Otomen Volume 11

Otomen Volume 11 by Aya Kanno

I’d collected a fair amount of Otomen when I stopped feeling the need to keep preordering it. I like it, but the episodic nature of the book means that most of the volumes revolve around the same conflict – will Asuka’s secret talents for feminine pursuits like knitting and baking be revealed and destroy his facade of manliness? The 11th volume is pretty much the same, but it wasn’t very hard for me to pick up on what was going on after skipping several volumes and Otomen is consistently funny.

Asuka is on a class trip/feudal Japan reenactment when he and his friends find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Asuka’s enigmatic and tomboyish girlfriend Ryo promptly starts foraging, while Asuka decides to lift everybody’s spirits by constructing lovely origami flowers. Ryo gets stranded in the woods and ends up cheerfully and capably rescuing Tonomine, who comments to Asuka “She may be a girl…but she’s a true samurai.” Other episodes in this volume includes Asuka attending secret baking lessons for men and a showdown at school over Valentine’s chocolate between Asuka and “Pheromone Prince” Suzaku Oji, the school nurse. Kanno’s sense of humor really comes through in her character designs, as Oji is drawn with flowing hair and a ruffled shirt worn under his white labcoat. He makes pronouncements like “come to me, my kittens,” and all the teenage girls swoon.

Asuka’s better nature begins to make inroads against the strict gender roles enforced by his school, but things are about to take a turn for the worse when his mother comes back from overseas. My major complaint with this volume was that there wasn’t enough focus on Ryo and mangaka Juta Tachibana. A bonus story of “Love Chick” the manga Juta wrote based on Asuka and Ryo with their genders swapped was included in the back of the volume. This was fun to see, since Kanno drew it in a deliberately more simple and insipid style.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 8

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 8 by Yuki Yoshihara

This is the final volume! I’ve enjoyed this series, which I tend to think of as “stealth josei” because even though it was released under the Shojo Beat imprint it skews a lot older. This series about a rich woman working in an office under the direction of a former servant to her family who she winds up dating might seem incredibly frivolous, but it ends up being enlivened by Yoshihara’s offbeat sense of humor and the caring exhibited in the relationship between Choko and Masayuki.

After dating for some time, Choko and Masayuki face the ultimate test when Choko goes on an arranged marriage meeting and Masayuki appears to be doing nothing to stop it. Of course he reveals his objections in a dramatic and hilariously crude manner, but will this odd couple be able to take the next step in their relationship? Choko resorts to hiding marriage registration papers around the office, trying to get Masayuki to sign the documents in a moment of distraction. When Masayuki finally comes around and asks her to marry him, he’s unable to call her by her first name because he’s so fully internalized their master/servant relationship. Choko wants a relationship of equals, and wants to move forward but Masayuki seems pathologically unable to see her as his equal. There isn’t really any doubt that the couple will get together, but despite all the weird master servant jokes, otaku Gundam references, and random crossdressers, there’s a certain level of sweetness present when Choko and Masayuki are able to move on from their roles as lady and servant.

I wish more series like Butterflies, Flowers would be published over here. I don’t mind plenty of high school romance shojo, but it is nice to have a little bit of variety in the settings of romance manga. I hope Viz licenses more Yoshihara manga because her quirky sensibility makes this series unique and weirdly endearing.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Dengeki Daisy Volume 6

Dengeki Daisy Volume 6 by Kyousuke Motomi

I have to admit after six volumes, the storylines in Dengeki Daisy are getting a bit predictable. Fortunately Motomi is such a skilled author that I don’t really care! The slowly developing relationship between plucky orphan high school student Teru and grumpy janitor/hacker Kurosaki is still moving forward at a glacial pace. Teru and Kurosaki are both pretending that she hasn’t discovered that he’s her mysterious guardian known as Daisy. I think one of the reasons why I tolerate the slower plot developments in Dengeki Daisy is that Teru and Kurosaki’s inaction about their relationship is tied in to their emotional states. In more predicatable shoujo manga, there would be plenty of outside forces popping up to prevent a couple getting together such as the sudden appearance of a long-lost fiance or an evil male model. Teru and Kurosaki both aren’t in an emotional place to deal with being honest with their feelings, so everything goes unsaid even as they face danger yet again.

I have learned now through this manga that school nurses are even more dangerous than male models. Teru investigates the possible guilt of Arai in a stabbing incident centered around the ex-school nurse Ms. Mori. It turns out that while Arai is guilty of some things, he’s really being set up as a patsy. Teru places herself in danger yet again, but she trusts that Daisy will be able to save her. While this scenario might make it seem like Teru’s a typical captive heroine, she does actually fight back and continues to use her cell phone strategically in summoning help. When I was reading this I was struck again by how well Motomi conveys the vastly different moods of the characters. There’s cynicism, playfulness, repressed emotion, and gloom. Teru and Kurosaki seem to go through so much in this volume, but their relationship is summed up in a scene where she’s perched on the monkey bars at school and he coaxes her to jump down in to his arms. Kurosaki thinks about the guilt he bears over her brother’s death and how much better off his life is with Teru in it. She thinks he’s acting strangely and wonders if he’s drunk, and he makes a crude joke about her youthfulness. So in just a few panels we go from reflection and intimacy to reinforcement of the teasing that keeps a safe distance between the couple. Scenes like this, with so much packed into a few panels are why I continue to enjoy reading Dengeki Daisy.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Ooku Volume 6

Fumi Yoshinaga is the topic of the Manga Moveable Feast for August. Ooku is by far her most artistically ambitious work, and while I enjoy and appreciate it very much, it doesn’t conjure up in me the same feelings of fondness as some of her other series like Antique Bakery and Flower of Life. Ooku’s more complex alternate history framework ensures that the series moves around telling different stories, without the leisurely time devoted to the slice of life character-based interaction that Yoshinaga excels at.

