What does it mean to “be in love” or to “fall in love?” That question is the beating heart of Eku Takeshima‘s yuri series Whisper Me a Love Song, and for a nice change of pace, the answer has nothing to do with gender. One of the many strengths of this title is that no one ever says anything about both Yori and Himari being girls, and when Himari’s mother figures out that a relationship may be on her daughter’s horizon, she doesn’t make any assumptions about it being with a boy. There’s only one point where gender is even mentioned, and it’s not in the context of it being weird, but rather just part of the general question of what a romantic relationship is and how it ought to manifest. Even though it never uses the phrase, Whisper Me a Love Song really does feel like it’s about love just being love.
It’s what “love” is that forms the backbone of the story. It opens with high school first year Himari going to listen to her friend Miki’s older sister perform in a band for orientation. Aki’s the bassist, but Himari barely notices her the moment she hears vocalist Yori sing. Himari’s blown away by Yori’s performance, and quickly becomes obsessed with the third-year student. She declares that she’s fallen in love with Yori (or Yori’s singing), and both Miki and Yori interpret that to mean romantic love. But it quickly becomes apparent that that’s not what Himari means – she just doesn’t know another way to express the strong feelings engendered in her by Yori’s singing. At first that feels like a cheap plot hurdle to throw in the girls’ path, but when we hit volume two, it becomes clear that Himari’s parents are more open and affectionate than usual, expressing their love for each other frequently and in Himari’s presence. Since most of us, at least at high school age, can’t or are uncomfortable thinking of our parents being in a romantic and/or sexual relationship, Himari simply thinks that “love” and “in love” are ways you’re meant to express enjoyment of someone else’s company.
Before you start assuming that this is unrealistic and implies a ridiculous naivete on Himari’s part, it’s worth considering the fact that, as Miki mentions, Himari has never expressed attraction to or a crush on anyone previous to the start of the series. (She and Himari have been friends since at least middle school.) Romance and attraction are simply not on Himari’s personal radar, and that, plus the way that she gets flustered by Miki’s response to her question of how you know you’re in love – wanting to hug and kiss the other person or to make them “yours” – may indicate that Himari is somewhere on the asexual spectrum, most likely towards the demisexual end. This would mean that she feels no attraction to someone until she gets to know them, a trajectory borne out by the third volume of the series. Himari enjoys Yori’s singing with enthusiasm, but she doesn’t enjoy Yori until the two of them have spent time together, allowing her to know Yori as a person. It’s when she’s completed that transition that she comes to a conclusion about what love means to her.
One of the nicest aspects of these books is that Yori is so patient and understanding with Himari. She realizes very quickly that she and Himari mean different things by their separate declarations of love in volume one, and she is willing to wait for Himari to figure things out. She still gets jealous, especially when Himari joins a club and starts spending time with another girl, but she really does respect Himari’s pace. What’s interesting is that almost no one else does; again, this isn’t because they’re both girls, but rather because other characters feel that Himari is being mean to Yori by taking her time to figure things out rather than just going ahead and dating her. This is especially true of Aki, Miki’s older sister and Yori’s friend. Aki has been harboring a crush on Yori for years, and when she realizes that Himari isn’t jumping at the chance to date Yori, she acts as if Himari is trying to take something that isn’t hers.
Aki is one of the more difficult aspects of the series. She’s almost abrasive in her perkiness and she very often crosses lines. Certainly her declaration in volume two that Himari should just back off and let Aki have Yori is a bone of contention, but she also doesn’t always respect Yori’s boundaries, pushing her to join the band permanently since they need a new vocalist, reading Yori’s text messages when she hears the message alert before Yori does, and just generally behaving as if she thinks “friends” means that she gets to do whatever she wants regardless of how the other person feels. This comes to a head in volumes two and three, and while she does eventually get better (although I still hesitate to say that she redeems herself), she’s hard to like for most of this story arc. (Volume four will start a new story arc; these three books could almost be a contained series on their own.) Some of this certainly can be explained by the fact that she’s very conflicted; as Miki’s older sister, she knows a lot more about Himari than she wants to let on, and in fact she doesn’t tell anyone that her sister is best friends with Yori’s crush. Like everyone else in the books, she’s just trying to figure things out and protect herself, but it comes across in a much more self-serving way than either Yori or Himari’s interactions and explorations do.
No one in Whisper Me a Love Song is perfect, but that’s what makes them all so human. Over the course of these three volumes, Himari and Yori have to figure out what it means to be in love, defining it for themselves and deciding if their definitions are compatible. Wherever the series goes from here, these three books are a contained and complete story of the initial steps on that journey. It’s sweet and has a different enough focus from other romances to make it work on several levels. Even if the other characters sometimes label Yori and Himari as “late bloomers” or “innocent” (both of which can be forms of asexual erasure), they don’t let that stop them from figuring out what works for them. Add in a triumphant ending and this is a yuri series you don’t want to miss.