I Cannot Reach You is a story of yearning. It’s not always yearning that either of the involved parties understand, though. It follows high school first years Kakeru and Yamato, two boys who have been best friends forever and can’t quite see a way out of that relationship into something warmer – or even if that’s the direction they truly want to go in. Their reasons for feeling conflicted differ, but that just makes the story more compelling, because these are two people who very clearly belong together if they can just see their way towards making it happen.
The book opens with Kakeru, the bouncier of the pair, trying to figure out why no one else sees Yamato as the amazing guy Kakeru knows he is. In fact, his other friends can’t even believe that Yamato and Kakeru are friends – when Kakeru talks about him, they express doubt as to what the two could possibly have in common. Interestingly enough, Kakeru doesn’t just tell them that they’re childhood friends, which is the much more typical answer in these manga situations; instead he explains that Yamato’s a nice guy. It’s at this point that he sees Yamato across the way talking to a girl and calls out to him, horrifying the other two boys. What Kakeru didn’t register was that the girl was confessing her love to his best friend – and that Yamato clearly turned her down.
This incident forms the catalyst for the rest of the story. Kakeru has never thought about Yamato getting a girlfriend in concrete terms, and he thinks he’s fine with it. The more he ponders, however, the less sure he is about the whole thing, although he’s unable to put a specific reason to his emotions. Later, when Yamato comes by to help him with his math makeup quiz, Kakeru straight-out asks him if there’s anyone he’s got a crush on. Yamato’s answer? Kakeru.
Of course, since this is just chapter one, that can’t possibly be the end of the story, or even the moment when Kakeru realizes that he also likes his best friend in a romantic way. Instead he can’t believe what he’s hearing, and acts like Yamato is just saying his name as a preface to another question or unrelated statement. Both boys get increasingly flustered, but the seed has been planted for Kakeru, and it begins to take root in his heart and mind as he tries to figure out what precisely is going on in both of them. Mostly this turns out to be him grappling with his own internalized homophobia – he can’t take Yamato’s words at their obvious face value because he can’t believe that another boy could possibly like him that way.
What’s important here is that he’s thinking in “coulds”, not “woulds”, which indicates that he’s not opposed to the idea; he just doesn’t think that it’s a real possibility for him. Whether that’s because he doesn’t see himself as attractive isn’t clear, but it seems the likeliest answer given the situation. Kakeru repeatedly notes in his mind whenever he and Yamato are in situations that are straight out of a stereotypical shoujo manga, such as Yamato protecting him on a crowded train or the two of them alone in the school infirmary while he patches up Yamato’s gym class injury. He remarks to himself that Yamato can’t possibly be happy or excited about the situations because they’re with Kakeru; unsaid but implied is that Kakeru is, but is either afraid to express it or is uncertain about the feelings he’s dancing around in his own mind.
That seems to be the case for both boys, really, and it’s hard to blame them because admitting that they’re in love with each other would shift their entire relationship and possibly destroy their lifelong friendship if things don’t work out. Yamato, it’s worth noting, is completely and totally aware of his own emotions where Kakeru is concerned. He has no problem admitting that he’d be upset if Kakeru got a girlfriend (and indeed is worried about it for the last couple of chapters of the book), that he’s in love with his best friend, or any of it. What he’s afraid of is losing Kakeru, which is what keeps him from taking bigger steps to make himself clear. He wants to confess his feelings; that’s very evident. But he’s holding himself back as well, waiting, we assume, for a sign from his friend that he won’t be grossed out or rejected out of hand, or even that he’s not deliberately playing the fool and pretending not to understand what Yamato has come very close to saying multiple times. Additionally, Yamato’s younger sister has a crush on Kakeru (although the crush could be on her brother; there’s a little ambiguity), and he doesn’t want to hurt her either – though that doesn’t stop him from proclaiming Kakeru his towards the end of the volume.
I Cannot Reach You is a simple story in a lot of ways. It’s built around the trope of childhood friends becoming lovers, which is common in virtually all romance fiction, manga or otherwise. However, it does it well enough that the story comes off as one of quiet yearning, rather than just a rehash of the same-old same-old, and that may be the book’s greatest strength. It’s sweet and a little sorrowful, but its ending gives us hope that things could take a turn for the better in volume two. It’s a book for hopeful romantics, and that’s something that it does very well.