Thus far in Kata Konayama’s excellent manga series Love Me for Who I Am (also known as Fukakai na Boku no Subete o, or simply FukaBoku), it’s fair to say that protagonist Mogumo has had a bit of a bumpy ride. Whether it’s coming out as non-binary — and explaining what that actually means — to their friends, understanding the meaning of a new relationship or helping their best friend come to terms with their own sexuality, Mogumo has certainly had a lot to deal with so far. And in the fourth volume of Love Me for Who I Am, they’re facing their most significant challenge yet: family.
As the cliffhanger to the third volume of Love Me for Who I Am, Mogumo’s sister Sakura showed up unexpectedly — and a few things were immediately clear before they were actually explained to us. Firstly, Mogumo’s relationship with Sakura is rather strained; secondly, they likely hadn’t seen one another for quite some time; thirdly, Sakura absolutely does not accept or understand Mogumo’s non-binary identity; and fourthly, there was likely trouble ahead.
Sure enough, as volume 4 of Love Me for Who I Am gets underway, Sakura makes it abundantly clear that she’s trouble. Flip-flopping between referring to Mogumo as “big brother” or “Ryuu-chan”, a feminised diminutive version of their birth name Ryuunosuke, and deliberately acting so overly sweet that it’s obvious there are acidic undertones to everything she says, Sakura makes any scene that she’s involved with impressively uncomfortable.
She serves an important narrative function, though: she highlights the fact that although Mogumo has found themselves a wonderful support network that has come to understand and accept them, the wider world can sometimes be an altogether different prospect. And when you’re dealing with significant questions over your own identity, you can’t necessarily rely on your own family to accept and love you for who you are if that differs from their expectations.
There’s another twist to all this, though, which Sakura brings up with an impressive lack of tact: the fact that the way in which Mogumo prefers to present as female despite regarding themselves as non-binary is down to their desire to be more like Sakura.
Mogumo has evidently taken this philosophy to something of a fault; when Sakura ends up intruding on a date between Mogumo and Tetsu, intended to replace one of the hair ties that Sakura destroyed in a moment of quite frightening rage and frustration, Mogumo immediately abandons the hair ties that Tetsu picked out for them in favour of what Sakura said she liked.
Tetsu pulls them up on this after the fact; he points out that while Mogumo’s attempts to emulate Sakura do often end up suiting them — as in the case of the hair ties — they shouldn’t be afraid to strike out and define their own identity once in a while.
“In the past, you’ve always been so open about what you like,” Tetsu says. “Every choice you make is based on what you want. But that’s not how it was today. You were like Sakura-chan’s puppet.”
“I’ve wanted to be like her, ever since we were kids,” Mogumo explains. “Because the things I wanted were things she already had. Cute clothes, hair accessories, dolls, plushies, they were all meant for Sakura. That’s why I thought if I could be more like her, maybe I could have those things, too. It seemed like everything would be so much easier if I could just be her. Even now, the things she chooses feel right to me.”
“You’re you, no-one else,” Tetsu replies, supportively. “It isn’t a bad thing to want what Sakura has, but you don’t have to like everything she likes. You can make your own choices, too.”
Amid all this, it becomes clear that Sakura is suffering, too. After she separates from Mogumo and Tetsu, we see her vomiting in a train station bathroom, clearly terrified to go home and face her parents. She’s been trying to get Mogumo to go home, but it’s also clear that this isn’t just an attempt to reunite what is clearly a fragmented family: it’s also an attempt to make her own life a bit easier.
We come to understand the exact situation she’s in as volume 4 of Love Me for Who I Am progresses. Sakura and Mogumo’s mother is stuck in a deep, dark depression, seemingly habitually ending up in that all-too-familiar and relatable “haze” where all you want to do is sleep or stare at a wall. The apartment is a mess, she doesn’t want to do anything — and Sakura, wanting things to be as “normal” as possible, ends up taking on all the housework. To make matters worse, the patriarch of the household is typically out late, and doesn’t appear to be showing much concern over the situation.
Indeed, once again we can get the gist of what’s going on long before Love Me for Who I Am spells it out for us: Mogumo’s embracing of their new identity has ended up tearing this family apart. And this manifests itself in a variety of different ways.
Perhaps most significantly, there’s the slight hint that Sakura might also be questioning her own gender identity — or at least her acceptance of traditional gender roles. We learn that she’s been a member of the soccer club at her school — though we also see her resigning from it so she is better able to devote her time to supporting her broken family — and that she cut her hair, ostensibly in an attempt to appear more mature, but also because it’s more in keeping with female soccer players.
Sakura and Mogumo’s mother just seems exhausted with everything; she doesn’t necessarily give the real indication that she’s against either Sakura or Mogumo defining themselves as they see fit, but it’s clear that Mogumo departing the family home to live by themselves hit her hard. The real problem, as becomes very clear once he enters the picture, is the patriarch of the Mogumo household.
Daddy Mogumo is, it seems, a very traditional sort of person who doesn’t believe in unconventional gender identities and sexualities — he even comes out with the “men are men and women are women” line — and is seemingly terrified that Sakura taking on “masculine” traits such as short hair and an interest in soccer will cause her to “end up like Ryuunosuke”, who, despite him apparently offering financial support for, as we learn earlier in the volume, he feels intense shame towards.
With all this in mind, it’s perhaps understandable that Sakura is at breaking point, and her seemingly unreasonable behaviour at times is an expression of her frustration at a situation she feels unable to break out of — because Mogumo has already broken out of it and seemingly caused such chaos, she feels intense guilt and responsibility for the situation, and as an extension feels like she can’t do anything but rigidly accept the role that society has laid out for her, even if that’s obviously not what she wants.
Things come to a head in the dramatic finale to the volume, in which we learn Mogumo once threatened to harm themselves as an expression of their mental turmoil — and Sakura ends up mirroring this very scene, despite describing Mogumo’s incident as being like a childish tantrum. Since she does so in front of Mogumo, someone who perhaps understands what she’s feeling better than anyone, a struggle ensues — and we’re left with a pretty shocking conclusion to take us in to the final volume of the series.
Volume 4 of Love Me for Who I Am is an excellent and utterly heartbreaking exploration of the challenges faced by people who don’t conform to societal expectations — and who find themselves stuck without a suitable support group. Sakura is in such a difficult situation because she’s trapped with her unsupportive, intolerant family — and she’s jealous of Mogumo for it, particularly as Mogumo has very obviously found a place to belong.
It would be easy to paint Sakura as a villain, because she says and does some quite nasty things over the course of volume 4 of Love Me for Who I Am. But the more we come to understand her situation, the easier it is to understand why she is the way she is. She feels anger and frustration at being trapped in circumstances that Mogumo managed to escape from — and she feels that if she were also to abandon her “post”, as it were, that she would be responsible for some terrible consequences for her family.
Unfortunately, she ends up being responsible for some terrible consequences anyway — but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next in the final volume!
Love Me for Who I Am volume 4 is available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon. Alternative digital versions and physical retailers are listed on Seven Seas’ website.
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