A peculiar proposal in My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me volume 3

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So far, the great strength of mikawaghost’s light novel series My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! has been its willingness to experiment, subvert expectations and, indeed, deviate considerably from the premise established by its title.

We are in romantic comedy territory at heart — and the series never lets us quite forget that — but each volume absolutely has a very distinct feel. Every volume focuses on a different aspect of the core cast, the nature of their stifled creativity and the struggles they feel over their own respective senses of identity. And one of the best ways of exploring your identity is to put it in a variety of different situations to see what happens.

The third volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! immediately follows on from the surprising cliffhanger of the previous volume, where protagonist Akiteru’s teacher Sumire Kageishi — also known secretly as the artist Murasaki Shikibu-sensei — proposes to him seemingly out of nowhere.

This is firmly in keeping with the chaotic situation that Akiteru has had surrounding himself almost since the outset of the series; having protested quite strongly in the opening pages of the first volume that no girls ever show any interest in him, so far we have seen the titular little sister Iroha flirtatiously teasing him relentlessly, his cousin Mashiro genuinely falling in love with him after agreeing to enter a “fake relationship” with him for appearances’ sake — and now, apparently, his teacher wanting to marry him.

Aki isn’t your conventional bumbling romcom protagonist — though he also isn’t someone who jumps right into a relationship just because someone shows a vague interest in him. Rather, he has come to the conclusion over the years that close personal relationships are, for the most part, “inefficient” — his philosophy is that if something he does can’t be traced forward to have a direct benefit for his doujin circle the 05th Floor Alliance, it’s probably not worth bothering with. And he, perhaps rightly, believes that getting intimate with one of the Alliance’s members probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

But the situation with Sumire is a little different, because unlike Iroha and Mashiro, she’s not previously shown any sign of romantic affection towards him. She’s displayed deeply subservient deference towards him, yes — due to Murasaki Shikibu-sensei’s difficulty in meeting deadlines, she’s commonly seen kowtowing towards him — but romantic interest is another matter.

For the most part, Sumire in her Murasaki Shikibu-sensei mode — which is how Aki most commonly interacts with her — is a fairly shameless sort of person. Indeed, once she reveals the true purpose for her marriage proposal — a wedding of convenience to get out of an arranged marriage that her family is seemingly forcing her into — we see this part of her in full bloom.

In an attempt to convince her family that she really is dating Aki, she sets up a number of photo opportunities on a fake date with him — most of which end up coming out rather lewder than expected, much to the chagrin of Sumire’s little sister Midori, as seen in Tomari’s delightful illustration.

On top of that, at one point she and Aki find themselves trapped in a changing room while she is trying on a rather revealing bikini — this would be awkward enough by itself, but the reason they’re in there is because Aki saw his uncle enter the store with one of his many “bits on the side”.

This is a problem, because, as we’ve seen in the previous volumes, the very premise of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! is that Aki is trying to get all the members of the 05th Floor Alliance a job at his uncle’s vast media conglomerate — and this is incumbent on Aki posing as Mashiro’s boyfriend until they both graduate. Should his uncle see Aki and Sumire together — particularly in a situation as intimate as shopping for swimsuits — it will be very difficult for Aki to explain himself. And things only get more awkward once Aki hides in the changing room with Sumire, only to hear his uncle and his latest squeeze having sex in the next cubicle.

This, naturally, leaves Aki with some conflicting feelings. Despite being obsessed with efficiency he is still, at his core, a hormonal teenage boy, after all — and Sumire is certainly an attractive young woman. To their shared credit, both of them manage to restrain themselves from doing anything they might regret, and they are quick to try and consign the entire situation to the deepest, darkest recesses of their memory, hopefully never to be retrieved again.

Where things get really interesting in the third volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me!, however, is a sequence where a trip to the beach ends up derailed by Sumire dragging all the members of the 05th Floor Alliance to the mountainside former ninja village where her extended family lives. Ostensibly, this is so that Sumire can show Aki off in person to her family, thereby (in theory) convincing them once and for all that she’s found a suitable partner for herself, and does not need an arranged marriage.

It’s at this point that mikawaghost’s talent for taking their stories down some unexpected side streets really shows itself — because it’s at this point in this volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! that the story transitions from being relatively straightforward romcom with increasing harem-esque tendencies to being something more akin to a horror novel with traditional Japanese influences.

