Ai Ore Volume 1 by Mayu Shinjo
I don’t think I’ve ever blogged much about Mayu Shinjo’s series Sensual Phrase, mostly because I wrote about it for Library Journal’s Xpress Reviews online a long long time ago. If you scroll down this page you can see my review of the final volume. Sensual Phrase was pure trashy soapy fun, as you might expect from a series about a virginal (but not for long) girl who inexplicably becomes recruited to be the lyricist of a popular rock band. Shinju’s series fill a niche that isn’t often explored here for translated manga – more mature shoujo. We’ve got some other examples like Butterflies, Flowers (which I consider to be josei masquerading as shoujo) but not much else.
Ai Ore deals with superficially swapping traditional gender roles and romance in a teen rock band saga format. An androgynous band named Blaue Rosen is faced with the loss of their lead singer. All the pretty boys in the band are actually girls who attend the same all female high school. A cute girl named Akira asks to audition for the part, but the stoic lead guitarist Mizuki doesn’t want anyone else singing her songs. Of course Akira turns out to be a boy, and a romance between the tall and rangy Mizuki and the short and cute Akira begins. Mizuki’s handsomeness cause her to be treated as a major crush object by all the girls at her school, and Akira’s feminine charms have given him the title of his school’s “princess”. When Mizuki and Akira are together, misunderstandings abound as Mizuki’s classmates don’t understand why she is favoring a single girl with her attention and the boys at Akira’s school are disappointed that a handsome boy is monopolizing the attention of their princess. Shenanigans!
Unfortunately the switch in outward appearances doesn’t mean that Shinjo’s characters personalities are switched as well. For all his girlish features, Akira is a fairly typical alpha male, relentlessly pursuing his goal of dating Mizuki and joining her band despite her not very convincing protestations. While Mizuki professes to hate men, and is committed to maintaining her princely outward appearance, her inexplicable feelings for Akira turn her timorous. She doesn’t project the self-confidence and cool that she’s able to maintain as part of her stage performance. Shinjo’s romantic plot devices have a striking similarity to many of the tropes that pop up in old school romance novels. Threats of rape and sexual assault are common, and I was a little bummed out yet unsurprised that the end of this volume focused on several scenarios of this type. I am generally a big fan of cross dressing manga but Ai Ore didn’t totally win me over, despite plenty of over the top pronouncements like Akira saying “Instead of singing about love, drown yourself in me!” It was a little hard for me to believe that Akira is more physically dominating than Mizuki when he’s drawn to be around a foot shorter than her.
Existing Mayu Shinjo fans will find a lot to like about Ai Ore. It is an oversized edition of 300 pages, with color pages in the front and a character gallery in the back. Even though I’m not finding this manga as immediately addicting as Sensual Phrase, I’ll want to check out the second volume.
Review copy provided by the publisher