Otomen 8

Aya Kanno – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

I do love this series, and every time I read a new volume it cracks me up, but on the other hand… it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere, which is a shame. I do like that it introduces new characters and twists on being otomen, and it’s always funny, but… man is it episodic. I was almost fooled here, when the beginning of the volume made it seem like Asuka and Ryo were breaking up, then left the situation for a couple chapters, but not even that stuck around very long.

There are some heavy plots here, chief among them the fact that Ryo decides to go live with her sick grandpa and move away, leaving Asuka and the others in the lurch. This leaves Juta with half his muse missing, and paves the way for a nice story where all the characters get together and do things that are both true to their character (a weird concert from Ariake, a horticultural event from Kurokawa, et cetera) and nice group activities, leaving everyone with happy memories with Ryo. Later, there’s a chapter where Asuka goes and visits Ryo, whose grandfather is trying to throw her out. She’s terrible at cooking and housekeeping, so taking care of him isn’t really working out. Asuka helps her out in secret, but it doesn’t escape the notice of the grandfather. I’ll give you three guesses why that is. Asuka and grandpa might share… common interests.

There’s a Tonomine story mixed in there somewhere. He and Juta are my favorites, and I especially love his stories, where he simultaneously resists and embraces his love of cosmetology. In this story, he helps a young girl who his hilariously bad at applying makeup.

Later in the volume, Asuka’s mother walks in on a rather boisterous otomen party (Tonimine’s unaffected response was the best in this scene), and as the director of Asuka’s high school, begins to crack down and enforce gender-specific behavior, with particularly harsh penalties for guys who like to do girly things. I love that all the characters are so comfortable with their hobbies now that they sit around and sew/garden/whatever in clubrooms, just waiting to be caught.

While the Ryo storyline was unusually dramatic, and the school storyline does appear to be going somewhere, once again, this volume was episodic stories. Again, they’re funny, and there are few series that can make me laugh as hard as Otomen (I still crack up whenever I think of the Jewel Sachihana awards ceremony a few volumes back), I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve experienced pretty much everything it has to offer, and there’s not a whole lot that keeps me reaching for the next volume. I’m not giving up on it, not by any stretch, but… I wish it threw a little variety in every once in awhile.


Otomen 7

Aya Kanno – Viz – 2010 – 11+ volumes

It is an utter tragedy that I’ve fallen behind on this series. It’s still one of my favorites, and I’m still not bored of the jokes, which, admittedly, all revolve around shoujo manga cliches and being manly while keeping girly habits. It’s got a repertoire about as diverse as Detroit Metal City. I love both of them though, even seven volumes in.

I wasn’t too big on the Otomen band from last volume, though I did think it was funny that they were forcing Asuka to sub for their singer because they looked so much alike. The ending makes up for the blandness of this story, simply because the true identity of the singer and his rival is so funny. I probably should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I’m sad Asuka didn’t have a more extreme reaction.

The second chapter is a one-shot story about Asuka encountering a ghost at his kendo training camp. Asuka hates ghosts, and is getting increasingly frustrated with the extreme threats against his life and having to hide his fear from his teammates. It was cute, but there are better stories in this volume.

For instance, the third story, which focuses on Juta again. Juta is my favorite character, I think, and I love it when we learn about his life as Jewel Sachihana. This chapter is more personal, turning into a sweet story about Juta’s first love and why he’s not too serious about girls now. But the important thing is that we get to see Jewel Sachihana make another public appearance. I love that the fans comment that Jewel looks exactly like they imagined. Asuka shows up, much to Juta’s dismay, and witnesses Jewel’s almost-confession to her childhood crush. Asuka misunderstands in a really hilarious way, and the chapter ends. This is why I love Juta best of all.

