Thursday, May 19, 2011

Otomen, Volume 8 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a manly guy who loves feminine things, especially cooking and sewing. He tried to hide what he was when he was growing up, because his father left his mother after confessing that he always wanted to be a woman, and his mother freaked out over the news, so she made Asuka promise to always be a manly man. However, when Asuka met his classmate Ryo Miyakozuka, a very tomboyish girl, he feel in love with her, and her acceptance made him let out his inner Otomen.

Now, however, Asuka has discovered that Ryo is going to be switching schools, because her grandfather has fallen sick and she needs to go to Fukuoka, where he lives, to look after him. Her father wants her grandfather to live with them, but her grandfather staunchly refuses, and he needs to be looked after, so Ryo has volunteered to do so. Asuka is saddened, but their mutual friend Juta Tachibana has an idea- since there are only five days left until Ryo leaves, why not make her last days as fun as possible? So Asuka, Juta, their Flower Otomen friend Kitora Kurokawa and the girly-looking guy Yamato Ariake each plan one day of fun to bid goodbye to Ryo.

Yamato calls on the band Fra Fra to sing her a goodbye concert with himself as front-man, Kitora plans a day of planting flowers in the school garden in a pattern that forms the words "Welcome back" so that the flowers can greet her on her return, Juta plans a day at an amusement park and Asuka, knowing Ry's preferences, plans a day of training in the mountains. But when a bear appears ready to attack Ryo and Asuka, can Asuka defeat the bear with his offering of a teddy that he was planning on giving Ryo at the end of the day?

After she leaves for the semester, Asuka rubs along as best he can, but by the time of the winter break, he decides to spend it with Ryo at her Grandfather's house in Fukuoka. Her grandfather has a secret of his own, however, and it is behind the reason why he doesn't want to come to live with Ryo and her father. But can Asuka, with his talent for cooking and cleaning, discover her grandfather's secret and dissolve his resistance to coming back to Tokyo to live with Ryo and her father?

Meanwhile, Hajime Tonomine makes a connection with a girl with no ability to apply makeup online, and helps her through e-mail to try and get her ready for a big date that she is planning to meet a man she has never met in person. But when he meets a girl in the city who wears so much makeup she looks like a clown, is it the same girl he is schooling online, and can he help her tone down her look to make herself pretty?

And, after Ryo returns home, Asuka and his friends, including his rival and sometimes friend Hajime Tonomine, a makeup Otomen, throw a party to welcome her back. But Asuka's mother shows up first, and she is unhappy with the "corruption" she senses in her son and his friends, and takes control of the school board to deal with the "corruption" in its students. But what will this mean for Asuka and his friends?

I love this series, which is about the conflict in people between what society and family often expects of people, and their actual feelings and interests. Men are supposed to be strong and manly and women are supposed to be lovely, yielding and feminine, but people often have interests and talents outside what society thinks as strictly masculine or feminine traits. The question is, will you let society dictate what you like and your interests, or will you reject society's rules and do what you like anyway? That's a question that all the characters in the book have to deal with in their own way. Even Ryo, who is more interested in things that are masculine, like fighting and martial arts, has to deal with going against these expectations- but she doesn't reject the more traditional feminine qualities, she simply has no talent for them, which I suspect goes back partly to her upbringing by her very masculine father.

This is becoming more and more of a thread in this manga, and I suspect, given the last story, that matters are going to come to a head with Asuka's mother and her expectations. But this volume does introduce someone who might be on Asuka's side, if things get really bad. I just hope that this character will appear again, as they can show Asuka's mother that one can be manly and still indulge a softer, feminine side as well. I hope this character wasn't just a throwaway introduction, and that they actually do appear again.

This volume was wonderful, and I loved it a lot. In fact, this is one of the better manga out there, and I like the message it sends, that you should accept all the parts of yourself and your likes, no matter if society approves of them or not. I do hope the manga goes for many more volumes, but at the same time, I want Asuka's mother to be able to accept him and his likes at some point as well. I know she is set up as the main antagonist for the series, and once she is able to accept Asuka, the series is over. But I can still hope. Highly recommended.

No comments: