Story & Art by Io Sakisaka
Adapted by Nancy Thistlethwaite
Translated by JN Productions
Touch-Up Art & Lettering by Sara Linsley
Design by Yukiko Whitley
Edited by Nancy Thistlethwaite
Romance stories often fall into the pitfall of establishing a status quo. While interpersonal relationships have their ebbs and flows in real-life, such stagnancy doesn’t always translate well in fiction. Narratively, it’s beneficial to remove the variables of life, but what if a series decides to do the opposite? Love Me, Love Me Not explores two different perspectives on romance, both of which feel relatable and realistically fluctuate.
Love Me, Love Me Not’s main heroines Yuna and Akari are natural opposites. Yuna is shy and timid, viewing love as a spontaneous feeling. Meanwhile, Akari is friendly and outgoing, believing love develops through natural interaction. What ties their friendship together is a mutual respect for the other person’s ideology. Both of them want each other to be happy, and support one another. This relationship engenders a heartwarming tone to the story, investing you in the characters themselves.
Early on, the series comments on how romance rarely plays out as it does in fiction, and that ties heavily into Yuna’s character. In the first volume, Yuna quickly falls in love with Akari’s step-brother Rio, but she fears being rejected and hides her feelings. Yuna initially believes she can simply love Rio from afar, but as she becomes closer to him, she realizes that’s not what she wants. While this culminates in Yuna confessing to Rio and being rejected, it frees Yuna of her burden. Yuna still cares about Rio, but she realizes that part of being in love is also facing the reality of it. Being rejected takes a toll on Yuna, but she is able to look towards the future because of it.
Akari’s efforts in love are less pronounced in these early volumes, but they hold equal value. Akari’s pursuit focuses on social interaction, allowing her to empathize with another person before she enters a relationship. Akari starts the series by being in a long-distance relationship, and even gets a job so that she can afford to visit her boyfriend. When this eventually falls apart, it clearly takes a toll on her. Akari had invested all this time into her love, but in the end, it was all lost. Her personality also causes her to be the unfortunate subject of gossip. When one of her co-workers starts hitting on her despite having a girlfriend, she rejects his advances, but rumors spread that she was attempting to steal her classmate’s boyfriend. Akari appears confident to her peers, but it’s situations like these that have caused her to hide her misgivings. It’s through her friendship with Yuna that she’s finally able to break away from these struggles. Yuna wants to understand Akari’s genuine emotions, whether they are happiness or despair. Yuna’s influence also causes Akari to explore her own feelings and learn about her behaviors. Later on, we learn that Akari’s mother has been re-married twice, forcing Akari to uplift her life each time. Akari’s approach to relationships can be attributed to her resentment of her mother’s actions, viewing them as reckless. Yuna has inspired Akari to break out of her comfort zone and explore parts of herself that she hadn’t considered.
Rio’s story is the most complicated in the series, but it’s also fascinating. Rio is incredibly attractive, and is sought after by many of the girls in his class. While he claims that he rejects them all because of their looks, he does so for a different reason: he loves Akari. Before their parents married, Akari and Rio were classmates in middle school, and he had fallen in love with her immediately. Unfortunately, by the time he was ready to confess, their parents had already become a couple and he decided to hide his feelings as a result. Rio wants their family to stay together, but despite his efforts, he can’t abandon his love for Akari. Rio’s thought process closely parallels Yuna’s, both possessing a romanticized perspective on love. Despite not being able to return Yuna’s feelings, Rio still values Yuna’s friendship and sympathizes with her unrequited love. Rio has accepted his fate, but he doesn’t want others to experience the same.
Kazuomi remains the only main cast member that is still an anomaly, but he acts that way out of habit. Kazuomi hasn’t displayed any signs of romantic feelings for the girls around him and is generally hard to read. That said, he still deeply cares for his friends and wants them to be happy. His friendships with Akari and Rio get the most focus, showcasing his ability to quickly gain the trust of others. Kazuomi is also open about his opinions, and will never refrain from stating them. His only objective is to be a great friend, and it makes him feel genuine as a result.
Io Sakisaka has been drawing manga for over two decades and her experience is on full display here. Sakisaka excels at conveying emotional subtext through her artwork, deepening the series’ narrative substance. This is especially evident with how Rio is portrayed, initially feeling ambiguous but with hints of romantic feelings underneath. Before Rio’s feelings for Akari are revealed, there are scenes in which he has an emotional reaction but it’s unclear what the cause is. You can see that Rio is struggling simply from how Sakisaka draws and frames his situations, and that makes the pay-offs of this foreshadowing incredibly satisfying. Sakisaka’s visual cues make her characters feel even more realistic and allows the series to be a worthwhile investment.
Love Me, Love Me Not excels at showcasing the different pathways and complications to love, crafting a story built upon genuine relationships. While the initial bond between Akari and Yuna will draw you to this series, what keeps it engaging is its exploration of their perspectives and their emotional journeys. Even if romance manga aren’t your preference, I think this deserves a glance.