This, and because he’s a bushes-hiding creep. The fourth story focuses on Ryo and Asuka again, which means lots of creepy behavior from Juta. Asuka is worried that Ryo doesn’t love him back, so Juta launches a plan that involves a rumor about Asuka leaving for America in order to get Ryo to confess. It works to some extent, since Juta and Asuka learn that absolutely everyone else adores Asuka. Ryo? That’s a different story, of course, since this is a shoujo manga. Asuka’s scary mom puts in another appearance, which is always a plus. And for a bonus, we get to see a super-manly cake chef make a super-girly cake after “looking into the heart” of Asuka.

Yeah, this is still funny, and I love reading every volume. Some of the one-shot stories are starting to put me off a little, but it makes me laugh so hard that I can’t begrudge it that. I also like the sidebars, where Aya Kanno talks about how much she liked drawing something (pompadours, leather outfits, horror stories) and how unpopular those choices are with readers. That made me laugh, especially since earlier comments have made it sound like this is exactly the type of manga she hates drawing.


Otomen 6

Aya Kanno – Viz – 2010 – 11+ volumes

This volume does different things and focuses on side characters, which is good, because after the conclusion to the “Beauty Samurai” story… not that I didn’t like it, but there’s only so long the story can be about Asuka worrying about not being manly enough. I know that’s the joke, more or less, but there’s so much potential for bizarre parody, and this volume is a great example.

Of the four chapters, the first finishes up the Beauty Samurai story (and it doesn’t go where it promises, annoyingly… at least this series has the shoujo tendency to drag things out perfected), the second is about Yamato trying to figure out how to be more appealing on a date, the third features Kitora, and the fourth introduces an Otomen-ish Visual Kei band where the lead singer apparently hates Visual Kei and loves super girly music.

And yeah, the amazing side characters are a big part of what keeps this episodic comedy rolling and so incredibly good volume after volume. The Yamato chapter was pretty funny, since Yamato had a really strange idea of what girls liked and how to be “manly” on a date, and also because he kept unintentionally saying things that made him and Asuka seem like a couple.

But the clear winner in this volume was the Kitora story. Kitora really is a great character. He loves flowers, and he doesn’t care who knows. He loves flowers more than girls. It’s a shame that he crosses paths with Juta’s sister, since she’s afraid of flowers because of bees and they both wind up attracted to one another. It’s sweet, and also a little messed up, in true Otomen style. Kitora, Juta, and Asuka try desperately to get her over her fear of flowers, everything from goofy stuff to good ideas, all the while both she and Kitora looking genuinely disappointed that the obstacle can’t be overcome. Hopefully Juta’s sister is here to stay, both for Kitora’s sake and because she seems to be Juta’s primary assistant on Love Chick. The fear of flowers also means she fits right in with the crazy cast of characters, all of whom are very unique.

I’m intrigued by the rock star in the last chapter. The volume ends on a cliffhanger, so we don’t quite learn as much as I’d like about him, but it’ll be interesting to see if he goes forward with his Visual Kei personality, all the while secretly confiding in his doppelganger Asuka about the girliest of girly music. I did like his split personality, though. As comfortable as he was hamming it up for his lady fans, he was hilariously meek and submissive when in his regular personality. Even Asuka seemed taken aback.

So, six volumes in, and the jokes are still good. Ai Morinaga good, maybe, but slightly less crude. And I think this series has the edge over an Ai Morinaga series since the characters are far better. I’m interested to see how many ideas and twists Otomen can throw at its characters before all is said and done. It’s formulaic for sure, but it’s not old yet, and it’s still one of my favorite current shoujo series.


Otomen 5

Aya Kanno – Viz – 2010 – 9+ volumes

This was my choice for best new series of 2009.  I felt a little bad for choosing this over 20th Century Boys, but I feel like I made the right decision after reading this volume.  I may feel differently tomorrow, when I read the newest volume of 20th Century Boys, but for right now, Otomen is making me laugh too hard to change my mind.  20th Century Boys probably is the better series, but the two are apples and oranges and nearly impossible to compare.  Otomen certainly was the best shoujo manga last year, and I started off not even liking it much.

