Say I Love You Volumes 10-15
I let a bunch of volumes of Say I Love You stack up, and coincidentally, it was right when the series took an interesting turn. The previous book, volume 9, was more of the high school love story that I was enjoying, but with these books, author Kanae Hazuki begins treating these kids as the adults they’re about to be. It’s fascinating to see the characters grow and the series transition from love story into meditations on growing up and making life and work decisions.
First, volume 10 marks a major milestone in the relationship between leads Mei and Yamato at a Christmas party. When Mei makes the choice to spend the holiday with her friends instead of her mother, it’s a significant marker in her making her own choices. (So is how she thinks to get her only parent a gift for the first time.) It’s also a nice recognition of how far the character has come, from angry loner to member of a caring peer group.
Once their friends figure out that it’s a special day for them, they make themselves absent, leaving Yamato and Mei alone together, so they can take things to another level physically. There’s an informative note in the back from the author about her goals for this aspect of the story, about making sure this “important event” had the space it deserved, which is why the whole book is about the party and what happens after.
Volume 11 begins the final year of high school for much of the cast, which means Hazuki begins exploring a deeper topic: what do these kids want to do once they graduate? In contrast to the couple’s uncertainty about professions, Mei’s former rival Megumi, an aspiring model, has decided to get serious about her career and go overseas to do so.
I really enjoyed this storyline, as it underscores everyone else’s perceptions of Meg as successful with how much hard work she has to do that they don’t know about. She may be a bigger fish in Japan, but the rest of the world has different perceptions of beauty. This plot also introduces two younger students, twins. Rin is an effortlessly popular model, in contrast to Meg’s struggles and worries, while her brother Ren is sullen but surprisingly helpful to Mei. Adding these two younger characters gives the author a way to do some continuing romantic subplots, not totally losing the original point of the series.
A chance encounter with a lost child gives Mei some possible direction, while her compliments to Yamato about his picture-taking lead him to explore photography as a career. Both continue exploring these paths in volume 12. It’s sensible for Mei to help out some days at a local child care — practical experience of what a potential job is like is crucial in making smart decisions.
Yamato, on the other hand, following a more artistic path, has more questions and self-doubts. He struggles with capturing truly good photos, so his brother helps him out with a commission, to make posters for his beauty salon. Mei also reaches outside her comfort zone in order to make a valuable contact with advice for him about the field.
The series frequently delves into emotional monologues about the value of friendship and opening up to others, accompanied by wistful closeups. It may seem sappy, but I appreciate the acknowledgement of how important feelings can be, particularly to adolescents on the cusp of big changes. And following their emotional paths, particularly in big reading chunks, is worthwhile and satisfying, especially from a perspective of “I’m so glad I’m past that”. Yet sympathy with feelings of uncertainty is something we never outgrow.
The author’s notes at the end, longer than I’ve seen in other manga, continue to impress with her honesty about her own career uncertainties. It can be reassuring for younger readers to realize, both through the story and her comments, that everyone has similar confusion in these areas.
Halfway through volume 13 , we pick up with Megumi’s trip to France. On the one hand, it’s a typical manga story of determination winning the day. There are plenty of stories where if someone just tries hard enough, they get what they want. However, in this case, she also has to deal with the idea that a Japanese girl, no matter how long and hard she keeps pushing, isn’t wanted in this field. The author says that “she needs to be hurt” because she was so mean to the others, but I think there’s also the reflection of our struggles shaping our character.
Like volume 10, volume 14 revisits a classic trope of the shojo genre, the summer beach trip, but with the knowledge and reflection that these characters are two years older than they were, in different places in their lives. By jumping ahead through key seasonal moments, reading a chunk of these volumes really feels like time passing more quickly than you want it to, as students feel in the last year of school. Chapters become more episodic, as we check in with various cast members moving in different directions.
Volume 15, marking seven years of the series in its original run, returns to romance in a big way, with an unrequited crush taking up the first half of the book. After that, it’s Christmas again, and characters begin moving on, out to their new lives, in a big way, with college acceptances and moving in together and leaving for another country. A particularly powerful sequence consists of Mei’s memories, then and now, as they attend graduation.
There have been two more volumes out since this set of my reading binge, with the series concluding in volume 18, due out “late 2017”. I look forward to continuing to catch up and wish these young adults well on their life journeys.