What does it mean to be in a relationship? Most of us know the feelings of love – the flutters in our stomach, the dread of rejection and all that, but what happens after you’ve confessed and start to date? Many of us enter relationships, but do we really know what a “relationship” is, or how to be happy in one? Well, those are the murky waters that the second volume of tMnR’s “If I Could Reach You” attempts to tread.
My first meeting with Uta, the teenaged protagonist of this unrequited love story, was brief. However, it let me understand her feelings towards sister-in-law Kaoru, and how an emotion we celebrate the unpredictability of can instead cause pain and inner turmoil. She was the narrator of an intimate first volume, but now finds herself taking a more observant role as this latest instalment explores the feelings of those around her, perhaps even providing inspiration for her own romantic destiny.
With her sly glances and teasing demeanour, Uta’s finicky friend Kuro quickly won my favour in the first volume, so I was pleased to see her take a more prominent role here, where it becomes clear that she’s currently the series’ most complex character. On paper, Kuro is in a relationship with the poised yet compassionate café waitress Miyabi, the perfect yang to Kuro’s slobbish and thorny yin. However, Kuro’s become so distant that Miyabi has started to doubt that they’re even together. Finding herself in the middle of this sensitive situation, Uta is compelled to patch things up between the two, hoping that Miyabi’s feelings will reach Kuro.
At the risk of letting the cat out of the bag, the resolution left me feeling that Kuro has had her cake and eaten it. I actually felt more sorry for Miyabi after that storyline wrapped up than I had before. I don’t intend to make it my mission to give fictional characters advice on romance, but it felt like the kind of thing Miyabi would be fine with as a lovestruck junior high student, but realise it was unhealthy on later reflection. In fairness, Miyabi’s age lends it a certain verisimilitude, but I hope this isn’t the last we hear on the subject. I also sympathise with Kuro and the reasons for her reluctance, never once feeling that she was acting maliciously. Young love is just a tricky mess of a thing, isn’t it?
Kuro isn’t the only one put under a spotlight, however. With both her husband and sister-in-law away from home, I finally had an opportunity to see Kaoru away from Uta’s idolising lens, in moments where she is defined by more than just her relationships with other characters. While her appearances are brief book-ends to this volume, they taught me more about Kaoru than the entire first volume. She works part-time at a café, has an online craft-making hustle, and more importantly, is susceptible to loneliness and self-doubt.
While this volume had less Kaoru than I had hoped, I really appreciated the occasional moments where brief, easily missed remarks would slip out of her happier front, and give me a glimpse into her true feelings. One great example of this, is Kaoru’s instinctive response to her manager commenting on how happy she seems since getting married: “Good. When I’m stuck in my head, it gets hard to tell”. Moments like these are really supported by the artwork, with the manager staying silent, but her face showing both surprise, then a look of forlorn understanding.
tMnR’s artwork really impressed me when reviewing the first volume, and it continues to impress. Not just in their commitment to really imbuing Kuro with catlike mannerisms, such as peering up at Miyabi like a cat waiting for dinner, but also in their ability to recognise when visuals can communicate feelings without words. A dream Kaoru has about her high school days is told over seven pages without a word of dialogue, but I didn’t need any to understand her heartbreak. Detailed establishing shots of a classroom, close-ups of Kaoru’s fist clenched over her chest, and a young Uta patting Kaoru’s head as she sits withdrawn on a river bank cleverly used my expected familiarity with such scenes to conjure emotions more potent than any clichéd dialogue could be. Sometimes, silence really is golden.
One of my biggest issues with the first volume did unfortunately crop up again, but seemingly for the final time. While considerable time is spent exploring Kuro and Miyabi’s relationship, I felt like I was still being introduced to the main characters, with Uta and Kaoru still waiting at the starting gate. I hope the eventual pay-off is worth having two volumes of build-up, and if this instalment’s shock cliffhanger lives up to its promise, it may just do that.
Before it dives into the depths of its unrequited love story, “If I Could Reach You” continues to take its time with a second volume where Uta takes a back seat to those around her, perhaps inspiring an imperfect conclusion to her own romance. Even if this volume doesn’t hit the highs of the series’ debut and I have misgivings about its handling of Miyabi, glimpses into Kaoru’s own troubles help establish her as a protagonist worth following in the story to come. tMnR also continues to show remarkable technical ability in their debut series. I just hope that this is the end of the story’s first act, and the next volume gets to the heart of this unrequited love.