Manga-ka: Aya Kanno
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: February 2010
Synopsis: “Ryo is chosen to participate in a contest where flower arrangement and tea ceremony skills are tested – but she sucks at those things! To top things off, the previous champion wants Asuka for herself! Does Ryo have a fighting chance?”
The way the characters act in Otomen is always good for a laugh, in the good well intended way mind you. They all feel like they intentionally overact at times, as if they know they’re being watched and are acting just that slightest bit over the top to entertain. Their personalities are just exaggerated enough to be distinct and memorable while not enough to suffocate their ability to grow.
In this fifth volume, attention wavers from Asuka in turn of Ryo whose similar gender-conformity breaks are just as pronounced but far less lamented. Chosen by her classmates, she’s entered in a competition of being ‘an ideal woman’. The contests include flower arranging, cooking and the traditional tea ceremony – none of which are Ryo’s strong points. When Asuka is chosen to be her assistant, it’s easy to assume she has the competition nailed with his assistance but it’s great to read that things don’t work themselves out that way.
Adding some drama to the mix is Miyabi, the previous winner of the contest. Out for her pride as the victor and her affection for Asuka, she sees Ryo as the sole obstacle of her goals. Seeing how both Ryo and Asuke handle their own respective rivals in the series is amusing because of the complete lack of malice they hold for them. Meanwhile on the sidelines, I also love seeing how Juta views each of these situations as a direct resource for his secret profession as a shoujo manga artist.
But not one to stay entirely on the sidelines for long, a portion of this book is dedicated to Juta’s manga career after his Asuka and Ryo based-series, Love Chick, wins a prestigious award. The problem however is that his adoring public expects to hear a speech from the series’ infamous but secretive creator. Charged by the memories of his own introduction to shoujo manga, and fearful of the disappointment his gender may impose on his series’ fans, Juta begs for the help of his younger sister to fill in for him. But no problem this big is fixed by a solution so small and Juta needs to find an alternative arrangement. The help of a childhood idol ,and added pressure of Asuka’s presence, offers an inspirational solution both appropriate and comical.
The last chapter begins to build up foreshadowing for the introduction of a new character, playing off the return of Asuka and his self-proclaimed rival’s roles as the Beauty Samurai. Though the identity of this individual isn’t yet fully exposed, it isn’t difficult to surmise who they are. That said, Asuka’s observation that the ‘stranger’ is a woman seems to fall a little flat when by all visual keys they appear a man. The irony isn’t lost but it is a bit forced.
Still your one-stop shop for comedy, fluff and gender issues, Otomen remains a worthy purchase for any manga reader who likes their stories with plenty of character substance but on the light-hearted side of execution. The usual antics of this likeable cast are reason enough to look forward to volume six but the unfolding events of this one’s end spells all the more cause for eagerness, even if the surprise is rather lacking.