Aoki has a crush on Hashimoto, who sits next to him in class. One day his friend Aida refuses to lend him an eraser, so Hashimoto does…and when he takes off the paper sleeve, he finds that it says “IDA” with a heart! Realizing that this must mean that Hashimoto likes Ida, who sits in front of him, Aoki freaks out and drops the eraser – which Ida picks up. In order to maintain Hashimoto’s secret, Aoki pretends that he’s the one who likes Ida, and then Ida takes him seriously and wants to “start as friends” while he figures his feelings out, at which point Aoki starts to fall for him for real, which feels like a betrayal of both his feelings and Hashimoto’s. But isn’t that eraser superstition about how when you wear the person’s name off the eraser they’ll like you back? How could that possibly be relevant to this situation?
This book, despite only really focusing on four characters, has enough love geometry to put Marmalade Boy to shame. That’s typically either a recipe for total disaster or a good romantic comedy, and fortunately for My Love Mix-Up!, it manages to land on the side of the latter. That’s impressive not only because of the ludicrous number of crossed affections, but also because most of the problems arise from the characters making assumptions about each other or simply not listening to what’s being said to them. That’s a romance contrivance so old that it practically pre-dates the genre, which is why it really does need to be handled carefully whenever it’s trotted out at this point. It largely works here because of the combination of Wataru Hinekure‘s writing and Aruko‘s art; most of the contradictions and frustrations happen entirely in Aoki’s internal monologue, meaning that he’s not screaming his frustrations to the world for most of the volume. When that’s paired with some of the truly weird faces Aruko draws to capture his internal angst, it becomes both funny for us as readers and point-proving for whichever character he happens to be around while he’s having an internal freak out. Ida takes most of Aoki’s reactions to him believing that Aoki has a crush on him as confirmation of his feelings, assuming frustration because Ida’s dragging his feet, when really Aoki is either horrified that he is, in fact, starting to like Ida or upset that he’s with Ida and not Hashimoto – or, as the volume moves closer to the end, both at the same time.
The result is that much of the manga is silly, ridiculous, and absolutely a ton of fun. In large part that’s because Ida isn’t upset that another boy likes him, nor does he just reject Aoki out of hand because “ew, gay.” There’s an earnestness to all of the characters that’s really charming, and even when Aoki realizes that Ida’s a great guy and he might really be falling for him, all it takes is two people reminding him that there’s nothing to be ashamed about to walk him back from believing that he’s “weird.” It’s a comedy with its heart in the absolute right place, and that’s not something that can be said for all, or even most, of the genre. Part of how it accomplishes this is by not judging any of the characters. There is some snark where Aida is concerned, but that’s mostly because Aoki to a degree blames him for the entire situation, because if he’d just lent Aoki an eraser in the first place, none of this would ever have happened. But even Aoki seems to be beginning to realize that maybe Aida unknowingly did him a favor. By being forced to borrow Hashimoto’s eraser, Aoki gets to know her a little better, and the two go from just being classmates to friends, linked by the eraser’s secret. And of course Aoki and Ida getting to know each other also can be counted as a positive; even if their relationship never becomes a romance, they’re both learning things about each other that they never would have otherwise. So really Aida may be the stealth hero of this story.
It also helps that the book isn’t solely concerned with romance and relationships. There are some of the usual high school story beats to be covered, with the ubiquitous culture festival being the main one in this volume. The protagonists’ class is, of course, putting on a play (what else but Cinderella?), and at first none of them are set to be actors. But that can’t stand in this sort of story, so through a terrible twist of fate, Ida ends up playing the prince. Hashimoto is the initial pick to be substitute Cinderella, but when Aoki notices how scared she is by the prospect, he jumps in and volunteers. It’s a great show of what we’ve been told: that Aoki is, in general, a genuinely nice person, but it also sets the stage for him to act opposite Ida…and of course screw it up entertainingly but believably. Things do go back to being serious when at the wrap party other classmates start teasing Aoki and Ida steps in to tell them to knock it off, bringing us back to the theme of there being nothing wrong or funny about being gay.
My Love Mix-Up!‘s first volume is a winning combination of sweet, sincere, and silly. In some ways it feels a little bit like Blue Flag lite, but it’s more that it manages to combine the sincerity of that series with the insanity of 1990s shoujo romances like Marmalade Boy and come up with something fun. This also has another one of Viz‘s great ratings explanations – you’ll be relieved to know that “no cinnamon rolls were harmed in the production of” the volume as we root for them all to figure out happiness.