A Full Review
(NOTE: spoilers in brackets [spoiler]. Highlight the text to read it.)
Serialized on Manga Box between 2014 to 2022, Love and Lies is a 13-volume drama romance story in a sci-fi setting with a love polygon that ends in a choose-your-own happy ending. No matter which girl you're rooting for, big titty-chan or little titty-chan, you can see your favorite ship win even though it's obvious that little titty-chan was always the endgame, and she has the better story to prove it. But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
Available in print and digital, Kodansha released the first volume in August 2017 and the last two volumes 12s, each one containing a separate ending, in November 2022. (On the same day at the same time, if you must know.)
Kodansha describes the story:
"Love is forbidden. When you turn 16, the government will assign your marriage partner." This dystopian manga about teen love and defiance is a sexy, funny, and dramatic new hit!
Yukari is dull. He doesn't even stand out enough to be bullied—he's just a generally lower-middle-class kid. He's in love with Misaki, the most popular girl in school. There's just one problem: He's 15, one year away from receiving his government-assigned marriage partner. He normally wouldn't have the courage to defy the law, but his sickly classmate Ririna [sic] still believes in love, and won't stop goading him into confessing his feelings!
Okay, a lot to unpack here. First off, the world. The setting is an alternate Japan in 2014 made possible through the implementation of the "Yukari Law" or simply called the "government notice" by characters throughout the series. Also referred to as "The Red String of Science," the Yukari Law was implemented to stave off Japan's decreasing birthrate by creating marriages backed by science, and it works! Matches are reported to have smarter, healthier kids and happier, stronger unions.
The system implements personality tests and genetic and other medical information to find a match perfect for each person. Throughout the series, we learn more about the system, and we learn that it's not a heavy jackbooted authoritarian decree but rather a benevolent system that participants can sign up for, accept, and decline without bodily harm or injury. The only thing at stake is social standing, and even that's dependent on the participant's job, economic standing, and familial and social ties. In short, the system is held together by peer pressure: everybody else is doing it so you better do it too.
Within this world, we have our protagonist Yukari "Neji" Nejima. Neji is so dull, how dull is he? He's so dull that characters will get his name wrong as a running joke throughout the story. Neji is "bland but in a good way" as characters often repeat. Neji is wishy-washy but sincere and honest to a fault. He's oblivious. He's cowardly but will stand up for others and what he believes in and won't run away from a fight, even though he will and does get a solid beatdown. All in all, he's a genuinely good guy with a Kofun obsession. He wants to excavate kofuns as an adult. It's this trait and a few others that I'll get to in a bit that keeps him from being a glorified self-insert character.
If I wrote this review after vol. 1 rather than "vol. 13," I would have more strong positive feelings and goodwill towards this series. In spite of its faults and missteps, Love and Lies started off strong, but in the way that you'd expect from well, Kodansha's description of the story. Vol. 1 opens with Neji finally building up the courage to confess his feelings for Misaki Takasaki, the prettiest and most popular girl in school, before midnight on his 16th birthday. He asks her out, and she agrees.
They meet in a park, and Neji confesses his feelings only to be surprised that Misaki feels the same! They agree to date until he gets his government notice, which isn't guaranteed to be given on the 16th birthday but is expected any day afterward. As the two share a steamy kiss, Neji's phone delivers his government notice. For a split second, Misaki's name appears as his notice partner before switching to someone else, Lilina Sanada. Soon after, government officials stop by Neji's house to deliver his written notice in person and assure him that Lilina is his fated partner.
The next few chapters cover Neji meeting Lilina, a sickly and naive but standoffish rich girl who wants to support his relationship with Misaki. (Of course, Lilina will fall in love with Neji, and Neji will develop conflicting romantic feelings with her.) Lilina also meets Misaki, and an awkward friendship starts to form between the three. While the girls are lovely, I like Lilina more than Misaki, but they nor bland protag-kun aren't what kept me reading this mess. The final chapter of vol. 1 is what kept me reading.
Neji is best friends with Yuusuke Nisaka, the hottest and most popular boy in school, to the bewilderment of his other normie plain friends and the rest of the class. Why does Nisaka hang out with a loser like Neji? Even Neji wonders about that. Throughout the first volume, we get a sense something is going on between Misaki and Nisaka. Neji is worried that his bff is in love with Misaki, and we the audience are led to believe that is the case with scenes like Nisaka catching Misaki and Neji kissing behind a pillar and being caught off guard as well as Nisaka needling Misaki until... this happened.
The big stolen kiss. Nisaka kisses a sleeping Neji in an empty classroom (classic stuff), and Neji is unaware of what happened, but we the audience know. Now, we have yet another question to add to the stack. By the end of the first volume, you're left with several intriguing questions:
Who will Neji end up? Misaki or Lilina?
Can Misaki, Lilina, and Neji remain friends no matter what?
Will Nisaka confess his romantic feelings for Neji? What will become of their relationship should it happen? Could they possibly end up as a romantic pair?
How does the Yukari Law handle gay/queer people? Do they get a notice too?
Is there a government conspiracy regarding Neji's notice? Why did Misaki's name flash across the screen? Was it a glitch as the government officials said?
Will the characters defy their notice or accept it?
Will the characters ever be honest about their feelings and act upon them? Especially Misaki who is hell-bent on pushing Neji on Lilina and refuses to tell Neji why she can't be with him (besides the government notice).
What type of system is the Yukari Law?
