So I guess we’ve got to talk about Yagate Kimi ni Naru.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. I got volume 1 back when it was first out in one of my periodic scourings of amazon.co.jp for the word “asexual,” and 4 volumes and two and half years later, I still don’t feel like it can be explained yet. Even though it’s been available in English for a while, I still put it off. When I opened up my package today and saw it will be an anime this fall, though, I realized that this is probably the time.
A Recap of the Plot without Any Commentary
Yagate Kimi ni Naru (”Yagakimi”) is a yuri(?) manga written by Nakatani Nio. There are currently 5 volumes out, with number 6 due in October along with the anime adaptation. 4 volumes are currently available in English (5 to be released in February).
The main character, Yuu, is a first-year high schooler who sees an upperclassman, second-year Nanami Touko, turn down a love confession, saying she doesn’t intend to date anyone. Yuu is drawn to Touko’s handling of the confession, as she has been struggling with her inability to fall in love, and joins the student council to work with her. Touko, who has previously never felt any sort of romantic feeling, finds herself falling in love with Yuu, but only because Yuu will never love her back. Or will she?
Genre as Destiny
One of the most anxiety inducing things about comics in Japan is that the bookstore is organized by publisher. As I cannot keep any publishers straight, it meant wandering around reading all the titles and hoping I was not crossing over into the “wrong” section. I did do that occasionally–and was always, always disappointed. Yagakimi is published on Dengeki Comics’ DC NEXT label and serialized in Dengeki Daioh, which is kind of mind-boggling. Even more so when you consider that both the art style and general plot are much more shojo than shonen. There is zero fanservice, and the plot is basically only evident in tensions between the characters due to their emotional uncertainty. And yet… there is something about it that makes it different to the way woman-friendly f/f manga is written, too. The author’s bibliography is such that I wonder if they don’t have another pen name for when they’re not writing this. It’s an odd grebe duck.
Ultimately, though, it’s the genre that makes me the most uncertain about this work. Most of the internet is convinced that by the end Yuu and Touko will be lesbians together–and not aromantic or asexual ones. We’ve met four other confirmed lesbians so far, including two gainfully employed adults(!!), and one maybe. Of the two guys on the student council, one of them is clearly asexual/aromantic/spectrum himself, and contrasting him to Yuu lends credence to the idea that she might be pushed off the spectrum. The clear expectation is that they will end up together–and “end up” means in a sexual relationship.
Labels are for Soup Cans
If you find people talking about the asexual/aromantic themes in the work, you also tend to find a lot of reasons why the jury is still out or blatant refutations of the idea. I read one comment where I actually wondered aloud to myself, “What clearer proof do you need?”
No, none of the characters use any labels of any kind (not even the lesbians), but…. it’s not like a lot of these words and their nuances are widely understood. To wit: none of the commenters understand them. One person said Yuu had experienced sexual attraction in what I think was a reaction to a scene where she said kissing had “felt nice.” I read these three characters and I see something definitely going on there. I mean, I was that 15-year-old. In fact, I had a lot in common with Touko when I was 16. That’s how my sexuality expressed itself when I was in high school, and look where I am today~
As far as Nakatani goes, I can’t find any reference to asexuality or knowing of its existence, so I’m pretty sure none the characters are going to be using any labels any time soon. The genre bending is not helping give me any of piece of mind.
Don’t Hurt Me No More.
So what does Nakatani say the story is about? It explores that age old question: “What is love?”
As an asexual person who speaks Japanese, I am 100% behind this in theory. The shades of what it means to love someone, what types of love you can feel for them, where the line is in nature or intensity–all of these things are important questions to ask. Seeing a discussion like it in Japanese is uniquely refreshing because of the cultural context and the fact that the language is much better equipped to deal with the nuances. Seeing it in the context of characters like me–that’s outstanding.
And yet asking the questions has been used by both Japanese and English readers to undermine the potential asexuality/aromanticism of these characters. How can it be that the questions that are demanded by our existence can be turned around to delegitimize and erase us?
Tropes vs. Aces
So given the clear, obvious, *verbalized* ace-ness of this story and its characters, why have I written this review to leave you all on tenterhooks waiting for the other shoe to drop?
This is a deeply uncomfortable manga to read.
And no, I don’t just mean that unease about whether or not the end is going to be a betrayal. I mean, the actual story is uncomfortable. Is there an older girl apologizing for leading a younger one astray and “making” her a lesbian? Check. Is there a lesbian best friend who decides to quietly support her best friend from by her side forever? Check. Is one of the protagonists deeply broken as an explanation for her inability to love/accept love? Check.
I thought really, really hard about how to warn for this manga, and I honestly can’t even suss out what might be useful. Especially in light of the fact that it is Too Real in an upsetting way.
The Empty Vessel
There’s a post about White Collar I’ve been trying to write for the past three years that identifies the lack of one’s own desires as something that reads incredibly asexually. The reason one of the main characters of that show reads as ace to so many people is in how he has no desires or boundaries in relationships (romantic and not) and will accept whatever conditions in order to be loved. Maybe physical expressions of affection are the price that we pay in order to make the relationships we care about work.
Yuu is like this to a dangerous degree. There’s a scene that upsets me in particular where she tries to kiss Touko, and her gut tells her to stop because that’s not what she wants, but when Touko kisses her, she can “get past” that feeling. Later, she moves away from Touko, deliberately putting space between them, but she’s also clearly curious about touching.
Touko pushes Yuu in bad ways–which is almost BL-ish in execution, bringing in more other-genre elements–but Yuu goes with the flow. And, as I said, having been that 15-year-old, I recognize its fidelity to reality while simultaneously rejecting with my soul its reproduction in this work. Touko’s horrific backstory doesn’t make things any better, and it brings back all that confusion and guilt.
I honestly have no idea how this story is going to work itself out. Every time I read a new volume I think, “that’s it, I’m done” and yet somehow here I am at the end of volume 5. I’m sure I’ll get 6 when it comes out, and I’m sure 6 won’t be the last one. I maaaaaay even watch the anime (but probably not lol).
So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t subject yourself to this just yet. I will tell you how it ends and you can decide then. Because while this story is uniquely dangerous to ace and aro people’s mental health in weird, weird ways, it also has a lot of potential if the author doesn’t take the easy way out? And answers all the questions raised? We’ll see.
 Mito Komon yuri would have been okay if they had at least still meted out justice in between the panty shots. They did not.
 I know they always have; I fail to see why I have to accept it as making sense just because it has always been that way.