Having just spawned an anime a month or two ago, Kodansha Comics presents to us a new manga called Love & Lies. It’s a romantic dramedy! Is it good?
In this alternative universe, Japan has created what is known as the Yukari Law, meant to help curb the country’s low birth rate. In it, the government decides to set up teens when they become 16 with arranged marriage partners. They are picked because the two teens match each other perfectly and make up for each other’s flaws, hoping they’ll be happy and produce healthy babies. Yukari Nejima has just turned 16 himself and has been assigned to a girl. However, he’s in love with his childhood friend Misaki and wants to be with her and not some complete stranger, Lilina. Let the chaos begin.
The thing that struck me about Love & Lies after reading the first volume is that it’s a manga with an intriguing premise and setup, but it feels like it needs more time to cook before we dig into anything really tasty. The whole volume is basically just laying down some of the groundwork. We’re fully introduced to our main four characters, given a bit of their backstory, and their relationships with one another. No progression is really made, but you understand everyone well enough for the time being to connect with them. The story so far, though, needs a bit more work and exploration, since it feels very light at this stage besides setup. The whole idea of the government picking your partner and them interfering in the love lives of teenagers could be good, and something worth exploring and learning about how well or badly it works. However, it almost feels superfluous at this stage, since with a bit of tweaking, the plot could essentially just be about Yukari being betrothed to someone from birth that he never met and not too much would change.
Excuse me, but this is a vote of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Why are you here?
Now let’s talk about characters themselves. Yukari Nejima is your typical, nice guy in your typical romantic comedy. He’s very polite, apologetic, a bit of a wuss and prone to saying stupid things, and gets along with girls pretty well when he can actually talk to them. He desperately wants to break with convention and find his true love without the government telling him who he should really be with, focusing on Misaki and even confessing his feelings for her. He’s an average character you usually see in these stories — not awful, but not exactly amazing. Maybe he’ll improve as time goes on.
Then we have our two female leads, Misaki Takazaki and Lilina Sanada. Misaki is Nejima’s childhood crush, who, the day before he turns 16, confesses that she’s in love with him. After that, she tries to avoid him as much as possible, clearly wanting him to forget about her and just leave her with her memories of their special moment. Misaki doesn’t have much character beyond the fact that she likes Nejima, but wants to keep her distance from him now that he has his government assigned partner. I understand what she is doing, but I kind of wish she would just flat out tell Nejima instead of just dodging and confusing him. Lilina is Nejima’s assigned partner and she has much more of a character. While she’s clearly the tsundere archetype, her behavior comes from the fact that she never had friends growing up due to always being sick and having little to no interactions with others. She’s smart, but not particularly perceptive when it comes to love and how to act around others she’s just met. However, by the end of the book, she is slowly becoming more open and developing as a person who’s likable and that you honestly want to see things work out for her. Of everyone in the series, she’s probably the best character we have.
Then we come to the fourth character, who doesn’t seem like he would be that important at first: Yūsuke Nisaka. He is Nejima’s friend and school pretty boy that all the girls are madly in love with, outside of Misaki (there seems to be some uneasy tension there). He’s sarcastic and cool, friendly enough with the lead and ultimately walks in on a big moment towards the end of the book, though we never see where it goes. He’s a fun enough supporting character… but then there’s the reveal at the end and all of his actions take on a far different context to them. I’m… very surprised and curious after this revelation, though concerned about how well this will play out in the future given Japan’s track record with these types of characters.
The artwork for the manga overall is perfectly fine and gets the job done. Its style reminds me of some Shojo artwork I’ve seen, but with less filters, flare, and flowers to it and more sneaky fanservice shots slipped into it. The characters are all drawn pretty well and capable of showing a good range of expression and emotion in their faces, with Lilina being the best, though a lot of the female characters suffer from having similar faces to one another. The layouts read and flow smoothly, though there’s definitely a lack of backgrounds in quite a few shots that make the world feel rather empty and dull. There’s no issue with any of the line work and detail here, ultimately serving this story well in the end.
Love & Lies Vol. 1 is a perfectly serviceable start to a romantic dramedy. It doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, but it doesn’t do a whole lot else beyond the setup and one point either. The writing, the characters, and the artwork all get the job done and provide a decent read. However, at this point, there’s nothing here that really hooks you into wanting to read further. If you’re interested in the title, I recommend checking it out only after the second volume drops.