How do you know if you’re in love? How can you tell if it’s “real”? And what do you when other relationships, friendships, and histories becomes obstacles in the way of dating?
These questions are often difficult to navigate even for fully mature, experienced adults, but they can be absolutely mystifying when you’re a teenager. Volume five of Io Sakisaka’s endearing romance series, Love Me, Love Me Not, has entered a new stage: Feelings have developed on the parts of each of the characters, but assumptions, miscommunication, and more substantial impediments stand in the way of Yuna and Rio, and Akari and Kazu. Nothing monumental is necessarily occurring in the action: Akari wants to take an interest in Kazu’s love of film; Rio has a dream about Yuna; and the four (and one would-be love rival as a third wheel) attend a festival. However, the hearts and minds of the four characters in the series are working overtime, steering the relationships in directions away, perhaps, from where each of them wants them to go.
And yet, the story remains authentic, in its own way, to the experience of growing up and falling in love. When Akari says, “I’m completely lost when it comes to making our hearts grow closer,” she’s experiencing an infatuation she’s unprepared for, one which her previous experience and still-growing maturity isn’t yet ready to handle. All the characters feel similarly—their flawed ways of thinking and little mistakes and assumptions are true to that of 16-year-olds. Add to that an atmosphere in the manga that conveys little joys of growing up and events that inspire young love—renting movies, talking through windows, looking up how to hypnotize someone, and other happenings both silly and sweet, and you have a series that conveys a nostalgia for youth, a deep longing for those feelings and emotions most of us likely had, and for circumstances and events that we may not have.
As the characters navigate through these trials of love and heartache, their naivete inbues their characters and the entire manga with such sweetness. All four of the mains are incredibly cute in how they blush, become nervous, or otherwise react to each other and various situations. The loveliness of this all pulls us into the wprl—just as we might get lost in the throws of infatuation, and as the same is happening to Akari, Yuna, Rio, and Kazu, we the readers are also lost in the story, in how sweet but meaningful it all is.
If there’s one criticism I would levy against Sakisaka, though, it’s that the effort she puts into creating this wonderful tone isn’t matched by the thought she puts into situational writing. For instance, when the four attend the festival, Rio of course wins a doll for Yuna, and then Kazu of course for Akari. There isn’t any layering to these events, and it reads quite lazily. Her strength isn’t in the scripting of these stories, for sure—what she excels in is getting inside her subjects’ minds, and I would say even better here than in Ao Haru Ride, where she may have done that too well.
Besides the usual, the little flourishes in Sakisaka’s writing remain enjoyable, particularly the personal asides that lead you to think that she is a character from her manga. But this volume also includes little profiles of the protagonists which explain their likes and dislikes. I especially liked the listing of their favorite films, which not only sets this story in time but also fits the characters so well—Mad Max: Fury Road for Rio, Big Hero 6 for Yuna, Enter the Dragon for Kazu, and (500) Days of Summer for Akari; the last one is particularly appropriate not because she would have liked it apart from Kazu, but because she likes it due to him (it was a nice a nice touch presenting her profile last in the collection).
As the volume ends, the forces tearing the would-be couples apart are starting to grow with signs of a major storm on the horizon. Thus, while this volume is the best yet, the true test seems to be coming: Can this wonderful tale handle the coming stress? Will the characters make it out okay, and will we still be rooting for them after all that is surely to occur? How Sakisaki will lead the four through upcoming events will ultimately define whether the story is success, or just a brief infatuation leaving a lingering thought of what might have been.
Love Me, Love Me Not Vol. 5 is available to read through VIZ.