Archive for April 2010




Cherry Juice

TITLE: Cherry Juice
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Haruka Fukushima
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 4
SCORE: 5 (Okay)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Haruka Fukushima (mangaka of Instant Teen and Orange Planet), Marmalade Boy, romance, drama, comedy

Incest between closely-related blood relatives is considered taboo in the majority of cultures around the world, but when the relationship between step-siblings becomes something more, does the same rule apply?

That’s the premise behind Cherry Juice, a series about a pair of fifteen year old step-siblings named Otome and Minami. Otome’s widowed father and Minami’s divorced mother got married five years ago, combining their respective families. However, starting from the day they first met, Minami’s feelings for his new “big sister” — Otome is a mere three days older than him — have been more than brotherly. Though he tries to ignore his love for Otome, when the two are forced into sharing a bedroom and Otome starts dating Minami’s best friend Amane, it becomes more and more difficult for Minami to deny how he feels. Throw in Otome’s conflicted feelings for Minami, and you get what should have been an interesting story about a (semi-)forbidden romance.

Unfortunately, Cherry Juice is just not that good. I actually did like it a little more on my second read-through — I didn’t care for it much at all the first time I read it — but it’s still not a series I would recommend.

One of the major problems is that it seems that Minami and Otome are the only ones who see the fact that they are step-siblings as an obstacle to a romantic relationship. Even Otome’s grandmother (and, to a lesser extent, Minami’s mother) are rooting for them to get together. Granted, there are a few characters who think step-siblings falling in love with each other is weird, but even they come around by the end. The lack of true disapproval for their feelings makes all the angst Minami and Otome go through seem really unnecessary.

There’s also the matter of the whole “sharing a bedroom” thing, which makes me want slap their parents for their idiocy. (Backstory: Otome’s grandmother temporarily — later, permanently — moves in with them after hurting her hip playing beach volleyball.) What kind of parent in their right minds thinks it’s a good idea to let their hormonal teenager share a bedroom with their opposite sex, equally hormonal step-sibling? That’s just asking for trouble! I don’t understand why Granny and Otome couldn’t share a room, or if Granny really needed a room to herself, why Minami couldn’t just sleep in the living room or something. I mean, he prefers sleeping on a futon, anyway, so what does it matter where he sleeps? Forcing Minami and Otome to share a room like that just seems like a cheap excuse for fanservice, as they seem to walk in on each other quite a lot in various states of undress.

Then there are the leads themselves, who are fairly unlikeable characters, in my opinion. Why Otome falls for Minami when Amane is a much better guy, I have no idea. Minami comes across as a jerk most of the time. He’s always manhandling her and insulting her by calling her stupid, idiot, ugly, fat, etc. — typical things that a brother might call his sister, but not exactly terms of endearment from a lover. Not to mention that he’s a terrible flirt who enjoys being the only male in the Cooking Club. Of course, a lot of his acting out is the result of him being frustrated by his feelings for Otome, and he does do some sweet things when he realizes what a jerk he’s been, but that doesn’t excuse his behavior. Add that to that the fact that they’re both kind of abusive to each other, and their relationship is not one that I felt like rooting for.

I didn’t root for Amane and Otome either, for that matter, because Otome is almost as bad a character as Minami. She’s so wishy-washy about her feelings for Amane and Minami, and she’s a major crybaby, not to mention a bit clingy. Also, it doesn’t seem like she has any real interests of her own. She’s a member of the Kendo Club, but she only joined because Amane was a member, not out of any real interest in the sport. I honestly don’t know how she managed to get three hot guys — yes, there’s a third guy in the mix, but I won’t spoil who he is — to fall in love with her. She’s not particularly kind, or smart, or funny, or even interesting. She is cute, I suppose, but she’s never held up to the same standard as Minami, who is considered the hottest guy in school and has a harem of girls after him. It’s a mystery.

So, what did I like about this title that allowed me to give it an “okay” rating? I’m kind of wondering that myself at the moment… No, seriously, the comedy is pretty good. I didn’t laugh out loud at anything, but I found myself rather amused by how Minami and Amane sometimes flirted with (and even kissed!) each other as fanservice for their female fans. At one point, I even thought it might be nice twist if they ended up together. (And I’m saying this as somebody who isn’t into boys’ love.) Naru and Aiko, Otome’s two best friends, are fun characters, as well. Aiko’s huge (and very obvious) crush on Minami is hilarious, and Naru is kind of awesome (as in, very awesome). Fukushima should have written a story focused on Naru, Amane, and Aiko instead, with Otome and Minami as the supporting characters. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more!

