On the surface, tMnR’s manga series If I Could Reach You is the story of Uta, a high school girl grappling with unrequited feelings for Kaoru, her sister-in-law. Now into its third volume, seeds previously sown in this yuri series start to sprout with the author showing us that our lovestruck teen is but one part of this emotional picture of a family falling apart under the weight of their emotions. tMnR achieves this with not just the maturity I’ve come to expect of them but also wonderfully emphatic writing that reveals just how broken, yet wonderful, their characters are.
Having left us on the cliffhanger of Kaoru finding her husband Reiichi with another woman, we are quickly reminded which part of that revelation is most important: Kaoru. With her ankle broken from the fall and having temporary memory loss, she’s confused and vulnerable – a state that carries throughout the volume, even post-recovery. tMnR expertly offers us a window into Kaoru’s doubts with framing that helped me grow similar suspicions towards Reiichi. Who is he talking to on the phone? Why doesn’t he want Kaoru to meet his family? Does his attempt to cook mean he actually does care?
This growing divide and the budding doubts are furthered by tMnR’s ingenious decision to not allow us that same level of intimate access to Reiichi’s thoughts, ensuring that I grew to see him as the “other”, and question what his true relationship in the story is becoming, much as Kaoru would. At this point, I don’t know whether Reichii has actually been unfaithful but I definitely find myself second-guessing myself whenever he appears, like poor Kaoru. One delicate moment that really captures these conflicting feelings has Kaoru turn down Reiichi’s intimate advances, only to still fall asleep with her fingers intertwined with his.
While I have enjoyed Kaoru being the focus of this and the preceding volume, this has meant Uta has enjoyed less of the spotlight than I might have liked, given that she’s the character who first captured my attention in the first volume. At times it can feel as if she’s been relegated to a supporting character, but it’s in this capacity that tMnR really convinced me of Uta’s love for, and importance to, Kaoru. Having Uta step away from centre stage feels less like a demotion and more an opportunity to show this bond through the more subtle acts usually reserved for side characters, like being the one whose shoulder a protagonist cries on in a crisis, or organises a surprise party just when the lead needs it.
These smaller moments lead to a wonderful penultimate chapter that feels like the real beginning of their shared story. Until now Uta and Kaoru have largely felt like protagonists of their own, occasionally crossing narratives, but when an impromptu trip finally allows the pair some carefree time to themselves, I finally had a chance to see the real dynamic these two share away from all the drama around them. This chapter was a charming breath of fresh air that really sold Kaoru as a caring big sister, culminating in a touching heart-to-heart as the two try to understand each other better. It’s a moment that’s surprisingly resonant despite its wholesome atmosphere, but also marks a major change in their relationship to come.
Showing that writing isn’t the only tool in a manga creator’s arsenal, tMnR makes great use of the manga medium’s limited colour palette by using shading and darker tones to really highlight the impact of dramatic moments and realisations in contrast to the white canvases of happier times. For example, panels can be as bright as the tone of Uta and Kaoru’s chat on a park bench, but the moment she has a revelation about Reiichi, we’re slapped in the face by a sharp, black background. If I Could Reach You is hardly the first manga to do this by any means, but it does it well.
The artwork largely retains the high quality I’ve praised before, but I did notice a few instances where Reiichi looked out of proportion and off-model, such as being unusually lanky in wide shots, or parts of his body being considerably larger or smaller than normal. I didn’t notice any of these issues with the series’ many female characters though, so perhaps tMnR has difficulty with drawing men in profile?
In its third volume, If I Could Reach You returns to form with an intimate window into the swirling doubts of a caring woman realising that her family is on the cusp of falling apart. Following Kaoru as she discovers these feelings is an engrossing, bittersweet experience that joins what I know of Uta, to make me excited yet anxious about what’s to come. If I Could Reach You has reached the end of its prologue, not with a melodramatic explosion but with a maturity that leaves me hopeful for the rough waters we’re about to sail into.