the two of them.

And that is of course one of my big "no nos" in manga. I just don't care for child/adult relationships. I've read so many, especially recently, they seem to be everywhere. I guess I could believe that the younger person might have a crush on the older person. But if an older person has romantic feelings for a child, then a line has been crossed. If this series is going to be any good, it had better break Uta's heart and make clear that Kaoru would never be with her. I want yuri as much as the next girl, but not this way, not child/adult relationships.

We still don't really know what will happen, but there is an ominous foreshadowing at the end of the volume that has me worried about the direction this series will take towards its conclusion. The foreshadowing also colors Kaoru's advice to Uta that she should confess. It makes that advice even worse. We'll see.

On the plus side, the volume did do a good job with making the interactions between Kaoru and her husband subtly awkward after she gets home from the hospital, the awkwardness felt real, even if we don't care about either of those characters.

The art is fairly simple and nondescript. It's fine, it gets the job done, but it won't be the reason you read this series. It's functional at best. So combined with an overall weak set of chapters, largely devoid of Uta and too focused on Kaoru, who we don't really care about, this was a very bland volume.

So with all that and the looming, seeming, likelihood that Uta and Kaoru might get together by the end of the series, I just didn't enjoy this volume at all. Bland character, bland art, weird interactions between an adult and a child and the possibility of a relationship between an adult and a child. All told, it's a 5/10.

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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