Saturday, March 13, 2010

Otomen, Volume 3 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a manly man with a liking for girly-girly stuff and activities. Sewing, crafting, cooking, housecleaning- he's all over it. But he has to hide who he really is because of his mother, who is upset that her husband ran off to be a transvestite.

Asuka is sewing his friend Juta Tachibana's sweater for him when the girl Asuka loves, Ryo Miyakozuka, comes in and asks for his help. She needs his help in taking care of preschoolers, which she does on the weekend. This time, she asks Asuka to come with her. Asuka doesn't know what he can do- he hasn't worked with children much, but he agrees. At the school, he meets a little boy named Gen who claims to hate Asuka.

Ryo reveals that Gen's father always works late- Gen lost his mother, and he looks on the women at the daycare center as his mommies- he's afraid that Asuka will take Ryo away. Asuka and Gen finally bond when Asuka helps Gen rebuild the girl's day dolls he accidentally destroyed. But when Gen thinks the other girls will take Asuka away from him, can Asuka save Gen from being hurt or killed when he throws himself out a window?

Then, Juta suggests that they go to the Amusement Park again. Again, he wants for Asuka to confess his love for Ryo. Then, he ducks out, claiming to have left his Playstation on at home. The problem is that all the rides Ryo wants to go on scare the heck out of Asuka. But when a man who was slighted in love jumps on their table at lunch and threatens to kill himself with a stick of dynamite, can Asuka talk him down? And if he lights the dynamite anyway, can Asuka and Ryo get rid of it before it kills anyone?

When Juts needs to work on his manuscript, he turns down the girls that he usually hangs out with, claiming to have business that needs doing. But when the girls wonder if he has an "Exclusive" girlfriend, they ask Ryo and Asuka to look into it. Can the two of them find out the truth, or will they find out his "Secret"?

Asuka has a rival in Kendo, Hajime Tonomine, who is determined to bring down Asuka. So when both end up at a beauty festival in the park, it's harder to tell which is more surprised to see the other. When they get asked to help out at the Superhero show because they are both dressed in Kendo outfits, they get backstage passes to the show. But when the woman who is suppsed to be doing the makeovers doesn't show up, both make suggestions on how to do the makeup and clothing. And each learns the other's secret. Tonomine is an Otomen for makeup, while Asuka is one for clothing. But will learning each other's secret draw them closer, or push them further apart?

I like this series. It's not deathless prose or incredibly funny, but I do enjoy reading it for the disconnect between what people around Asuka think is most manly, and how Asuka fulfills those expectations while being, beneath it all, interested in such girly things. Of course, I'd have to point out that being interested in sewing, crafts or makeup doesn't exactly make one "girly", since there are plenty of men who are into fashion (Pierre Cardin, Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior) all without being "swishy", Gay or unmanly, and there are male makeup artists, like Kevyn Aucoin, too.

It was rather amusing to see that Asuka isn't the only "manly man" with girly interests, but it remains to be seen whether their common "uncommon" interests will bring Asuka and Hajime together as friends, or whether their rivalry on the Kendo field will keep them apart, keeping them from finding understanding. with someone who knows what they are going through. As it is, it seems they have reached Detente, with a promise of mutually assured destruction should one out the other. Asuka perhaps wouldn't do that, but I'm not so sanguine about Hajime.

Another excellent manga issue that somehow manages to be a comforting story rather than played solely for laughs. Yes, it's a romance, and yes, it's comedic, but I find myself liking and enjoying it. Recommended.

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