Saturday, November 6, 2010

Otomen Volume 8

By Aya Kanno. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume ("Betsuhana"). Released in North America by Viz.

I'm not certain who first came up with the expression, but I first heard it back on rec.arts.drwho in the 90s, from novel author Jonathan Blum. He noted, "There's a difference between suspension of disbelief and hanging disbelief by the neck until dead dead dead." I was reminded of it again while reading Otomen Volume 8, which I think has to be read as a gleeful savage parody of shoujo conventions. Mostly because if you don't, you'll want to hurl it across the room.

In this volume, we meet Ryo's grandfather, who she has moved to Hokkaido to care for. (More on that later.) He is a large, Fu-Manchu-mustached BULL of a man. Grumpy and mistrusting of both his granddaughter and Asuka. However, this is a plot twist, as it later turn out... (wait for it...) that he's secretly an OTOMEN! Oh My God! He sews cute plushies! And makes ornaments and picture frames! How adorable! In the next chapter, however, trouble comes. Asuka's mother has decided that these feminine men need to be rubbed out, and she's brought in a ringer to help achieve her plan - Masamune Kasuga, Asuka's cousin, who is going around looking to expel any man who does girly things.

Now, we don't get a hint of this in this volume, but I think any self-respecting reader will know that in Volume 9, Kasuga will be revealed to be a secret Otomen. I haven't read ahead and have no inside information - but DUH. I imagine Kanno-san, every time she writes in another male in this series, just laughing her ass off imagining how far she can take this. Well... quite far, as we've seen, but I am starting to get a little aggravated by the whole thing. I read Otomen for reasons other than the giant parody of shoujo conventions, and the reader in me who likes genuine plot and characterization is getting weary of the fakeness that this series possesses.

Let's look at another example. In this volume, we finally get what I've been begging for for ages. Ryo, as I noted above, moves to Hokkaido (briefly - she's back by the end of the book), and Asuka, knowing Ryo well, decides to give her a big send-off by taking her training in the mountains. This leads up to him noting that there's no need to make lots of fun memories thinking they'll never meet again, as he will love her no matter what. And then, Ryo actually says she loves him as well. What's more, it seems to stick - when they're walking around Hokkaido, they're mistaken for a married couple, something Ryo denies, but she does note that they are dating.

I should be more happy about this than I am. The main problem, of course, is that Ryo is as opaque as ever. Even in the most aggravating of shoujo series, where the girl misunderstands her aloof guy constantly, we get the occasional bone thrown to us, showing him secretly staring at her with a kind face, or a brief look at his own thoughts on the matter. Ryo's thoughts are a mystery to us, and her returning Asuka's feelings of love is therefore less heartwarming than it should be. Why did she stay silent for so long about her own feelings? Why is she so content to simply let things stay in a holding pattern for so long? There's any number of answers we can guess at, but the lack of any answers makes Ryo feel a bit flat compared to the rest of the guys.

I am still enjoying reading Otomen. It's got a fun, biting sense of humor, loves picking at shoujo conventions, and the art is cute and appealing. But every volume makes me wish it were being written less as a parody and more as a genuine story. It has enormous potential, but, like Ryo, seems content to simply be what it is an not move any further. Which is somewhat sad.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this review, ive been waiting for the continuation of this series but can't seem to find the next volume anywhere! I agree with you with Ryo's character, I do wish the author WOULD put a little more character in her. But we should at least be thankful for her not beig the typical shoju girly girl! :D