Learning to love oneself in My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! volume 4

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Thus far in mikawaghost’s excellent light novel series My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! (aka ImoUza), we’ve seen a number of interesting things happen. Most notably, we’ve seen that the series is far more than a simple romcom about a cute and cheeky imouto character teasing the boy she likes — it’s actually a rather thought-provoking tale about stifled creativity.

Each volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! has primarily focused on one member of the main cast, with the others supporting them on their own personal journeys to come to a kind of realisation. Volume 4 is a little out of character for the series so far in that it acts as a direct continuation of what occurred in Volume 3 rather than being a largely standalone story, but after resolving some dangling threads from the previous book there are definitely some distinct new things to explore in this one.

My Friend's Little Sister Has It In for Me!

As you may recall, the previous volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! concerned protagonist Aki’s teacher Sumire learning to stand up against her family traditions — and the indie game development team at the 05th Floor Alliance hatching a plan to help her out. The story culminated with Aki, who had been posing as Sumire’s fiancé, participating in the traditional “Ceremony of Knots”, which the group had surmised would be sufficient to get Sumire’s family off her back and stop trying to arrange a marriage for her.

There was, of course, a twist, though — Sumire wasn’t the one going through the ceremony with Aki; instead, it was the titular Little Sister, aka Iroha, who is secretly an amazing actor unbeknownst to everyone except Aki. This was so that Sumire could track down some incriminating evidence on her grandfather — her family’s patriarch, and the one seemingly so insistent on tradition.

Meanwhile, Aki and Iroha discovered why the Ceremony of Knots supposedly had a “100% success rate” when it came to converting a close relationship into marriage — and the reason was far from supernatural or divine. Instead, the “shrine” where the couple participating in the ceremony is supposed to spend the night together is decked out like a love hotel — and the condoms conveniently provided for the couple to make use of just happen to all have holes poked in them. Sneaky.

While Aki and Iroha are both quick to figure out what’s going on, that doesn’t stop them both being at least a little caught up in the mood, leading Aki to consider his feelings towards Iroha in an unprecedented manner. As the story of the series as a whole goes on, he’s starting to find it increasingly difficult to deny a sense of attraction towards Iroha, which could potentially cause problems for him on several fronts.

My Friend's Little Sister Has It In for Me!

Firstly, he’s in a position of privilege when it comes to Iroha, in that he’s the only one who knows her secret identity as the “troupe” of voice actors that voice the 05th Floor Alliance’s successful mobile game Koyagi: When They Cry. While Aki doesn’t state this outright, it’s clear that he feels getting too close with Iroha would be an abuse of that position that he holds. He has an “advantage” over others who might be more deserving of Iroha’s affection — in his opinion, anyway — and thus he doesn’t feel like he can make use of that advantage in good conscience.

Secondly, he’s convinced himself up until now that pursuing a close interpersonal, romantic or sexual relationship with anyone is “inefficient” and a waste of time. His goal is simple: help the members of the 05th Floor Alliance realise their creative, aspirational and career goals, primarily by getting them a job at his uncles huge media conglomerate. Anything which does not serve that goal is, to Aki, “inefficient”, and thus not worthy of consideration — at least it is as the story begins. As we’ll see, however, things are changing, slowly but surely.

Finally, and perhaps most seriously when considering Aki’s grand plan, is that Aki is supposed to be posing as the boyfriend of his cousin Mashiro — his uncle’s daughter — as a condition for the 05th Floor Alliance being snapped up for employment. There are some important caveats to that, though; he’s not allowed to actually be her boyfriend (despite the fact that she confesses to him quite early) and he’s not allowed to date anyone else, either. You can hopefully see the problem here already. Oh, and just to further complicate matters, Mashiro is also Makigai Namako, the writer for Koyagi, but Aki doesn’t know this.

Fittingly, as Aki’s problems have been escalating up until this point over the course of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! as a whole, volume 4 of the series primarily focuses on Aki as its “main” character — although that might not immediately be apparent.

