by Aya Kanno
Asuka Masamune is the manliest guy at his high school. He's a martial artist who acts cool and aloof around his classmates. His greatest secret, however, is that he loves girly things. When alone, Asuka reads shoujo manga, eats sweets, and sews cute little teddy bears. He's had to suppress these feminine interests all his life, because they frighten his mother – her husband left the family after becoming a gay cross-dresser when Asuka was very young. But when Asuka falls in love with Ryo, an incredibly cute girl who can't sew or bake or anything remotely girly, this latent side of his personality comes bursting through.
“Otomen” is a pun made up of “otome” - Japanese for young lady – and the English word “men”. I don't k now if it's a slang word used in Japan, or merely a nickname Ryo and Asuka came up with on their own. This is a manga that isn't afraid to laugh at the tropes of shoujo stories. In fact, one of the main characters, Juta Tachibana, is a secret comic book creator who writes the girly series Love Chick under the pseudonym “Jewel Sachihana”. He bases his main characters off of Ryo and Asuka – but reverses the genders in his story so that they will conform to the 'pure love' standards of the genre. (This leads me to a rather random thought – are teenage manga-ka that common in Japan? I can think of several series that feature a high school comic creator and I always wonder if this is at all plausible.) It's interesting to see what the extremes of 'masculine' and 'feminine' are to a Japanese audience, even if the execution of ideas occasionally leads to some bizarre and over-the-top sequences.
Unfortunately, since the story is so dependent on standardized tropes, the characters never seemed fully realized. Granted, this is something the creator can remedy in future volumes but for now, I was unsatisfied with what I knew about Ryo, Azuka and Juta. But part of the benefit of being an old lady instead of a fresh-faced, confused college student is that I'm no longer confused about who or what I am. I could see how a comic series like this could really appeal to a teenager struggling to discover their self-identity and place in the world.
3 out of 5 stars
To read more about Otomen Vol. 1, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.