Thursday, February 26, 2009

Otomen, vol. 1

Story and Art by Aya Kanno
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: What every kendo champion needs for his bokken is a knitted wrap

Asuka is a kendo champion and is among the most admired male students at his high school but he has a secret. Despite his manly abilities, he finds himself attracted to girly things such as cute stuffed animals, sewing and shojo manga. When he finally falls in love with a girl, at first sight of course since that is how it happens in shojo manga, he finds it ever harder to maintain appearances. Worse yet, one of the worst girly men in the school, Juta seems to know all of his secrets. The truth is Juta is secretly a mangaka of a popular shojo series Love Chick that all of the girls and Asuka like. The reason that Asuka can relate to the series is that Juta is basing characters and the storyline on Asuka himself, and in order to give himself more material Juta encourages Asuka to get closer to Ryo, the girl of his dreams. But Ryo has misinterpreted Asuka's love confession to mean that she, Asuka and Juta are all good friends while Juta just wants things between Ryo and Asuka to move forward so he can steal material for his manga. Asuka is left torn between his own uncertain nature and his friends' differing motivations.

This has a very good inversion of the shojo roles. Ryo is a cipher and clueless while Asuka's emotions and confusions are laid bare to the reader. Juta has an interesting, distanting connection with the other characters. He wants their relationship to progress, but not to progress so fast that his manga moves too quickly, nor does he necessarily want Ryo and Asuka to be happy together, because that is the kiss of death in dramatic storytelling. By commenting on the relationship and complaining how inconvenient it can be to try to translate into manga form, Juta can diffuse the normal criticisms of shojo manga of being unrealistic by acknowledging them and moving on. I have not been very forgiving with Aya Kanno's previous titles (seen here), but here she has finally found her stride and a voice, and I hope she continues in this vein.

Otomen, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


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