Story and Art by Yuuki Satou
Translated by Ed Ayes
Lettering by Firadi Pramana
Compiled and Formatted by Zhuchka
Quality Assurance by Charles Wilson
Embarrassingly, it took until reading the afterward of this doujinshi for me to realize how it and both of the Hiroyuki doujins published by Irodori Aqua were intentionally structured. All three comics are subdivided into chapters that are only four pages long, excluding some stray chapters that run up to eight pages. This formatting is purposefully designed to complement Twitter’s four-picture per tweet capabilities, so that an entire story can be posted in a single tweet. It’s demonstrative of how comics are adapting to new mediums, and how artists are figuring out new ways to tell stories that take advantage of social media’s ability to reach greater audiences more immediately. Webcomics have always been an innovative medium, and these doujins are great examples of how platforms can shape the medium and vice versa, and how new methods of storytelling result from a mix of limitations and freedoms.
Love Letter For My Love Then And Now is an especially good case study of this trend, as artist Yuuki Satou designed it to fit its format from conception. The first chapter was originally created as a one-shot for a Twitter competition between manga artists, to see who could make the most viral work. In his afterword, Satou mentions that they put thought into how people would best read manga on Twitter. Hence, he took advantage of the four-page presentation, and focused on drawing simple but recognizable illustrations, and expressing ideas and themes in as few words as possible in big text that could be easily read even on smartphones. The simplicity of the concept, the emotional throughline and impact of the twist, and the pacing of the story were also meticulously crafted with the limitations of the format in mind. At the same time, Satou also kept in mind what kind of self-contained story could resonate with their readers in such a way that they’d want to like and share the comic, expanding its reach and audience. By focusing on a simple but fun scenario, with an unexpected but incredibly sweet and romantic twist, Satou created a universally appealing story that’s highly satisfying and shareable within a single tweet, and also open-ended enough to continue the concept with additional installments.
The amount of thought put into the work goes deeper, because each individual page is also designed to be self-contained in its own right, simultaneously its own mini-conflict within the larger story. The best example of this is when Kawaguchi is reflecting on his abandoned love letters to Miki. This single page tells the entire story of his efforts in just three panels, and is an understandable story even without the context of the pages surrounding it. So much information is imparted succinctly but in detail, including the number of letters corresponding exactly to the years spent in each phase of their schooling.
The placement and expressions of Kawaguchi and Miki between the three panels also say so much about what happened (or rather, what didn’t) between them. In primary school, Kawaguchi regards Miki with infatuation, while she looks ahead oblivious to his feelings. His crush is more innocent in this phase, as evident by the kitty stickers on the letters he wrote during this period. This changes in junior high, where the kitty sticker has been replaced with a heart, reflecting the maturity of Kawaguchi’s feelings. His blushing is replaced with a look of frustration. While he’s still looking at Miki, his eyebrows are crossed and he’s standing more upright, trying to be more confident but still hesitant to interact with her. Miki, meanwhile, is no longer just walking in a different direction than him, she’s also calling out to someone, showing that she’s proactively pursuing relationships while Kawaguchi stops himself short, barely lifting his arm.
What clinches the story is the final panel, depicting the two in their Senior High years. Kawaguchi is no longer looking at Miki; he’s looking down on the ground, in the opposite direction of her. He’s given up, a fact emphasized by the state of the final letter he wrote to Miki, which is shown to be crumpled, with the sticker peeling off, and her name crossed out. We didn’t see him to do it, but we know what happened. The reason is driven home by Miki being depicted with another guy, implying that because of his years of indecision, she ended up with someone else by their final year of schooling. Another great detail depicting the weight of Kawaguchi’s emotions is, quite literally, the weight on his shoulders. His backpack becomes bigger and heavier between panels, demonstrating the increasing burden of his feelings. The final panel, in essence, shows us that he’s decided to carry that weight instead of confessing his feelings to Miki. How the distance between them grows over the years is also emphasized by them being spaced more apart in each subsequent panel, going from relatively close to incredibly far.
This is a lot of information to interpret from a single page, and while it may take many words to explain, the reader understands this story instantly through this completely wordless series of images. That’s all thanks to the amount of thought Yuuki Satou put into every decision made with his art, from the compositions of the panels to all the details in between. Small touches like how Kawaguchi wrote Miki’s name on the letters changed over the years, going from rendering her name all in lowercase in primary school to capitalizing her first name in junior high and then both her first and last names in senior high, are exemplary of simple but effective embellishments that add emotional depth that enriches the story told in a short amount of time.
Love Letter is a manga that excels at delivering depth in its simplicity. The premise is predicated upon characters getting over their awkwardness to say or do something bold, slowly becoming a couple each embarrassing step of the way. As a comedy centered around awkwardness and embarrassment, it lives and dies in the blushing and nervous expressions made by the characters, and Satou draws some really adorable and endearing ones. Backgrounds are sparse and details are simple; the manga is made by the interactions of the couple. Its focus is on the early awkward getting-to-know-you stages of a relationship, like agonizing over texting someone to go out on a date. The way they self-doubt and second-guess themselves over the decisions they make, worrying if they’ll come off too strong or really weird, feels authentic to real, complicated interactions between people, and the thin line we walk when trying to play it cool as opposed to vocalizing how you really feel.
Thanks to the first chapter providing a great hook and establishing that Miki and Kawaguchi do become a couple, each adorkable leg of their journey can be enjoyed without the burden of anticipation in a “will they, won’t they.” The story may have expanded past the scope of its initial one-shot, but Love Letter is a lovely read, then and now. Hopefully, with more fan support, Satou will be able to continue the story to fill the gaps in between where the last chapter in this book ends and where the first begins, and then maybe, possibly, show us what’s past the past.