Mon, Jan. 12th, 2009, 12:19 am || Kanno Aya - Otomen, vol. 01-04 (Chi. trans.)

add to memories

I swear, I will write up year-in-review posts. Soon. And post pictures. Soon. Really! (Er, assuming that people are interested, of course.)

"Otomen" is a play on the Japanese word for "maiden" ("otome") plus the English word "men," and it's used by the mangaka to describe guys who are heterosexual and cisgendered, yet have shoujo hearts. I.e. they have a great love of stereotypically feminine things, like sparklies, stuffed animals, anything cute, shoujo manga, and cooking. Masamune Asuka is an otomen, though he's tried to develop a manly man reputation by being great at kendo and being taciturn at school, largely because his mother was traumatized by his father leaving them to get sex-change operation and plead with him to never be like his father.

Asuka's got a huge crush on cute girl Miyakozuka Ryou, and in the process of getting to know her, he somehow ends up friends with annoying playboy Tachibana Juuta, who's secretly the mangaka of Asuka's favorite shoujo manga series and has based the manga characters on Asuka and Ryou. Only with the genders of the two swapped!

I of course love all the gender-bending in this manga. I wish there were more of it, actually—too much of the manga relies on Asuka's fighting prowess along with his skill in the kitchen and with a needle, as though the mangaka's trying to note that you can be interested in "girly" things as long as you're a manly man as well. On the other hand, I like that the mangaka doesn't denigrate girliness, as so often happens in English-language works I read. It's also a huge plus that although Ryou is very cute on the outside, she can't cook or sew like many shoujo manga heroines, but rather than being a klutz who inspires people's instinct to protect, she's grown up with her very gruff father and loves shounen manga, movies about fighting and friendship, and is good at several kinds of martial arts.

The minus about Ryou is that there isn't nearly enough of her; a lot of the volumes are about Asuka with a great deal of Tachibana on the side. I'm sure that Asuka and Tachibana would be slashed together all the time if there were a fandom for this, and I'm rather grumpy that there are so few female characters. Still, the mangaka does remember that Ryou is there from time to time—Ryou's in a lot of the manga, but since the plot requires her to act oblivious to Asuka's feelings in a shoujo hero type of way, she doesn't do that much—and Ryou gets to do awesome things, like be a knight in shining armor to Asuka's princess.

In conclusion: cute and fluffy, but I keep wanting the manga to go further in its explorations of gender and false gender binaries than it actually does. Still, once it starts coming out in the US, I will probably keep up with it out of hope for more Ryou.