Written by Ross Locksley on 23 May 2014
Distributor Kodansha Comics • Author/Artist Kanae Hazuki • Price £7.99
High-School student Mei Tachibana lives a solitary life. Stung by betrayal in the past, she finds herself unable to trust or open up to those around her, and as such she endures the bullying coments of her peers in defiant silence.
One fateful day, a skirt-flipping incident, followed by a brutal kick to the assailant's face, brings her to the attention of the high-school heart-throb Yamato Kurosawa, who makes it his mission to break Mei's icy exterior and get to know this intriguing young woman.
What surprised me about Say I Love You was the author's ability to project Mei's feelings of loneliness with such genuine emotion. No small amount of praise has to go to the books translation team, Alethea and Athena Nibley. Translators don't often get much recognition, but this is a lovely job.
Mei's childhood traumas never seem over-the-top, and in truth I'm sure plenty of readers will recall similar incidents from their own childhood, but Mei's sensitive nature makes her particularly vulnerable. What really sells the story, however, is her defiant, no-nonsense nature.
Similarly Yamato is not the sort of weak-willed protagonist you'd find in a Ken Akamatsu series - he knows what he wants and he's not shy about getting it, but he's never obnoxious, and as the story unfolds he comes across, like Mei, as a legitimate soul. The two leads in the book really make it work.
The supporting cast also have plenty to do, whether it be Nakanishi, an initially unlikable prat who treats women like objects, or Asami, Yamato's childhood friend who has developed early and subsequently made plenty of enemies amongst the other girls at school. It's always a compliment to any story that the surrounding characters can be as interesting as the leads, and in this book we look to have a strong core dynamic developing.
The artwork is superb. Typically Shoujo of course, but sharp and expressive. If one thing stands out, it's the lack of backgrounds on most of the pages, but I only noticed this on my second read-through, so engrossed was I with the story.
The book also features copious extras. A two-page post script from the author brings a touchingly personal account of her own childhood. The translation notes have been kept to a minumum across 2 pages, and a 4 page interview with the author round out the package nicely, bringing a sense of value to proceedings.
If I were to have any compaints, it's that the series logo really should have remained unaltered. The new one looks cheap and generic - even the scanlation covers look infinitely better.
Terrible logo typography aside, fans of romantic manga should certainly check this out, it's a powerful first volume that doesn't rely on story-telling gimmicks, slapstick or titillation, and as such it radiates a warmth that few other manga manage.
Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.
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