by Kanae Hazuki
published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
Say I Love You is a common type of shojo manga love story — loner high school girl is picked out and romanced by popular boy — that’s made special by art with josei touches.
Mei won me over the same way she did Yamato. She’s been neglected by those she thought friends and bullied by other girls in her class, so she becomes a loner, trusting no one. Finally, when harassed by Yamato’s friend, who’s pulling up her skirt on a staircase, she turns around and kicks Yamato in the face. It’s a gutsy move, and it confirms Yamato’s interest in her as someone different and unusual.
As with many other shojo, the art focuses on faces, the better to convey emotion. The characters, shown full figure, often without backgrounds, have the exaggerated limbs and angular body language I associate with fashion design. Mei’s eyes go beyond the usual big shiny pools; they’re dark pits of despair. Yamato, meanwhile, could be a male model. He’s pursued by random girls in the street, he’s so attractive. That contrast — someone who gets attention without working for it and someone who doesn’t want any attention because of the pain it’s brought her — makes for an intriguing relationship with plenty of dramatic potential.
Soon enough, Mei is fighting jealousy over Yamato’s easy connections with other girls, but at least she asks him about them instead of stewing to extend the volume count of the series. The supporting character of Asami is also interesting — she’s got large breasts, so the other girls call her “Melon Monster” and jealously make fun of her. (Thankfully, she isn’t drawn for fan service.) Mei stands up for her, explaining how complicated teen emotions can be.
Say I Love You Book 1 concludes with Mei and Yamato’s funny, mixed-up attempt at a first date. This is a strong introduction to a new series I’ll be following, since the romance feels authentic, and I’m rooting for the two of them. The book also includes an interview with author Kanae Hazuki, a short piece about her goals for the series, and a few translation notes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)