Say I Love You.
好きっていいなよ。(Suki tte Ii na yo.)
Shoujo – Romance, drama, slice-of-life, mature
18 Volumes (complete)
Mei is a loner. She doesn’t have friends, and she doesn’t want friends, plain and simple. After she mistakenly kicks the most popular boy in school, Yamato, he decides he wants to get to know her. But Mei insists she wants nothing to do with him…
Years ago, Kodansha Comics asked fans for suggestions on what shoujo series to license. Say I Love You. was one of the top two, and so they did bring it over and have now released it in full. It’s easy to understand why Say I Love You. is so popular… but it’s also definitely easy to see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Say I Love You., despite being a rather lengthy romance, doesn’t waste any time in pushing the main couple together. Mei spends her days going to school, to work, and then home, and she has no problem with this. She doesn’t speak to any of her classmates, and even when they discover they can harass her with no consequences, Mei still doesn’t respond. Well, one day, Yamato’s friend starts tugging at the skirt, and Mei finally snaps. She ends up kicking Yamato in the face instead of Takeshi, but this only cements his interest in her.
He gives her his number, but Mei randomly, unusually decides to keep it, an action I still don’t fully understand. She dials it when dealing with a creepy customer, and by the end of the volume, Mei not only has a boyfriend but some friends — including a former enemy.
With a title like this, it isn’t surprising that one of the common requests the characters have is wanting a particular someone to say “I love you” to them. Sometimes, it’s a rival for Mei or Yamato’s affections, and other times, it’s one of their acquaintances going through a love crisis. The earlier volumes are almost like a series of connected chapters centering around different people, so there are different types of couples getting together. Later on, Say I Love You. is focused around a smaller, core group, and even new characters are dragged into the story only to be kicked out at the earliest possible convenience.
Regardless, Say I Love You. is more like a series of love essays in manga format. The tone is very introspective and full of lessons you’d hear at a retreat for a successful marriage. But some will see this series as preachy, and others will think Say I Love You. is poetic. It’s made to be heartwarming, and I agree it is for much of the manga, but the story does get repetitive by the time it enters the college arc. (The final volume — and even the previous to an extent — is basically an epilogue by the way.)
Author Hazuki isn’t afraid to show some destructive or mentally unhealthy behaviors, and people like Mei don’t change immediately from a negative loner to a cheerful idol. But there’s only really only one couple where it’s a will-they-or-won’t-they situation. For everyone else, it’s more of naive attitudes rather than wandering hearts — i.e. what behaviors are appropriate between friends versus sending mixed signals. It’s good that there’s never a huge blowup between either the couples or the rivals, but if you want to see dramatic moments, the series is pretty low on those.
If there’s another key theme in the manga, it’s probably body image. Mei’s first female friend Asami, for instance, has a large chest, but she is uncomfortable with the sort of attention it brings. Aiko went on an extreme diet in order to get Yamato’s attention, Yamato’s friend Kai bulked up in order to get revenge, and schoolmate Megumi became a model because she was teased as a child. The teenage years are a complicated time, so it’s no surprise that looks are a big part of the story. Most of the transformations took place before the start of the manga, and I do think the author missed an opportunity to have, how should I say, a less standard couple reinforce the message that any changes should be for yourself rather than because of someone else.
I mentioned earlier that some characters are kicked out. One who sticks around is Megumi, a rival for Yamato’s affections. Even after she has given up on him, much of the story still centers around her. I wish Hazuki had turned Megumi’s story into her own manga. Despite not being a part of Mei’s inner circle, Say I Love You. spends quite a bit of time following Megumi around, even showing her trying to go pro in France. She isn’t very likeable when we first meet her, but because she just sucks up so much of the manga, I still had negative feelings for her. Even Mei and Yamato’s closest friends don’t get nearly the amount of focus and development as Megumi does. It feels like whenever Megumi enters, everything else stops.
I do applaud the author for being what seems like one of the few where the male lead isn’t either a) filthy stinkin’ rich or b) dealing with major family issues. He and Mei face struggles as they decide what to do with their life, but I enjoy not having to deal with absent mothers or hard-handed fathers. He’s a bit clueless, but Yamato is far from the tsundere and/or abusive types that dominate the genre. Mei is pretty relatable, as she has both strong and weak parts of her personality, but she has some adorable eccentricities. (I love her bathing suit choice when the gang first goes to the beach.) The other character I liked in particular was Asami, who was pretty unique for this type of story. She liked Yamato as a person rather than a romantic partner, and she tries to become friends with Mei since she wants to get along with her friends’ friends. It was nice to see a friendship not originating from a competition for a guy or because of a long bond. All in all, the characters are realistic, as they are complex, conflicted, and often finding it easier to realize others’ problems than their own. Even if the story itself drags, at least it’s somewhat countered by the charming main cast.
Despite the fluffiness at times, this is a mature shoujo series. Kodansha USA rates this for OT. Sex is a part of these teenagers’ lives, but, ironically, the earlier volumes are more explicit than the later ones. It’s not even close — it’s barely mentioned in the second half of the manga, let alone seen. As the story establishes that the three main couples are all going to live happily ever after, it loses some of its edginess. Perhaps if it had kept its more “same setting, different characters” approach, the manga could have had some more spice to it.
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 series quite well. Bodies are long and thin with angular features, and we see the characters’ hair change over the years to show the passage of time. 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 extremely limited. Generally the only time the characters are SD are when they’re doting on their partner. Backgrounds are quite good, especially since sound effects and its associated screentones are not used too often. It’s a pretty unique style. I was disappointed that only one volume (13) has any color inserts.
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 among my favorites, so I really don’t have much to say.
Despite my gripes, I have to agree with the quote from Anime News Network Kodansha Comics put on the back cover. Say I Love You. is “just plain better than you think it is going to be”. It’s just hard to dislike Mei, Yamato, and all their friends, and thus it’s hard to dislike the story. Just be aware that even with the slight change in approach between the early and later volumes, the overall atmosphere and tone remains the same. So if the first volume or even the first chapter didn’t impress you, then it’s not going to get any better for you.
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.