Thursday, May 19, 2011

Otomen, Volume 9 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a manly man who has girly interests. In his case, it is sewing, cooking and cleaning, but he also likes reading Shojou manga. He isn't the only Otomen at his school, though- his friend Kitora Kurokawa is interested in flowers, and his rival and sometimes friend Hajime Tonomine is an absolute wizard with makeup and can make any woman look her best. His friend and classmate Yamato Ariake has manly interests, but he just looks very girly, and he is picked on and sometimes rejected because of those looks, which he cannot help.

In the last volume, Asuka's mother returned to Japan and discovered that Asuka wasn't the only guy with girly interests in his school. Since her husband left her with the words that he always dreamed of becoming a woman, she freaked out and took control of the school board with one mission- to wipe out any Otomen or boys with girly interests in Asuka's school, Ginyuri. But when Asuka, Juta and Ryo show up, they are completely surprised by the change in the student body- everyone seems to be following the new rules!

That's when they find out that Asuka's mother has stacked the deck. Rumors are going around that anyone who scrupulously keeps to the new rules and embodies them will receive free tuition and increased grades. But there is more. At school assembly, some of the teachers have been fired to make room for new ones, and a special task force to ensure that the students are hewing to the new regulations are announced. Anyone who is found violating the new school rules can be expelled, and anything that violates the rules can be taken away. Kitora is despondent that the school has closed his garden, and will be using it for their "ideal woman" training program. And Yamato has been told that his face violates school rules, so he is planning to get a buzz cut to make himself look more manly.

But when the man that his mother has put in charge of the school, Asuka's cousin, Kasuga, has a reason of his own to dislike Otomen, going back to when he and Asuka were just children. Kasuga hates Asuka and means to bring him, and all his friends, down. But when he takes Juta's manga ideas book, he works out that Juta is actually the manga-ka known as Jewel Sachihana, the creator of Asuka's favorite Shoujo manga, Love Chick. Determined to use this knowledge to drive Juta out of school he confronts Asuka's friend, and Asuka decides that he will defend Juta's good name by getting Jewel Sachihana to show up in the same room as Juta, thus proving his friend's innocence! Little does Asuka know that not only is Juta really Jewel, but that he is using Asuka and Ryo's romance as the basis for his manga.

But how can Asuka get the "real" Jewel Sachihana to show up and meet Kasuga when Juta is really jewel? And can he save the day by manufacturing an authentic "jewel" for Kasuga to meet when Jewel fails to show up and the other girl standing in for Jewel fails to know the character of the manga-ka well enough to meet Kasuga's high standards?

Meanwhile, Ryo, a very tomboyish girl with manly interests, evokes the interest of one of the new teachers hired by Kasuga, a woman named Otowa Moematsu. She is so girly and feminine that at her last teaching job, she actually had students coming to blows over who had her affections. She attempts to teach all the girls at Ginyuri how to be feminine, but completely fails with Ryo. In attempting to prove her message that a manly girl will never attract a manly man, she runs into the little roadblock that Ryo is already in a relationship with Asuka Masamune, one of the most manly appearing guys at the school. Otowa is offended by the idea and schemes to steal Asuka away from Ryo to prove her point. But will she succeed at stealing Asuka's affections?

So the pressure is being ramped up at school, and I was amused at how much of the names used in this volume reflected Japanese ideas about sex and attraction. Yuri, part of the name of the school, is also a word used to describe a romance between two women (as opposed to Yaoi for two men) and Moe is a kind of attractiveness often characterized as "adorable" or "cute". Especially because Ginyuri is merely a rearranged Ginryu, a word that seems to be everywhere in manga and anime, and that Otowa might be pretty, but she is the least Moe character I have ever seen.

In fact, she is actually very repulsive, not necessarily in looks, but in attitude. As she is the first new teacher character that the series has focussed on, I don't wonder that the rest of her fellow teachers are going to be equally bad and repulsive, just in different ways- it's already stated that each of them was considered very much unemployable by other schools due to events in their pasts and past employment histories. I can see them eventually being defeated in their aims by Asuka and his friends, but given the rate at which things are happening, this will probably take a while. This is good for me, and other readers, because I am really enjoying this series, but given that I want a happy ending for Asuka and Ryo, this is bad for the characters.

I really love this series and how they explore the conflict between what society says people should be and what we want for ourselves and our interests. Japan is the perfect place to explore such contrasts as Japanese society comes down much more strongly on the "fit in and conform" side of the equation, whereas America is much more for individual choice and preference. Seeing how these things work out in a society so different to our own is fascinating, and I can't wait to read more. Highly recommended.

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