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by Rebecca Silverman,

My Love Mix-Up!

GN 2 & 3

My Love Mix-Up! GN 2 & 3
Aoki may have “confessed” to Ida by accident, but he's definitely got feelings for the other boy now, even if he's a little befuddled by the fact. He's both afraid to get an answer from Ida and eager, but Ida doesn't know what “love” is or even what a crush feels like. When Aida, trying to help, gets the wrong idea and interferes, things look like they're headed downhill – in a very literal sense, when their school trip turns out to be a hellish ski training camp. Aoki and Hashimoto are hopeless on the slopes, so Ida and Aida suggest that they run away. With confessions, confusion, and a tumble down a cliff, it looks like things aren't heading in the right direction…unless all of that turns out to be just the push they needed to acknowledge their feelings.

I am perhaps reading too much into this, but it's wonderful that in My Love Mix-Up! we have a manga starring characters who can be interpreted as bisexual and demisexual, two orientations that don't always get the visibility that they deserve. After a volume of agonizing over it, Aoki in volume two seems fully accepting of the fact that he likes Ida, and for his part Ida is coming to terms with the idea that getting to know Aoki as a person is allowing him to fall for the other boy, suggesting that he's the sort of person doesn't become attracted to someone without knowing them first. There's also some hint that Ida felt lacking somehow in never having had a crush before now, which is a topic I hope to see explored at least a little more because it's a very real thing experienced by people who aren't allosexual or heteronormative. But even if this isn't a deliberate part of the story Wataru Hinekure is writing (and since it doesn't develop hugely across these two books, so it might not be) it adds a good interpretive layer to the text, which helps to balance the humor of the piece.

And although this is still funny, both of these books are overall less silly volume than their predecessor, at least in terms of story. (The art still has an abundance of weird faces, which honestly don't add much to the experience and at times actively detract from it. It's a relief to see them decrease in volume three.) There's a lot more internal anguishing going on, but that brings with it the revelation that Aida isn't the person Aoki is afraid he is. Throughout volume one and a good portion of volume two, Aida comes across as a leading contender for “most tactless human being.” He puts his foot in his mouth, tramples all over peoples' feelings, and suffers from the delusion that he has amazing powers of intuition. In a nice piece of storytelling, Hashimoto tells Aoki that those are the things she likes about him; in her eyes, they make him funny and warm. Aoki's more than a little floored by this, because to him those are Aida's least charming qualities and part of the reason he doesn't want to admit to his best friend that he's got a crush on another boy. He thinks that, given Aida's track record, that he will react badly, and at first it looks like he does: he instantly tries to set the record straight according to his interpretation by telling Ida that Aoki was lying about his crush. But when Hashimoto tells him off after she finds out what happened from a very upset Aoki (while still doing her best not to give away Aoki's secrets), Aida snaps to. As he says to Aoki when he's apologizing, if his initial reaction (a homophobic one) was "normal," "Then normal is wrong." By volume three he is wholeheartedly behind Aoki like the good friend he turns out to be, and in volume three there's an adorable scene where both Aoki and Aida try to leave each other alone with Hashimoto and Ida to facilitate confessions – one of which turns out rather better than the other.

Interestingly enough, that's largely because even though Aida isn't the jerk Aoki was afraid he'd be, he really is still the person whose traits both Hashimoto and Aoki recognize. When Hashimoto eventually musters up the courage to tell him why she likes him, it turns out that he doesn't remember a single one of the moments that meant so much to her. That's not really his fault, but the way he says it is spectacularly crushing, and Hashimoto is sent into a tailspin. What's interesting about this section is that Aoki's desperate attempts to get Aida to remember Hashimoto from their entrance exams and first year of high school only result in Aida recalling how he and Aoki became friends. Presumably this isn't going to lead to further mix-ups where Aida decides he has a thing for Aoki, but it says a lot about how Aida does and doesn't process things while also suggesting that maybe Hashimoto doesn't really know him at all, instead basing her feelings on what she assumes to be true rather than who Aida actually is.

In the meantime, Aida's interference causes Ida to go into full introspective mode. He's mostly been very quiet about his feelings and his reaction to Aoki's emotions, in part because he wants to do the right thing without hurting the other boy needlessly, but also because he's very uncertain of his own emotions. Ida's a bit infamous among his friends for being the dense guy who never has crushes, and while they don't mean anything by it, we can see from volume two that Ida has started to wonder whether or not there's something wrong with him. He doesn't just fall for any attractive person, and that's accounted kind of weird by his pals, although they're pretty good-natured about it. That Ida, starting to really get to know Aoki by spending time with him, is beginning to feel some unusual things in his chest indicates that he ties attraction to how well he knows the person, something borne out in volume three when he decides to take a chance on Aoki. While he might have initially thought Aoki was nice or cute is less important than how his interactions with him go. That he's at least a little upset and embarrassed when Aida tries to “fix” things shows that he's starting to like Aoki, it's just that he doesn't recognize the emotion because it's new to him, and ultimately he decides to explore that.

While the writing is a nice mix of thoughtful and fun, the art does occasionally get in the way of the story. Mostly this is the exaggerated reaction faces; while My Love Mix-Up! certainly isn't Blue Flag (nor is it trying to be), it is serious enough in some of its scenes that having Aoki make a gorilla face when surprised or sad feels out of place and tonally dissonant in the moment. Likewise Aida's Sherlock Holmes get up when he thinks he's figured something out doesn't always work; it feels like the manga is afraid to allow itself to be serious. There is one excellent page in volume two where Aida starts to put the pieces together about Aoki and Ida that's show as puzzle pieces slowly coming together around Aida's face, but more often the artistic flourishes simply get in the way. When Aruko limits herself to just showing the action, like in the infuriating scene where a teacher accuses Aoki of cheating or in the insanity that is the school trip/skiing intensive, the manga works much better.

My Love Mix-Up! is shaping up to be more than just the goofy story it seemed in its first volume. It's maintaining its light touch while still covering some serious topics, and there's a slight feeling that the ludicrous ski trip is functioning as a metaphor for emotional courage and the way that neither Aoki nor Hashimoto can bring themselves to put their hearts on the line by confessing, which works surprisingly well while still being entertaining. The only thing keeping it from being near-perfect is the art, which at times actively undermines the narrative. But even with that issue, this is still worth picking up – it's fun and sweet, but also has that dollop of romantic angst to keep the story moving.

Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-

+ Aida turns out to be more self-aware than anticipated, some nice representation if you're inclined to read it that way.
Art can get in the way of the story instead of working with it.

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Production Info:
Story: Wataru Hinekure
Art: Aruko
Licensed by: Viz Media

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My Love Mix-Up! (manga)

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