The sixth volume of Ooku focuses on the Shogun Tsunayoshi. Her unrealistic edicts of compassion for animals make her unpopular with her subjects, and she struggles with naming a successor. Even though she’s caught up in the machinery of government, it is the small human considerations that drive her decisions. Though her father is senile, she doesn’t want to name an heir who he opposes. After an assassination attempt, Tsunayoshi is strangely unmoved, not wanting to make an effort to live anymore. She finds brief comfort in the arms of Senior Chamberlin Emonnosuke. The tension between the official history of the shogunate and the events that actually happened is always present, as the third person narration hints at rumors the reader is shown to be true.

The second story in this volume introduces Sayko, a man so desperate to get away from his abusive mother that he clutches at the possibility of entering the service of the next Shogun Ienobu. He regards the Valet of the Chamber Akifusa as his savior, falling in love with her. One of the underlying themes of Ooku is the way power twists and changes normal human relationships. Akifusa has Sayko trained in all the gentlemanly arts of the samurai, and then tells him that she’s been grooming him for the role of the Shogun’s concubine. When Sakyo sees Ienobu sitting with her official consort, he thinks “These two people should have grown older in happy harmony, with nothing to come between them. Instead, because as Shogun she must produce an heir, her highness must lie with the likes of me…’Tis a wretched thing…”

The constraints posed on the characters by the structure of society and the office of the Shogun ensure that the best anyone can hope for is a moment of fleeting happiness. I put this volume down wondering if the most recent shogun Yoshimune will be able to enact some reforms after spending so much time learning about her predecessors.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Oresama Teacher Volumes 3 and 4

Oresama Teacher is rapidly becoming one of my favorite shojo series due to the fact that it isn’t like most of the other manga in the Shojo Beat imprint. Instead of exploring teen romance, this manga focuses on dumb comedy. Even though many of the characters are idiots, they are also endearing because their idiocy stems from personality quirks that also make them strong. Mafuyu is going away for high school in an attempt to put her juvenile delinquent past behind her, but she finds out that her teacher Takaomi is her long-lost neighbor who trained her in all of her fighting techniques.

In the third volume of Oresama Teacher, Mafuyu goes home to visit her old gang. She’s curious to see how they’re doing without her leadership, and she misses her friends. Mafuyu gets caught up in her old school rivalries and winds up kidnapped with her two former sidekicks, the enthusiastic Kanagawa and the masochistic Maizono. There is nothing that better expresses the differences between Oresama Teacher and more typical shoujo manga than a great scene of Mafuyu lecturing her former lackeys about the proper way to position one’s hands when being tied up by kidnappers. She gives a full on mini-tutorial about techniques to escape binding, then realizes that her instructions are useless because the boys are already tied up. She breaks the boys out, only to be pushed aside as they face their confrontation with their rivals. Mafuyu wonders about the nature of their friendship, only to realize that everyone’s acting unconcerned about her help because they need to stand up for themselves on their own. This was actually a cute message, delivered with a light touch along with Mafuyu’s humorous MacGyver-like fighting techniques.

One of the reasons why I like Oresama Teacher so much is that there isn’t very much conventional romance in it. Mafuyu may be a hardened juvenile delinquent, but she has very little idea what to do about the opposite sex, other than registering that she may have confusing feelings for someone before she moves on to give an enemy a well-deserved beatdown. The fourth volume of the manga brings back Mafuyu’s gender swapped disguise as Natsuo when Takaomi announces that the Public Morals Club has to fight the Yojimbo club. Mafuyu is worried about Hayasaka’s fighting abilities. He’s good at fighting but is so single-focused that he lets himself get hurt. As Natsuo, Mafuyu tries to teach Hayasaka how to dodge and block and think more strategically in a fight. Hayasaka doesn’t seem to be clued in that Natsuo and Mafuyu are never in the same place at the same time, and look alarmingly similar.

One of my favorite moments in this volume was the depictions of torturous mental calculations Mafuyu does about Hayasaka’s fighting abilities while she’s thinking in class. She stares at him intently, throws her head down, bangs on her desk, mopes, and then indulges in an evil smirk when she hits on her training plan. Hayasaka looks mystified and then both confused and alarmed.

Both volumes end with a Mafuyu/Takaomi story. In one, she’s forced to stay over at his place when she accidentally gives her house key to the school’s bancho. In another, they go to the beach with complications as Mafuyu doesn’t even remember that she can’t swim until she’s floating on a swim toy in deep water. While the prospect of a student/teacher relationship isn’t a plot point that comes up very often in the manga that gets translated here, it is hard to picture anything happening with Mafuyu and Takaomi at this point in the series. Takaomi is so manipulative and evil, yet weirdly protective when it comes to Mafuyu actually suffering any harm.

I enjoy Oresama Teacher a lot more than other shoujo humor titles. There’s something about the juxtaposition of all the dumb, character based humor and violent fights that just has me much more invested in wanting to know what will happen to the characters even after four volumes.

Review copies provided by the publisher.