And the manga attempts to answer all of these questions and more over the course of volumes 2-11. Volume 11 is Misaki's story and one of the reasons why I'll argue to the death that Lilina was the end game all along, but I'll save the full rant for Twitter or whatever. (Holla at me @ThatMangaHunter.) Also, volume 11 ends the common route. You'll have to choose who Neji ends up with by picking up v. 12 Lilina ending or v. 12 Misaki ending. The Lilina ending reads as the true ending to me because, simply put, Love and Lies is...[ the Grimm's Brothers version of The Little Mermaid where Misaki is the tragic mermaid who turns to seafoam. ] That's not just me saying that. That's in the text, volume 11, text. As far as endings go, you can pick up both volumes and read them as they're different enough. You're not just paying for the same volume twice with different dialogue options. Even though some of the scenes are the same, they lead to different places.
Furthermore, as the title suggests, love is a theme that's explored throughout the series. What is romantic love? What is "normal" or "ordinary" romantic love? Familial love? Friendship? And we have supporting characters acting as an Aesop warning for Neji and his friends. Could a future between Misaki and Neji look like the relationship between government officials Hajime Yajima and Kagetsu Ichijō, high school sweethearts who decided to go along with the notice rather than continue their relationship and now as adults are tasked with helping kids accept their notices or could it look like Misaki's parents' relationship, broken and divorced?
For every tally in the "follow your heart" column, there are two in the "comply, comply, comply" column, and when accepting the notice isn't painted as the bleakest thing ever and we have a protagonist that is the same character from start to finish, more or less...you fill in the blanks. On another note, there are some sinister things going on in this story, and some of it is so underplayed. I mean...[ the government did pair up two sick people together. ], but I'll let you discover those things on your own.
Lastly, I know what you're going to ask. What happens to Nisaka? Is he given a chance with bland-kun? No. He does not, but he does get his happy ending, just not with bland-kun. His full story and character arc get spotlighted in v. 8-10. In fact...
[ Nisaka confesses and ends their friendship. Neji rejects the notion with a line like "We can still be friends." To which Nisaka goads him, "You can't kiss a friend, can you?" And Neji, this motherfucker, kisses Nisaka, hard with tongue. Finishes the kiss and says, "I can kiss you because we're friends." And gets punched for it, rightfully so. Afterward, Neji reflects on his behavior, his relationship with Nisaka, and his feelings. In hashing out his feelings and speaking with Lilina regarding the matter, Neji says the following:
"The way I was looking at Nisaka, it was like falling in love. My heart was pounding. I got this sense of superiority out of the thought that he only ever smiled at me that way, and I always wanted to find out if that was true. I never even considered whether that was love though."
Neji then goes on to properly reconcile with Nisaka and turns him down romantically because he's still in love with Misaki. The question of whether he could love or not love Nisaka because he's a man never comes up. He's even surprised that Lilina was able to listen to him without making fun of him to which she responds, "All love is special. Who has the right to draw the line between what's normal and what's not?"
Also, Misaki knew that Nisaka had feelings for Neji all along. She responds with, "Nisaka is just a normal boy in love." This whole arc was my favorite of the series, and it just made me wish that this entire story was told from Nisaka's point of view. Also, bland-kun is definitely not 100% straight. He is somewhere toward the middle on the Kinsey scale. He may be bi or just "gay for Nisaka," and the fact that gender and sexuality aren't fully explored in this story is a lost opportunity to set bland-kun apart from other protagonists in similar stories to Love and Lies. The only time gender and sexuality are explored in Love and Lies is with Nisaka, and it's very brief but good enough, I guess. ]
/end spoiler rant
Alright, story aside, the art is nice. the covers are nice too with each character drawn with a red string around their hand or finger. Some volumes like 8 and 9 connect too. Yes, the girls' luscious curves are shown off with some fanservice, but it's mostly not over the top. There's that one time with Ichijō, but ya know. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And that other time at the special lecture...
In summary, Love and Lies is an "okay read." It's a "5/10." The story dipped around volume 5-6 only to pick up again around volume 8. Musawo hits some themes and instances out of the park whereas others felt rushed or incomplete. Love and Lies is not a series I'd rush out to tell anyone about, but I wouldn't actively discourage people from reading it either. (There are far "worse" manga out there.) It's just so... blah like bland-kun. IDK. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It's a series that buried the lede. If this story was about Nisaka, it'd be a completely different story, and honestly, he was the most interesting wrench in this whole mess.
At any rate, as long as you're not looking for a dystopian fight-the-power type of story, you'll probably have a decent time reading Love and Lies. Also, if you're okay with a love triangle where you get to see your fave pair win, you'll have a decent time reading Love and Lies. Finally, if you're looking for a BL route or a serious contender for one, look elsewhere. Also note content warnings for some homophobia and fanservice.
Anyway, Love and Lies is rated 16+, and you can check it out via Kodansha's website here. (You can read the first chapter for free!)
What to read/watch after Love and Lies:
Love and Lies (anime)
Kowloon Generic Romance by Jun Mayuzuki (manga)
My Love Mix-up! by Wataru Hinekure with art by Aruko (manga)
My Secret Affection by Fumi Mikami (manga)
Nisekoi: False Love by Naoshi Komi (manga and anime)
Please Save My Earth by Saki Hiwatari (manga and OAV)
Toradora! by Yuyuko Takemiya with art by Zekkyo (manga and anime)
The Red Thread by Hibiko Haruyama with art by Lazysheep (manga)
What He Who Doesn’t Believe in Fate Says by Omu the Rice (manga)
Alright, roll clip.