by Aya Kanno
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I wonder, sometimes, how much familiarity and expectations have to do with our enjoyment. I went from thinking that this series was pretty uneven to looking forward to each new volume. As I read more, I began to better understand what the series was attempting, so I could reset my expectations to a level that was reasonable, looking for the specific kind of entertainment Otomen provided, instead of wanting it to be something it wasn’t. And the longer I spent with the series, the more I had invested in expecting to enjoy it, as I knew the characters and could better appreciate Aya Kanno’s sense of humor.
In this volume, the kids are trapped in a camp in the country when a storm blocks the trail back. They’ve been playing at being samurai, led by a goofball who thinks history is the key to teaching students the “proper” gender roles. Of course, tomboy Ryo and “otomen” Asuka save the day through their unique skills. Ryo’s acceptance of the potentially disastrous situation is particularly funny, as she rips up her dress and goes tromping off through the forest. First she returns with mushrooms, then a giant fish she’s caught with her bare hands, and her happy, open face is pleasant to see. Asuka, on the other hand, keeps up morale by making decorations and organizing a festival. It’s silly (and unrealistic in terms of practical value), but it’s also a comforting contrast to Ryo’s warrior spirit, although she does get an obligatory makeover for the ending dance. (Note the related drama of the cover.)
The main story features a mysterious poet writing about teen longing; a sexy new nurse known as the Pheremone Prince who makes every girl want him; and a chocolate contest, to see which of the two men get the most candy from girls for Valentine’s Day. It’s a battle pitting true feeling against fickle point-scoring. This exaggeration of elements that most readers will be familiar with is Kanno’s skill, taking everyday elements and pushing them to the ridiculous to make points about what boys and girls are and can be. Who wouldn’t want to dream about a gorgeous boy who cooks, fights for his beliefs, and swears off quantity in terms of a quality relationship with that one special girl?
As a bonus, this volume contains a chapter of “Love Chick”, the pretend manga based on the characters. Those who follow the series will find that a special treat, as a chance to see gender-swapped versions of Ryo and Asuka. (The publisher provided a review copy.)