Always content to lurk in the background and watch other people’s relationships, particularly those resembling her favorite boys love comics, Kae Serinuma never really thought about having a relationship for herself. But when her favorite anime character dies, she sinks into a depression that causes her to lose all of her extra weight and become physically attractive. She’s now one of the most popular girls in her class, with four guys and even one girl vying for her affections. However, Kae has no interest in 3-D guys, and so her new found love interests have to come to terms with the fact that they may never gain her affections.
Kiss Him, Not Me is definitely not your conventional romance, and the more I read through it, the more I don’t think it was ever intended to be one. I was a little hesitant when I first started reading because of the amount of cliches and rushed plot points, but once you start realizing that it’s written more as a parody than anything else, it becomes a lot more enjoyable. But even with all its pot shots at being meta and references to a variety of different anime and games, it still manages to make a lot of great points about both relationships and otaku culture.
The main story behind this manga is that Kae has no interest in real relationships, and prefers to be on the sidelines fantasizing about her OTPs (one true pairings). Even when she gets very clear confessions from everyone and even makes the effort to figure out if she can go out with one of them, she still reverts to her 2-D loves. In a lot of ways there’s this sigma surrounding otaku and their unwillingness to form real relationships even in anime and manga. What Kiss Him, Not Me accomplishes is saying it’s alright if you want to be by yourself. Sometimes loving who you are is more important than finding that “special someone” and we shouldn’t be stigmatizing people for choosing that. I think this is something that pretty much everyone in the manga works towards understanding as well. The character of Igarashi I think makes the biggest strides in this direction. He both comes to realize that he likes Kae for more than just her looks and starts to take an interest in her favorite things as well. Her suitors are pushy at the start, but over time they come to understand that just spending time together is what is important to Kae. Their relationship with her is also what brings this group of very different people together as friends in the end.
The start of her surge in popularity was when she lost a bunch of weight and suddenly became cute in the eyes of her classmates. While making points about coming to love who you are over time, Kiss Him, Not Me also makes pretty powerful jabs at this culture in a lot of manga and anime of valuing girls who are skinny and physically attractive. Many of the characters started liking Kae because of how she looks, and we see their distress when she suddenly gains all that weight back again. Nanashima particularly starts hassling her to lose weight because he wants her to go back to his ideal woman. At the same time, we get introduced to Nishima who calls them all out on the fact that they only like her for her looks. It’s through Igarashi that we see him learn that nothing about Kae has changed except her weight so in essence nothing has changed about their relationship. It takes some time, but I think all of the boys come around to this way of thinking as well.
However, part of loving Kae is also accepting all of the things that she loves. Through Kae, this manga gets the chance to talk a lot about otaku culture including: convention culture, anime pairings, and the kinds of obsessions that can be born from connecting with these characters. I think one of the most powerful chapters was when Nishima and Kae get into a fight over their favorite OTPs when they find out they have different opinions over who is the seme and who is the uke in the relationship. Pairing battles can be a very contentious issue in some circles of fandom, and as this story shows, can even lead to lost friendships. MangaTherapy makes some very good points about this issue, and I recommend reading his analysis for a more in-depth look. What Kiss Him, Not Me does is say that it’s okay to passionate about something, but taking that passion to the point of losing friendships is not okay.
Kiss Him, Not Me makes use of a lot of cliches in order to parody the romance genre. Each of these situations ends in a slightly unexpected way, but for the most part I could predict generally where the story was going to go. In the end, this manga doesn’t seem like the kind of story where the main character will eventually end up with someone (it’s still ongoing so we’ll see). Each character is even given their own fleshed-out backstory to the point where I don’t even know if I want Kae to pick one over another. It’s a great read for anyone who is either part of the BL culture or is looking for a light-hearted take on the romance genre. There’s apparently also an anime adaptation coming out this season, so we’ll see how that goes as well!
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