by Yuu Watase; adaptation by Lance Caselman
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Schoolgirl Riiko isn’t special in any way. She’s flat-chested, over-anxious, not conventionally pretty, and too eager to crush on guys who reject her. She’s living by herself while her parents travel, and taking care of housework is beyond her skills.
Just as she’s not taken seriously by the guys in her class, boy-next-door Soshi is similarly overlooked by her. He’s competent and caring, if a little dull, but he also picks on her the way a brother would, teasing her about everything she’s most sensitive about. He helps take care of her, given her parents’ absence, keeping her apartment habitable and providing nutritious food. She takes this for granted and doesn’t realize that his teasing and caretaking indicate deeper feelings for her.
Riiko bumps into a mysterious salesman who gives her the web address of a secret site called the Lover Shop. As a gag, she fills out an order form for a three-day trial of an artificial boyfriend. She’s really surprised when a box arrives and a naked boy falls out. (According to the author’s notes, that’s the image that spawned the series.) A kiss activates him, and suddenly she’s got the perfect guy.
Because the message of these types of series is usually “be careful what you wish for”, Riiko’s now got more problems. Having such a gorgeous guy devoted to her draws attention she’s uncomfortable with and questions she doesn’t know how to answer. He’s willing to sleep with her, but she’s not ready for that much physical attraction. Plus, because she can’t count correctly, there’s now the matter of his bill; she’s on the hook for $1 million.
Riiko is a change of character for Watase. Her other works I’ve read featured spunky young good-hearted girls who just needed the right crisis situation to show how terrific they were, get the guy, and save the world. This one’s much less outstanding, just a normal everyday girl. She’s often over her head and completely unsure of what to do, especially without family to take care of her or advise her. She really wants a living teddy bear, someone to cuddle, more than she does a boyfriend.
Watase’s art is as lovely as ever, which emphasis on faces made distinctive through their visible emotion. Characters’ feelings are never in question, although they may change suddenly, which helps make this an accurate portrayal of young love confusion and mean girl-type bullying.
Absolute Boyfriend is similar in premise to a gender-reversed Chobits, but the tone is different. There are few explorations of the nature of identity or what it means to love; instead, it’s heavier on the comedy. That’s especially true of the last half of the first book, where the boyfriend starts going to school with Riiko, and she has to keep his nature a secret from the other students, including the suspicious Soshi. The contrast between the two boys parallels that between the emotional and the physical, or the head and the body.