Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Portrait of M & N Volume 3

By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan as "M to N no Shouzou" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Yes, at last, THIS is what I was talking about. After 2 volumes of some of the most depressing comedy I've read, Tachibana has figured out how to play up the funny with her two leads. Oh, there's still lots of serious, and Mitsuru's reprehensible family is still a problem, but at last we can momentarily forget about these things and just watch all the misunderstandings and physical humor.

Nowhere is this more apparently than in the first chapter, which takes place on a class skiing trip. Mitsuru is hoping for a nice romantic time with Natsuhiko but keeps slamming into trees or getting accidentally run over by skiers (leading to her immense pleasure), Hijiri is hoping to teach the "clumsy" Mitsuru how to ski (sadly, she knows and is better than he is), and Natsuhiko is running into reflective surfaces everywhere that cause him to go into paroxysms of love for himself. Add to this a new girl, Ririka, who gets to be the normal one reacting to all these freaks, and then toss them all down a few cliffs and onto some moving logs.

Ririka's cute, and not only does she get to be the normal one, but she allows Mitsuru to have an ally who's not male. In a manga filled with jealous females out to destroy the heroine, this is important. Of course, naturally she's fallen for Natsuhiko, and thinks Mitsuru is actually Hijiri's girlfriend. But that's just standard shoujo misunderstandings. At heart, Ririka is there to stop Mitsuru being too serious and depressing. It doesn't work, mostly as Mitsuru is so far down that crawling up to happy is almost impossible, but the thought is there.

By the way, nice cameo in the author's notes from Shigeru Takao, the author of Teru Teru x Shonen, which ran alongside M&N in the magazine. I suspect 'beautiful, big-breasted young lady with a homo fetish' is not how she wanted to be introduced, though. :)

The most amusing part of the volume for me was the fake gay subtext between Natsuhiko and Hijiri. Originally done as a gag for the ski trip (and really, Ririka's seeing them as gay is TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE given what she saw), apparently the female audience for Hana to Yume went over the moon at the idea, so Tachibana added even more goofiness with Hijiri trying to break them up by saying Natsuhiko is secretly gay, and Mitsuru proceeding to tell the school this in a wacky hypnosis story. It's the chapter that feels the most scattered (the author notes it was hastily rewritten), but also the funniest.

In amongst all this welcome comedy, Mitsuru and Natsuhiko finally confess and become a couple. These are the sweetest moments of the book, mostly as the two leads are so earnest and serious that you really root for them to become closer. Of course, this is then followed by self-doubts and still wondering what the other thinks, but that's standard shoujo. Their relationship also leads to the weak point in the book, which is Mitsuru's family. Her Oedipal brother is introduced, and he seems to treat her just as badly as her mother does. I say seems as mother comes in towards the end of the volume, and reaches new lows of emotional abuse. I think Tachibana gave Mitsuru's backstory too much realism. Mitsuru's life to date is simply HORRIBLE, and while there's far more comedy here to save it, the ending just reminds you of that fact. At least she's finally starting to rebel a little bit.

So, slowly getting there. I don't expect the book to become a laff riot - like Gakuen Alice, the series seems to revel in its emotional whirlwind - but adding lighthearted moments makes Portrait of M & N a title that is worth your time, provided you don't mind all the protagonists' emotional baggage.

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