I wanted to give something new a try this time around and take a look at some short anime series to see how they compare to the manga. For our first review, we have Say I Love You, created by Kanae Hazuki, and picked up for its 13 episode anime adaptation by Studio Zexcs and Sentai Filmworks. The manga itself currently has 17 volumes published with the 18th and final volume due to come out sometime this year. Like most anime adaptations, the manga continues well after the anime ends, but the question then becomes whether it’s actually worth it to continue reading the manga or even if it’s worth it to check out the anime. I’m hoping with these types of reviews, I can answer those questions for you guys. Over the past couple days I’ve binged through all 13 episodes of the anime and 17 volumes of the manga, and have come to the conclusion that while I love how the anime handles the story, the manga has its good points as well.
Say I Love You follows the growing love story between high school students Kurosawa Yamato and Tachibana Mei. Mei doesn’t trust people, not after being bullied her whole life, and refuses to make friends or open up to people. But that all changes when she round-house kicks the most popular boy in school, Yamato, and gains his unwavering attention and phone number. While she vows never to use it, soon finds herself hiding from a stalker in a convenience store with Yamato the only person she can call for help. After he shows up to rescue her and subsequently steals her first kiss, she begins to see that opening up to the people around her isn’t such a bad idea after all.
I haven’t gotten the chance to read the 18th and final volume of the manga since the mangaka went on hiatus to have her baby, but what I have read of the current 17 volumes is fairly good. I certainly wouldn’t call it one of my favorite series, but it manages to be an entertaining read about highschool age kids overcoming bullying and growing to find out who they are as people. The art can be kind-of sub-par sometimes however, with the characters lengthening in proportions to the point where their torsos are the same height as their legs. But for the most part, the artwork and the what the mangaka chooses to emphasize gives this manga a very shoujo romance feel. You absolutely know that this is targeting a young female demographic from its focus on fashion, modeling, and its large shots of characters wearing different kinds of fashion. None of this takes away from the fact that Hazuki seems to have a good grasp of panel layouts that helps keep the pace leisurely as well as a good range of values and effects to add to the depth of a scene.
The story itself is your typical romance featuring a girl who shuns human interaction because of past instances of bullying and insecurities. I’ve seen this kind of story a million times as it can act as a sort of wish fulfillment for the reader who may also being having similar troubles in school. Seeing someone who is quiet and awkward suddenly get noticed by someone who is popular and well-liked could add hope to the thought that it could someday happen to you. But because these kinds of stories are so widespread, it usually falls to the characters themselves to become the backbone of the series. For Say I Love You, I honestly think I liked the side characters more than I liked the main ones. Mei and Yamato are fairly solid characters personality-wise, but I just don’t get a sense that they’re well-rounded. I don’t get the sense that they have any significant interests outside of school and their relationship besides maybe cats. In the end, I felt that Mei’s choice to go into a childcare field was kind of out of nowhere, mainly because there seemed to be no planning behind that decision. I could see Yamato’s choice to get into photography more because of his brief involvement in modeling. When the point in the manga came where we get to see the background of Yamato’s brother’s relationships, I almost wished he got a manga series of his own because I could see it going some pretty interesting places.
The manga also has a tendency to devolve into long and involved discussions of each character’s personality and why they think the way they do. Mei has the habit of taking the time to explain to other people why what they do is wrong or why this person is feeling this way. It can get to the point where it becomes pure exposition that really isn’t needed. We, the reader, get why they do what they do. We don’t necessarily need all the explanations, considering that the purpose of exposition is to provide the reader with information they may not already have. There were times where I felt it really slowed down the pacing of the whole series even if it does make sense for Mei’s character.
In contrast, while the anime does not have as much content as the manga, I think it does a really good job at condensing the first 28 chapters into the short 13 episodes. I even think ending the story there would have been okay, keeping it short and sweet while still preserving the essential character development. In a way, I think the anime is better purely because it cuts out some of the superfluous and repetitive story while presenting the key manga content in a new and exciting way. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems of its own especially when it comes to the ending.
The way Studio Zexcs uses animation to tell the story of Say I Love You helps a bit with the pacing problems I mentioned above in the manga. In order to fit a full arc into the 13 episodes, they had to cut out a lot of the exposition and filler, leaving the action and the expressions of the characters to fill in those blanks. I especially love the opening of episode 1 where it goes quickly through the flashback of why Mei is so withdrawn. The who direction of hat flashback emphasizes her loneliness and makes us uncomfortable with its shots of her shoes, legs, and blurred figures. It then transitions into a scene of her walking up to the train station and standing in front of a huge scenic billowing cloud only to have it get cut off by the passing train. Both of these scenes show us just how along Mei is as well as her wish for a peaceful life that is shattered by the reality she is living. It becomes more evident later in the episode when the same cloud scene pops up in the middle of her round-house kick to Yamato, her illusion of peace shattered again.
You can see this skill in directing, pacing, and animation show up again in the scene where Mei is trapped in the convenience store by her stalker. I watched the anime first before I went back to read the manga, and this scene in the manga never felt as important or suspenseful as it did in the anime. The shot directing, voice acting, and animated expressions all added a level of urgency to this scene that wasn’t there before. This is a formative scene in their relationship, and I just didn’t feel it enough in the manga. I personally like the anime more, except for the addition of episode 13 which was never in the manga and just adds the unneeded Yamato being sick story. I also think the way the anime wraps up the story of Megumi versus how it plays out in the manga afterwards feels a lot better for her character. I really didn’t like how after she went to France she just kind of lost her drive and started revolving her work and life around a boyfriend again. The anime felt like a much more satisfying end to her story.
However, this boils down to a choice of content versus presentation. Are you willing to trade the extra content you get in the manga for the experience of the anime? Let me know if you had a favorite version down in the comments below or if you’d like to see more of these kinds of posts.