My Friend's Little Sister Has It In for Me!

Partway through volume 3, we were introduced to a character called Canary, who is an exceedingly peculiar woman. In keeping with “idol culture” in Japan, Canary keeps up her “persona” of being a seventeen year old girl at all times, despite being considerably older — but behind that façade is a terrifyingly formidable businesswoman, and an extremely successful editor in the media business. Specifically, she’s the editor of Makigai Namako’s work in light novels — and, in order to keep Mashiro’s cover, Mashiro’s editor also.

Canary’s intentions aren’t initially apparent in volume 3. She’s definitely an unsettlingly odd sort of character, but it’s not until volume 4 that it becomes really clear that she’s up to something. She invites all of the 05th Floor Alliance — who are still on their trip that was originally supposed to be to the beach, but which had ended up taking in all the crazy nonsense with Sumire’s family — to spend the rest of their time away at her private beachfront mansion, and perhaps to take the opportunity to use the time away as a means of renewing their enthusiasm for their work.

It seems like a good idea at the time, so everyone eagerly agrees, but Aki can’t help feeling a bit suspicious. Not knowing the connection between Canary and Makigai Namako, it seems a little odd that this eccentric woman would take such an interest in their work — and, moreover, once they’re ensconced in her accommodation, seemingly try and take control of the production side of things.

Canary comes up with a new character concept for Koyagi, and immediately puts Sumire, Makigai Namako and Mashiro to work. She, of course, knows that Makigai Namako and Mashiro are the same person, but continues to obscure that truth from everyone — primarily for Mashiro’s benefit, but also as part of her scheme.

Seeing the efficiency with which Canary puts “his” team to work, Aki is naturally left feeling cast somewhat adrift. He begins to doubt himself, wondering if his own contributions to the 05th Floor Alliance are in any way worthwhile, since he doesn’t really consider himself a creative in his own right. Indeed, he doesn’t take direct control of a single part of the project in the same way that the other team members do — but it should be clear to all readers by this point that Aki absolutely is a creative; it’s his overall vision for both the Koyagi project and the 05th Floor Alliance in general that has made them such a success so far.

That, of course, is Canary’s plan. By deliberately taking control away from him and making him doubt himself like this, she’s forcing him into a certain amount of self-reflection. And, moreover, as a perceptive sort, she recognises the connection between him and Iroha — and that Iroha can likely play a key role in helping Aki understand his own value. Much of this isn’t made explicit — more than anyone, Canary loves to hide behind her public-facing persona — but when considering how things unfold and the context through which we’re introduced to her, it’s obvious that Canary has planned pretty much everything down to the last detail.

My Friend's Little Sister Has It In for Me!

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work, mind. The success of her scheme hangs on Aki coming to the realisation that he does have value and that the 05th Floor Alliance would absolutely not be the same without his tireless work behind the scenes. And it’s also dependent on Iroha being able to tease the information out of him — but from what we’ve seen of their growing relationship to date, it’s clear that while Aki still sees her as “annoying” to a certain degree, he also trusts her, and she’s one of the few people he actually feels able to confide in.

This is interesting, because Aki frequently describes himself as only having one true friend — the 05th Floor Alliance’s programmer Ozu, who is Iroha’s brother, and the “My Friend” of the series’ title — but the story makes it clear that in many ways, Iroha is actually a much closer friend than he is. And thus she’s ideally positioned to send him down that all-important path of self reflection. And it works.

“Seeing Canary-san working with them like that makes me think that maybe they don’t need me any more,” he says. “I get it; Canary-san’s a talented editor, and not many people can do what she does. Even if it’s not someone as impressive as her, the Alliance needs a decent producer. Those come at a dime a dozen and I realise that there’s no reason it has to be me.

“And I keep thinking,” he continues, “because I’ve brought the Alliance this far, there are bound to be other producers who are going to notice the team and its members. I know my way of thinking is disgusting I have this inefficient desire to hold on to them, even though that’s only gonna hold them back. Jealousy. That’s all it is.”

