Eighteen years ago, Ionia died on the field of battle, and the next day, Leorino was born. When he turns eleven, he begins dreaming of Ionia’s life, including his memories of “Vi,” his best friend and impossible true love. Ionia and Vi never managed to truly be together as more than friends because Ionia was born a commoner and Vi was a prince, and that pain has carried over. Vi never married after Ionia died. And, of course, he wasn’t the only person affected by Ionia’s death; Ionia’s erstwhile lover Lucas has become dangerously obsessed since his beloved’s death, and his loss has also shaped the life of his younger brother Dirk. Ionia left a larger hole in the world than his status would have suggested, forming the emotional backbone of this story.
The driving question is, “But what if Ionia came back?” Most of the main characters struggle with that throughout the bulk of these volumes because it looks like a genuine possibility. The day after Ionia’s death, Leorino was born, and by the age of three, it became clear that he may have more of Ionia in him than a random child ought to. The youngest son of a noble family, Leorino lives close by the fortress where Ionia died. Not only does he have the same unusual violet eyes as the dead man, but he’s also inherited his memories somehow. When his father takes him to the fort for a ceremony at age three, he begins screaming about “clos[ing] the gate,” by age eleven, he’s having full-blown dreams about Ionia’s life. That’s relatively standard in entertainment, where reincarnation tales have become something of a norm, but what helps You Can Have My Back stand out (apart from its BL genre) is that Leorino isn’t just a plain old reincarnation of Ionia. Not only is he as different physically from Ionia as he can be (eyes notwithstanding), but he isn’t entirely sure how to handle his memories because despite having them, he’s unequivocal that he’s not Ionia – he’s Leorino, and he wants to be able to live his life.
This is really what gets the story moving. Leorino isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea that the people Ionia loved will want to see him as a pure reincarnation. However, he still loves them, especially his brother Dirk, and Gravis. But Leorino is physically weak and has been protected by his family to the point of absurd innocence about the world. Even without the fact that all of the people Ionia knew are now either approaching forty or in their forties, he’s concerned about presenting himself to men who knew a very different, more physically capable person. He turns out to be correct on this front; Lucas immediately latches on to the idea that he is Ionia reborn and refuses to see Leorino as a valid identity. Gravis, despite being similarly desperate for a second chance, does a better job. However, his desire to wrap Leorino in cotton wool and pack him away from all harm is alarming on a different level.
The action of both novels is essentially divided between the emotional fallout from Ionia’s death and the porting of his memories to Leorino and the desire to avenge Ionia’s death, orchestrated by a traitor who remains hidden eighteen years after the battle. To a certain degree, the former keeps getting in the way of the latter, and although the novels read well, there is a certain amount of bloat to these 450+ page books. The balance isn’t entirely achieved, particularly in volume two; volume one has roughly one hundred pages recounting Ionia’s life, which is very important for the plot and allows for a more polished novel. But the second book spends what can feel like an excessive amount of time describing how ethereally beautiful Leorino is and how he makes all men (straight or not) go mad with lust, leading to his family and Gravis’ desire to keep him locked away. That’s still important to the plot because it directly impedes Leorino’s need to expose the traitors who killed Ionia, but it sometimes drags a lot.
Despite that, author Minami Kotsuna does a beautiful job of capturing the bittersweet yearning between the men. (Leorino’s mother is the book’s only central female character.) Gravis and Ionia were never able to be together romantically in the past, and Gravis has carried that pain for eighteen years. Lucas, similarly, knew that he had Ionia’s body but not his heart, and that, too, has created a well of pain that he hasn’t been able to handle. Both of them are desperate to believe that Leorino is Ionia, and he’s not comfortable with that, even as he’s already in love with Gravis from Ionia’s memories, which causes him not a little turmoil. It could come across as very melodramatic, but instead, it resolves into a sort of beautiful sadness, a pain that they’re trying to cope with even though they don’t know how. Hitomi Hitoyo‘s illustrations also show that, although they are few and far between in novels of this length.
I’m not thrilled that both of these books come wrapped in plastic. Yes, they are light novels with graphic M/M sex scenes, but they’re no more descriptive than in your average romance novel and certainly less so than the average Danmei novel. (Or perhaps they’re just more consensually written.) There’s one illustration of a sex scene in volume two, but it’s in line with BL manga rated T+. It feels like a slope Yen On shouldn’t want to slip down, considering that one of their parent publishers, Hachette, has a romance imprint, none of which is in bookstores wrapped like a dirty secret. Presumably, the thought was that most bookstores keep light novels with manga, so “the children” must be protected.
Despite that, this is a series worth picking up, especially if you’re a fan of Chinese author MXTX, whose works this reminded me of. There is a content warning for assault in volume two, and both novels drag in places, bogged down by an imperfect balance of the two central plots. Still, You Can Have My Back‘s first two novels are ultimately stories about unfinished business and lost love, both being resolved, and that’s rewarding to read about.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. Yen Press, BookWalker Global, and J-Novel Club are subsidiaries of KWE.