The hardest change is the kind you don’t see coming. That’s something Mizuho is rapidly discovering in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to rear its ugly head and at least one, if not two, of her childhood friends is ready to stop holding back and admit that he has romantic feelings for her. It’s a double-whammy of a blow to a girl whose life had just been sailing along as it always did, and among other things, Haruka Mitsui‘s manga seems to imply that while both incidents would have shaken up Mizuho’s world regardless, it’s the two of them coming on each other’s heels that really sends her into a tailspin.
It isn’t hard to see why they might coincide, however. Things start to derail when Mizuho learns that because of a strange new virus, an important meet for her high school’s swim team has been canceled, and the disappointment has caused one of the third years on the team to quit. Since Mizuho has had a crush on him for a while, she slips an ill-advised confession into the mix while trying to console him, and when he rejects her, she’s at least a little heartbroken – and maybe a small, superstitious part of her thinks that he did because her plan of confessing after he won at the now-cancelled meet fell through. But her confession has another repercussion: one of her childhood best friends, Kizuki, panics that his meet-dependent confession plans are gone and just up and kisses her. Add in that all of these things are happening on Mizuho’s seventeenth birthday (which her father has forgotten) and it’s not hard to make a case for her feeling like it’s the end of the world.
What’s striking about the opening chapters of the first volume is that it shows how so many things are linked to the “normal” progression of our everyday lives. It’s something that many of us have had to learn to adapt to as the pandemic has gone on, with even promising news often feeling tempered with a “but” or “unless” that seems all too possible, but for people looking forward to promised landmark events, that feeling may be even worse. Every generation of students as far back as Mizuho can trace were able to have sports meets, go on school trips, and follow a very specific pattern of events, and it feels not just unfair, but wrong that she and her friends can’t have those things too. It creates in them an urgency to do more or to make up for their lack however they can, as we see not just in the spontaneous confessions of love, but also in things like camping out in Mizuho’s driveway in an attempt to make up for not going on a class trip to Hokkaido.
We can also see how hard it is for everyone to truly understand what’s happening. Mizuho, like many a protagonist before her, dreams of becoming a manga artist, and she’s even gotten meetings with editors. None of her sports stories are enough to get her published, and one editor suggests that she write from her own “youthful” experience. He’s talking about romance of course, something she doesn’t feel she has enough experience with or interest in writing about to make it work, but what we can see from our position in the future is that she’s actually living through a great story to write about: the start of a global pandemic. Presumably she’ll get there later in the series, because from her afterwords to both volumes we can see how Mitsui herself has been affected as a creator and how it led to this series being written in the first place. But as of these two volumes, Mizuho’s stuck in the horrors of romantic complications that she never saw coming.
The way that’s handled is a nice piece of the series. All of Mizuho’s childhood friends are boys, and aside from Kizuki at least Shin also appears to have a crush on Mizuho, but she’s so comfortable around all of them that she just never noticed – or wanted to notice. More than anything, Mizuho seems frightened by Kizuki’s confession because she’s terrified to lose her friendship with any of the boys, and accepting his emotions – or Shin’s, Airu’s, or Shuugo’s – would irrevocably change the way the five of them interact. Having lost her mother to something so traumatic that she barely can think about it, Mizuho’s not ready or willing to risk losing someone else, a feeling that stands to only grow stronger as the pandemic emerges as a pandemic in later volumes of the series. For readers there’s also the issue that Kizuki has very little idea of “personal space” where Mizuho is concerned, and while that may be from their long friendship, he still does kiss her twice without her consent and when it clearly makes her uncomfortable. It’s nothing out of the shoujo romance norm, but given the other topical subject at play, it does stand out a bit more than it otherwise might, while also giving the impression that of the friend group, Kizuki may be the most immature.
Anyway, I’m Falling in Love with You. is Mitsui’s second title to get a digital-only release from Kodansha (the other being the volleyball-themed I Fell in Love After School), and of the two, this is definitely the stronger. Although it adheres to many of the basic shoujo romance tropes, it also offers an interesting group of very close-knit friends and it takes a dual timeline approach to telling its story, with a couple of chapters set in 2030 giving us a few hints of what’s to come. The art is pleasant and does a good job of distinguishing all of the boys from each other and giving them distinct fashion styles, and the decision to incorporate the pandemic rather than ignore it for escapism purposes stands to pay off as the plot progresses. It may not be an absolute stand-out in its genre, but it’s also good enough to merit picking up if you’re in need of a new romance with plenty of complications.