The school trip to Kyoto culminated – after a series of misunderstandings – in Yamato kissing his childhood friend Kakeru in the rain and promptly passing out with a high fever. Now everyone’s back at school (except for Yamato, who’s recovering) and Kakeru doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. When he goes to visit Yamato at home with classmate Fujino (safety in numbers), Yamato seems to have completely forgotten what happened before he fainted, which only adds to Kakeru’s confusion. He storms out, yelling angrily, “I’m through with you!!”
Yamato returns to school, but the atmosphere in the classroom is highly charged with Kakeru pointedly ignoring Yamato. It’s not until the class are playing soccer that Hosaka (who was close by in Kyoto and saw everything) tells him bluntly, “You kissed him, right?” and Yamato realizes why Kakeru is so furious with him.
Things can’t continue like this, so next morning, it’s Yamato who marches Kakeru up onto the roof at school where for the first time he forces himself to speak honestly to Kakeru about how he feels and why it’s been difficult for him to communicate his feelings. “This whole entire time… I’ve had a crush on you.” All this time, Kakeru has been alternating between bewilderment and fury – until he suddenly gets his act together and says, “I’ve decided. I’m going to face your feelings head-on!”
What might have convinced him to change his mind is a conversation he had the day before with Yamato’s sister, Mikoto, who told him bluntly, “I know just how much my brother cares about you.” The trouble is that now the confession has been made, Kakeru is hypersensitive to Yamato’s presence – and is unable to relax around him.
After the feverish (in more ways than one) ending of Volume 3, the mangaka could have developed the succeeding chapters in one of two ways. They could have continued to raise the stakes between the two childhood friends whose friendship can’t ever be the same after that kiss – however, in Volume 4 Mika opts for the, ‘Let’s dial this back’ card by going for the ‘Yamato was running a high temperature, so has only a hazy memory of what happened when he recovers’ plot let-out clause. This seems more than just a teensy bit contrived – and a way of dragging everything out – as by the end of this volume, although we’ve enjoyed some amusing reaction scenes with Takeru’s agonizing and his friends teasing him, nothing much has changed until the final chapter and even then, not that much.
Sasaki and Miyano’s editor and mangaka described its earlier chapters as Boys’ Life (this was not entirely seriously intended) but that label applies rather more aptly here, even though the presence of girls (sisters, classmates) widens the viewpoints. But this is also what’s so likable about I Cannot Reach You; much of its charm lies in a certain unspoilt, naïve quality in the enduring friendship that’s bound these two boys together since early childhood. It’s a recurring theme in many BL that ask what happens when friendship deepens to love – can that original innocent friendship ever be revived? The elephant in the room in I Cannot Reach You which is hardly even alluded to, let alone mentioned (hence the Teen rating) is sex. I keep returning to ‘naïve’ and ‘innocent’ to describe Takeru – and while it’s implied that Yamato gets hot and bothered around Takeru and is finding it harder to not hug him or hold hands (and, by implication, much more – these are second-year high school boys, after all) Takeru is either in denial or not quite as mature, yet. In spite of Mika’s hint in the Afterword of Volume 3 that they’d like to draw something ‘spicy’, nothing of the kind occurs here. In the new Afterword, Mika describes the stages of the boys’ relationship as going through phases: first brooding, then hesitation, and anxious up to Volume 3, characterizing Volume 4’s phase as ‘bashful’ (there’s certainly a lot of blushing). What phase, the mangaka wonders, will they get to in Volume 5?
There are hints of an intriguing sub-plot bubbling under as Yamato’s sister Mikoto (who’s begun to play a more significant role) meets Hosaka, the boys’ classmate who sensed what was going on with Yamato and Kakeru in Kyoto. Might another relationship be on the cards? Hosaka is an enigma in many ways, so it’s an interesting possibility.
The art (especially on the cover and the four colour pages inside) is as subtle and attractively painted as ever. Mika achieves – as before – an appealing balance between the extreme reaction faces that Takeru pulls, especially his furious demon transformation/mask after telling Yamato that they’re through (Anya Forger has a rival!) and the more realistic panels, many concentrating on close-ups. Mika has a gift for capturing the fleeting but telltale hints of emotion as this relationship begins to evolve and deepen. The translation for Yen Press is again by Jan Mitsuko Cash and it flows really well, capturing the characters’ voices, aided and abetted by a wonderful variety of lettering by Alexis Eckerman. There’s also a single but helpful page of translation notes (Japanese honorifics are retained and explained).
As in earlier volumes, there are plenty of cute lighter moments, mostly depicted in 4-koma pages, one or two per chapter and more at the end, dealing with Halloween, Yamato’s birthday – and a long scarf. A bonus chapter takes us back in time to the middle school skiing trip in which Kakeru isn’t doing well with his snow-boarding until a certain someone turns up.
All in all, this makes for another engaging, heartfelt volume in which we get to know Yamato and Kakeru better (even as they get to know each other more) as well as the people around them. Where it spins it wheels a little is that we’re really not very much further on at the end than we were at the beginning. Bring on Volume 5, please, Yen Press!