Starting this volume, I liked it, but I was a little afraid the weird meta magic was wearing off.  The first storyline with Ryo playing Yamato Nadeshiko was okay, but full of jokes that had already been told.  We know Ryo is manly.  We know that Asuka is not, and that he is better than her at all the challenges in the contest she is entered in at school.  She fails in all the ways you would expect, though I still laughed pretty hard at some of them (the best was probably the flower arrangement contest, where only Kitora sees the manly beauty in her arrangement).  The other problem is that Ryo just isn’t a very good character to stand as the main character in a story.  She hardly gets any dialogue, and she’s a rather simple character.  I don’t dislike her, and her silence keeps her from being truly one-dimensional, but it’s hard to understand what she’s doing and why when you can’t hear her thoughts or see her reacting in anything other than a completely detached and silent way to everything.

The second story in the book is solid gold, though.  Juta is the main character, and it revolves around his Love Chick manga winning the Kodakusensa Manga Award and his worries about having to give the acceptance speech and revealing himself to be a male.  Juta is a good and very funny character, and Love Chick is my favorite part of the series, so already the chapter had a lot going for it.  But then he actually arrives at the ceremonies, and the page where Asuka (there as a rep from his mother’s business) exlaims that the shoujo mangaka party was exactly what he thought it was, followed by a panel full of shoujo manga artists drawn in a very simplistic and very shoujo style, made me laugh so hard I had to stop reading for awhile and let the joke sit.  And that wasn’t even the best part of the chapter!  It was a joy to see the regular-looking Asuka and Juta conversing with the oddly cartoony shoujo mangaka, but the real treat came with Juta’s mentor, drawn to look like a full-blown 70s European shoujo character with advice to give Juta.  Everything about this chapter was amazing.  Amazing.  AMAZING.  This is why I will keep choosing Otomen as the best again and again.  Because it earns my respect with the sweat on its sparkly brow.

The third story is good too, and gets off to a good start with a flashback to young Asuka giving a very frank report about his father in front of his grade school class and then goes on to pair him with Hajime as masked samurai giving beauty advice in a callback to an older story.  It suffered for following the Love Chick story, but it does look like it will lead to Asuka meeting back up with his father in the next volume, so I am definitely looking forward to that.

There’s still no plot development, and I was a little sad that two major opportunities for characters to advance the plot (Ryo/Asuka in one and Juta in another) were wasted, but on the other hand, I’m still enjoying what it’s doing immensely, so I can’t complain.  I’m incredibly pleased with the way it seems to deliver a story exactly to my tastes whenever I think it might be slipping, and if it keeps going like this, it will become one of my very favorite shoujo manga.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Otomen 4

Aya Kanno – Viz – 2009 – 9+ volumes

I don’t know, every time I read a volume of this, I become more and more convinced that it’s impossible to hate it if you like shoujo manga at all.  On one hand, it’s cycling through story cliches, but on the other hand, it’s doing that on purpose.  I can’t figure out if it’s trying to make fun of the overused stories, or its characters, or both.  It’s hard to see through all those sparkles, but it’s funny stuff no matter where the humor lies.

I forgot how much I liked this series, then promptly remembered within the first few pages when Asuka took Ryo’s dad to a strangely cutesy department store, populated by stuffed animals and only the most adorable merchandise shops.  Ryo’s dad seems to hate every minute of it, and has a hard time dealing with the… floweriness of it all.  The faces the two make while in the shops are funny enough (the dad is super-embarrassed, and Asuka cycles through ecxtacy and shame), but what really put the whole thing over the top was Princess Mary’s Hide-and-Go-Seek pasta.  It really was one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen.

