Age is a funny thing. We’ve all read manga that equates being over thirty with being middle-aged, and that really drives home the idea that along with being a simple set of numbers that delineates how long you’ve been alive, age is also very much a social construct and just what that construct is depends on the culture in question. Plenty of manga dance around this idea, either playing it for laughs or titillation and in the case of age-gap shoujo manga, it’s often a sign that the heroine is perhaps more mature than her peer group. In the case of You Like Me, Not My Daughter?!, pretty much all of these things are true in one way or another.
The story follows a woman named Ayako, whose sister and brother-in-law died in an accident when their daughter Miu was only five years old. At the memorial, all of the relatives argue over who will take in the orphaned little girl, and everyone has an excuse as to why it can’t be them: they have too many kids, they work too much, it would look bad if they sent her to a group home. Frustrated with all of this and seeing the toll it’s taking on the little girl, Ayako speaks up and says she will step up and adopt her. Even when relatives try to dissuade her, saying that she has only just graduated from college and entered the workforce, Ayako is unmoved, and her determination pays off. The story skips forward ten years, and we can see that Miu is now calling her aunt her mother, and the two are living a happy, comfortable life. Miu has just started high school, and Ayako has arranged everything so she can do her work remotely, thanks to a very understanding boss. They’re even close with the neighbors, particularly their twenty-year-old son Takumi. He’s been tutoring Miu, and Ayako has convinced herself that he’s got a crush on her daughter.
As you can guess from the title of the series, this is not the case, and the person he is, in fact, in love with is Ayako herself. He has been for the past ten years – in the funeral scene, we see an image of him looking awed when Ayako stands up and says that if no one else wants to take in Miu, she will. Clearly, he is enthralled by this woman who has the guts to do what none of the older adults will, and if this were the only marker of his early infatuation, the story would frankly work much better. Unfortunately, creator Kota Nozomi (of When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace fame) decided that this was perhaps not enough – or at least not sexy enough. As the book goes on, we learn that ten years ago, Ayako let Takumi into the house when his mother was out and he was stuck in the rain, and the two of them took a bath together. While there were exactly zero sexual intentions on her part, for him, it was something of a sexual awakening, and the whole scene is incredibly uncomfortable, especially since he’s uncomfortable with the situation and unwilling to say so. Bath scenes do not have to be inherently sexy, but that little Takumi felt that it was casts a pall over what otherwise could have been a perfectly fine romantic comedy.
It also feels a little out of place, given that the rest of the story primarily comprises Takumi trying his best to make it clear that he is 100% serious about her while she flutters around, proclaiming that she is too old for him. While there is at least an eleven- or twelve-year age gap between them, she is the only one bothered by it; even his mother is perfectly okay with her son’s feelings since he made them clear to her. There appear to be two parts to Ayako’s issues on the subject. One is undoubtedly the fact that she has known him since he was ten; we can extrapolate that she and Miu moved into Miu’s family home, thereby gaining Takumi and his family as neighbors. She’s always seen him, therefore, as the little kid next door, and realizing that he has grown up is difficult for her. But she’s also feeling much older than her physical age would suggest. And this is almost certainly in part because she raised a child for ten years; it puts her in an experience bracket that is perhaps not shared by her age mates. Since in her head she’s been Miu’s mother for the past decade, she assumes that that’s how Takumi sees her; similarly, since there’s double the number of years between her and Takumi as there is between Takumi and Miu, she can’t imagine that he doesn’t feel closer to her daughter than to herself. She’s floored to realize that Takumi sees himself as a full-grown adult and acts like one. He’s serious about her, and the way he views her is so different from the way she sees herself that she becomes the single biggest impediment to them even having a regular conversation on the subject, which admittedly does lead to some hilarious attempts to turn him off; the otaku one is especially funny.
If age-gap romances aren’t your thing, this one will probably not work for you. The bath scene is close to a deal breaker even without that factor. Still, if you can look beyond that and poor Ayako’s incredibly uncomfortable-looking breasts, there is a decent story here that’s pretty sweet. There’s something sad about Ayako having written herself off as an old lady at thirty-one or thirty-two years old. The people around her are all incredibly supportive of whatever decision she makes. Interestingly enough, the included short story from Takumi’s perspective is written in his first-person voice, so it would be interesting to know whether or not the novels are written in the same way or if that was something special done for this particular short story. But this overall does not scream adaptation, and with those few caveats I mentioned before, it might be a nice piece of escapist romance fantasy.