The final panels of Love Me, Love Me Not (Omoi, Omoware, Furi, Furare) volume three weren’t merely a tease; the entirety of volume four deals with the repercussions of the striking and perhaps alarming kiss between Rio and Akari. As expected due to the constant attention she’s put into developing their brother-sister relationship, as well as her growing affection towards Kazu, Akari rebuffs Rio. But those couple of seconds have a profound impact on all four protagonists: Akari begins to avoid Rio in anger and Yuna out of guilt; the latter two grow closer, with Rio confiding in Yuna, who now feels more torn than ever; and Kazu apparently retreats from Akari, causing the latter further consternation. And hanging over all of the friendships and possible romances is a more significant question: Will one “impulsive” action destroy Rio and Akari’s family?
Anyone who has spent any time reading manga or watching anime knows that in those media, the possibility of romance between siblings is always in the air, and particularly so if the boy and girl are half-siblings or step-siblings. While Genshiken hilariously showed that anime is anime and reality is reality, this incestuous (or half-incestuous? step-incestuous?) route remains common. The groundwork is set in Love Me, Love Me Not for such a relationship. Even though on the surface the story is moving toward pairing Rio with Yuna and Akari with Kazu, it seems as if Sakisaka-sensei is really trying to flip the pairs, at least for a large portion of the tale, with the considerable obstacles involving Rio and Akari’s familial relationship a barrier they must overcome.
The morality of that choice aside, volume four does a tremendous job of dealing with the reality of what could happen in such a situation. The fallout of one small action is sudden and all-encompassing, even with Akari misunderstanding (or purposely avoiding) Rio’s deeper infatuation with her. The stress upon Akari is heavy throughout these chapters, for after all, she’s already on shaky ground with establishing proper relationship dynamics at home, by how she and Rio are perceived at school, and regarding her friendship with Yuna, which the volume proves is stronger than she thinks.
And indeed, the star of this volume is Yuna. We get inside her head more than with any of the others and witness something that Rio does as well, and upon which he comments: She is quickly maturing. In fact, it’s likely that Yuna’s mature actions, both in being Rio’s confidante and advisor and in honestly and lovingly remaining by Akari’s side, keep the situation from completely imploding.
Kazu, too, is very helpful, playing an important role with a common shoujo bully in the series, but as he has been, remains mostly an unknown. So little is known at this point, in fact, that if he hadn’t been presented as a lead character from the start, we might consider this series a love triangle featuring only three protagonists. Placing Kazu in the background is certainly purposeful, though, and I’m excited to see how his story develops in later volumes.
Indeed, I look forward to reading how everyone’s stories unfold as the manga progresses, because as volume four proves, Love Me, Love Me Not is more than a fanciful shoujo romance—it’s a sensitive and meaningful portrayal of teenage life. And to have both a lovey-dovey tale and one that actually says something is all too rare, and something to be treasured.