“You don’t choose who you fall in love with” is a sentiment we all hear often, typically as an excuse for liking someone with less than desirable qualities. For Uta, the teenage protagonist of yuri manga “If I Could Reach You” however, it’s the force behind an emotional maelstrom as she only realises her love for childhood friend Kaoru on the day they become sisters-in-law. So this first volume is a heart-breaking introduction to the good people caught up in the tragedy of our most treasured emotion.
This opening act of “If I Could Reach You” is far from the warm, bubbly love stories that have seen recent success in this rising genre, but I knew I was in for a treat from the moment I read the opening scene, even if it did have a bitter taste. In a surprising feat of writing mastery, I was allowed to understand just how close Uta and Kaoru are, as well as the pain these feelings cause, in all of seven pages and a single fake smile. Rather than having a fast pace, writer tMnR clearly just knows how to focus on what’s important, and when to use emotive facial expressions to fill in the gaps that words can’t.
Uta’s struggle with her unrequited love is front and centre in this first volume, with its time spent between Uta interacting with Kaoru directly, and confiding in her friends. The supporting cast is entertaining in their own ways, with me enjoying whenever Uta’s teasing friend Kuro was on-page. Her brand of twisted humour, like suggesting the nuclear option just because it’d be fun to watch Uta squirm, brings a much needed light-hearted element to an otherwise gloomy story, and is totally my jam. I also really like the more free-spirited Konatsu, whose presence not only helps the story differentiate between romantic and erotic love, but also shows how refreshingly sex-positive tMnR is.
It’s not hard to see why Uta fell for Kaoru. She’s warm and caring, but also loveably ditzy. This only adds to the pain of Uta’s predicament though, when she can’t reject genuine acts of kindness made with no knowledge of the lovelorn sister-in-law’s true feelings. It’s heartbreaking to read because I want them both to be happy, but acts of kindness unintentionally causing greater sorrow, are also true to how unrequited love can be.
For someone set to be so involved in the turmoil to come, though, Uta’s brother Reiichi didn’t leave a lasting impression with me, and I’ve yet to see any real cracks in the marriage like the blurb suggests, aside from him being a bit forgetful (even if he did forget something pretty significant). Hopefully we’ll see more of his relationship with both Kaoru, and importantly, Uta, in the volumes to come though.
What surprised me the most about “If I Could Reach You” Volume 1 though, is how maturely the series approaches its subject. The set-up of a girl being in love with her sister-in-law, especially one they live with, could have easily led to something more crude and salacious, but Uta’s feelings are handled with the respect they deserve. She also shows impressive clarity about the situation herself, but as we all know, love is anything but logical, and this conflict of head and heart only helps add to the drama.
With artwork that’s so vivid and breathes life into the characters, I couldn’t believe that tMnR wasn’t already a prolific manga artist, yet the afterword notes that “If I Couldn’t Reach You” is their professional debut. Their past as a doujin author clearly allowed tMnR to refine their skill however, with it being leaps and bounds ahead of say, the earlier chapters of Tite Kubo’s Bleach, and look at how much he improved by that series’ end. The careful shaping of Uta’s strained forced smile, the sullen shading around her eyes, and Kaoru’s tearful expression upon finding out a friend was cheated on, are all drawn so delicately that they directly connected me to the emotions tMnR wanted to evoke. While I may have directed criticism towards the inconsistent detail of backgrounds, this likely follows the same philosophy as the writing, by focusing solely on what’s important. Establishing shots like the school exterior and a Ferris wheel are neatly depicted, while furnishings and similar things are noticeably more rough. That’s fine though, as even big name artists often rely on assistants for that kind of thing, and by focusing our eyes on where they really need to be, less is more.
Despite my fondness for the narrative and artwork, one notable weak point of “If I Could Reach You” Volume 1 is its length. At only 156 pages, there’s not a lot of room for the main story to do more than just introduce its characters and establish their relationships with Uta. I would have liked even a tease at how tMnR will handle the drama to come, but without even a cliffhanger to torment me, I’ll have to wait until the next volume to really judge how the series handles its core premise.
“If I Could Reach You” Volume 1 may be a tad too brief for my liking, but its modest page count introduces us to a truly touching tale, with tight writing and stunning artwork. tMnR is definitely a rising talent to watch – let’s just hope future volumes continue to show this much promise. Unrequited love sucks, but this manga doesn’t.
If you would like to try out If I Could Reach You, you can read the first chapter for free on Kodansha USA’s website.