Friday, May 6, 2011

Ai Ore! Volume 1

By Mayu Shinjo. Released in Japan as "Ai wo Utau Yori Ore ni Oborero!" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shoujo Comic ("Sho-Comi"). Released in North America by Viz.

I think I've finally managed to figure out the lineage of this particular title. It debuted in 2006 with that long Japanese title translated as "Instead of Singing About Love, Drown Yourself in Me" at Shogakukan, in the pages of their shoujo in name only magazine Shoujo Comic. It ran for 5 volumes (including what we see here), and then the author had a very public falling out with her company and left, taking her work with her. The title ended rather abruptly in Sho-Comi, but then began as a "sequel" in Kadokawa's shoujo magazine Asuka - in reality, it merely picked up right where it left off - and ran for 5 additional volumes. Kadokawa has licensed the whole shebang to Viz, and they're releasing it in these slightly oversized, 300-page editions.

As for the manga itself, well, it may bear Kadokawa's name, but it reeks of Shoujo Comic. This is a Mayu Shinjo title, and even though she's playing with gender roles, and her lead girl is a handsome prince type rather than a cute busty girl, you have to go into it knowing what to expect. She isn't known as the "Queen of Smut" for nothing, and even though Ai Ore! is technically rated T+ by Viz, it's going to be knocking on the door of M without actually going in. What's more, all of her favorite cliches and tropes are here and present, to the point that when we got to the distasteful final scene where the hero asks his best friend to rape a girl so she can be taught a lesson, my reaction was mostly surprise that it took that long.

In any case, the premise of Ai Ore! is that Mizuki is the "handsome prince" lead guitar player in an all-girls band, all of whom look very masculine and bishonen. They go to an all-girls school, where she's the apple of all her fan's eye. But then her best friend and lead singer moves to New York, and they need a new singer. Enter Akira, who has a great voice and looks like a cute teenage girl... except he's a boy. And what's more, he's obsessed with Mizuki, and determined to make her fall for him. The trouble is that the naive Mizuki isn't even sure what love *is*. She just knows that her chest hurts when she gets near him...

It has to be noted that the author is clearly writing this with her tongue firmly in her cheek. She knows what her teen Japanese readers want, and is giving it to them in spades. Mizuki is actually a rather interesting cross between your typical put-upon Shinjo heroine, a dense and clueless Hakusensha type, AND a handsome guy in the role of the "uke". Aside from the occasional shots of Mizuki's breasts or seeing her naked, this could be a BL manga - no doubt deliberately. As for Akira, he's even more interesting. He's trying to be the standard hero of these sorts of manga - I believe TV Tropes calls it the 'Bastard Boyfriend' type, i.e. "Sure he's mean and callous and manipulative and forcing himself on me, but OH SO HOT." The trouble is that he's young, selfish, and immature, and therefore doesn't really have the right tone. So we see him vacillate wildly between sweet little boy, manipulative seducer, and callous jerk. I'm actually rather interested to see if he manages to settle on one by the end of the series.

Honestly, there wasn't anything that really irritated my sensibilities until the final scene, mostly as I was reading it with my "this is a Shinjo Mayu" switch turned on. The final scene is pretty horrible, though, with the lesbian seductress who attempted to sexually assault Mizuki a chapter or so earlier being "taught a lesson" by Akira and his best male friend (who has a crush on him, sort of). I'm not sure of the author will actually go through with it - I suspect not - but it's a bad place for a cliffhanger, as it leaves a bad taste in your mouth that affects the entire volume. One might also ask why the strong and tall Mizuki always seems to be overpowered by various people whenever they attempt to seduce her, including the much smaller Akira, but hey...

In the end, this manga knows its audience, and the author knows how to line up current trends and her undoubted skill at shoujo smut to make an interesting story. Mizuki and Akira are different enough from the usual cliche that I want to know more about them - not just the crossdressing, but even their "true personalities" seem fluid and not set in stone, very appropriate for the teenagers they are. I'm not certain how much of this is meant to be comedic, as in a Butterflies, Flowers type, and how much is just the usual shoujo "he does it because he loves you" drama, as in Black Bird, but I'll definitely give it another volume to find out. And anyone who was a fan of Black Bird, or Stepping on Roses, or Hot Gimmick, or even Sensual Phrase, the author's other English-language title, should love this.

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