Ai Ore! 4

April 16, 2012

Mayu Shinjo – Viz – 2012 – 10 volumes
I… think the first three volumes were omnibus-type books, which makes this Japanese volume 6

Man. Every time I read a volume of this, I’m reminded of what a trashy, bad-for-you series it is. And yet, here I am, reading every volume as soon as it comes out. I love shoujo manga unconditionally.

This volume tried my patience more than usual. So, the school that Mizuki goes to, St. Nobara, is a pretty high class place. It is right next to Akira’s school, Dankaisan, which is known to be full of the worst kind of thugs. One of the consequences to Akira unmasking himself as a boy was that now, all the girls that looked up to Mizuki as their idol at St. Nobara are horrified that she would date someone from Dankaisan. The nerve. And she won’t break up with him! The student council is so upset, they discipline her. At St. Nobara, this means they lock her in a cage with only a shirt on for some reason, and I think she stays there for days.

In order to spring Mizuki from this cage, Akira vows to raise the reputation and academic standing of Dankaisan so that the girls of St. Nobara won’t have any reason to stop Mizuki and Akira from dating. Akira and friends decide the best way to go about this is to build a dorm, so that the troublemakers of Dankaisan won’t be allowed out to cause trouble. Lots of other stuff is involved as well, some of it not quite on the level, but making the school suddenly a boarding school one day was the thing that stuck with me the most.

What’s great about both sides of this hilariously overblown dispute is that MIZUKI COULD JUST LIE. She could lie and say she broke up with Akira, and then every single Joe on the street at St. Nobara could go on with their lives. But then it wouldn’t be a shoujo manga. Why should Mizuki have to lie about what’s in her heart? And lying’s wrong, anyway! Better that she should be caged in just her shirt for days.

And that’s why I have to pick up every single volume of Ai Ore.

Ai Ore 3

November 28, 2011

Mayu Shinjo – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes

On one hand, I still read every volume of this wishing it were Sensual Phrase. On the other hand, I’m still reading every volume of this, and probably will for some time.

It’s cheap thrills, to be sure, and not even the funny and insanely amusing kind that you’d find in Sensual Phrase. Mostly it’s just Akira trying to get into Mizuki’s pants. Akira isn’t really all that sympathetic or even charming, so there’s no way to overlook his completely jerk-y behavior. Because he’s a terrible person, this series is less fun for me to read. But it’s still a horrible, smutty shoujo manga, and it’s hard for me to say no to those.

This volume is a lot of one-shot-style chapters. Akira and Mizuki at a Christmas party, Akira and Mizuki do New Year’s, Akira goes out on a date with a guy who’s trying to stop Blaue Rosen from performing in a club… stuff like that. Shoujo sitcom stuff, with no real plot or character development. It’s fun to read, and Shinjo knows what she has to put in stories like this to make them entertaining, but it’s definitely not among the best chapters of shoujo manga I’ve ever read.

More serious plots include a story about another guy who looks like a girl that seems to be a romantic rival for Mizuki (eventually, Akira and the new guy have a princess contest at their all-boys school), and a story that elaborates on some of the character motivations behind Akira (they are about what you’d expect, and they don’t make it any easier to like him).

The better plots occur towards the end of the volume. In a two-part story about how Mizuki can’t admit to loving Akira out loud, the two break up and Mizuki attends a marriage meeting… with a boy that turns out to be one of Akira’s friends. This story leads into another one where Akira divulges his identity to Blaue Rosen fans after being fed up about the secrecy surrounding their relationship. This didn’t quite make sense to me since Mizuki is famous for making manly passes at the girls in her all-girls school, and Akira and Mizuki could’ve just gone out as a lesbian couple if keeping Akira’s gender secret was that important. But maybe that’s not “okay” for some reason.

I read this knowing what I’m going to get. It’s smutty shoujo, and terrifyingly addictive. On the other hand, there are much trashier series that are much more addictive than this, and most people looking for a bad shoujo manga, or even a trashy one, will probably want to look elsewhere. Still, Mayu Shinjo is famous for a reason, and while this isn’t one of her best… if you’re the type of person that ignores the warnings and knows exactly what they want in a story like this, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Ai Ore! 2

July 16, 2011

Mayu Shinjo – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes

Remember, these volumes are omnibuses, so you’re getting 300 pages per volume. I’m not quite sure how to footnote that, though. This is probably the equivalent of the second half of the second Japanese volume, plus the third volume. So keep that in mind.

