Manga-ka: Aya Kanno
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: September 2012
Synopsis: “Ryo ends up coaching a high school judo team, but women aren’t allowed at that school! She finds a way around this obstacle, but the real challenge comes when she finds herself facing off against… Asuka?!”
Otomen is a series I’ve enjoyed since the beginning, but recent volumes have been a little lacklustre. The story’s been moving away from characters I like most and even Asuka was feeling a bit overshadowed by other secondary characters pushing their own agendas onto him. When I read the synopsis for volume thirteen however, I felt excited. Ryo and Asuka facing off against each other in judo? Cool! What I got was both what I expected and not at the same time. This volume has the longest focus on Ryo I recall since the series began. It provides a better look at her as a character and springs forward her relationship with Asuka more than I ever honestly thought would be possible.
Ryo has never really clicked with me as a character. Her role is to be the opposite of Asuka – he’s a young man into girlish things, and she’s a young woman into boyish things. However, she’s also not very bright or at least comes across as such. She’s always spacey, and never quite there. I can never tell what she’s thinking, and it doesn’t come across as enigmatic, simply air-headed. That being said, I did like her considerably more in this volume which actually gives her more page-time than any time before. At the same time, it wasn’t really because I felt much more from her personality. It was more that I appreciated the additional level of quirky-ness added to her character by cross dressing.
I loved seeing her beat up the boys and hang out with them so casually. I loved watching the judo team’s Captain start falling for her, unaware at first that she’s the girl he met a few days before. And I loved how adorable she looked dressed as boy complete with school boy uniform and cute haircut. Her sugar-coated bluntness works better in this volume than those past where instead of just coming across as sort of thoughtless, she’s fun to watch going forward with teaching judo, grappling with the boys, and entering their tournament without any real care to hide her identity or fretting over it. I liked how much conviction she had for it.
As much as I liked that chapter, what follows in the rest of the book really surprised me. The first in a good way, the second I’m not so sure. With Ryo suddenly busy everyday, Asuka understandably becomes unsure about her affection for him. He doesn’t dwell on that kind of stuff a lot, but it was enough that Ryo actually noticed slight changes in his mood. The two both have a lot to think about leading up to a fight scheduled between the two, and Ryo in particular finally has a dawning moment of realization that Asuka is affected by what she does (shocker!). The end of this story arc, where Ryo goes to spend Christmas with Asuka, was so cute and so romantic that I may have paused reading to squee a little bit. It was the first time I really felt a spark between these two and it was beautiful.
Still, as a series thirteen volumes that only now resonated as romantic, it made what happens as the book’s ‘cliffhanger’ something I’ve rolled around in my head since then. Did I like what happened? Did I think it made sense? Partially yes, and partially no. I won’t spoil it for you but it’s related to their relationship and I think probably happens too quickly, even if it’s not super official. At least Asuka was still beyond adorable during the whole thing, plus we got to see some very brief yet still very character poignant scenes with Asuka’s friends leading up to it.
I don’t know where the next volume of Otomen will go in terms of Asuka and Ryo. The events of this volume will either change things a lot, or not change things in the slightest. With these two, you never really know. All the same, I did enjoy this volume quite a bit so my love has been renewed. I would like to see the previously relevant secondary cast have more interaction with them again, but if the story is going to stick with focusing on the lead couple now (which isn’t a surprise in a shoujo series, of course), I’ll at least be happy for more scenes like those we’ve gotten here.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures
Otomen is one of those series that I enjoyed very much with the first few volumes, then stopped actively collecting just because the story never seemed to go anywhere. But knowing that there’s this sudden focus on Ryo has me curious about the series again, just because she was always one of the characters I thought was a bit of a cipher.
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