I wasn’t going to write about Ai Ore again so soon after posting my initial review, but I got into a conversation on twitter the other night that is causing me to rethink my initial reaction.
Jason Thomson posted: Dear Internet: Ai Ore is a comedy. I think it’s meant to be more like DMC than an actual romance. You can still find it offensive of course.
I was a little disappointed that Ai Ore didn’t completely follow through with the promise of its gender switching premise. I didn’t really react to the threat of rape at the end of the volume, other than to note that it was a disappointing way for the manga to end. I honestly am not surprised to see rape threats or coercive sex in a Mayu Shinjo series, I was actually a little bummed out that there was no bondage, amnesia, or evil hypnosis on display the way it was in Sensual Phrase. Other manga bloggers reacted more strongly to the rape scenes and cliched plot elements, and I can certainly understand why. When Jason compared Ai Ore to DMC I started thinking about this manga some more to see if I could find more evidence of parody. All the rape references in DMC are much funnier and easier to take, because they tend to involve inanimate objects like the Tokyo Tower or extremely improbable targets like sweet elderly grandparents. Nancy Thistlethwaite, who edits Ai Ore, said “…if Shinjo is subverting anything, it is how women are portrayed in ero manga. & she’s having fun with it.”
Is Shinjo ever really trying to be taken seriously? I don’t have most of my issues of Sensual Phrase, but I did pick up volume 3 where rock star hero Sakuya has been shot up with drugs and chained to a wall while his brother tells the heroine Aine that she has to have sex with him or Sakuya will be killed. Later Sakuya shows up after surviving withdrawl through sheer willpower. He splits up his band in order to become an incredibly successful businessman in three months so he can bargain for Aine. He gets her and his band back, and then tells her that he’s going to withhold sex from her because she’s so happy she isn’t writing good song lyrics anymore. Does someone who writes a manga where events like that take place in the first 3 chapters turn around and write another manga without their tongue firmly in cheek?
But If Ai Ore is satirical, it doesn’t do a fabulous job of signaling this in the first volume. Perhaps it would have been easier to take if the masculine female lead Mizuki was a national landmark like Tokyo Tower or Nagoya Castle. If Ai Ore is more like DMC than a more straightforward gender switching shojo manga like Hana Kimi, how can we look at the characters and situations it portrays?
Is it commenting on stereotypical characters portrayed in Yaoi and ero manga? I’ve never been entirely comfortable with some of the rigid roles and forced sex in yaoi manga. The roles of seme and uke are taken on by Mizuki and Akira, with their appearances and gender serving as a start contrast to their roles. Mizuki’s masculine swagger is a mask for an insecure girl, and Akira’s feminine exterior is at odds with his alpha male/stalker/macho personality. The way the characters are drawn, it was impossible for me to read any scenes of Akira physically dominating Mizuki without thinking that something was seriously off. It might be a reflection of her confidence in her physical prowess, but I thought it was more than a little odd that a girl with Mizuki’s build was constantly getting into situations where she didn’t seem to be capable of using her advantages of strength and height to escape. But if Mizuki is a stand in for a uke who happens to be trapped in the body that resembles a male supermodel when she’s dressed up, maybe Shinjo is setting up these situations to make the reader uncomfortable deliberately. If some readers may accept these roles without question in other genres, perhaps the squicky elements that are introduced in Ai Ore when Shinjo plays out her gender-flipped scenario are a deliberate statement. If these roles are acceptable to some readers when presented in a yaoi context and unacceptable when presented in a heterosexual relationship, maybe Shinjo is being deliberately satirical. Ai Ore does seem like it could be read multiple ways. I’ve seen comments from readers that refer to it as being enjoyably trashy, a deliberate parody, and deeply offensive to feminists. Maybe it is all three things. In any case, I’m willing to sick around for the next few volumes of the series to try and figure it out.