Artwork is decent shoujo. It’s not quite as pretty as I usually like, but it’s not terrible, and the character designs are good. Fukushima is apparently a big fan of uniforms, as evidenced by most of her sidebars, but I have to say, I didn’t really care for either of the uniforms Minami and Otome wore. (They started high school during the course of the story.)

Cherry Juice is not something I would recommend to somebody who wants to read about a forbidden romance that is, actually, you know, forbidden, but it can be funny at times, and has a great supporting cast. If you can get pass the unlikeable leads, the silly plot, the unsatisfying melodrama… Well, it still probably wouldn’t be worth it.

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Add a comment April 20, 2010

Fall in Love Like a Comic

TITLE: Fall in Love Like a Comic
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Chitose Yagami
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Chitose Yagami, romance, comedy

I suspect a good number of readers have fantasized at one time or another about falling in love with a guy just like the perfect, pretty boy love interests often seen in shoujo manga. I know I certainly have — Helios, Toya, Night, Hatori, Hotohori, Yasu, Mamoru… Ahem, where was I again? Oh, yeah, bishounen. Like George. And Takumi. And Shigure. … Okay, maybe those last few aren’t exactly boyfriend material, but bad boys can be fun, too…

Seriously, enough drooling. Yes, you over there. It’s time to move onto the review.

Fall in Love Like a Comic stars high school girl Rena Sakura, who also happens to moonlight as a professional mangaka of steamy shoujo comics. (Although I have to wonder how steamy they can be when she thinks kissing and hugging is risque.) Despite the subject of her manga, Rena has never actually had a boyfriend or been in love, so her editor suggests it might be a good idea for her to get some real romantic experience under her belt in order to improve her stories.

Enter Tomoya Okita, the cutest boy at Rena’s school. When he discovers her secret life as a shoujo mangaka after finding some naughty scenes she accidentally left behind at school, Rena decides he’s the perfect guy to get some romantic experience with and asks him out. Though flirty Tomoya is famous around school for always turning girls down, he actually accepts her offer and agrees to help her out by becoming her boyfriend. Soon after, however, Rena’s feelings toward him become more than simply professional. Could he be feeling the same about her?

Obviously, yes. This is shoujo manga, after all, and Yagami does nothing to rock the boat in regards to what is expected from the genre. Cliche after cliche abound. Classmate deciding to bully Rena for “stealing” Tomoya away from the rest of the girls who want him? Check. Rena and Tomoya waking up in bed together, despite nothing happening between them? Check. Rena mistaking Tomoya’s sister for a girlfriend? Check. Rena getting jealous when Tomoya has to kiss another girl when acting in a TV drama based on one of her manga? Check. An ex-girlfriend suddenly showing back up in Tomoya’s life? Check. The most cliche of cliche romantic endings, albeit with a minor twist? Check.

You get the picture. I think the only non-cliche thing that happens in the entire story is when Rena and Tomoya go on a trip together, and Rena decides she’s ready to take their relationship to the next level. You’d expect Tomoya to be excited about that, as most teenage boys his age would be, but in a twist, he’s the one not ready for sex and tells Rena they should wait. I rather liked that chapter. It’s nice to see a teenage boy not portrayed as a horndog for once. (And, on a purely shallow note, Tomoya in the shower = sexy!)

But even that serves to show just how “perfect” Tomoya is. Rena often tells him that he’s just like the perfect guy in a shoujo manga — something he hates being compared with — but he really is. I can’t think of a single flaw in him. Maybe if Rena had been given another love interest to compete against him, we might have seen an uglier side to him, but Rena is the only one given the chance to be jealous or angry. It’s definitely a story where the ordinary, flawed girl gets her dream guy — total wish fulfillment.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Despite all my criticism, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Tomoya and Rena make a cute couple, it has some great humor (especially when Rena literally “melts” in Tomoya’s arms), and I liked learning about the life of a mangaka. (Not only do we see Rena’s life as a mangaka, but a bonus section in the second volume explains the steps to drawing a manga.) I just wish it was more Fall in Love Like a Real Person than Fall In Love Like a Comic. It seems rather counterintuitive to me to have Rena’s editor suggest she get some real experience in love, only to put her in a fairy tale romance with the perfect guy. What is she going to learn from that?

On the plus side, Yagami’s artwork is really cute. Granted, Rena’s eyes probably could stand to be a little smaller, and she looks a tad too young to be a high school student, but Tomoya has a great look to him. What Yagami really excels at, though, are the kissing scenes. You can really tell she loves drawing them, because she draws them often — I don’t think a chapter passes by without Tomoya and Rena kissing at least once — and she draws them well. Really well.  

Really, really well.

Ahem.

Overall, I liked this short series, but felt there was too much wasted potential. Recommended for fans of fluffy romance only. Otherwise, you may overdose on the sugar.

