Sunday, December 4, 2011

Manga Review: Otomen, v. 1-3 / Aya Kanno

I am still very new to manga in general . The only series I have even purported to like until this point is Kentaro Miura's Berserk, which is violent, horrific, gory, and extremely well written. Overall, I haven't been terribly interested in manga and anime, but I am slowly exploring the genre. I've recently read and enjoyed the first three volumes of Aya Kanno's series Otomen, which is about as far a cry from Berserk as you can get.

Clearly, I have a wide spectrum of taste in this genre.

The basic premise of Otomen revolves around the character of Asuka Masamune, whose father wanted to become a woman and left his mother when the boy was very young, traumatizing his mother and causing her to pressure Asuka to be as manly and masculine as possible. The problem is, that while Asuka is good at acting the "manly" part, for instance is stoicism and prowess in physical activities like kendo, he also enjoys many "feminine" pursuits, such as baking, cooking, sewing, and shojo manga. He therefore feels like he has to suppress a major part of his identity in the name of placating his mother, and the rest of society.

Then we get the supporting cast, who of course complicate matters. There's Juta Tachibana, a carefree playboy type who likes to observe Asuka for the famous shojo manga he secretly writes, and Ryo Miyakozuka, a beautiful tomboy of a girl who Asuka falls for. Throw in the fact that she has none of the traditional feminine interests and skills, and that Ryo is a skilled martial artist, and it's easy to see the potential for romantic comedy.

Some of the story arcs in these volumes include Asuka meeting Ryo's strictly masculine father and resolving differences with him; reluctantly training a young effeminate boy in how to be manly; an arranged marriage brought on by his high-pressuring mother and compounded by a manipulative would-be bride; and Asuka's personal torment as he resolves his very strong feelings for Ryo against his unending reluctance to share them with her.

The concept behind Otomen is amusing, though its execution is not always perfect, which the author freely acknowledges at points in the text. For example, how Tachibana has time to woo multiple girls, hang out with Asuka and Ryo all the time, AND write a super-popular manga is a mystery that will probably never be answered. Still, certain details are very well handled. Tachibana, despite the two boys' mutual disdain for one another, ends up being a loyal friend to Asuka, on multiple occasions checking up on Asuka when he gets in troublesome situations and bowing out when he thinks doing so will bring Asuka and Ryo closer together. Sure, he thinks it'll be good for his manga, but his heart is also in the right place where those two are concerned.

The artwork is fairly simple, being what I'd imagine is typical fare for shojo. It's not heavily detailed, but gets the basics across, and there are appropriate style change-ups when the tone demands it. I'm generally not a fan of chibi artwork, but when done during certain points in this story, I would laugh at the sudden lightness of the mood and situation brought by its exaggerations.

Overall, it's an enjoyable start to an amusing series. I will probably read more, as time, energy, and ability allow. Recommended for teens, people interested in gender roles and stereotypes, and anyone who's ever felt the need to hide who they really are. Definitely worth checking out.

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