Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yes, No, or Maybe?
Kunieda Kei never wanted to be a TV news anchor, but when he's offered the job, he decides to take it. From that point on, he worked at developing a public persona that's everything the real Kei isn't: kind, caring, and charming. It's exhausting to keep up the role, but he'll be damned if he lets his true lazy, caustic personality out because even he doesn't like it. But when he meets stop-motion animator Tsuzuki Ushio, first as Public Kei and later as Real Kei, things start to change. Could it be that he's finally found someone who's willing to love him for both of his faces?
If there's one thing Kunieda Kei knows about himself, it's that he's basically a jerk. He has been for most of his life; he just learned early on that if he acts differently around people, they'll like him, so from childhood he's perfected the art of having two faces, one private and one public. Between that and his pleasant voice and unusually good enunciation, he landed a job as a television news anchor – not a major celebrity role, but a comfortably minor yet still recognizable part that doesn't tax his people and acting skills too much. It's a pretty good life, all things considered, as long as he doesn't mind that no one outside of his parents truly knows who he is.
This combination of brutal self-awareness and total delusion is what makes this novel work. Generally speaking, a romance novel is only as good as its lead couple, and had this book not been written in Kunieda's first-person voice, there's a very high chance that it wouldn't have been as charming. That's because from the outside, he's nothing more than a guy with a personality disorder, the sort of character who we more often see as the evil rival who the protagonist has to take down in order to triumph in the end. That is still true to a degree, with Kunieda being his own worst enemy rather than a completely separate character, creating an internal conflict that keeps the story interesting while still fulfilling the basic tenets of its genre.
Naturally one of those obligations is to get Kunieda and Tsuzuki together. Here again author Michi Ichiho plays with the expected tropes and formulas of contemporary romance, creating a tale that's simultaneously a love triangle, an enemies-to-lovers story, and a friends-to-lovers story. All of this hinges on Kunieda's uneasy relationship with himself and others: when he first meets Tsuzuki as Work Kunieda, the other man is instantly attracted to him, although Kunieda doesn't quite feel the same. Then, after a bicycle mishap Kunieda causes injures Tsuzuki's wrist, the two begin to form a friendship – but it's Real Kunieda who starts to fall for Tsuzuki while listening to him talk about how much he likes Work Kunieda. As the two men's friendship deepens, Kunieda can't decide if he's jealous of his other self or happy that he can hang out with the guy he's falling for, creating the final piece of the dynamic. So as his work self, we're in the enemies-to-lovers story, as his real self it's friends-to-lovers, and the love triangle exists between both of Kunieda's selves and Tsuzuki. That's a bit confusing written out, but it works in practice to create the tension necessary for a good romance while also confirming that Tsuzuki is worth all of the worry Kunieda goes through. With the narration being strictly Kunieda's, we can only guess where Tsuzuki stands, just like Kunieda (although perhaps with a bit more insight). The choice not to split the narration between the two men, either in first or third person, is a good one, because we're never allowed to lose sight of the fact that Kunieda has a lot of issues to work through and that he does try – he's just spent so much time crafting his mask that he's lost all perspective on how much he really needs it after all.
None of this is to say that Tsuzuki isn't a flawed person as well, because he is. But his issues are more run of the mill, whereas Kunieda has largely created his own problems and is grappling with the consequences. He's also never had a romantic relationship before (he was never interested; he certainly had opportunities), so he's trying to work that out as well alongside forcing through everything society has told him about gay relationships, which appears to mostly be “they're not okay,” although there is markedly less homophobia in the novel than in many other BL or yuri works. Also interesting is that Tsuzuki refers to himself as bisexual in a magazine interview that Kunieda comes across, but later says that he's not sure that his orientation actually fits that definition – he's attracted to a very specific type regardless of gender, which sounds more like pansexuality, a word that either he or Ichiho may not know. To see a character question their sexuality in a BL novel like this specifically, rather than through protestations of “but I'm not gay!” or the “only gay for you” trope is striking, and we can hope that more authors follow Ichiho's example on this front.
Yes, No, or Maybe? is a romance novel in the sense that we use the term in western literature, meaning that there are sex scenes present in the text. They're moderately explicit and fortunately largely free of some of the more ludicrous language that such scenes can result in, as well as some of the baffling anatomical misunderstandings of BL, but it is worth noting that they don't always feel entirely consensual. They're definitely buying into the “saying no is sexy” idea that romance fiction in general historically has an issue with; however if you're interested in the book but not the sex, skipping the sex scenes is completely possible without missing anything major in terms of the plot.
At its core, there's something very sweet about this story. It's not always presented as such, but it's more about finding out that there's someone who will love even the uglier parts of you, something Kunieda never even considered, much less thought he wanted. Using newscasting and stop motion animation as the characters' professions adds some real interest as well, and if Lala Takemiya's art is sometimes over-toned to the point where the characters look bruised, well, there aren't that many illustrations to worry over. It may not be a perfect novel, but Yes, No, or Maybe? is a good one.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting use of romance genre tropes, Kunieda is very understandable. Nice core message.
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