Add a comment April 13, 2010

Be With You

Happy Easter! I’ve finally finished moving my old reviews over, so now I can start posting my newer reviews. Since today is the day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it seems rather apppopriate to review Be With You, a one-shot manga about a woman seemingly coming back to life.

TITLE: Be With You
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Takuji Ichikawa, Yoko Iino, and Sai Kawashima
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Be With You novel, Be With You movie, Over The Rainbow, All My Darling Daughters, romance, mystery, supernatural

Be With You has been on my wish list for years, but though the summary intrigued me, I always passed it up due to the terrible cover art. Seriously, it’s ugly — no mincing words about it. However, when I learned that actress Jennifer Garner was set to star in an American remake of the Japanese movie based on the original novel by Takuji Ichikawa (which also inspired this manga), I finally decided to check it out. (By the way, for those wondering about the Garner movie, according to Wikipedia, it was supposed to be released last year, but I haven’t heard anything else about it. I assume it was delayed due to her last pregnancy, but your guess is as good as mine.)

The story is about a young librarian named Takumi Aio and his seven-year-old son Yuji. The year before, Takumi’s beloved wife Mio tragically died on their son’s birthday. Yuji, however, is under the impression that his mother will return to them when the rainy season begins, thanks to a picture book Mio drew for him that said she would. Grieving Takumi doesn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.

On Yuji’s seventh birthday, the rainy season begins, and as the book predicted, a woman who looks exactly like Mio comes into their lives. She has no idea who she is, though, and is suffering from amnesia. Without telling her that she died the year before, Takuji and Yuji take “Mio” in and try to help her recover her lost memories of them by telling her stories of her former life.

Strangely enough, this is the second manga title I’ve read this month involving an amnesiac character, but I’m happy to report that this story is far more interesting than Over the Rainbow, the other woman-with-amnesia story I read. It helps that this is a complete narrative, unlike OtR, which consisted of basically five loosely related short stories centering around a trio of main characters. I’ve never read the novel or seen the movie, so I can’t comment on the fidelity of the adaptation, but it doesn’t seem like anything needed to understand the story was left out. It works on its own without prior knowledge of the other canons.

It does feel a tad bit rushed, though, in places. Takumi, for example, accepts that the woman is Mio far faster than I would expect him to. Barely a thought is given to the fact that she might, in fact, not be Mio. I would expect a father to be a little more hesitant in allowing some confused amnesiac woman to stay with them, no matter how much she looks like his dead wife, but he and Yuji almost immediately decide to treat the woman as if she is Mio without really questioning how it could be possible.

That really the weakness in the story. I can understand Yuji not caring about the “how” — he’s just a kid, happy to have his mother back — but the dead coming back to life is not presented as a common occurance in this world. Most adults would be a little bit more freaked out about something like that happening. Even when Takumi tells his doctor about Mio’s reappearance, the doctor doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. (There’s a reason for that, but it still doesn’t seem like a realistic reaction from a scientist.) It’s just strikes me as strange.

(This could be a piece of adaptation decay. At the back of the volume is an exerpt from the novel of the scene where Takumi and Yuji first find the woman in the woods. Things happen slightly differently than they do in the manga version, with Takumi actually considering the possibility that she might be a ghost, a doppelganger, a clone, or a twin sister of Mio’s he never knew about, and there’s actually a reason given why he can so easily accept that she is Mio and not somebody else who simply looks like Mio.)

Other than that, though, the story is really sweet as Takumi tells Mio stories about how they fell in the love, and in the process, falls in love with her all over again. Though he easily accepts that she is Mio, things are realistically awkward between them — and between her and Yuji — at first since she doesn’t remember even the simplest things, like what he likes to eat for lunch or that Yuji is allergic to strawberries. It’s charming to see them gradually become closer as Mio starts acting more like the Mio they knew before, and sad when Mio realizes that she can’t stay with them forever.

I won’t spoil the answer to the mystery of Mio’s reappearance, which is revealed at the end of the story, but I will say the explanation kind of felt like it came out of nowhere and was a bit of a letdown. There aren’t really any hints or clues given to the reader that would help them solve the case on their own before the answer is revealed to them. In that regard, as a mystery, it fails, but I did enjoy it as a romance.

One thing that really impressed me in this one-shot is just how well-developed the characters are, despite the short length of the story. Nobody feels like a stereotype. Takumi is an introvert, but he isn’t particularly shy or withdrawn. Yuji has his moments of acting like a cute, sometimes troublesome child, but other times, he seems more like the father than Takumi does. (He even calls Takumi “Takkun” instead of “Dad”, for reasons that are never explained.) Mio’s amnesia is much better portrayed than Key’s was in Over the Rainbow, and her mother’s grief and anger when she thinks Takumi has moved on with another woman — Mio decides not to see her to avoid upsetting her — come across as realistic and sympathetic.

