Manga-ka: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Asuka takes Ryo to an amusement park where he plans to confess his feelings to her. Too bad all the rides Ryo wants to go on frighten Asuka! Can he overcome his fear for the sake of love?”
Asuka and Ryo continue their budding romance, a seemingly one-way affair that while now having feelings in the open still remains informally unpronounced. Asuka wants nothing more than to muster his courage to ask Ryo out while Juta continues to egg them on for fear that the inspiration for his secret-career as a manga artist will run dry.
Cue a trip to an amusement park which offers up its some of the Otomen silliness that makes the series so charming, not to mention barrels of fun. Ryo’s attachment to every unromantic ride proves more than a little distressing to Asuka and the sudden confrontation with a suicidal man armed with dynamic doesn’t offer much romantic-flair to their date either.
Though Asuka’s wish to be more romantically close to Ryo remains a large part of the story, the prevalent issue at hand is still Asuka’s struggle as an Otomen, aka a ‘man with girlish hobbies’. While outwardly to most he’s the perfection of manliness – and by manliness let me clarify in this context means strong, tough, reserved and noble (so perhaps more gentlemanly than manly) – Asuka still adores anything cute, is compelled to embroider at a moment’s notice and is enamoured by sweets.
Still, despite his determination, the story never reads too depressing, as if he’s trying to change who he is, because really he isn’t. While Asuka is trying to hide who he is, he’s too in love with pink and flowers to ever seriously consider giving them up so it all reads as a light-hearted comedy over a potentially darker inner struggle.
But a story still needs its conflict, and with Ryo and Asuka’s Otomen status proving only so much, enter
Uryuu Ishida Hajime Tonomine, a fellow Kendo competitor and the self-proclaimed sworn enemy of Asuka. In a shojo series, even one whose focus has never solely been a romantic one, it’s still fun to have a classic rival element brought into the plot and without falling into past genre traps at that. Tonomine has no interest in Ryo – at least not now (or ever we hope) – and instead his focus is solely on defeating Asuka who he resents for having it so easy being a man among men. Naturally however the two may have more in common than Tonomine is proudly willing to realize and watching the one-sided clash provides plenty of entertainment. The samurai-styled Power Rangers show and beauty contest certainly didn’t hurt either so prepare for some well-earned chuckles.
On the note of amusing side characters, the continuously present Juta remains both an integral and endearing part of the Otomen cast. Watching how Juta unabashedly uses Asuka and Ryo for direct reference in his manga series, while still having sincere affection for the couple and their happiness together, makes him both a great third party individual and a direct influence on the story’s direction. In this third volume readers are treated to a chapter with a Juta-focus as Asuka sets out to learn more about his enigmatic friend in a quest to appease the worries of the many women in his life. The end result is a little less of a surprise than one would think in a series so prevalent at delivering the unexpected but it does at least accomplish something in the way of validating why Juta’s so comfortable being surrounded by throngs of young woman.
Still proving itself to be a reliably enjoyable read, Otomen remains a solid recommendation for those who enjoy a story that takes itself just seriously enough to make you care while never putting anything before your entertainment in priority.