Venus Capriccio Volume 1
by Mai Nishikata
Takami’s something of a tomboy. Although tall and pretty, guys dump her because she’s not traditionally feminine. Her best friend is Akira, a boy two years younger who’s also a gifted pianist. Akira’s music is Takami’s comfort; no matter the problem, listening to him play makes her feel better.
Now that he’s (barely) in his teens, Akira wants to go out with Takami. She’s used to thinking of him as a friend, not a lover. The more fool her, though, because Akira is the near-perfect shojo boyfriend. He knows what she needs before she does. His only concern is making her happy. He’s beautiful (due to being half-European), talented, and kind.
Even with Akira’s by-the-numbers characterization, I enjoyed reading this because Takami is highly entertaining. She’s funny and she says whatever she thinks. She met Akira when her mother enrolled her for piano lessons in an attempt to make her more feminine. (It didn’t take, but she does play passably.)
Venus Capriccio is another gender-swap manga, although not as literal as something like Your and My Secret, more like Otomen. Akira is as beautiful as a girl, and Takami treats him (until now) as a little sister, sharing her secrets and heartbreaks. She protects him when others pick on him. (That might be the reason for the age difference, come to think of it — that it’s more believable if she’s slightly older than he is.)
Artistically, nothing much stood out. There are times when I think a head shot of Akira is supposed to be lovely, only I found him slightly haunted-looking. (Too much shading around the eyes.) But that allows me to read more depth into the character, wondering about what he’s secretly thinking. And since this is the artist’s first manga series, the art improves as the book goes on.
But plot-wise, there are some good choices. The two are asked to perform a duet together for their music teacher’s wedding, and learning how to match each other’s pace is a wonderful symbol for the kind of subtle changes that a relationship brings. Then there’s the requisite cross-dressing chapter: the school “Prince and Princess” contest. It’s made unique, though, by giving Takami an interesting motive to dress up as a prince — both she and the girl who will play her princess have been dumped by the guy who’s aiming to win, so they team up to bruise his ego by defeating him.
Watching Takami realize how much the two of them have grown up is fun. She’s never thought of herself as attractive, having never taken the time to dress up, so Akira encouraging her to do so shows her a new side of herself as she sees herself through his eyes. She also has to be shown how handsome Akira is as an almost-man (“a totally hot guy”, as a fellow student dubs him), instead of thinking of him as a doll or a child.
At times, the revelations are cheesy — “Akira is … a boy!” after he kisses her — but good-hearted and entertaining. I really appreciate how the story encourages Takami to make the choices that are right for her, regardless of what those around her think she should be doing, and she shares that same idea with others. Akira knows what he wants, but she’s not so sure yet, so she’s not racing into anything. I want to follow her journey until she realizes they’re perfectly suited for each other. Whether friends or more, they have a strong, admirable relationship that’s worth emulating. Seeing them together makes me happy. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)