At the core of Aki’s problem is the fact that he considers himself to be depressingly average. Indeed, when we first “meet” him in the first volume of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! we learn that he blends into the background to such a degree that people don’t even notice his presence — and that he feels like when people have noticed him, they’ve heaped scorn upon him.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course — indeed, we quickly see what a precious friend he is to all the other members of the Alliance, not just the one he specifically refers to as his “friend” — and indeed throughout all of My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In for Me! to date we haven’t seen a single instance of anyone from outside this group of friends and comrades actually deriding Aki for his averageness, or even any of his flaws.

Iroha understands this, despite the fact that she’s emphatically not average herself; not only is she widely considered to be one of the most attractive girls in the school, she’s also an amazingly talented voice actress. Aki’s already making himself not average through his close personal relationship with Iroha, but she emphasises this point during a private moment on the beach together by whipping off the rash guard she’d been concealing her bikini with and showing her body in all its glory to Aki.

“You’re the only one to see this! To see me in my bikini!” she yells at him, clearly embarrassed. “You’re not average any more now, are you?! You’ve seen something that no other boy at school has! Seeing me like this is something they can only dream of! So no matter how much you put yourself down now, at least now you’ll always be number one in the ‘people who have seen Iroha-chan in a bikini’ worldwide ranking!”

Both Aki and Iroha know that it’s a stupid argument, but at the same time, there’s a sound core to it. When you doubt yourself, the important thing to do is to consider what it is that makes you unique, and focus on that. Even if that thing that makes you unique is tiny and seemingly pointless and only relevant to you, it’s still something you can hold on to and use to help define yourself. It’s something you can look at and think “yes, I succeeded; something about me made that happen.”

“When you say ‘efficiency’,” she continues, “what you mean is, the shortest way to make the Alliance members happy, right? Well, I guess that makes you inefficient. Because you’re an Alliance member too. If you can’t even make yourself happy, that makes you a failure.”

There it is. The killing blow. There’s no mean spirit in Iroha’s words whatsoever, but only she would ever have been able to say these words in quite this way and have quite such an impact on him. And only she would be able to get him to think these things through to the best possible conclusion.

“I should be less hesitant about being honest about my own desires,” Aki muses to himself, “and not just devote everything I have to the Alliance and hold myself back when I’m also a member. There might be a path where I also get to be true to myself. I got to spend these fun days with my super cute and super annoying kouhai. Maybe it was okay to think that I wanted them to last, just a little longer.”

This is a key moment for Aki. Not only is he recognising that his own needs are just as important as those of the people he’s been devoting his life to helping, he’s also finally acknowledging, without shame, that he feels something towards Iroha. He’s not yet willing to admit that it crosses a line into romantic interest — though I think we all know where this is probably going eventually — but he is willing to admit that the girl he once thought of as simply being “annoying” is now “cute and annoying”… and, more importantly, annoying in a cute way.

“I guess you could say I’d come back to my original goal,” he ponders. “The most efficient way to bring the Alliance as much happiness as possible. The only difference now was that I was prepared to face my own feelings. Compared to the bundle of confusion I’d been over the past few days, this was probably closer to the ‘real me’. I felt like I knew how to deal with the Alliance again, just like I used to. I had to be grateful to Iroha, who had lifted me out of my funk, and Canary, who had presented me with those challenging questions.”

And so, Aki reaches a new milestone in his career: the ability to take his own feelings into account as well as those of the people he is managing. Because while being selfless can seemingly be an admirable trait, it’s never a good thing to act that way at the expense of your own happiness and overall wellbeing. A certain degree of selfishness is, in fact, healthy — because if you’re happy in yourself, you’re in a much better position to make other people happy.

My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In For Me! volume 4 is available in Kindle format now from Amazon, with a paperback version following in July. Alternative purchase options can be found on J-Novel Club’s website.

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Pete Davison
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