by Rose Bridges,

I Love You So Much, I Hate You GN

I Love You So Much, I Hate You GN
Saori Fujimura is an upstanding employee at the office but she also has a secret…She's been having an affair with her boss, Ayako Asano. While Fujimura has always known that she likes girls, Asano is stuck in an unsatisfying marriage to a man. Her husband has been cheating too, but that doesn't help the mounting pressure from him and both their families to have kids and sacrifice her job. Meanwhile, Fujimura is realizing that her feelings for Asano go beyond mere lust, and she might want more from the relationship than Asano can give her. Can they keep going on as they are, or does their tender love affair need to end to save them both?

The title of this manga is more than a little misleading. I came into a book titled "I Love You So Much, I Hate You" thinking that it would be about a love-hate relationship: the characters argue passionately until the arguing turns into something else. Instead, Fujimura and Asano actually get along quite well, and their tension comes from elsewhere. If there's "hate" anywhere, it's only in the strength of those feelings of love and attraction they have for each other, and how powerless they are to stop it in the face of a hostile world.

Some of my favorite romances are trope-filled fantasies, but I have to say I have a bias toward the realistic. It's so refreshing when you read a great love story that seems to tap into how actual humans behave—at the very least, because it makes it that much easier to imagine that happy ending for yourself. Despite its melodramatic title, I Love You So Much, I Hate You is a great example of that kind of romance. It creates the perfect mix of pulse-pounding drama that keeps you reading, and tells a story that never feels like something that couldn't have really happened to someone, somewhere in the world.

It's also a part of my favorite, all-too-rare subgenre of yuri: stories about adult women! As much as we can also use some good old-fashioned teenage yearning, yuri has long had a problem with suggesting that lesbian relationships stop happening when you graduate high school. No longer, and thank goodness—I Love You So Much, I Hate You is a workplace romance, and feels just like something I could have picked out from a BL or hetero josei title, except it's about two women. It's a classic gay story where one is as out as she can be, while the other is married and closeted, and manages to deftly weave that thread without turning into a melodramatic coming-out narrative.

The fact that one of them is a boss and the other her subordinate may have some people feeling uncomfortable—though again, this is far from an uncommon dynamic in workplace romance manga. For me, I think what makes this work is that their power dynamic is reversed in other ways. It's the subordinate, Fujimura, who is more comfortable with being a lesbian, and likewise, much more sexually experienced with women. It's the boss, Asano, who is more closeted, and much more unsure about what this relationship means for her. Additionally, the two women don't treat each other any differently in the workplace—to the point that their colleagues are completely oblivious to their affair, or that they're anything more than good friends. (They remark on how great it is that two women who might otherwise compete get along so well!) In fact, there is a brief subplot where gossip about an "affair with a boss" gets around, and it turns out to be about a completely different couple. For me, these make this potentially troubling dynamic a lot easier to swallow.

One thing I really appreciated is how much the manga really seemed to capture the Lesbian Experience™. Fujimura, who has always known that she liked girls, gets a bit of backstory to establish her history before her affair with Asano. This part does a great job of establishing the loneliness that can come with being gay—with feeling that you are "left out" of life's traditional benchmarks. (Even if you never really wanted them, it can feel lonely to realize you don't even have a choice!) This is paralleled spectacularly with Asano's own journey, where she was railroaded toward those milestones without getting a chance to figure out if she even wanted them. On a less serious note, this manga also has quite a few jokes that I hear regularly from my own lesbian and bisexual friends but rarely see in yuri manga, like one about the characters remembering to clip their nails before they spend the night together.

On that note, I Love You So Much, I Hate You has quite a few sex scenes. They are quite sexy, but they never feel gratuitous. The manga sprinkles them in where necessary—not every few pages, but it's not shy about them either. The effect is, again, that you're looking in on this kind of relationship as though it's happening in real life. The first one happens early on, and helps to give the relationship a strong sense of forward momentum. You're not waiting for them to admit that there's an attraction; you're waiting for each of them to realize that it's grown beyond that into love.

Overall, I Love You So Much, I Hate You has a really good sense of pacing. The central relationship breathes and pushes forward where you would expect it to, and stalls where it needs to—and even when it's abrupt, it still feels natural. The one exception is that the ending felt like it came a bit too fast, tying things together too quickly and neatly. Even there, though, the story goes for emotional honesty over big romantic twists. I found it so heartfelt that I almost didn't mind that it was a bit rushed.

I expected to have fun with I Love You So Much, I Hate You, but I left feeling like I found one of my new favorite yuri manga. The big honest feelings, clever humor, and just-right amounts of drama and sexuality come together into the perfect romantic package. If you're looking for a romance that feels "real" without bogging itself down in gloomy angst, take this office affair out for a spin. I'll definitely be looking for more by this author.

Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A-

+ Refreshingly realistic but still charming and cute, mitigates its troubling power dynamic, great sex scenes, still briskly paced despite lack of melodrama
Boss/employee dynamic may still turn off some readers, ending is a little too neat

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Story & Art: Yuni

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