Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Otomen, Volume 5 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a seemingly guy's guy who actually likes girly things deep down inside, the girlier, the better. He is in love with Ryo Miyakozuka, a girl who is beautiful, but knows and does very little girly stuff. She lives with her Dad, a policeman and leader of a dojo.

So, when Ryo is chosen to represent the class at the "Ideal Woman" contest, everyone who really knows her is completely shocked. Yes, she's pretty, but she knows nothing about flower-arranging, cooking or the tea ceremony, but she promises her classmates that she will do her best.

Ryo is allowed to pick one male "helper" for the contest, and of course, she picks Asuka as her helper. Since he's an Otomen, he can help her with the "girly" stuff, right? But unbeknownst to either of them, Miyabi Oharida, the third-year student, has won two years running and wants to knock it out of the park this time as well.

But more than just wanting to win the competition, she wants to literally destroy her opponent Ryo, and win Asuka, who she views as her counterpart as a "ideal man" and therefore, he should be with her as companion to her "ideal woman". Miyabi takes an early lead, but when Ryo starts catching up to her, Miyabi might decide to cheat to win. But will her plans come to fruition? And who will win, Miyabi or Ryo?

The next story is focused on Juta. His manga, which he writes under the name Jewel Sachihana, has just won the 30th Annual Kokusensha Manga Award. The biggest problem is that no one knows that he, Juta Tachibana, is actually the manga-ka Jewel Sachihana.But to actually accept the award, he (or she) must be there in person.

Juta tries to get one of his many sisters to go in his place, but none of them seems willing. Juta finally resorts to bribing his older sister Kuriko to go, but she goes shopping with friends on the same day as the acceptance party. And even worse, Asuka is there in the crowd!

Asuka loves the Love Chick manga, and hopes to meet Sachihana-San in person. But as the time grows later and Kuriko doesn't show, can Juta come up with an alternate plan to find a female Sachiana to represent him? How about with the help of Mira-sensei, a fellow manga-ka?

And then Asuka and his rival, Hajime Tonomine, are contacted by the company for which they acted as "Beauty Samurai" to come and do a show and reprise their characters. But will both agree to show off their skills once again? And when a strange woman knocks Asuka down after the show and appeard to know him, could it be Asuka's father, who left his mother, claiming his greatest ambition was to become a woman?

Another excellent volume. After heavily talking about Asuka's father for 5 volumes now, it seems as if he might have finally found him again. Or would that be "her"? S/He isn't the only one living a double life, as Juta learns when meeting his idol, Mira-sensei. And that was quite a shock and surprise, as I didn't suspect anything until the end of the story. And Juta makes a very pretty woman, with the right dress and wig and makeup.

Maybe this will make him less reliant on Asuka and Ryo for his writing, and maybe not. The biggest shock I got out of that story was that Kuriko not showing up was a plot by his sisters to make him own up to who Jewel Sachihana really was. And they played him very well, but in the end, they failed; Juta never came clean to who he really is/was. But at least they won't have to play Jewel Sachihana for him ever again. But it was amusing that he isn't the only manga-ka playing female for the audience.

I really enjoyed this manga volume, and I am looking forward to see if and how meeting his father changes Asuka, and if anything happens with his mother. It's occurred to me that his mother wants Asuka to be a true man, but she's playing out a role in Japan (and elsewhere) that an "ideal woman" wouldn't play- that of a business executive or a business professional who travels. Last time I heard, Japanese women in business were strictly OL's, or Office Ladies, who are glorified secretaries and servants who make coffee, bring around the sweets cart, and are expected to marry, and must have something wrong with them if they don't get married. We don't get to see how Asuka's mother gets around this.

I'm enjoying this series, and the sort of playful way it pokes fun at the typical Shoujo pretty-boy hero. Here, it's Asuka, not Ryo, who is the main character, and Asuka who is the one making the play for Ryo and hoping she'll like him. Yes, she's clueless to the fact that he likes her in that way, but it's nice getting into Asuka's head for once, and leaving Ryo to be a mystery. If you love Shoujo manga and have read an awful lot of it (enough to know the conventions), you'll love it too. Recommended.

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