I Cannot Reach You has been following the day-to-day confusions and misapprehensions that arise when two boys, best friends since childhood, realize that something has changed between them – yet they don’t have a clue as to what to do about their feelings. At the end of Volume 4, Yamato hugged Kakeru, saying, “I’m gonna work so much harder… so you’ll like me back.” So it’s not unreasonable for readers to expect the next chapter to follow through… but instead, the spotlight falls on Mikoto, Yamato’s younger sister. The siblings are very close (we learn in the flashback at the end of the volume that this is because they’re in a single parent family, cared for by their working mother, although this is not the whole story by any means). It’s interesting to see events from Mikoto’s perspective – although as the chapter revolves around the hair accessory which Yamato brought back for her from Kyoto, we not only observe her with her peers (and one cheerful boy in her class who undoubtedly has feelings for her but doesn’t quite know how to express them), we also see – again – that Yamato’s classmate Hosoda has a more than passing interest in her. But Hosoda likes to stir things up (we’ve experienced this already with Yamato and Kakeru on the school trip) so is this a positive development or should alarm bells be ringing?
Meanwhile, Christmas is fast approaching and Yamato and Kakeru’s class is planning a Christmas party. The unsubtle implication is that anyone not attending is going to be on a romantic date so it’s only those who don’t have significant others who’ll be going along. Cue a major misunderstanding when Kakeru says he’s not going – which makes Yamato jump to the wrong conclusion and says he’s not going either. But even though that misunderstanding is cleared up and they agree to go out together to the cinema on The Day, Kakeru is so agitated at the prospect of going on ‘a date’ with Yamato that he spends a sleepless night with the inevitable consequences.
One of the favourite themes of romance manga is that of the childhood friends who go from being friends to lovers. Sometimes this happens after a long time-gap, sometimes these stories portray the relationship changing while the two are still at school together, as is the case with I Cannot Reach You. But what kind of future can such a relationship have when one of the two is more committed than the other – or, as is the case here, is more sure of his own feelings? Looking back over the last five volumes, a picture emerges of a long companionship that is slowly disintegrating because the two friends no longer share the same goals. Yamato, now the taller (and possibly the more emotionally mature of the two) knows what he wants – commitment – from Kakeru, but Kakeru, lacking in self-confidence (and maybe just not ready to commit to a romantic relationship) constantly ducks out, runs away, disappears whenever Yamato makes a move. The flashback chapter #27: The Day It Started takes us back to a time in elementary school when Yamato was the silent loner, often picked on by other boys for being ‘gloomy’– and Kakeru was the cheerful, outgoing, sporty little kid who stood up for him. But now they’re older, Yamato is the tall, good-looking ‘prince’ and Kakeru is constantly comparing himself to his more glamorous friend and finding himself wanting. There’s a very real possibility that this friendship won’t survive, let alone transform into the deeper relationship that Yamato so fervently hopes for.
Five volumes in (Volume 6 came out in Japan in June 2022) and readers who’ve been following these two will be wondering, as I’ve been, if this relationship is ever going to progress. Up till now, the minutiae of Kakeru’s self-doubts and sleepless nights have been sympathetically retold but when he starts another of his self-deprecating excuses to Yamato – “There’s not a single thing about me… that you could possibly find attractive!” – you really want to shake him. The poor kid is self-conscious about his height (or lack of it) and how ordinary he looks when they’re out together and Yamato draws all the admiring gazes, because he’s tall, looks like an idol etc.
However, it’s the insightful way Mika portrays the indecisiveness of the characters that makes this such an endearing read, sometimes through amusing chibis, sometimes by capturing those heart-crushing, embarrassing moments which anyone who’s been a teenager suffering from a first crush will recognize. It rings true. And Mika’s accomplished graphic style is really well suited to portraying the characters; I’ve mentioned before that some of Kakeru’s extreme reaction shots (and they are extreme!) capture his inner feelings brilliantly. We may laugh at him – but we feel for him at the same time. (Even though the relationship situation is different, there are some parallels to be made here with Aoki’s extreme facial reaction shots in My Love Mix-Up (VIZ Media) art by Aruko, story by Wataru Hinekura).
Yen Press bring us Volume 5 in another attractive volume with Mika’s beautiful cover art to the fore and four colour pages at the front, featuring a double-page spread of Mikoto, Yamato’s younger sister. The very readable translation is again by Jan Mitsuko Cash and the lettering by Alexis Eckerman, which communicates Kakeru’s confused inner thoughts and feelings really well. Extras at the end comprise a page of helpful translation notes and the mangaka’s Afterword, as well as several amusing bonus shorts, including ‘If Yamato Was Cheerful and Kakeru Was Not’. (And, earlier on, a page on the recording of the third Drama CD which was released at the same time as Volume 5 in Japan.)
Still Teen-Rated (13 upwards), I Cannot Reach You continues to offer an engaging and sympathetic view of the pitfalls of crushing on your best friend – yet doesn’t delve too deeply into the problems that can arise when that friend is the same sex as you.