Volume three of Io Sakisaka’s two boys + two girls shoujo, Love Me, Love Me Not (Omoi, Omoware, Furi, Furare), begins where the last one ended, with Akari beginning to fall for Kazu. The normally cool-headed girl is confused, because until now, she’s been very aware of the kind of boys she likes, and Kazu need not apply. But as she continues to interact with him—in the classroom, when he visits Rio at their home, and during a school “marathon”—Akari increasingly realizes that she can’t escape her feelings, even as she assumes he has no interest in return. Meanwhile, Rio feels just as trapped by his one-sided love, and Yuna is just confused: Should she support Rio and his feelings or Akari and hers?
Shoujo at its most appealing is an addiction. The mangaka of these stories are writing about the feeling of falling in love, and they want to manufacture that stirring of emotions within their readers, as well, so that they also get that high and can live out vicariously through the characters (or fall in love with them themselves). That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, chapter after chapter, for an entire run. Just as it is in real life, that loving feeling decreases and often goes away entirely. But this isn’t the only challenge—a good writer is also tasked with telling an interesting story beyond the lovey dovey, one that’s creatively fulfilling in addition to touching our hearts.
For this reason, Love Me, Love Me Not (up to volume three at least) is a considerable achievement. Sakisaki is weaving together an engaging and delicate story while imbuing it with those romantic tones. I appreciate the little touches that cross both boundaries, such as when she creates instances of physical intimacy between characters, but finds fun ways of doing it, like having Yuna’s hair caught on Rio’s button, or showing Akari and Kazu doing a “dance” while trying to get around one another in a tight spot. There’s an art to this well beyond the lazy trope of a boy falling on top of a character. Sakisaka is evoking a deeper sense of emotion while exercising her creative muscle.
That creativity pours through in other ways, too. The heaviest emphasis in this volume is on Akari, as the mangaka figures out a way to lead her from the framework through which sees the world to liking Kazu, a boy outside that structure, and does it convincing and often with humor. There’s a charming page, for instance, where after a group date, the girls bump into the boys and look at each other, saying, I think we’ve got room for dessert.
All the while, the story never advances too far or out of line with where it should be. These are teenagers, not twenty-somethings or fully mature adults, and should act and think accordingly. Take this nice exchange between the two girls:
“…You told me if you pretended to be someone different to get a boy to like you, the boy wouldn’t be falling for the real you.”
“Oh yeah, I remember back when i said such idiotic things.”
“It was just the other day.”
Reading Love Me, Love Me Not feels less like wading through a manga and more like peeking in on teenage life: the naivete, the unknowing hypocrisy, the limitations, and the hormones. But in expertly crafting such a read, Sakisaka creates surprising depth and warmth. A line like, “Sometimes we give our hearts to people when there’s no hope” hits so much harder when the reader understands the character’s mindset, rather than just applying it to another random teen that knows little about what love really means (even if it’s true that she doesn’t).
It’s also worth commenting on the structure of the series. There’s such a nice ebb and flow to every chapter that mirrors what the characters are experiencing. These scenes, filled with different settings and piecemeal conversations, are much like the life of a high schooler, moving from period to period, activity to activity, day to day. We as readers are subtly pulled into student life, an essential part of making this manga work.
But most importantly, we need to care about the characters. And by giving them all their due in various ways (primarily within the mindset of the girls and through the actions of the boys), readers are almost participating in relationships ourselves. We’re uncovering these boys and girls, learning more about them with each passing scene, as if they are new friends whose personalities and lives we’re just beginning to explore. But because the reader only knows bits and pieces at this point, and especially as story shifts from one angle to another, there’s this desire to know more than has been given. This foundation leads to both surprise and expectation at the volume’s startling closing scene, one that begs for the next chapter.
Not that we needed anything more to desperately want to see what happens next. After all, by this point, we’re already addicted.