It’s hard not to feel cautious about delving into a manga with such a primeise. When a story about a blossoming romance between two characters starts with one of them very directly taking advantage of the other, it has to do a lot of legwork to dig itself out of that hole. Handle that poorly and readers may be left wondering why they should root for these characters by the second chapter. While I don’t think that all of the legwork was achieved in this first volume, I was nevertheless surprised at just how subtle yet involved the series is in raising some rather realistic questions about non-heteronormative sexual orientations and how society views them.
A lot of this doesn’t come from our main character Chiyo (though there is some bicuriosity starting to bloom there) but rather from the landlord that is placing her in this situation. Despite being younger, there is a clear power imbalance between the two characters and the manga very much treads the line of making sure that the situation doesn’t come across as too malicious. A lot of the “favors” being requested range from the mundane to the surprisingly wholesome, and you do get a strong feeling that the landlord isn’t going into this arrangement with sex as the primary goal. The manga goes out of its way to highlight that Chiyo’s landlord is simply feeling very lonely and a lot of this is borne out of her desperation to fill the void. It is honestly rather refreshing to have a female character that is so blunt about only being into women, but what I found just as fascinating was the occasional snide comment about other sexualities and how people view her.
The manga does not spell out everything for the reader which I appreciate. You get the sense that this was written for an audience that is willing to look past the uncomfortable premise to see where the story actually goes, and what you’ll discover beneath that facade is an account of the desperate lengths that people will go to find a connection in a society where their attractions are frowned upon, as well as what it’s like to live through a world of microaggressions from people that probably didn’t mean to be hurtful but still end up accomplishing just that. That said, I personally think that there are certain lines that should never be crossed regardless of circumstance, and this landlord crossed at least two of them throughout this first volume alone. But surprisingly, I didn’t walk away thinking that she was a terrible person, but rather a lonely and misguided soul, which is an accomplishment given my trepidations about the material. If anything, I am interested in seeing where this story goes and if it can pull off the difficult task of having me fully buy into this developing relationship.
However, while I appreciate how the landlord’s character is written as she is far and away the most interesting thing about this manga, I can’t say the same about our actual named protagonist. She is very much the typical wide-eyed screw-up manga lead that is comedically incapable of taking care of herself despite being the oldest of the two. She definitely means well, and she is willing to step outside her comfort zone for the sake of making up for her own shortcomings, which are endearing. However, the jokes about her incompetence could get a little tiring towards the end. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with her character; it’s just that this first volume was a little lopsided in its characterization – the bulk of that very subtle character-building went to the landlord whereas Chiyo is clearly meant to counterbalance that as a source of levity. Still, I think that levity could have had more variety towards the end. There are hints towards the end that imply something deeper is beginning to develop – and I hope that goes somewhere – but aside from that, there’s just not a lot to Chiyo in this first volume.
Repressed sexuality and sexual desire, non-heterosexual curiosity, societal commentary on different types of sexual orientation – I must admit, none of these are things I was expecting this manga to really touch upon when I originally picked it up to review. While it’s impossible to resolve such heavy issues within a single 188-page volume, the fact that there is a clear setup for the story to explore them more deeply made me look at the volume in a more favorable light than I initially had. It is uncomfortable and as I alluded to before, ethical lines like consent or subtle manipulation are muddied more than I think the story really needed to. Unlike the larger societal issues, these more interpersonal dynamics are not treated with the seriousness they deserve, being accompanied by an overall lighter, almost comedic tone. Sometimes it’s a nice blend, but mostly they feel incongruous with the at times cartoonish sense of humor the manga has.
This could also be a stylistic issue as the manga will occasionally use simplified character expressions for the sake of brevity. Things like Chiyo’s rounded, airheaded expressions are nice and it’s not like the art tries too hard to be cute or funny. However, similar to Chiyo’s characterization, these don’t have a lot of variety to them. That’s not true for the whole manga as there are plenty of other instances where the paneling and character framing are being used in subtle ways to elevate the heavier moments. But whenever the style shifts away from that, it can sometimes get jarring and even disappointing to see engaging artwork being undercut by something more typical and repetitive. I hope the balance is improved in future columes.
All in all I Can’t Believe I Slept With You! left me pleasantly surprised. It could be because my expectations weren’t exactly positive going in, but I do think there are some genuine attempts at leveraging that initial to talk about some pretty relevant stuff. The mileage on whether or not those conversation starters are worth the shiftier implications of some of our characters’ actions will vary from person to person. For me personally though, I think it’s a step in the right direction and while I’m not sure if the story will fully redeem itself from the place where it starts, there is enough competency and thoughtfulness on display here that at the very least makes me believe there’s a chance that might happen. Guess the manga is forcing me to check out the other volumes to see if my assumptions were right.