Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gakuen Prince, vol. 1

By Jun Yuzuki
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A beautiful story about the cruelty and ugliness of teens

Mizutani has transferred into a new high school which was formerly an all-girl school and is only recently become co-ed. There are very few boys there, and Mizutani learns rather quickly that the boys are a commodity that the girls use and abuse as they wish. One of the few ways out for boys is to be in a relationship with a single girl, and in desperation Mizutani finds the first girl that doesn't seem to be interested in hunting him down and dragoons her into being in a relationship. Okitsu has spent most of her time in high school trying to avoid attention, but with Mizutani's announcement, she is now in the sights of every girl in school who thinks they deserve a chance at Mizutani. She is bullied and even set up to be sexually abused, despite Mizutani's various attempts to protect her. He eventually releases her from their 'relationship' but Okitsu, upon seeing Mizutani being cornered and threatened with being tasered into sexual activity, restarts their 'relationship.' But there are more traps that remain for them.

I was ready to take one for the team here, because the back cover text made me expect that this was going to be some piece of painful fluff. But within a few pages, when the girls decide to 'initiate' the new boy in the school with some sexual abuse, and the boy is smart enough to realize he may not like it, this manga showed it understood human nature. Sometimes it can be very impersonally cruel, and the manga shows how the bullying culture in Japanese schools can tear people down just because they are in someone's way. Or simply because they merely appear to want to change, irrespective of what their true plans are. Sure, some of the set-up of the situation is a stretch, but how the characters acted spoke almost brutally true. Especially the moment where Okitsu remains suspicious of the other girls motives, but wanted to believe for a few moments that maybe, just maybe, they liked her. There was no happy fluffy shojo happiness here, or people searching for true love, but teenage hormones running amok and an attitude towards sex that is both envious and dehumanizing. It is a honest look of what would really happen if some of the silly situations that seem to proliferate in shojo would actually happen, and so needs to be read by everyone who sighs dramatically over shojo. Sure, most shojo is written as an escape from the reality of teenage romances, but in this someone can see what happens in the real world and emphasize more with it.

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


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