Ai Ore: Clever Satire or Anti-Female Trash?

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.

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  1. I kinda think that if you can’t tell that something is satire, it doesn’t actually work as satire. And while it’s possible that it doesn’t work for me because I am not smart enough about manga or whatever else anyone might think of me, I would imagine that most people can agree that David and Kate are pretty freakin’ smart. So if it is satire, I really think it fails, at least outside of its original audience.

  2. That’s a good point, and why I am still feeling wishy washy about the whole topic. I do think that it is more likely to be read as satire for someone who is already familiar with Shinjo’s other works. I had dim memories of Sensual Phrase when I read Ai Ore, and after flipping through one of the few remaining volumes I was reminded that I would have a really hard time taking that series seriously at all. But if the satire relies on being familiar with other series, it probably isn’t all that successful artistically.

  3. When I first read the first few chapters of the prequel of Ai Ore (Love Me), Ai wo utau yori ore ni oborero! (Rather than singing love, be more drown/indulged in me!), it was like an ordinary out of the box gender-bender manga. However, I got hooked on the entire series and was so happy when I found out that it has a sequel! I never thought of it being satire at all. Any work of art that gives you some sense of emotional attachment to it makes it worthy. However, our opinions differ in ways on how we see the work is.

  4. There actually is bondage, and in more than one scene. 🙂 Besides that, I think you have to take this at face value. I think Shinjo is playing with people’s brains a little, by switching the genders of our typical visual references for a bishie boy and cute girl – but she has written her typical alpha male dominate, flustery female romance. Which is what her fans tend to enjoy reading if you look at her other titles. So people can try to interpret it as satire, but so far it doesn’t look that way to me.

  5. Robyn Baylor says

    I’m torn w/ Ai Ore… I like that it is SUPPOSED to be a story about gender bending musicians who happen to fall in love. BUT WHERE IS IT??? So far, the only thing I really like is the fashion sense. But other than that everything blows. BIG TIME! There’s hardly ever any music. Mizuki was suppose to be a prince but she just comes like just another random garden variety annoying shojo heroine. & I really hate Akira & his macho man bullshit cute little girl act. Ran & Ryu are so sickening it’s not even funny. & I still think Akira deserves payback. Mizuki’s so called female rapist barely did anything but kiss her & feel her up, so he sends Ryu to rape her as a result to save his darling Mizuki. It’s too bad this so called mangaka didn’t write in bigger, burlier, stronger female to do some naughty things to him w/ a broomstick. If she had written in a plot twist like that, then MAYBE I’d keep reading. So far I’m really sorry I bought vols. 1&2. Such a let down. I want my money & my wasted time back.

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