Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Otomen, Volume 1 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is a guy known around his school for being the epitome of cool. Calm, gorgeous and manly, he is the head of the school kendo team, a man's man who throws his heart into the game and isn't distracted by anything. But in secret, Asuka is an Otomen, a man who appears manly on the outside, and on the inside loves all things sugary, sweet and girly. A man who can whip up amazing bentos and cakes and sew all sorts of cute crafts. A guy who reads Shoujo manga and sighs over them.

Asuka is used to keeping his hidden self under wraps, but when he falls for Ryo Miyakozura, a girl who wouldn't know feminine and girlish if it came up and bit her on the shoulder, he finds himself doing things he never would have done before and letting his inner feelings out in her presence.

His other problem is a boy named Juta Tachibana, who claims to have an interest in Ryo himself. He puts the idea into Asuka's head that he has to declare his feelings for Ryo or Juta will come and steal her away- and Juta is a terrible ladies' man, always playing around with other guys girlfriends, paying attention to them and making the other boys jealous.

But Juta has a reason to put the two together- he's actually Jewel Sachihana, the well known author of Shoujo comics, and he's based the boy in his new romance on Asuka- and to get new ideas, he pushes Asuka into a romance with Ryo, and insists on being with them (or he puts them into a situation where he can spy on them.

Asuka is conflicted by his true interests because of an incident in his past- his father walked out on Asuka's mother, saying that his deepest dream was always to be a girl. Asuka's mother was destroyed by this and extracted a promise from him to always be manly for her.

Asuka's greatest conflict is with Ryo's father. He's a sensei, or head of a dojo, and he wants Ryo to fall in love with a manly man who can make her father proud. But when he sees Asuka, he calls him a girly man and tells him he doesn't want him being around Asuka- when Ryo needs help baking a cake for her father, can Asuka take the chance and win over her father to his side?

And when Juta's editor complains because the characters in his story haven't even kissed yet, can he manipulate Asuka and Ryo into a situation romantic enough for their first kiss?

This was cute. Very cute. I liked the idea of an Otomen, a girly man who likes doing the sort of things that girls supposedly like to do- sewing, cooking, reading shoujo manga and collecting cute stuffed animals and whatnot. I also liked that Asuka is conflicted about his likings, not because he feels that they are inherently "unmanly" or whatnot, but because of a promise to his mother, that he would always be manly.

This is because if he can change his mother's mind, he might be able to get out of his promise eventually or at least change her mind. If it is imposed from the inside, that he feels ashamed about his "unmanly" likings, it would be a recipie for later psychological intervention, if you know what I mean. It would be bad to think that Asuka would hate himself because he sees himself as "unmanly".

I found this to be a cute series full of harmless fluff that is occasionally funny and always charming and lighthearted. It's sure to evoke a smile if nothing else, and has some pretty advanced gender politics for a Japanese story (they have their own problems with "prettyboys" even if they don't call them "Fags" over there, and with crossdressers and the transgendered as well- just not in the same way as America). Recommended.

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