Say I Love You.
好きっていいなよ。(Suki tte Ii na yo.)
Shoujo – Romance, drama, slice-of-life, smut
7 Volumes (ongoing)
Mei is a loner. She doesn’t have friends, and she doesn’t want friends. After she mistakenly kicks the most popular boy in school, Yamato, he wants to be her friend. But Mei insists she wants nothing to do with him…
Note: this review has been updated and can be found here.
I remember when Kodansha USA was asking fans for shoujo titles to license. This was one of the two most requested, and it’s easy to understand why Say I Love You. is so popular.
From the summary, Say I Love You. hardly seems like it deserves its attention. Unpopular girl meets popular guy (and visa versa, though not as common) is hardly a unique plot in manga, let alone fiction. Sometimes I think it’s harder to find a shoujo without this trope. Mei x Yamato is also a foregone conclusion, thus this is not a “who will she choose?” story to keep readers guessing. In the very first volume, loner Mei gains some friends, and one is a former enemy. Again, this plot has been done many times before.
So what makes this series good? It’s the growth of the characters. While most main manga characters do change over the course of a series, the development is a key focus in this series. Mei suddenly doesn’t become popular nor does she open up to everyone right away. Yamato is not always confident. Several side characters also get chapters dedicated to them — some quite a few. Through it all, Mei and the others learn a little bit more about life, love, and themselves. Fortunately, the life lessons are not preachy but poetic. I get a heartwarming feeling after reading each story arc.
Despite the fluffiness at times, this is a mature shoujo series. Kodansha USA rates this for OT. While it is labeled as a smut manga, the smut (so far) is limited. Sex is a part of these teenagers’ lives, but this series isn’t overly or constantly graphic. The cast are going through puberty and dealing with hormones, and some characters are more perverted than others, but sex isn’t forced into the storyline. Ironically, the earlier volumes are more explicit than the later ones.
The story does have its downsides. One character is given a couple of chapters early, but then he is hardly ever seen again. The fact that side characters get such significant screentime may be a negative for many people. In fact, I doubt any characters will end up alone, even the ones introduced for romantic tension. Lots of time passes in the early volumes (not surprising, as this is her first long series), so I do wonder how the author will continue to balance the passage of time with her relatively short story arcs. I feel like the first volume is the weakest, as I did not fully understand Mei or Yamato’s actions in the beginning (like Mei keeping Yamato’s number). But once after a couple of volumes, I was hooked.
Like most real teenagers, Mei, Yamato, and the others are all trying to handle their insecurities. Bullying is a recurring trauma source for the characters, and it is interesting to compare and contrast how they have (or haven’t) dealt with it. I wouldn’t call any of them strong characters, but they are not weak. They’re real. They’re complex. They’re conflicted. And while some characters start off as jerks, even the worst character so far is still better than many modern male leads. As I mentioned, Mei’s and Yamato’s early actions are a bit hard to comprehend, but I guess I’ll chalk that up to early volume syndrome.
The author has written several josei stories, and the art reflects this. Hazuki’s style focuses on realism and maturity rather than cuteness and beauty. It suits the tone of the series quite well. Bodies are long and thin with angular features. Partial nudity is shown at times. There aren’t a lot of panels with the traditional shoujo flowers or sparkles. Hairstyles and colors are pretty basic to reflect the realistic setting. A few chibi versions of the characters show up, but those are limited. Backgrounds are quite good, especially since sound effects and its associated screentones are not used too often. It’s a pretty unique style.
Honorifics are used. There were a few times I wish the translators would have done it another way (like using the term “yankee” over “gangbanger”, “Asamicchi” over “Asamitchi”), but that happens in any adaptation. Nothing is anywhere close to being a face-palming or rage-inducing choice or error. Translation notes are provided. The translators for this series are two of my favorites, so I really don’t have much to say.
I have to agree with the quote from Anime News Network Kodansha USA put on the back cover. This series is “just plain better than you think it is going to be”. Despite not being a comedy series, it’s the sort of shoujo that can put a smile on my face.
Again, Kodansha USA needs to fix their binding. Far too often the text is right in the natural book crease. Readers shouldn’t struggle to actually read. I’d pay the extra dollar to add some whitespace.
LuvLuv Press, an imprint of the former company Aurora Publishing, released a volume of the author’s one-shots in the josei title Voices of Love.
Sentai Filmworks released the anime on DVD and blu-ray, while Crunchyroll has the anime available to stream. There is also a live action film, but it isn’t currently available in the US.