Yagate Kimi ni Naru: Saeki Sayaka ni Tsuite (やがて君になる佐伯沙弥香について, Bloom Into You: Regarding Saeki Sayaka)
Author: Iruma Hitoma, based on original manga by Nakatani Nio
First Published: 2018
Imprint: Dengeki Bunko (Kadokawa)
EDIT: I’d translated the first 40 pages or so a while ago but stalled a bit. Just posting them up anyway to give you a taste.
A spin-off novel for the popular Yagakimi series has been released to coincide with the anime adaptation and I have to say, the timing is perfect if you read Saeki Sayaka ni Tsuite right before the episodes that follow – episode 7, where Sayaka’s background story is revealed and episode 8, which will probably cover that ‘date’ between Sayaka and Yū. I wonder how anime-only viewers (and perhaps even some manga readers) view Sayaka? I’ve seen ‘scary’ mentioned a few times, and I’m not surprised she invites a bit of vitriol as the third wheel that gets in the way of Tōko and Yū. To be fair, it’s not much of a love triangle as Tōko shows little romantic inclination towards Sayaka and it’s too late in the game for it to suddenly spin 180 degrees around, especially since Yagakimi has been painted as a love story between Yū and Tōko right from the start. Either way, we’re approaching the end of the manga pretty ‘soon’ so I’ll hopefully come back and talk about the series a bit more when all is said and done.
On to Saeki Sayaka ni Tsuite. It’s a prequel story, covering events before the manga and filling in the gaps in Sayaka’s background. We know from the manga that she’s from a well-off family and went to an all-girls’ school for elementary/primary and junior high. We know that she had a short-lived relationship with a senior who broke her heart. We know that she’s in love with Tōko. The novel expands on these points, and more.
Split into 2 parts, the first features a short story about 5th-grade Sayaka. She’s a model student who’s #1 at everything – she joins any and every extra-curricular activity she can take on in order to ‘get ahead in life’. This includes piano, English classes, flower arrangement, calligraphy. She takes swimming lessons on Wednesday, a schedule that is easy for her to remember (水曜日に水泳). It is during these classes that she meets ‘that girl’ (who remains unnamed ‘til the end); a dark-skinned, happy-go-lucky girl whose mere presence seems to mess up Sayaka’s rhythm. She never listens to the teachers, never follows instructions and instead, flops around in the pool swimming a completely different stroke to the rest of the class. Sayaka openly shows her distaste at her actions but the girl wants to be friends, making small talk whenever the chance presents itself. She’s not completely stupid though, sensing that Sayaka does not reciprocate that desire and asks her straight out if she hates her and if so, why.
“Because you’re always messing around.”
The girl responds not with words but with actions – she stops playing the fool and starts participating. And to Sayaka’s horror, she turns out to be the best swimmer in the class.
“I’ll take the class seriously from now on. If I do that, will you be friends with me?”.
Sayaka grudgingly agrees and allows her to call her ‘My Friend Saeki-san’, much to the amusement of the building receptionist who’s always observing their interactions. Their ‘friendship’ slowly progresses and one day, the girl offers to buy Sayaka a drink from the vending machine, where they engage in a lengthy conversation which leads to Sayaka asking the girl why she’s so interested in her.
“When I look at you, the palms of my hands get hot. They’ve been that way since the moment I first saw you. And then, my back gets hot too. I start to sweat, and the heat never seems to subside. I don’t feel anything when I look at other kids or other things, it’s just Saeki-san that does that to me. That’s why I’ve been thinking that there’s something about you. But I wonder what it is?”
Sayaka knows. But she pretends not to, and thinks to herself, ‘It’s impossible. Because she’s a girl, and I’m a girl’. The girl goes on to say that the reason she always hangs around in the pool long after everyone has left is because the water helps to extinguish the fire inside her.
Meanwhile, the teachers and other students are surprised by the change in the girl; how she’s so suddenly well-behaved. They wonder what happened, what the catalyst was – it’s a question only Saeki Sayaka knows the answer to.
Things come to a head one day after they’ve finished their swim – the girl has swum the fastest again, which Sayaka points out. She reassures Sayaka that she too, is a good swimmer and offers her tips to fix her swimming posture. She reaches out to touch Sayaka’s arm – but hesitates as she senses heat building within her again and jumps back into the pool, much to the chagrin of the swimming instructor.
Sayaka knows why the girl’s in the pool. And for some reason, she follows her and jumps in too. Their eyes meet underwater and after what seems like forever, the girl swims across to Sayaka and kisses her on the neck.
