I Cannot Reach You is a shounen-ai that explores young love in a similar way to Blue Flag. It offers up a look into the lives of childhood best friends Yamato and Kakeru in high school and who begin to be pushed into romance by those around them. A lack of communication propels the story into a typical high school romance and showcases how a deep friendship can push people to guard their friend, even if it’s from their romantic love.
Written and illustrated by Mika, I Cannot Reach You Volume 1 is published in English by Yen Press, translated by Jan Mitsuko Cash, and features lettering from Alexis Eckerman. In this story, Yamato and Kakeru are two halves of a whole. Yamato is bad with people but is a top student, tall, handsome, and athletic. On the other side, Kakeru is a student with low grades but amazing at making friends. But their faults are balanced by each other. Always at each other’s side, they’ve entered a point in their life where everyone around them is exploring young love, and both are pushed to get girlfriends. That said, they don’t want girlfriends; they want each other.
Unlike in Blue Flag, where the leads aren’t already in love with each other, I Cannot Reach You has an easy path forward for its leads. Confess. Accept each other. Be a couple. But that’s too easy for a romance manga. While the trope of assuming what the other party wants comes into play, it’s never dismissive. Yamato wants to be around Kakeru, stepping outside his boundaries and attending a mixer just to spend time with him. But, to his dismay, Kakeru focuses on using his outgoing personality to put Yamato in the crosshairs of every girl at the mixer—even if he finds himself getting increasingly jealous.
They both love each other to the point that they’re trying to make the other person happy preemptively and, in doing so, aren’t taking the time to speak to one another. Instead, Kakeru is pushing Yamato towards a future with a girlfriend he doesn’t want and, in the process, making him feel even more uncertain about how Kakeru would react to his confession. Both characters are trying to safeguard the other while also doing what they can to remain at each other’s side.
Because of this, there are heartbreaking moments. While readers go into the story understanding that Yamato is in love with Kakeru, thanks to a beautifully illustrated full-color splash page at the manga’s opening, Mika takes us through the story from Kakeru’s perspective. By doing this, we get to see that Kakeru slowly realizes his own romantic feelings of love for his best friend and, more importantly, carrying the weight of not knowing what to do for him. Stuck in the heteronormative view of romance, Kakeru is put into multiple situations that remind him of shoujo manga. Initially, the moments are cool callouts, but as you keep reading, you feel Kakeru’s sadness, “I’m sorry I’m not a girl.”
It’s one sentence, but it’s heartbreaking. In part, Kakeru doesn’t have anyone to discuss his emotions with and is being pushed towards girls by everyone. To cover it up, he wants to find Yamato a girlfriend, not because he wants to see his best friend with someone else, but because he wants someone to give the love he feels to Yamato. It’s crushing. And it only gets worse when you realize how much Yamato wants to reach out to Kakeru and tell him that he likes him—and he almost does, before crying and leaving.
I Cannot Reach You is the best use of a title explaining the theme of a manga. These two boys are so close, so integral to each other’s lives, and yet they can’t seem to reach each other’s hearts even though that’s all they both want to do. To pair with this story, Mika illustrates each scene with as much love and intricacies as they can. Especially when it comes to the subtle and overt reactions that both the boys have. For Yamato, the stoic one, his tears are small. They’re hard to see, but his clenched jaw and covered eyes tell you they’re there. For Kakeru, who wears his emotions on his sleeves, his jealousy, embarrassment, and fear are clear to the reader and, more importantly, to Yamato whenever they arise—though we’re the only ones who know the reason.
At the end of the day, I Cannot Reach You Volume 1 opens up a story that needs to be told. Queer romances belong in a young audience demographic as much as they do in an older one. That’s the importance of shonen-ai. To see these two boys navigating their emotions and trying as hard as they can to preserve their friendship, putting the other in front of themselves, and that’s love. My only complaint is that readers will have to wait until June to know what happens next after the cliffhanger ending.
I Cannot Reach You Volume 1 is available wherever books are sold.
I Cannot Reach You Volume 1
At the end of the day, I Cannot Reach You Volume 1 opens up a story that needs to be told. Queer romances belong in a young audience demographic as much as they do in an older one. That’s the importance of shonen-ai. To see these two boys navigating their emotions and trying as hard as they can to preserve their friendship, putting the other in front of themselves, and that’s love.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.