It may conform to shojo clichés while mocking them, but those who aren’t completely embittered towards the genre should find a lot to like in this comedy/romance.
Writer/Artist: Aya Kanno
Translation: Lindsey Akashi
Adaptation: Lindsey Akashi
What They Say
Asuka Masamune is a guy who loves girly things--sewing, knitting, making cute stuffed animals and reading shojo comics. But in a world where boys are expected to act manly, Asuka must hide his beloved hobbies and play the part of a masculine jock instead. Ryo Miyakozuka, on the other hand, is a girl who can't sew or bake a cake to save her life. Asuka finds himself drawn to Ryo, but she likes only the manliest of men! Can Asuka ever show his true self to anyone, much less to the girl that he's falling for?
Asuka Masamune is a guy who loves girly things--sewing, knitting, making cute stuffed animals and reading shojo comics. But in a world where boys are expected to act manly, Asuka must hide his beloved hobbies and play the part of a masculine jock instead. Ryo Miyakozuka, on the other hand, is a girl who can't sew or bake a cake to save her life. Asuka finds himself drawn to Ryo, but she likes only the manliest of men! Can Asuka ever show his true self to anyone, much less to the girl he's falling for?
This is another decent release from Viz, quality-wise, with no color plates, a few advertisements, and translation notes set on a creative background that looks like a scrapbook page. They’re continuing with a trend I’ve been noticing on some more recent series, which moves away from the uniformly glossy cover in favor of a slightly softer one. For Otomen, the illustrations and main text on both the front and back covers are still glossy, which makes them pop a little bit more. The front cover is a simple picture of Asuka with a pink flower in his hair on a jewel-tone turquoise background, which works nicely with the pink and burgundy title. The back cover is more florid, featuring a small picture of Ryo and Juta in a heavy pink and purple color palette, on a light blue background. The logo on the front cover is simply reproduced here in a smaller size, and the summary is underneath it in a nice black font.
Kanno’s work is so straight-up shoujo that it would hurt if it weren’t a hilarious parody of the most prominent aspects of the genre. The boys are handsome and broad-shouldered, the girls are pretty and doe-eyed, and although school uniforms usually dominate their wardrobes, their more casual clothes are quirky and attractive. Much of this volume’s humor is dependent on Kanno’s ability to craft florid shoujo scenes, and she does that with all of the subtlety of a brick to the head. Extra-watery eyes and copious blushing from Asuka are entertaining on their own, but the screentones that dominate the dramatic scenes really help to top it all off. Thankfully, none of the pages ever approaches the mocking level set by a page of the in-story manga “Love Chick,” which is a ridiculous mess of bubbles and sparkles containing only the tiniest bits of untouched white. The fight scenes are much less to look at, but they are short, sporadic, and definitely not the main focus, so there isn’t much to worry about there.
The translation for this text is straightforward and free of snags. It retains Japanese honorifics but provides a glossary at the back of the volume. Cultural notes are also given their own special page, which not only explain certain terms, but also point out many of the references that are made to other books and movies. However, the notes never really explain the pun behind the word “Otomen.“ Although the translation defines it as a man with feminine habits, the use of the word “otome,” or “maiden,” as the root is never explained--something that is more likely to bother people who know what it means than those who don’t. And of course, like all VIZ releases, the sound effects have been entirely replaced with overlays.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Asuka Masamune has liked girly things since he was small, but when his father decided to become a woman and moved out, his mother told him to act like a boy. Yet even as a high schooler with a cool, strong image, he finds it hard to resist picking up the latest volume of his favorite shoujo manga, “Love Chick,” at the bookstore, or to keep himself from hand-sewing teddy bears. When he gets a crush on a Ryo, a tomboy who likes the masculine type, Asuka tries even harder to hide his girlish tendencies under a shell of manliness--particularly when it comes to trying to impress her father.
He’s helped along by Juta Tachibana, a classmate who draws Love Chick under the penname Jewel Sachihana and who is secretly drawing the inspiration for his hit series from Asuka and Ryo’s relationship. When it comes down to it, the two of them are dragging their feet about it all, and so Juta feels the need to try and push them together, more for the sake of his own manga series than anything else. Leaving notes in both their lockers, or dressing up as a fortune-teller and insisting that Asuka ask Ryo on a date to the carnival, there’s nothing he won’t try. Unfortunately, there’s also no chance that Ryo will ever realize that Asuka likes her as more than a friend, or that Asuka will confess his feelings to her any time soon.
Don’t let the fluffy packaging fool you: Otomen is a comedy, not a romance, and it does a superb job of it. The visual humor is spot-on throughout the first volume, and the referential humor never ceases. References are made to Socrates in Love, LoveCom, Honey and Clover, and Hana to Yume (a popular shoujo manga magazine in Japan, published by the same company that puts out Otomen). Kanno embraces self-referential humor, courtesy of the in-manga magazine “Love Chick,” which has more sparkling screentones and clichéd situations than you can shake a stick at.
The main problem comes when trying to form any real empathy for the characters. When Asuka meditates on his problems while soaking in a steam-screened tub, something we’ve seen shoujo heroines do time and time again, it’s impossible to take any of it seriously. Practically every moment of stress or personal growth is rendered a joke by the inherent humor, or is poked fun of a few pages later (see Asuka’s fight with Ryo’s father, or the bull incident). We’re being encouraged to laugh at the characters, not with them. And, no matter how much fun it might make at the lack of development between the lead couple, there is still… no development. They are better friends, but Asuka is still smitten while Ryo remains completely unaware of it all.
However, Otomen neither asks nor encourages you to look at it as a drama or a real shoujo romance--it is, at least thus far, simply a comedy based off the stereotypes that are so prevalent in other series. And as a light, spoofy comedy, it is an absolute success. Go looking for anything else in this first volume, and you’ll not only be disappointed, you’ll be ruining the fun.