Sayaka’s description of the moment is dramatic: it’s like her heart has cracked – she feels a sharp pain invading her body and she puts her hand on her chest to make sure her heart is still there. It’s the moment of awakening, to put it in a clichéd manner. “Like fireworks set ablaze in my eyes.”
Sayaka exits the pool as fast as she can, runs home and ends up quitting all her extra-curricular activities apart from flower arrangement.
In part 2, Sayaka is a sophomore in junior high, attending a school that requires a train commute so that it reduces her chances of ever running across ‘that girl’. She remains a top student and is also a member of the school choir where Sayaka gets acquainted with a third-year student named Yuzuki Chie who, like Sayaka, appears to be from a well-off family. Yuzuki-senpai knows little about the ways of the commoner – she’s never been to a fast-food restaurant for example, and gets flustered on her first visit, sticking close to Sayaka for reassurance. Soft-spoken and always smiling, she’s also the first, and only person outside of Sayaka’s family, to refer to her as ‘Sayaka-chan’ (without asking for permission, no less).
The third years will soon be putting a halt to their club activities to focus on their studies and Sayaka is mooted to be next club president, though she’d rather not be. Before the seniors go, the members propose a club trip – a meal at a famiresu (family restaurant), followed by a karaoke session. Sayaka is reluctant as she lives further away than the other students but Yuzuki-senpai begs her to go: she’s never been to a famiresu nor a karaoke before (but unbeknownst to her, neither has Sayaka). And so, Sayaka relents.
Yuzuki-senpai sticks close to Sayaka throughout the trip; they even share an umbrella at one point. During the karaoke session, the outgoing club president makes a surprise announcement – they’ve decided that Sayaka will be the next president. She’s still reluctant, but she has no choice but to accept the presidency and gives an impromptu speech.
Sayaka lightly complains to Yuzuki-senpai about taking up a role she had never intended to and her response is bewildering:
“Well, it can’t be helped. Sayaka-chan is the most beautiful person in the club after all”
‘….Senpai, you’re the one who’s beautiful’ is what Sayaka thinks. ‘What does beauty have to do with being President?’
The third-years depart the club, and Sayaka’s now president. She hasn’t seen Yuzuki-senpai for a while before she stops by the club room one day and asks Sayaka to meet her after school, in the courtyard.
The confession scene happens as in chapter 12 of the manga. Here, we get to see Sayaka’s reaction and her thoughts throughout the first ever confession she’s received in her life – how she feels both chilly and on fire at the same time, how her head tries to quickly & rationally process the words ‘I’m in love with you, please go out with me’.
Sayaka ends up delaying her answer. Once home, her head is filled only with thoughts of Yuzuki-senpai and she’s unable to work, sleep or focus on anything. This continues for a while ‘til her grandmother speaks up – sharp lady that she is, she knows something has changed in Sayaka – she doesn’t ask for details but tells Sayaka to ‘go for it’ as she’s young, unlike adults who are too spineless to do anything because they already ‘know’ the fruitless outcome of their actions. And so, Sayaka accepts Yuzuki-senpai’s confession with a condition:
‘I honestly can’t say whether I’m in love with you. But when you confessed to me, I didn’t…dislike it. So yeah, this may sound weird…but I’d like a trial period to date you. I’d like to know more about you’.
‘I’d always admired this kind of thing, Sayaka-chan’. Once again, Yuzuki-senpai provides a most bizarre response, which Sayaka dismisses as being part of her ‘weird personality’.
It all seems one-sided at first. Yuzuki-senpai’s the one who’s eager to know more about Sayaka, asking to meet her by the fountain in the courtyard during lunch breaks every day, and after school if possible. Over time, Sayaka learns a little more about Yuzuki-senpai; like her love for macabre mystery novels (Yū’s family bookstore makes a cameo appearance at this point in the story). She finds out Yuzuki’s likes and preferences in order to become more like her ideal. Playing the part of Yuzuki-senpai’s perfect lover, so that she can continue to love her.
Their relationship continues. Mostly, they just enjoy spending time together. Even other students notice that Sayaka’s always dashing off during lunch with a happy look on her face, and you can see how she gradually starts to fall in love with Yuzuki, even if she herself doesn’t realize it. When she’s at home one day, the house phone rings and her grandma picks up – ‘It’s a senior looking for you, Sayaka-chan. Someone called Yuzuki-senpai’. Sayaka is surprised – she never gave Yuzuki her phone number.
‘That’s another one of the things I’d always wanted to do – call and talk to my lover on the phone’.
A while later, Sayaka and Yuzuki-senpai are in the courtyard again.
