Manga-ka: Jun Yuzuki
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: March 2009
Synopsis: “Joshi High is an elite school that most girls in Japan only dream of attending. Then one day everything changes – the all-girl school goes coed. There’s just one catch: The girls out-number the boys. So beings a wild, no-holds-barred competition for the boys of the school. Which smart and independant-minded girl will rise above the fray?”
The brutal violence of Japanese schoolgirls in manga is nothing new to me as a reader, but the reverse harem taken to this particular extreme in Gakuen Prince was something that made me take pause. Also nothing new are the swarms of girls pining for the attention of school’s attractive male populous, but, spreading notes about their plans of sexual attack, confinement and attempted rape? This was certainly a leap in the department of suspended belief for the sake of entertainment.
The story begins with a quick introduction of Okitsu, a young student seeking anonymity in her private school where the hormonal rule and backlashes of any deemed offence are brutal and severe. Once an all girl’s school, Jyoshioka Gakuen Private High now allows males to enrol but the girls still greatly outnumber the boys. One of the reasons becomes all too apparent for new-student, Azusa Mizutani, when he becomes the next target of the female population’s rampant sexual fever. In order to save himself from their onslaughts, Azusa proclaims himself as being only for Okitsu (who happened to be hiding in the same room as him) and the fury of the other girls knows no socially accepted bounds.
I picked up this first volume of Gakuen Prince after hearing many things about it from fellow manga-reviewers. Suffice to say, though prepared for what I was about to read, I was still surprised by the book. Perhaps not so much by the brutality of some scenes, for example the bullying which seemed to pale in comparison to other series such as Tokyopop’s Confidential Confessions or Life, but the non-consensual sex ‘humour’ seemed an odd choice for English publication. No surprise for the genre as a whole I suppose, but for the English market it feels like an odd fit. And 16+? By the end it felt like a stretch.
Admittedly I did find humour in the book, both in the overtop nature of the sex-crazed teenagers and the exaggerated artwork, which lent well to the story while maintaining most of the shoujo-style sensibilities readers have come to expect. Not to say I didn’t have equal sympathy for the characters, Mizutani and Okitsu, who must suffer ridiculously painful trials in this first book to overcome a school rampant in twisted morals.
Flipping the stereotypical roles of males and females was interesting: having all the females with sex on the brains and the males with thoughts of survival over taking advantage of what, in most other fictional-circumstances, would seem like a dream come true (though it certainly doesn’t justify itself as the story seems to intend). Male, female, whatever, nothing justifies forcing yourself on someone else, and the actual moments of this occurring in the story left me uneasy more than amused or entertained.
But, around the scenes of lesser morality, I still found fun to be had in this crazy book. The back-and-forth nature of Okitsu and Mizutani’s sudden relationship makes for the most stable part of the book’s appeal to me, as the two try to help themselves while also being sympathetic for the other person. By the end of volume one, Okitsu goes the route of many shoujo heroines before her, but in a series this overrun by debauchery and violence, it’s hard to cheer for the protagonists when gut instinct dictate they should just call the police.
Gakuen Prince is a bizarre read that pushes on the boundaries of tolerance for dramatic comedy, but one with just enough other substance that I’ll give this series a shot with volume two and see if it might raise itself in my mind from morally-grey oddity to guilty pleasure.