This book contains sexual content and is intended for an audience aged 18 years and up.
“Your very existence pisses me off, you damn hypocrite.” Miyabi to Haruto after the exam results are announced.
Transferring schools is tough at the best of times – although Haruto Ichijo (an Alpha) instantly finds himself the centre of attention in his new mixed-gender high school. Rumours abound; can it be true that he was kicked out of his prestigious Alphas-only school? The only student who is overtly hostile is the student council president, Miyabi Kitahara. Haruto may well have his reasons for wanting to keep aloof from his admiring classmates but he can’t ignore the high-achieving Miyabi, in spite of the president’s rejecting attitude and frosty, unfriendly smiles. Nevertheless, there’s something ‘off’ about Miyabi – and when Haruto comes across him vomiting up a load of pills, he realizes that these are strong suppressants of the kind that Omegas take to control their heats: the high-achieving student council president is an Omega.
However, after the exams (in which Haruto comes top and Miyabi, who’s usually highest-ranked, only makes it to tenth) when Miyabi doesn’t show up at school, Haruto goes round to his home address to find out what’s wrong. He’s shocked to see that Miyabi’s living alone in a dilapidated, chaotically untidy apartment – and even more shocked to find that he’s ‘in heat’, something he’s never witnessed at his previous all-Alpha elite school.
Haruto’s reaction is not what Miyabi expects; he takes care of him, even cooking him some food – and from then onward, he carries on cooking for him, encouraging him to return to school. Slowly, Miyabi begins to thaw a little in Haruto’s company – nevertheless, the news that he’s an Omega has leaked out at school. Some of the other students, riled by Haruto’s Alpha persona and the way that he’s so protective around Miyabi, decide to lay a trap for Miyabi and force him into having sex with them. Will Haruto be too late to rescue the Omega from their predatory, abusive schoolmates?
Never Let Go is Saki Sakimoto’s first manga and it’s an impressive debut. The art is very accomplished, with attractively portrayed characters who manifest all kinds of expressions (especially Miyabi when his carefully guarded ‘secret’ Omega identity becomes evident to Haruto). As a riff on the Omegaverse theme, the story works well for the most part, especially in creating an Alpha who’s thoughtful and well-intentioned towards Omegas – and, in Miyabi, an Omega who seeks to conceal his vulnerability behind a proud and prickly tsundere manner.
I have to admit that when I first saw the cover (which is undoubtedly very pretty) my heart sank a little as I feared it was going to be one of ‘those’ stories with a passive, weepy uke. But I was wrong; the first chapter (or ‘distance’) plunges the reader straight into a tense high-school classroom situation. As transfer student, Haruto, is shown around by Miyabi, we see that Miyabi, for all his smiles, is inwardly gritting his teeth, trying to repress his furious resentment at being made to welcome the newcomer when deep down, he hates all Alphas.
Never Let Go is rated 18+ Mature and contains a disturbing non-consensual scene. There are also consensual episodes which are very attractively drawn as well as serving to advance the plot and the main characters’ relationship. However, I was genuinely surprised about the final turning that the plot takes and while I’m perhaps not 100% convinced by it (for reasons which I’ll attempt to outline without spoiling what happens) it’s the kind of ending that needs to be earned to feel ‘real’, not rushed. The strong possibility of a sequel is mentioned in the mangaka’s afterword and hopefully that will give her the chance to explore and develop the dynamics of the central relationship further in a meaningful way.
Praise, however, for delivering an interesting variation on the Omegaverse theme, especially when presenting us with another convincing male Alpha x Omega pairing in Haruto’s parents (we see mostly his ‘mother’). The other standout Omegaverse male parental duo is, of course, in Mitsuru Si’s hilarious and touching Megumi & Tsugumi (SuBLime) where the chapters about Tsugumi’s parents often eclipse the main high school romance. What Saki Sakimoto does so well here is to show us that Haruto has turned out the way he is (a decent-hearted, non-predatory Alpha who wants to do the right thing by Miyabi) because of his loving, stable background and, especially his good relationship with his ‘mother’. Omegaverse is often criticized for its rather basic view of relationships but the best manga exploring this alternate society situation can make us examine current societal attitudes, especially when it comes to parenting, and show us alternative ways to bring up the next generation.
Translation for Tokyopop LoveLove is by the ever-reliable Katie Kimura. There’s a very sweet Bonus chapter entitled The Day After, an illustrated timeline and two pages of extra manga at the end, following on from Saki Sakimoto’s Afterword: it’s really nice to see so many extra pages. Never Let Go is currently available as an e-book with the paperback edition due out in January 2024.