I’ve been watching Say “I Love You” (aka Sukitte Ii na yo), and it’s a really good romance series that I would almost describe as a mix of Kimi ni Todoke and Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai in the way it has the unlikely relationship and the awkward personalities. Granted, that description might also apply to the other shoujo romance this season, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (My Little Monster), but where Kaibutsu-kun has more of the humor, Say “I Love You” I feel really delves into issues of self-image.
In episodes 3 and 4, we’re introduced to a character named Mutou Aiko, who is thin and beautiful, but what we learn over the course of these two episodes is that such seeming perfection comes with a price, which in her case are serious scars on her body as a result of extreme crash dieting, prominent streaks along her stomach that you can’t even begin to describe a stretch marks. The scars really caught my attention that episode because of how they contrast with her outer image of absolute beauty, especially when you take into account that shoujo characters and even anime characters in general tend to have “ideal” skin. Or, to put it more accurately, because anime and manga tend to consist of simpler colors and shading, even small changes to characters’ appearances come across much more prominently; drawing a single line for a wrinkle pretty much means that wrinkle looks deep no matter what.
By having those dieting scars and having them visible to the viewer, even Aiko’s anime-esque perfection feels different because one can see the amount of effort put into it, that it didn’t just happen by default. By feeling “manufactured” in this sense, it also ends up feeling more realistic, that this is not her natural beauty but something she has to constantly work at. Perhaps more importantly, it also says a lot about her character that she thinks the scars on her naked body were worth the appearance she gives to the rest of the world.