‘I’d like to try kissing you, Sayaka-chan’
‘Is that another one of those things you admire and want to try doing?’
‘Don’t you want to?’
‘Honestly, I’ve never thought about it…would you like to try it?’
‘It’s definitely going to be wonderful’.
And so they kiss. For Sayaka, it provides a moment of clarity regarding her feelings. Her vision blurs, she feels like she’s melting into the kiss and becoming one with Yuzuki-senpai. Her heart’s beating violently; she can hear nothing but her pulse ringing in her ears.
But we see Yuzuki-senpai reacting differently, something that Sayaka is blind to at that very moment. Yuzuki merely feels a little embarrassed and when Sayaka declares ‘I am sure right now, that I love you’, her response is telling.
‘Ah..I see. (under her breath) that’s troubling’
The months pass, and they continue seeing each other. Sayaka’s whole life now revolves around Yuzuki-senpai. On graduation day, they meet again in the courtyard and talk for a while – Yuzuki seems distracted, distant. They kiss, and part with a casual ‘See you later’.
Yuzuki-senpai’s moving on to high school, but stays in the same school compound as they attend a combined institution. After months of fretting at not being able to meet Yuzuki, Sayaka decides to skip club activities & goes and waits outside the high school gates. Fortunately, she does manage to see Yuzuki and asks for her mobile phone number – they’re both allowed phones now, unlike in the previous year. There’s a feeling of dread that gnaws at Sayaka as Yuzuki appears reluctant to give out her number, instead asking Sayaka for hers.
Sayaka waits restlessly for Yuzuki to call her, which she eventually does. She realizes they have nothing to say to each other on the phone, and the call ends pretty quickly. Sayaka remains uneasy, but there is still that slight sense of security in knowing that Yuzuki-senpai is just a phone call away. The calls are infrequent and Sayaka lacks the courage to ask Yuzuki out on a date. When she eventually does, Yuzuki brushes her off by saying she’s tied up over the summer with classes.
One day, out of the blue, Yuzuki-senpai calls Sayaka and asks to meet after school in the courtyard. They meet, and Yuzuki dumps her as in the manga:
‘We’re not kids any more. Umm…uhh…let’s stop pretending, playing around at being lovers. I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight at that moment…after all, we’re both girls….right?’
Wasn’t thinking straight. Playing around. Both girls.
Yuzuki’s words play over in her mind, and the overwhelming emotion that Sayaka feels is anger. She thinks the situation over and all she comes up with is darkness. Yuzuki is, or was her world – everything she does and the person whom she is now; it is all for, and because of Yuzuki-senpai. Without Yuzuki, she feels worthless and she cannot even remember who she was before she met her. It’s as if she’s thrown away an entire year for nothing, neglecting her studies, friends and family in the process.
The one word that jumps out from the darkness is ‘failure’. For Sayaka, someone who is used to being No.1, the breakdown of their relationship is an abject failure on her part. She saw the signs, she should’ve known that it would turn out this way – but she just chose to turn a blind eye, to have faith in a senpai who was becoming more distant by the day.
For Sayaka, it could only be Yuzuki-senpai and no one else. For Yuzuki, she only wanted a lover with whom she could ‘do the things she admired’. She wasn’t in love with Sayaka, she was in love with the idea of love itself. She’d tasted it and had her fill. Playtime was over.
And so, Sayaka deletes Yuzuki’s number from her phone. As when she pressed her parents to allow her to drop all her extra-curricular classes during primary school, Sayaka asks once again, that she be permitted to change her choice of high school on the pretext of not wanting to commute any further. She chooses a co-ed school, determined to forget Yuzuki and promising herself that she would not allow her ‘failures’ to be repeated. She has no time for trivial matters like love.
But all that changes the moment she lays her eyes on the first-year representative during the entrance ceremony – a girl named Nanami Tōko. Her heart is shaken to the core, once again. She seeks Tōko out, and they exchange pleasantries. Tōko declares that she intends to join the student council, and asks Sayaka to do the same, even though they’ve only just met and barely know each other. ‘You look diligent’, Tōko says. It reminds Sayaka of how Yuzuki-senpai invited her to join the school choir in a similar manner.
She should be trying to forget the scars and the pain within her heart, but it looks like the cycle will repeat itself.
‘I never learn from my mistakes’. She smiles inwardly.
But it’s not about trying to understand, nor is it about giving up.
What there is, is an acceptance within myself.
That I can only fall in love with girls.
Quick thoughts & observations
1//I was a little apprehensive at first about the idea of another person, even someone as distinguished as Iruma, delving into the Yagakimi universe – Nakatani herself mentioned her own reservations in the afterword, but I thought Iruma captured the essence of Sayaka very well.
