The Fall 2019 Manga Guide
If I Could Reach You
What's It About?It took Uta too long to realize she was in love with Kaoru – by the time she did, Kaoru had already married Uta's older brother. Because of a difficult family situation, Uta now lives with Kaoru and Reiichi, and she desperately wishes that she could move on.
But we don't choose who to love, and even with her friend's advice, getting over Kaoru might be more than Uta is capable of. If I Could Reach You is created by tMnR. Kodansha released it in September, and it is available in paperback ($12.99) and digitally ($10.99).
Is It Worth Reading?
It says something about the quietness with which this is written that it managed to be a story that I liked. Unrequited love stories aren't easy to do so that they aren't unrelentingly depressing and/or melodramatic, and tMnR pulls it off by making protagonist Uta actively aware that there's pretty much no hope for her love but doing her best to live with it anyway. It's still very much not a happy story, but it doesn't wallow in its own sadness, and that makes it an interesting read.
This volume is largely about introducing Uta's seemingly doomed love and her coming to realize that her feelings are real and valid. At several points in the book, Uta remarks that she's “not normal,” or something along those lines, and while that's an awful way to look at your own sexuality, early on there's also the sense that she means it in terms of being hung up on a married woman. She's concerned that her inability to stop loving Kaoru means that she's somehow broken, and her friend Kuro (who's a bit of a pill otherwise) manages to make her see that this isn't something she has a lot of control over. The old cliché about the heart wanting what it wants is never actually spoken, but that's basically what Uta has to come to terms with before she's able to begin making a real attempt at moving on.
Of course, it doesn't help that she's beginning to see a few cracks in Uta and Reiichi's marriage. When a night in with her friends reveals that Kaoru diligently pursued Reiichi for years before he eventually agreed to go out with her, it's the latest in a string of faint warning bells that have been ringing since the start of the book, including Reiichi forgetting their first anniversary and being embarrassed to show affection in front of his sister. While that last may be a simple cultural difference, it also has the potential to break the camel's back as that famous final straw, because Kaoru largely seems happier around and more concerned with Uta as the volume goes on. To a degree, Uta notices this too, and that's at least part of why she can't move on.
If I Could Reach You's first volume makes it look as if it could cover some interesting ground. Its art certainly helps, feeling soft and pretty and overall very easy to read, and while I wouldn't categorically recommend it for all yuri fans, readers interested in a slow, sad, and quiet story ought to check this out.
If I Could Reach You is about a girl realizing her sexuality, and the painful ways in which social forces and prescribed norms impede that understanding. Uta has had a crush on her friend Kaoru since childhood. It's deliberate that the moment where Kaoru marries Uta's brother is the one where she realizes her affection and jealousy, because it's the moment where heteronormativity severs any potential chance Uta had to be with Kaoru. It's the specific kind of pain a lot of queer people, me included, have experienced. The moment where you realize that the person you are attracted to might never reciprocate your feelings because they exist outside heteronormative boundaries. It's a bitter, terrible thing, and the manga captures it exactly.
But despite how emotionally charged its central premise is, and the sheer pain, anguish and conflict our lead feels throughout its course, If I Could Reach You is presented in a very muted, tender way. It's hinged on small realizations, small, quiet moments that nonetheless, like with all teenagers, are deeply felt and can tear the heart apart. It has a lacerating psychological acuity that reaches the dark heart of jealousy and bitterness at a world that refuses to recognize your kind of love as valid, and yet remains compulsively readable; a tonally diverse slice of life that captures many kinds of moments, both happy and sad.
And the volume ends in a way I didn't expect. To all appearances, Uta gets over her crush on Kaoru (through means of a surreptitious kiss while she's napping, which is a solution I'm not too fond of, though I need further time to consider it) and is now free to explore the various shades and dimensions of her sexuality. Perhaps this is just indication that the conceit of 'lusting after someone you can never, ever be with' only can sustain a certain amount of story, or there's a complication that has yet to be introduced. But either way, for future volumes If I Could Reach You appears to be taking Uta's character and her quiet pains into different, new directions. It makes me excited to see where the story goes next, and it lets me know that there is so, so much more emotional territory yet to be covered in Uta's life. And if I'm invested and compelled, there's no reason not to give it a firm recommendation. It deals with complicated, difficult issues with a sensitivity and grace you rarely see, and does so, surprisingly, while being light and pleasant. If you're looking for a sweet and emotionally authentic yuri manga, there's no reason not to pick it up.
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