Is Love and Heart's first volume full of red flags or red herrings? That's the central question you may be left with after reading it. In either case, the fact that both literary devices rely on the color red may not be a coincidence here, because symbolically red can denote blood, or love. Those two things may be inextricably intertwined in the story as well, with the only certain thing being that Yoh Yagisawa is very likely in a whole lot of trouble.
Realistically speaking, Yoh's “trouble” began long before the story's start. A first-year in college, she's basically been living on her own ever since her parents divorced when she was in elementary school. Her mother, the parent with custody, was nominally around until roughly high school, but after her divorce she became obsessed with growing her business to the point where Yoh had to take care of almost all of the day-to-day details of her own life. Then when Yoh was (nominally) old enough, Mom took off to Seattle to continue expanding her business enterprises, leaving her young daughter alone in Japan. And lest you think that she was at least still in regular contact with Yoh, we're informed that she's spectacularly bad at responding to texts, phone calls, or messages – and that Yoh doesn't even have access to her work phone number. (She expresses surprise at her mother's disapprobation when eventually she gets it.) Yoh has, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned.
That's part of what makes Haruma's sudden entry into her life and her house such a double-edged sword. He claims to have her mother's blessing – in fact, he says that she asked him to stay and “take care of” Yoh – but given her mother's hands-off approach to parenting, that seems at least a little suspicious. On the other hand, Yoh's neighborhood is having a little serial killer (or at least serial attacker) problem, her ex's ex is stalking her, and living alone doesn't seem to be the best plan at the moment. She's also more than a little lonely, although she's not keen on admitting it, so having a housemate is, in many ways, a very good thing.
This is where creator Chitose Kaido starts to really play with our perceptions of what's going on in the story, because while it's nice, and possibly even good, that Haruma is staying with Yoh, he's also very much not in the clear himself. Even without her best bud Touya's concerning recollections about the Hitose family's past – he remembers that the entire family killed themselves back when they were about six or seven years old, so that begs the question of whether or not Haruma is even who he claims to be. Haruma's all kinds of shady – If Yoh's mother sent him, why didn't he contact Yoh beforehand? Why doesn't Yoh remember him, but have vague memories of seeing a hanged body in his old house? Why is Haruma so concerned with who is hanging around Yoh – and could they possibly be as dangerous as he thinks they are? And even more troubling, how much does he have to do with them hanging around in the first place?
Certainly he's treading on yandere territory, but that doesn't even feel like the biggest issue here. There's something intensely dishonest about Haruma that goes beyond the basic trope, and the confusion that the creator, through Haruma, sows is what makes this book both appealing and alarming. There are almost no points at which we as readers feel like we're standing on solid ground with either Haruma or the events of the story, and the nagging suspicion that he has a lot more to do with everything than anyone knows is both uncomfortable and page-turningly riveting. This does at times make Yoh herself a difficult character, because she's either impressively brassy, too stupid to live, or a weird combination of both. She's clearly intellectually smart, and the real question becomes how much Haruma is manipulating her world in order to get what he wants. There's an excellent chance that he's working hard to keep her off-balance, and the only person who may be able to see it is Touya.
Touya and Yoh do, it must be said, have a really nice friendship, and one that just seems to be a friendship. Sawako, the third friend in their group, makes plenty of comments about how Touya can “make his move” now that Yoh has broken up with her boyfriend, and Touya swiftly puts paid to that idea. While he may be bluffing, and certainly looks like the healthier option for Yoh at this point, it would be very nice if they just maintained their friendship, with him being the voice of reason for her throughout.
That, as of now, seems to be something Yoh needs very badly. Because whether Haruma is as sketchy as he seems or not, a lot of troubling things are happening in her vicinity. Whether the red belongs to candy hearts or spilled blood, herrings or flags, Love and Heart is doing its best to keep us off-balance, and if it can continue in that vein, it could be an interesting series.