2//しんどい [shindoi, trans. weary, tiring, draining]. That’s pretty much the one phrase that’s most frequently used to describe this novel and I agree. I have a soft spot for broken characters like Sayaka, whose lives seem to be nothing but one big disappointment after another (refer: Kuzu no Honkai’s Ecchan); 報われない [mukuwarenai, trans. thankless, unreciprocated] characters that never get the rewards that they deserve. She tries to go through the doors of life only to find that they slam shut on her, and the moment she finds one that’s open she runs through only to hit a brick wall.
There’s a similar analogy involving walls that Iruma uses in the novel when describing Sayaka’s train of thought as she processes Yuzuki-senpai’s confession – they’re both girls and that is a wall in itself. A wall that is harder than the wall in their classroom, that you’d break your nose on if you were to run into it. But Sayaka doesn’t turn away from that wall and instead heeds her grandma’s advice to give it a shot even if the outcome may not be what she hoped for.
That tenacity and determination is part of what I love about Sayaka. She has the guts to follow through with the toughest of deicision despite knowing that she might be setting off a landmine. But she doesn’t regret what happened with Yuzuki-senpai. After all, the sequence of events that follows, heartbreak included, is what eventually leads her to Tōko (let’s forget about the heartbreak that’s to come…)
3//By the way, I love Sayaka’s granny. She’s a tough cookie and also extremely wise, dishing out advice and keeping all of Sayaka’s secrets for her. You can’t hide from granny, she knows it all.
4//We’ve only seen fragments of Sayaka through the manga and anime but the novel expands on those scraps – 5 pages of chapter 12 turned into 200+ pages worth of story here. I love how we get a glimpse into Sayaka’s mind and how she analyzes whatever situation is at hand – she’s clear-headed, very matter-of-fact and thorough about everything.
・Why is senpai so interested in me?
・Why did she confess to me?
・What is it about me that she likes?
・What would happen if I said yes?
Sayaka writes all the questions in her head, answers them herself, comes to a conclusion and acts upon that information. I wish I was that smart when I was 14….
5//Like Tōko, Sayaka is always pretending to be someone she’s not. Unlike Tōko, Sayaka has no role model to rely on. Instead, she studies & learns, and plays her part. Throughout the manga we get to learn what the real Tōko is like, and in this novel we learn what Sayaka truly is like. And it’s closer to the Sayaka that she shows Yū – sharp tongue, but good at heart.
6//It’s nice, as a manga reader, to recognize the little things Iruma-sensei picked up on. The part where Sayaka runs through a list of possible reasons why Yuzuki-senpai might like her at all is a bit of deja vu. ‘My face, my style? My aura. my hair?’ It’s similar to when Miyako asks Sayaka why she likes Tōko (manga chapter 12) and her first answer is ‘Her face?’ Which is obviously true, since all it took was a single glance at Tōko during the entrance ceremony and all thoughts of ‘I’M NE’ER GONNA FALL IN LOVE EVER EVER’ flew straight out the window. Miyako also tells Sayaka that she’s a ‘good girl’, something Yuzuki-senpai repeatedly said throughout the novel. In chapter 14 Sayaka mentions that she goes to family restaurants and karaoke ‘all the time’ – but that’s probably a lie now that the novel tells us it happened once. And through the novel, we know that Sayaka has conditioned herself to be able to tell small white lies.
7//Surprisingly, hidoi senpai (I call her that ‘cos Kayano Ai says so) is not as bad as I’d imagined…well, apart from the way she dumped Sayaka. She could see Sayaka was infatuated with her & shouldn’t have let it drag on for as long as it did. But she didn’t treat Sayaka too shabbily throughout their relationship.
8//I don’t really see the novel as The Chronicles of Saeki Sayaka’s Heartbreak(s). I’d like to be more optimistic and see it as her coming-of-age, and coming-out-of-the-closet story.
9//Iruma mentions in his notes that he’d love to write a continuation of the story but that it’s not up to him alone. I’d like to read more from Sayaka’s POV too…! (and Rei-chan, and Maki-kun…..)
10//I will never forget how to write the kanji for 一瞥 (ichibetsu, glimpse) now. I should’ve kept a counter on how often Iruma used that word.
11//It’s so nice to be able to read this novel with Kayano Ai’s voice playing in my head!
That’s it for hot takes – no doubt I’ll start thinking ‘Oh crap I should’ve mentioned that!’ as I reread the novel and watch the anime….that’ll go on Twitter, I suppose.