July 22, 2023
By Tom Wilmot.
In the spring before her first year of high school, the shy Yuna feels lost when her best friend moves away. However, it isn’t long before she’s thrown into the company of Akari, a spritely girl who has moved into the same apartment building. To begin with, the two couldn’t be more opposite, particularly when it comes to their ideas of romance, but they hit it off and become close friends. With Yuna desperate for “the one” and Akari troubled by her home life, the girls help each other overcome the difficulties of high school and navigate their way through complicated romantic relationships with classmates Rio and Kazuomi.
Toshimasa Kuroyanagi’s romantic feature Love Me, Love Me Not, based on a girls’ manga, might seem on the surface to be a fun and fluffy affair, but has more to say when it comes to the importance of having our emotional needs fulfilled and attaining personal happiness. The crux of the plot is that old J-dorama staple, a love polygon in which the main characters develop and deal with heavy crushes upon each another. Initially, Yuna is the one most obviously pining for intimacy, as her fondness for romantic shojo manga leaves her believing on love at first sight. She thinks she has found this through an awkward encounter with new classmate Rio, but it becomes apparent that her somewhat distant peer may take some warming up. Akari, by contrast, is far more relaxed when it comes to her love life, or at least that’s the impression she likes to give. In reality, she’s perhaps the neediest of the quartet but keeps her true feelings to herself, whether out of pride or loyalty. The stark differences between Yuna and Akari mean that they’re an odd pair, but their friendship remains compelling throughout and makes for what is easily the narrative’s most fleshed out relationship.
The romantic merry-go-round at the film’s heart is filled with clichés, but there’s an element of charm that makes it all forgivable. The various misunderstandings and conversational blunders between characters, of which there are many, garner a mix of excitement and frustration. You know that things are likely to work out in the end; it’s just a matter of waiting. However, far from being a wholly predictable film, Love Me, Love Me Not throws in several twists and revelations that are sure to surprise those not already familiar with the source material. Watching the story unfold is very much a case of enjoying the journey instead of being concerned with the destination.
Aside from the romance, there’s also a significant chunk of the plot dedicated to the importance of families and friendship. Akari’s sometimes turbulent home life means that the teen is often left without a shoulder to cry on. Similarly, aspiring filmmaker Kazuomi struggles to let his own feelings rise to the surface out of loyalty to his friends. Both characters are deprived of personal happiness, and both suffer for it throughout the film. The exploration of these issues and the way that they’re dealt with highlight how important it is to have caring people around that can offer genuine emotional support. Perhaps it’s less the teenage hormones and more a universal longing for affection that has driven our cast of characters into each other’s arms.
However, far from being a pensive affair, Kuroyanagi’s film is littered throughout with humour that keeps things light-hearted. Unfortunately for Yuna, she finds herself to be the butt of most jokes, which are usually brought about by nerve-shredding encounters with Rio. Akari doesn’t help in such instances as she’s keen to see her friend find love and so takes every opportunity to force her shy hand. There are also moments in which Yuna thrills with excitement at the romantic prospects for both her and Akari, which further reveals the diehard shojo fan at her core. The mostly jovial tone means that despite some of the more serious character issues touched upon, Love Me, Love Me Not is a fun and heart-warming watch.
One area in which the film impresses throughout is the quality of the animation. The story takes place over the course of a year, beginning and concluding in the spring. Such a timespan allows for all seasons to be beautifully animated by the team over at A-1 Pictures. The romantic escapades of our lovelorn quartet take them from a scorching summer festival through to a cold, yet cosy Christmas as locations in bloom earlier in the film are covered in a blanket of snow. The animation also captures the butterflies felt by our teen lovers as they’re confronted with intimate situations. One such scene sees a rainy underpass make way for a blooming field as we glimpse into Yuna’s elated state of mind moments before a daring confession.
As far as romantically driven coming-of-age anime goes, Love Me, Love Me Not is about as light-hearted as they get. The charming cast of characters and the heartfelt relationships they develop keep Toshimasa Kuroyanagi’s film a consistently engaging drama about blossoming love and the bonds of friendship. The more bombastic moments of animation capture the ups and downs of the narrative better than any live-action version ever could and make this an enjoyable way to experience Io Sakisaka’s popular manga story.
Love Me, Love Me Not is released in the UK by Anime Limited.