Now that I’ve read Sensual Phrase in its entirety, it’s really hard for me to get into this one knowing just how utterly insane, but still romantic and annoyingly addictive Sensual Phrase was. I could talk about the differences, but if I start talking about Sensual Phrase again, I’ll just gush and repeat the crazy that spills from every page of that series. I think the biggest difference is that Ai Ore is grounded in reality, or at least as grounded in reality as I suspect any Mayu Shinjo series is.

It’s all still about Mizuki and Akira. Mizuki is shy about her feelings for Akira, where Akira really just wants to do it. It’s a problem for both of them. Sometimes, Akira thinks that Mizuki is inviting him over to his house to have sex, when actually she didn’t mean that at all, she just thought he shouldn’t stand in the rain. Shame on you, Mizuki! How dare you lead Akira on like that!

One of the reasons that I don’t enjoy this as much as Sensual Phrase is that Akira is a really insensitive jerk. He often chastises Mizuki for not loving him enough to have sex, and is rather… blunt about his feelings and just how Mizuki should feel for him. There was even a near-rape in the scene above, when Akira just felt he really didn’t need to stop when Mizuki asked because, well, she had invited him over to her house when nobody else was home.

He’s also just not as cool as Sakuya. Sakuya’s silver tongue covered his jerk-y nature (and by silver tongue, I mean hilariously bad lines), plus Aine was cool with everything Sakuya did, so he couldn’t force himself on her the way Akira forces himself on Mizuki, who isn’t sure about their relationship. And Sakuya was somewhat heroic about saving Aine from the bad stuff, where Akira seems to enjoy picking fights with both Mizuki and those around Mizuki.

There was a minute when I thought Ai Ore was going to turn into a genuinely interesting gender identity manga. The premise is, of course, that Mizuki is tall and masculine, where Akira is short and feminine. Mizuki is self-conscious on dates, because she looks like the man in the relationship and feels like everyone stares to figure out their genders. A romantic rival for Akira shows up and points out that what Mizuki needs to feel at ease is a guy that makes her look like a girl. As completely sexist as this is, being out in public with him puts Mizuki’s mind at ease, since she really does look girly next to this boxer, and she feels like nobody has to stare at her to figure her out. As much as she likes Akira, maybe she’s had enough of feeling self-conscious about their relationship. Also, when Akira tries to cure this feeling by having Mizuki wear feminine clothing, apparently she is so beautiful that it makes the staring worse, Akira gets insanely jealous, and that’s the end of that.

But then Akira challenges him to a boxing match, kicks him in the balls, and Mizuki decides that public opinion shouldn’t matter too much. End of serious moment.

The fact that Akira is a jerk is quite troubling. That it doesn’t sustain itself on whatever nightmare fuel spawned Sensual Phrase is also disappointing. But it has just enough crazy that I’ll probably keep reading just to see if Akira ever gets his comeuppance. That would be completely satisfying.

Also? The characters occasionally Sakuya, as if he is a celebrity in the world they exist in, and that he is the epitome of cool. This would be way more hilarious in some of Shinjo’s early work, because I think a lot of her male protagonists were basically Sakuya over and over again. As it stands, having a character hold up a photo of Sakuya and talk about how they want to be more like him is pretty awesome. I secretly hope that the love interest here gets his wish.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Ai Ore 1

May 6, 2011

Mayu Shinjo – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes

I’ve been looking forward to this series since I started reading Sensual Phrase not too long ago. I can see the appeal of Mayu Shinjo. She knows how to hit all the right shoujo manga buttons. Sensual Phrase is smutty and has some… unlikely story developments, to say the least, but it is a lot of fun to read. But the internet has been in an uproar over this book, and I started really worrying that it was going to be outright offensive, which would be a true shame coming from a writer who so clearly knows her audience.