Saying that, this actually isn’t as hard a left turn as you might think, because it’s thematically appropriate for the 05th Floor Alliance to find themselves involved in a situation like this. The game they have enjoyed such success with — free-to-play visual novel-cum-dating sim Koyagi: When They Cry — is, after all, primarily horror-themed and based on a traditional Japanese vibe, so this is just a case of life imitating art.

Since the cast of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! — particularly Aki — is keenly aware of common narrative tropes, the relevance of the situation isn’t lost on any of them, especially when things start getting a bit weird. Of course, since, so far as the characters are concerned, they’re living “reality” rather than a light novel, there ends up being a rational explanation for everything that happens — but these sequences are still rather masterfully crafted to create a sense of creeping unease and uncertainty.

Probably the best example of subverted expectations comes when Aki and Sumire finally come face to face with the patriarch of Sumire’s family: her grandfather, a huge bear-like man named Kou. By conventions of stories like this, Kou should be an absolutely formidable character — but as soon as he opens his mouth and starts coming out with bizarre teenage slang, it becomes clear that things are, once again, not at all as they seem. He’s still a force to be reckoned with, of course — but that slang has entered his vocabulary for a good reason.

The core of the story in this volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! is, as you have probably surmised by now, Sumire herself. So far, like the other members of the 05th Floor Alliance, she has been struggling with the dual life she’s been living: in her case, as the “Venomous Queen” teacher at school, who gets results and is both feared and respected by everyone, and as “Murasaki Shikibu-sensei”, talented but tardy artist.

The reason she’s being forced into marriage is to maintain the Kageishi family tradition of being a bloodline comprised exclusively of teachers. Were she simply to go along with her family’s plan to marry her off — or, more accurately, to marry someone into their family — she would forever have her creativity stifled, as she would be forced to focus exclusively on the teaching side of things. It’s obvious that she doesn’t want that.

The question is: what does she really want? Aki initially assumes that she wants to ditch teaching completely and focus exclusively on her artistic career, but he also has concerns — Murasaki Shikibu-sensei absolutely has the talent to be able to go it alone without the need for the support of the 05th Floor Alliance, so were she provided with that freedom, would the team find itself without an artist?

That would certainly be inefficient. And thus Aki devises a plan to help her figure things out — one that actually won’t come to full fruition until the next volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! — as well as, perhaps, sort a few other things out in his head.

You see, against his own better judgement, he’s found himself starting to feel… something towards the titular Little Sister. We’ve already seen in the previous volume that he actually has a much more close relationship with her than we’re initially led to believe; he’s the only one who knows that she is the entire voice cast for Koyagi, for one thing, and he’s also the only one who knows precisely how talented she is as a voice actress.

On top of that, he’s also the only one who knows how truly stifled she is as a creative type; while the other members of the 05th Floor Alliance are still able to work together on their creative activities, even if it has to be a secret from their “public-facing” life, Iroha has no such luxury. She’s hiding her talents from everyone — even her brother, who is the Alliance’s programmer — out of fear that her incredibly strict mother will find out.

And, although she puts a brave face on it, she hates it; it’s Aki who manages to keep her sane through putting up with her more “annoying” behaviour, which he quite rightly recognises as her allowing her “real” self to express itself. She can be herself around Aki, whereas in her day-to-day life, whether it’s at school or at home, she has to be Perfect Honour Student Iroha, completely hiding her real talents and passion from the world out of fear.

As you might expect, Aki being in this unique position of intimacy with Iroha means that they enjoy a very close relationship with one another, despite Aki’s protestations about how irritating Iroha can be at times. But it’s obvious she has genuine affection for him, and this only becomes more obvious as the pair of them agree to participate in the mysterious “Ceremony of Knots” in Kageishi Village, with Iroha secretly taking Sumire’s place.

In yet another expectation-subverting twist, it transpires that the Ceremony of Knots is a lot less… sinister than we might have been led to believe up until this point, but it’s fair to say that the situation in which the pair do find themselves absolutely has an impact on the way they look at one another. Aki in particular finds it especially hard to resist his well-trained tendency towards being “efficient”, and begins to acknowledge that there might actually be something more to his relationship with Iroha than he had been willing to admit up until this point.

Will they or won’t they? Well, that’s the stuff that cliffhangers are made of — and, indeed, the third volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! cuts things off right as it looks possible that things might be about to get… interesting. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, hm?

My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In For Me! volume 2 is available in Kindle format now from Amazon, with a paperback version following in May. Alternative purchase options can be found on J-Novel Club’s website.

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Pete Davison
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