by Aya Kanno
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I had been a little disappointed with Book 6, so I had completely forgotten that it ended with the start of a story about a showdown between two rock bands. One, House Dust, is a “visual kei” group (kind of like glam rock), with a made-up lead who happens to look just like Asuka, our otomen hero. The other, Freak Bones, is a rockabilly group led by a guy in an outrageous pompadour (although the name and the lyrics given sound nothing like rockabilly to me).
This volume continues that tale, but I was much more interested this time. (Perhaps because I’d recently read Nana, and it vaguely reminded me of that rock ‘n’ roll soap opera?) The story doesn’t really make a lot of sense, with unsuspected relatives and revelations and (of course) gender twists and makeovers, but it allows Asuka to give a heartfelt speech about being accepted for who he is, and there are cool costumes, looks, and panels, plenty for the reader to enjoy visually. I also liked the bit about the right song sticking in someone’s mind for years and having a profound effect on their life. Plus, how they train Asuka to give the right responses as a rock star to any given situation was a funny take on how predictable the music machine (industry) is.
Next comes a ghost story. Asuka and his kendo group go to a training camp that turns out to be haunted by a disappointed girlfriend. Asuka’s way of thinking like a girl helps him relate, even though she first targets him as the kind of reserved manly man she blames for her love troubles. (When did “liking girly hobbies, like cooking and sewing” become “a girl in a man’s body” for Asuka? We are not merely the sum of our interests.) This is the only story with anything for Ryo, Asuka’s quasi-girlfriend, to do, and I miss seeing more of her.
The best part of this book for me is the chapter that focuses on Asuka’s friend Juta, the secret shojo manga artist. He’s always my favorite when he gets the spotlight. I’m a sucker for these kinds of “manga artist makes manga about making manga” stories, surprisingly, and this one, where Juta is concerned that his work prevents him from having a dating relationship, was unexpected.
He turns for advice to his favorite classic manga, and the story turns into one about a lost first love, combined with cross-dressing humor as Juta (who works under a female pen name, since of course men can’t create manga that speaks so deeply to girls) is pressured to appear at an autograph session.
The story is trying to combine a few too many elements, but I admire the ambition, and the bits about making manga. Not only is Juta’s art a danger to his relationships, love can put work at risk, too, due to the distraction. The author’s notes obliquely allude to something similar, with a mention of her own love story “which only occurs once every two years”. The notes in this book are a hoot. Instead of the usual “I like this band/fashion/food” or apologies for not doing better work, Aya Kanno talks about having fun drawing the horror chapter, and a certain playfulness with her story and characters comes through.
The final chapter also features Juta, as a stand-in perhaps for the reader, pushing Asuka to move things along with Ryo, since they mostly act like good friends. Juta needs them to do more so he knows how to write his manga, you see, but it also possibly reflects the desire of the reader to see the two actually date. Asuka’s awfully shy and uncertain about these things — the perfect fantasy boy for the female reader, manly on the outside but with sensitive feelings. (The publisher provided a review copy.)