Unrequited love is one of those universal things that everyone struggles with at some point in life. It’s something that everyone handles it differently, but few handle well—a broken heart is a painful thing, after all. But it can also have surprising consequences, and even bring people together in a roundabout way. Alter Ego, by Ana C. Sanchez, is a bittersweet but often funny exploration of that unrequited love: the pain of it all and the poor decisions that can come from it, but also the bonds that can form where you least expect them.
Noel has been in love with her best friend Elena for as long as they’ve been friends. She’s never had the courage to say anything, but that was fine—being best friends meant spending almost all their free time together anyway, and even if Noel hoped it could blossom into something more romantic, that time together was enough. But that all changes when Elena starts dating someone else. It only gets worse for Noel when June, Elena’s other best friend who lives in another city, moves to town—and moves in right next door. Suddenly Noel doesn’t have Elena all to herself anymore, turning her love into possessive jealousy.
On top of that, it seems June is also in love with Elena, and their competing affection quickly turns into a bitter rivalry. But this rivalry also brings them closer together, June and Noel find that they have more in common than they realised, and in a roundabout way, the love they both have for Elena forms the beginnings of something you might even call friendship (though neither of them would admit it), and maybe into something more.
From this premise, Alter Ego delves into an exploration of unrequited love, and the different ways people handle it. Noel is dramatic and possessive, but that possessiveness risks her losing Elena even as a friend; it’s a toxic, immature response, and realising and overcoming that is a major part of Noel’s development. That’s also where June comes in, as someone for whom love means wanting Elena to be as happy as she can be, even if that means June is watching from the sidelines. It’s a lesson Noel needs to learn if she doesn’t want to lose Elena forever—though it’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when the lesson comes from her rival.
While these are some heavy topics that Alter Ego explores, it mostly does so in a light, easygoing way. There’s plenty of humour in June and Noel’s rivalry, and in Elena’s quiet schemes to try bring them closer together—right from the start, she can clearly see something that both Noel and June can’t. There are plenty of heartfelt moments as conflict gives way to friendship, and brewing among that is the sweet, tender romance of two people slowly coming to realise that maybe what they’ve been looking for has been right there all along.
Expressive, emotive artwork helps carry this emotionally-charged story through all its ups and downs, bringing all the humorous antics vividly to life and driving home the vulnerability of Noel and June in those quiet moments. The romantic scenes are especially adorable, perfectly capturing the whirlwind of emotions that come with a confession of love or a first kiss, and made all the more beautiful for the gorgeous character designs.
Alter Ego is a strong debut from a talented artist and writer. It’s a story of unrequited love that manages to be both incredibly funny and bittersweet, but above all, it’s sweet, tender story about finding romance in the unlikeliest place.
Alter Ego is written and illustrated by Ana C. Sanchez, and published by TokyoPop. It’s available now.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.