Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Otomen, Volume 7 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is the leader of his school's Kendo Club and appears strong and manly. But in reality, he's an Otomen- a manly guy who actually loves girly things deep within. His mother forced him to hide his Otomen side for years because his father left her to become a girl himself, and she demands that her son be the strong and manly type.

But Asuka has met a girl named Ryo Miyakozuka who is almost his exact opposite. While appearing sweet, chibi and girly, underneath, she's attracted only to guyish things, and her father is a manly cop who also runs a dojo on the side. Framing out the trio of friends is Juta Tachibana, a manipulative guy who is using their relationship to help him write his award-winning manga, Love Chick.

Lately, Asuka was asked to impersonate the lead singer of a band known as House Dust, because the lead singer had an attack of stage fright and couldn't take the stage. Asuka did his best, but a big surprise comes when the lead singer of another band, Freak Bones, shows up to challenge their lead singer to a head to head band sing-off!

Asuka hopes that the real lead vocalist will rediscover his backbone in time for the concert, but the lead singer of Freak Bones, Joji, is the older brother of Hanamasa, the lead singer of House Dust, and Hanamasa is convinced he won't be able to take on Joji one to one. Can Asuka help Hanamasa find his backbone, and find out why Hanamasa doesn't want to face his brother across the stage?

Then, Asuka takes the rest of the Kendo team to a training camp, but he's unnerved by a ghost story that Juta told him about a man-hating witch who haunts the Kendo camp. So when strange things start happening, and it seems that the tale of the ghostly witch is true, can Asuka step up to the plate, assert his manliness, and keep his cool when the creature attacks him? Or will revert to his Otomen self and have to have Ryo rescue him? Or is there a third way to deal with the problem?

Then, Juta runs into a problem with writing and drawing his manga when he gets a letter from a girl he knew in grade school who first introduced him to writing and drawing manga. His publisher has prevailed on him to have a signing of his manga at a bookstore, and his former love will show up. Can Juta be in two places at once so that he can meet his former love and also sign her manga as his alter-ego Jewel Sachihana?

Lastly, Juta is upset that there has been no movement in Asuka and Ryo's romance. So he takes Asuka to a love cafe and he is served an "uncertain love" desert. Juta tells Asuka that he isn't being strong enough in his pursuit of Ryo. But when Juta tells everyone that Asuka is leaving the school to go to school in America to get the two to confess their feelings, will he have gone too far when the entire school, and Asuka's mother, get involved?

This was another excellent volume. In the usual run of things, this series would just be played for straight comedy, and all the characters involved would end up being stereotypes or bland. But Aya Kanno has a light touch, and the romantic moments, even when they are manipulated by Juta, actually feel romantic.

Of course, the last story throws a changeup into the mix, potentially changing the entire fabric of the series. But it's just the kind of change the series needs to stay fresh- or, potentially, to end the series on a high note. With the large number of manga in this series around, either is possible at this point.

I have enjoyed this series very much, and while I would like to see it continue, I am wondering how far this series can go without becoming hackneyed or stale. But for now, if you'd enjoy reading a manga romance with light, deft touches and a real heart under the comedy, this series is definitely the one for you. Highly recommended.

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