The second half of the book is taken up by a storyline involving the group spending summer vacation working at a shop owned by Yamato’s uncle.  The “getting there” part is quite funny, and the story knowingly and ridiculously rushes through the sequence of events that puts just the students in charge of a run-down, unpopular and old-fashioned shack competing with a very modern snack bar.  Everyone uses their individual talents, be they ultra-manly or super-girly, to ultimately make the shop a success, but both chapters with this storyline feature competitions with Tonomine, Asuka’s rival and secret otomen who loves to do makeup.  Tonomine cracked me up for a reason Juta mentions later in the story – he’s the usual bespeckled cold-type boy that these stories always have, except he really is super-arrogant and never really shows another side to his personality.  That’s a real shame, because I think otomen should stick together.

A new character is introduced, a really tall, quiet boy who likes flowers and sneaking up on people to decorate them with flowers.  I mean, he loves flowers.  Way more than Asuka loves baking and sewing.  He’s quite creepy, and a wonderful addition to the story.  He reminds me a lot of another really famous character who is silent and likes sneaking up, except the name and details are escaping me at the moment.

Reading this after Detroit Metal City is probably a bad thing, because the style of humor is the same.  Both succeed by doing the exact opposite of what is expected in the story setup, with some additional help from the way the side characters react (though Otomen isn’t as gag-driven as Detroit Metal City).  Each chapter is basically a one-shot where Asuka fumbles through a situation where certain things are expected of him, but he succeeds because he likes girly things.  Usually the other characters run contrary to what you would expect too, like Ryo having ultra-manly hobbies while still being mostly girly, the creepy flower boy, or the girly boy who would be absolutely devastated if he found out Asuka had such un-manly hobbies.  There are occasional hilarious male fantasies that break up all the sparkles and jokes otherwise.  Otomen brilliance lies in the fact you can read it like a regular shoujo manga, too.  You can ignore the humor, and just enjoy it for the sparkles and all the shoujo manga things it does.

I think it helps that Aya Kanno has mentioned more than once that she hates girly things, and isn’t well-suited to drawing a series like this.  I can only imagine Otomen getting popular as a kind of mangaka hell for her, but on the other hand, I think that’s why the humor works so well… it’s a super-girly shoujo manga drawn by someone who secretly hates super-girly shoujo manga.

I have to say, I am a little disappointed that there’s not a lot of forward momentum in the plot, but as long as Juta keeps calling attention to this and the story is perfectly aware of what it’s doing, I’ll keep reading.  The new character also blew my mind, and I’m very excited about getting to see more of him.  I believe I was promised an Otomen band as well, and I just can’t stop before I get to see that.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Otomen 3

This gets better and better every time I read it.  I honestly can’t tell if it’s a parody of shoujo manga or just reveling greedily and hilariously in the plot and art devices at this point.  There are things that make me laugh with their over-the-top shoujo nature, but on the other hand, the plot of the series is such that these things… well, they fit really nicely, and I enjoy them for more than just the easy gag.  I feel conflicted, like the series might be making fun of me somehow.  I’m pretty sure all the nuances are intentional, though, and that is exactly what makes Otomen magical.

Well, those nuances and the fact that the subplot is that the best friend character is drawing a manga exactly like the one we’re reading for a magazine exactly like Betsuhana, and his characters are just the characters in Otomen with their genders switched to suit each one better.  As I’ve said before, the levels of meta at work here make my head spin.  “Love Chick” makes me feel a little better about liking Otomen so much, because it shows you what the series would look like without its sense of humor and parody, ie totally boring but still shoujo enough to fly.

I want to say that Juta, the manga artist, is my favorite character, since I’ve never seen anyone molest the fourth wall so thoroughly without breaking it.  This volume has a chapter focused on him, and I adored it since it showed both his home situation and exactly what kind of friend to the ladies he is.  I like him a lot more now, since he really does do his best to offer his friendly attentions to as many girls as possible, and both he and the girls seem to love it.  His family situation is suitably nutty, and the crisis point in the story where Asuka steps in makes for an extremely awkward and hilarious exchange between Juta and Asuka at the end of the story.