Akira is a feminine boy who goes to an all-boys school, and Mizuki is a masculine girl who goes to an all-girls school. When the lead singer of Mizuki’s girl band Blaue Rosen leaves, Akira auditions and wins the spot, despite being a boy. Then he does everything he can to get into Mizuki’s pants. Mizuki is uncomfortable with her emotions, to say the least. Gender confusion adds a little spice to the mix. Later, Akira winds up taking part in the all-girls field trip to the hot springs.

I was afraid that Ai Ore had crossed the line into yaoi manga non-con territory, judging by some reviews. While Akira is a persistent jerk, he never outright forces Mizuki into anything, and there are far bigger jerks out there in the world of shoujo manga, ones who care far less about the heroine than Akira. Also, Shinjo has a knack for putting characters into situations that are romantic in her hands, but might be uncomfortable elsewhere. It’s all in the character reactions. Mizuki is embarrassed, but not outright harassed. And maybe I have read too many yaoi manga, so my view of this issue is distorted, but I don’t think it gets close to crossing a line. They don’t even have sex in this volume, though they do get close in one scene. I do think it’s aware of what it’s doing though, judging by some of Mizuki’s early protests that she “doesn’t like men!” while being forcefully courted by Akira, only to find out later that she doesn’t like them because she falls in love easily.

I don’t like Mizuki and Akira anywhere near as much as Aine and Sakuya in Sensual Phrase. While Sakuya and Akira do share some of the same possession and single-mindedness issues, Sakuya is more of a white knight than Akira, and Aine was in love with him from page one, whereas Mizuki needs to be convinced (she’s been in love with him since childhood!) and Akira is being more of a jerk than a romantic. Mizuki is not quite as likable as Aine at this point either, which is sad because there’s not much to Aine outside of her interest in dirty song lyrics and Sakuya. Mizuki is just a little too indecisive, wimpy, and excitable for my tastes. She could eventually develop into someone interesting though, whereas I don’t think Aine ever will.

I’ve read some discussion about Ai Ore as a satire. It does use a lot of shoujo plot devices in interesting ways, and again, I think Shinjo knows what she’s doing and has a lot of fun with them. I doubted this manga briefly, then about halfway through, Akira pinned Mizuki to a table and there was a double-page spread of him saying “Instead of singing about love, drown yourself in me.” It’s the original title of the series, and a terrible line, but Shinjo is like the goddamn manga Shakespeare of crappy shoujo dialogue. She comes up with the worst lines, then uses them in the most amazing ways possible. In context, it’s a game-changer for the characters.

Anyway, I got off track. As much fun as Shinjo is having here, I don’t really think it’s a satire, because it takes itself too seriously. It’s not really making any jokes about its plot or characters, it’s just rolling along with them. It’s a shame that it doesn’t, because at this point, it’s still just a slightly better than average shoujo manga with a lot of the same parts as others.

I was disappointed that more wasn’t done with the gender role reversals. I was excited at the prospect of the “prince of the girls’ school” plot device, because I’ve read too many 70s shoujo manga, but Mizuki and her bandmates… well, there’s nothing feminine about them, and the whole point of that plot device is that the characters are strong female role models. For Mizuki and company, there’s nothing feminine about their demeanors, attitudes, appearance, or personalities. They also wear men’s uniforms at their all-girls school. So if they look like boys, act like boys, dress like boys… why are they “girls”? Even Mizuki, the heroine, is more like a submissive BL character than a girl. It doesn’t matter to me what gender they are, I just can’t figure out why it matters to this series. The same isn’t true of Akira, though, who looks and sometimes acts like a girl, but his personality is all dominant male. That’s slightly more interesting, though he’s still not likable.

And yes, I do have a problem with the end of the book. It’s like Peach Girl all over again. I loved that series so much, but I never really recovered from… well, that.

So what was my opinion of the first volume? So far, I like Sensual Phrase better. I think this could eventually be the better series though, since there’s more room for dynamic characters. I don’t like any of them right now, but I like the book enough that I’ll watch them grow and see what happens. Shinjo’s talk of making Mizuki more and more feminine throughout the series sounds interesting. I’m also disappointed since there was almost no chemistry between Akira and Mizuki here, and that’s the point of a romance manga. But maybe that will change as Mizuki mellows out a little. I’m also hoping for a little more about Blaue Rosen and less… well, hot springs chapters.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

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