If I asked you…would it change the way we are now…?
From Kakeru’s point of view, his childhood friend Yamato is the cool, popular one: girls keep confessing to him, leaving letters in his locker, bringing chocolates for him on Valentine’s Day. But now Yamato seems to think that Kakeru might be going out with Akane-chan, the girl he met at karaoke. When did things get so awkward between them? How is it that Yamato ends up telling a co-worker at his part-time job, that he has feelings for someone but they’re unrequited? When even their schoolfriends notice that they’re reacting oddly around each other, how are they going to keep up this pretence that everything’s just as before with their friendship?
I Cannot Reach You paints a very convincing picture of a childhood friendship cracking under the strain of evolving into something else. Kakeru is convinced that Yamato is going to date a girl who’s written him a love confession and is annoyed with him for concealing what’s happening. Yamato, in spite of his calm exterior, is inwardly riven with insecurities, convinced that Kakeru won’t understand if he tries to explain how he feels, so it’s better to say nothing. Both are certain that speaking honestly about their feelings to the other risks breaking their friendship apart as things can then never go back to being the way they were before. Significantly, neither imagines what might happen if the other were to accept their feelings and confirm them; both are riven with doubts and pessimistic about the eventual outcome of such a confession. But those feelings are growing stronger – and it’s getting far harder to deny their existence. And because they know each other so well, it’s hard to keep up the pretence that everything’s fine. Meanwhile, the pattern of school life continues: mid-terms loom, Kakeru panics as usual and is convinced he’s going to fail.
Things come to a head in the local mall. Yamato is out shopping with his younger sister, unaware that Kakeru is being dragged around the sales nearby by his older sister and is desperate to escape. When Kakeru begs his sister for some downtime, she relents and, as his attention is drawn to a display of plushies, who should appear but Akane-chan! They’re chatting away happily when Yamato spots them together. This book began with Yamato’s insecurities about Kakeru and Akane preying on his mind and now he’s seeing exactly what he’s been dreading. Or so he thinks. This is a really skilful piece of writing/drawing by Mika as she times the switches between the various places and conversations in the mall to deliver the maximum impact in terms of developing the story. Yes, it’s another slice-of-life, it’s just an average shopping mall with ordinary teenagers in it – but it’s also spot-on in depicting the many anxieties that beset us all at this turbulent time of life. (It would make a brilliant musical!)
Four ‘Extra Stories’ complete this volume (which ends on a cliff-hanger again) and all four, especially the alternate reality What If Story: To My Once Friend ~ If Yamato Had Amnesia ~ serve to develop the issues from the earlier chapters. There’s also an afterword by Mika. I should also point out that there are plenty of lighter moments to enliven the story; Mika draws some cute chibi panels (almost all Kakeru in airhead mode, of course).
Recently, US manga publishers have been bringing out a range of LGBT manga titles set in high school with a T or OT rating. Recent outstanding titles include Koimonogatari: Love Stories by Tagura Tohra and Like Two Peas in a Pod by Gorou Kanbe (Tokyopop) as well as Sasaki and Miyano from Seven Seas. It’s very refreshing to see these well-written, accessible BL manga appearing in English. Accessible because they’re all about exploring feelings (and not just about the physical side of sex which would probably raise the age rating, although that’s not to deny the importance of sex in a relationship!) And so far the ‘But we’re both men!’ and ‘I know we’re both men but I like you for who you are’ and ‘I’m not gay, I just happened to fall in love with you’ old BL chestnuts/cop-out clauses haven’t appeared.
The series is still being translated for Yen Press by Jan Mitsuko Cash with lettering by Alexis Eckerman. As in the first volume, this edition is enhanced by four attractive colour pages at the beginning.
I Cannot Reach You is a slow burn of a story, taking its time to depict the agonies of indecision, jealousy and self-doubt that both its protagonists are experiencing as they struggle to make sense of their changing emotions.