There’s some slight plot development for the series as a whole, but the fact that the story has technically moved forward doesn’t mean anything significant has changed.  I didn’t mind so much in this volume, since it was full of exactly the type of stories I wanted to see.  The story where the plot development happens was another one I liked, where Asuka and Ryo take a trip to an amusement park.  Ryo drags Asuka through all the scary and extreme rides.  Asuka is too manly to complain, but the entire time he wishes they could ride the carousel and the Love-Love Cups.

A rival character for Asuka is introduced in the last chapter, and I liked him quite a bit.  The boy hates Asuka because Asuka is superior to him at kendo (apparently they are the #1 and #2 ranked kendo practitioners in the country), but the two bond over a girl’s makeover and a power rangers-type live action show.  Alas, they are still rivals as both otomen and kendo practitioners.

I love the art in this series, which is suitably over-the-top when it comes to flowery screentone, sparkles, blushes, and ridiculously girly decorations made by Asuka (Juta is my favorite character, but I cannot deny the appeal of Asuka in all his girly majesty).  Everything looks absolutely perfect.  I also like the way character’s eyes blank out when they are worried, scared, surprised, or what have you.  It’s a lot more comical than other visual effects that might show the same thing, plus I’m pretty sure it’s kind of a throwback to a 70s manga technique.

Also, for the conflict I was feeling between parody and lovingly-portrayed shoujo manga… the cover is exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s the best cover ever.  On one hand, it’s the biggest fairy tale girly stereotype image you’ll ever see, and on the other hand, it ties directly into one of the stories in the volume.  I’m not sure that either of these things has much bearing on what makes it awesome, because without knowing anything about the series or the stories in the volume, I think it would still make me laugh/make me happy to look at.   It makes me think that the series would still be funny if I didn’t know anything about shoujo manga or stories for girls in general.  Or gender roles either, I guess, another big part of the humor.

It… it works as a loving tribute to shoujo manga with the twist of the protagonist being male.  That’s just what it is, and why it works, and why it’s awesome.  It’s executed perfectly in every way from that idea.  There’s not a lot of plot development, but there doesn’t really need to be as long as the variations on the otomen theme keep coming up.  I am officially addicted at this point.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Otomen 2

A question:  if a shoujo manga uses common plot devices hand over fist, but has a voyeuristic side character that hangs around and talks about them being common plot devices and exclaiming over how useful they will be in his own popular shoujo manga, does that mean that the plot devices are being used for good or evil?  Can I really hate a series that uses them while making fun of itself for using them?  I mean… they’re still being used, but… I don’t know.  There’s a weird meta level to this series that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.

Admittedly, I think the amount of sparkles used in nearly every single panel of every page of this book excuses it from the common plot device trap, because the characters seem to delight in the situations so much.  I mean, I don’t even need a light on in my room when I read this thing with the amount of sparkles and hearts and flowers radiating from it.

Also, I can’t recall the last Christmas chapter I read where the character had such an unhealthy fascination with yule logs.  I’ve never heard that phrase used in a non-joke context, and yet Asuka repeats it like a mantra along with romantic candlelight when he lists elements of the perfect Christmas.  And again, does that make it a joke?  He’s pretty serious about it.

The plots to the chapters themselves are pretty simple.  The first chapter features a boy who looks like a girl that starts following Asuka around to find out how to be more manly.  The second chapter is a Christmas chapter.  The third and fourth chapters are an arranged marriage plotline where Asuka has to think of a way out of marrying a girl that won’t make his mother think he wants to have a sex change.  Well, the third one is really more common in the arranged marriage way more than the potential sex change way.

What I do know is that I love it.  It’s extremely absurd, and while I do wish the plots were a little more original, the amount of sparkling men and the girls who appreciate them either as manly or girly is certainly appreciated.  I was pretty much won over by the end of the volume, and I’m very excited about future volumes.  I do kind of hope an overarching plot develops, or that we get to see more Love Chick and the impact it has on the story.  I liked that whole “story warping back on itself to influence the characters further” element in the first one a lot.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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