And now for something completely niche: For those of you who still follow this blog, for the subset of that group who are into anime & manga, for the subset of that group who are into yuri romance stories, for the subset of that group who are into the light novels associated with anime & manga… here you go.
Whoever “you” are, thank you for being here. I won’t be able to talk about the Regarding Saeki Sayaka light novels without spoiling a large part of the Bloom Into You manga/anime, so… consider yourself duly warned.
I first became aware of Bloom Into You in anime form, then bought the manga for the complete story. (If you’ve seen the anime but not read the manga: The show is very faithful to its source, just… incomplete.) Among the things the story does well in both incarnations is the handling of the erstwhile “rival” character, Sayaka. Nanami’s closest companion at the time of the story, Sayaka is a mostly a foil in respect to Yuu’s attempts to navigate the strange relationship she has with Nanami. In a lesser story, Sayaka would be a villain doing villainous things who needs to be shown up, her true nature revealed, and so forth.
Not so, here. Sayaka is several valid things in the triangle-ish relationship structure. She has insight and experience dealing with Nanami that are valuable to Yuu, and she shares some of that knowledge at her discretion. She recognizes early on that there’s something Yuu brings to the situation that she herself can’t give Nanami for various reasons. She realizes that Yuu is, for want of a better word, braver than she can manage to be at this point in her life. And she provides a kind of challenge to Yuu while also being a potential ally in an odd sort of way.
Because the story of Bloom Into You centers on Nanami and Yuu, you know that Sayaka does not get the girl in the end. The story dodges some of the weaker tropes, but let’s not get carried away here. A good romance means a “happily ever after” ending, at least on some level.
For whatever reason, however, some folks decided that Sayaka’s story was just too interesting to leave alone. And thank goodness for that!
In the manga we get some of Sayaka’s backstory, a previous love affair of questionable validity that ended because the other girl decided one day, “Well that’s enough playing around, it’s time to grow up and get serious, it’s not like two girls can have a relationship anyway, right?” (One of the best moments of the anime is Sayaka getting a chance to flip this previous paramour the metaphorical bird in delightful fashion. The scene plays nicely in the manga as well, but watching it animated is superlative.)
So. Regarding Saeki Sayaka.
What we have here is a trilogy of light novels, the first one covering what we could consider Sayaka’s backstory (childhood shenanigans and that previously-mentioned relationship). The second details her friendship with Nanami from her perspective, covering some of the same timeline as the events of Bloom Into You as well as a bit of the time beforehand. Finally, in the third book Sayaka goes to college and gets her girl.
Is that a spoiler? I mean. It’s a romance story. After two installments full of… well, we shouldn’t call them “failed relationships” exactly, let’s go with “learning experiences” instead… it would’ve been terrible for her not to bridge that gap at last.
Everything is from Sayaka’s perspective. We live inside her head, which is also what she does, a lot. I can’t speak for the neurodivergent folks out there and won’t try to put a name to exactly how she’s different from the norm, but you will have no problem recognizing that she doesn’t see the world like regular folk do. It’s not in a hokey, unbelievable way, it’s just that she’s very analytical, lives inside her own mind, and the things she are interested in stick in her memory very well while anything outside that scope of interest absolutely falls away in an instant. We know from Bloom Into You that she is a diligent student and can be highly competitive. In these novels we get the inside view of those aspects, how they’re driven by her particular needs, and how she’s always questioning everything.
Mind you, as a narrator she isn’t so unreliable as to leave you unable to believe how she’s able to function in society. She can and does participate in normal everyday things… just at an emotional distance most of the time. Self-control is her primary creed. She still gets caught by surprise and blurts out a spontaneous response on occasion, and that sort of thing, but most of the time she’s very careful about what she says and does.
I thoroughly enjoyed these books. I was already a Sayaka fan and wanted her to get a happy ending somehow, so I was definitely primed for a novel in which that happens. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the first two installments as well. The first book is a study of a girl realizing she’s different, probably too different, and going through what ends up being a series of disastrous (in small but meaningful ways) relationship situations. The second book is a partial retelling of the source manga from the perspective of the girl who lived through those previous experiences and yearns to transcend them… but just can’t, not well enough, not soon enough.
And the joy of the third book feels earned, thanks to all of what came before.
Hmm… come to think on it, maybe it’s time for another Bloom Into You re-read…