Friday, March 20, 2020

Love Me, Love Me Not volume 1 too cliche'd or just enough? (Manga Review)

two high school girls in uniforms, standing back to back, smiling and linking arms
Love Me, Love Me Not vol. 1 - 8/10 (*See full scoring rubric below)

It is my distinct pleasure to bring you the start of a new Io Sakisaka (Ao Haru Ride, Strobe Edge) series with Love Me, Love Me Not volume 1 (Shojo Beat/Viz). Ao Haru Ride in both manga and anime form is simply one of the greatest shojo series ever. Yes, I really mean ever. So my anticipation was great for her new series, and thankfully, volume 1 didn't let me down.

Is Love Me, Love Me Not vol. 1 perfect? No, but what little doubt I still have is easily assuaged by my trust in Sakisaka-sensei as a creator. Ao Haru Ride is the perfect example of a series in which there are no big dramatic elements, no dramatic characters, very little that actually happens, and yet is so deeply moving, heartfelt, engaging, and sympathetic that you just want to keep living forever with the characters. Love Me, Love Me Not has a very similar feel already. The biggest question mark for me is where does it go from the big reveal at the end of volume 1.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Volume 1 starts when we meet high-school first year Yuna on her way to say goodbye to a friend who is moving. Yuna runs into a boy who momentarily reminds her of the prince from her childhood stories, before ruining it by opening his mouth. She is then approached at the train station by another high-schooler, Akari, who claims she forgot her wallet but needs train fare to see her friend off as well.  Yuna lends her the money and Akari promises to pay her back. They exchange numbers, and a personal item of Akari's as a retainer.

True to her word, Akari meets up with and pays back Yuna, thus starting a seemingly unlikely friendship between the two. For you see, this is a manga, which means Yuna is the shy, softspoken one and Akari is the loud, outspoken one. But in classic Sakisaka-sensei fashion, even that distinction isn't very dramatic. She never allows her characters to become caricatures.

Which is good, because the core emotional setup of the two involves the fact that Yuna expects to meet a prince charming who will make her heart sing, and Akari has already had boyfriends, and seemingly feels that it's possible to fall in love both quickly and with pretty much anyone. This tests their early friendship when Akari is accused of stealing another girl's boyfriend. At first, Yuna believes the rumors but ultimately comes to Akari's defense and it's clear Akari had no idea the boy had a girlfriend.

There's two other characters of note, that clearly will be central to the story: Kazuomi is Yuna's childhood friend (uh huh) who happens to be hot (uh huh) but whom Yuna has no interest in but who seemingly likes Akari (uh huh). Then there's Rio, the hot but girl-playing (supposedly) boy who looked like Yuna's prince and who she's seen around town. But it turns out he's actually....

WAIT SPOILERS. BIG BIG SPOILERS. Skip down if you don't want to know.

Turns out, Rio is actually...wait for it...oh my god, it's so shoujo I can't stand it....ready for it...Rio is actually Akari's step brother. And he was in love with Akari (and maybe her with him) before their parents got married. So now Yuna likes Rio, Rio likes Akari, Akari probably likes both Rio and Kazuomi, Kazuomi likes Akari. So does that mean that in the end Yuna and Kazuomi will probably get together so that Rio and Akari can too? Or is that too cliche'd an ending? Will Rio and Akari have to grow up and grow apart? Sakisaka can do loss, grieving, and growing up so well.

This is what will be fascinating about the series. Io Sakisaka's writing and characters are amazing as always, so I trust her. The question will be how she uses this incredibly cliche'd setup. That journey will be well worth it, however it resolves, because she's such an amazing mangaka. I'm just confident in her ability. But wow, step siblings in love, in a four way love...triangle...square...polyhedron?


The characters are well written with lots of room to grow. It's another series where very little actual plot is likely to happen. It will just be people doing what they do and thinking about their feelings all day. Just what I like! There's also the deep family trauma and interpersonal grief and guilt that was so readily apparent with Kou in Ao Haru Ride. Lots for Sakisaka-sensei to work with and show off her talent with. I'm not sure the characters are all quite as vibrant and interesting as the five main ones in Ao Haru Ride, but again, that's a very very special series.

The art is exceptional like all Sakisaka-sensei's art is. She's probably my second favorite mangaka behind Natsuki Takaya and it's actually a pretty close call. Her line work shows strong draftsmanship, delicate flowing lines, detail when needed, but openness too, and some of the best screentone use you will ever see in manga. I also admittedly love the way she does eyes more than anyone else. They are clear, open, and less "manga-ish" than others. Her art is the complete deal as far as I'm concerned.

So if you couldn't tell already, I'm a fan of Io Sakisaka, so I was probably going to love whatever she did. But it's also nice to see that some of her hallmarks - well defined characters who are multi-layered and not tied to a single cliche'd characteristic, thoughtfulness and feeling-based intimacy, great art - are on display here as well. Its early, just one volume in, and I can't see it quite being the tour-de-force that Ao Haru Ride is, but Love Me, Love Me Not volume 1 gets a strong - 8/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - it's a mix of mostly day-to-day stuff where the story itself isn't the big deal, but the inner lives of the characters. But then there's also the big reveal at the end which is both pretty cliche'd but also could be pretty fun for us star-crossed-lovers fans.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 7 - I'm good with Yuna and Akari, and I think Rio has the chance to be this series' Kou (Ao Haru Ride), but I don't feel Kazuomi yet. Unlike Ao Haru Ride where the three main side characters are incredible in their own right, I'm not sure this one is that strong.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7 - it's clear, we know what is in their heads, there are some very powerful moments where characters point things out about how other characters are thinking about situations. It's just clearly better than most. It's engaging without unnecessary drama. It's realistic without being boring.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - yes and no. Yes, in that most of the things the characters do feel grounded in how real people think and act. I especially liked how quickly Yuna was going to turn against Akari without actually asking her. When Kazuomi points out what a bad friend she's being by not finding out before bailing on Akari, it really shows the sensitivity to characterization and character growth Sakisaka-sensei is capable of. But that twist at the end...I don't know...maybe. I WANT things like that to exist, but it's also SOOOOO cliche'd (doesn't mean I cant enjoy it though).
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - it's early, but we already get characters thinking, feeling, learning about themselves, and growing.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - when will Sakisaka-sensei write a yuri or lesbian manga?????!!!!! That would be EPIC!
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - not yet the point of the series, this seems like a pretty straight love story. And so far, neither lead girl is a Futaba (Ao Haru Ride)
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 1 - already we see Yuna opening up and learning things about herself.
  • Quality art (0-5): 3.5 - some of the best manga art ever. It's not that it's ground breaking, it's just beautiful and perfect.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -0



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