And the artwork? It’s definitely better than I was expecting, based on that horrible piece of cover art. It’s nicely drawn, but I’m not a fan of how Kawashima draws characters’ eyes. I don’t know quite how to describe them… I guess I would say they look almost fuzzy — definitely not a word most people would want associated with eyes. I got used to it by the end of the story, but I still don’t care for the style. It’s also rather strange that Mio has black hair on the cover, but in the actual story, she’s drawn with light hair. I suspect that Kawashima was too lazy to ink characters with long hair. Only Takumi (who actually has brown hair on the cover) and a few other male characters are given dark hair. The women are all drawn with light hair, save for a couple who have their hair color shaded in by screentone.

I debated for a while whether I should give this story a 6 or a 7. I really liked the romantic aspects of the story, but the mystery side fell rather flat and disappointed me, so I settled for a 6. Fans of romance who don’t care for mysteries could probably bump it up to a 7. I wouldn’t consider this a must-read, or even something I would recommend to the average manga fan, but it’s a nice enough one-shot, and I’ll probably check out that Jennifer Garner movie if it ever gets released.

Add a comment April 4, 2010

Canon

Originally posted on Mar. 11, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: Canon
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Chika Shiomi
PUBLISHER: CMX
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 4
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Chika Shiomi (mangaka of Yurara, Rasetsu, and Night of the Beasts), supernatural, violence, romance

I am not a fan of vampires. They just aren’t my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the appeal — I love sexy pale-skinned, angst-ridden guys as well as the next woman — but the blood-sucking part just squicks me out. Big time. However, I am a fan of mangaka Chika Shiomi, so I put my general squick of vampires aside to check out her debut series, Canon.

The title character of the story is a sixteen year old girl who is the sole survivor of a massacre that left all thirty-nine of her classmates dead. During the attack, she was forced to drink the blood of their killer, a pureblood vampire by the name of Rod. This turns Canon into a “servant” vampire — meaning a human who was turned into a vampire by another vampire. But Canon isn’t like most vampires — she refuses to drink human blood and uses her powers to turn other servant vampires back into humans, all the while hunting for the vampire who killed her friends in order to enact her revenge.

Six months after the attack, she meets another vampire by the name of Sakaki, who also wants to kill Rod. Handsome Sakaki is a “half-breed”: his father was a pureblood vampire, but his mother was human. It is vampiric law that all half-breed vampires must be destroyed. The purebloods fear half-breeds because they possess very strong powers and are not harmed by the sun, so Rod is sent to kill Sakaki and his parents. Sakaki, however, manages to survive the attack and vows to avenge his parents’ deaths. To do that, he requires Canon’s help.

One thing that really impressed me with this series is how genuinely unpredictable it is. You may have formed some idea of how the rest of the plot will play out from reading the brief summary I gave above, but I can pretty much guarantee you that you are wrong. By the second volume, almost everything you thought you knew up to that point is incorrect. I wish I could elaborate further, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises in store. Just know that this is not a story that is as straightforward as it seems.  

The characters are also not always who they seem at first sight. Again, I don’t want to delve into too much explanation in fear of spoilers, but I will mention Fui. I love Fui. He’s probably my favorite character in the series, and get this — he’s a talking vampire crow. Yes, a crow. Granted, due to my lack of knowledge of the vampire genre, I may be too impressed by something that is relatively common, but I have never come across any sort of vampiric animal before. (Well, besides bats, of course, which this series has as well.) I, for one, thought it was an interesting and original idea.

And Fui himself is a hoot. As Canon’s sarcastic, wise-cracking partner (of sorts), he warns Canon when there are vampires nearby with his vampire-enhanced sense of smell. He also acts as somewhat of an advisor to Canon, being more knowledgeable about the vampire culture than she is, but admittedly, it’s rare that she actually takes his advice, which often goes against her morals. Fui, unlike Canon, doesn’t see anything wrong with drinking blood, and he often complains about having to follow Canon’s rules. Still, despite their sometimes rocky relationship, it’s clear that Canon and Fui care about each other very much.

Canon is quite the character herself — very strong-willed and determined, and she can certainly hold her own in a fight. I just wish we knew more about her life before she was turned into a vampire. We know that she spent a lot of time in the hospital because of some unnamed, incurable disease, but no mention is ever given to her family. Is she an orphan? It never says, but I have to assume so, given that after she “disappears” from regular society, no one seems that concerned about finding her. Little attention is given to Canon’s dead classmates, either. Understandable, perhaps, since they were killed before the story begins, but only one (Akiko, the sister of a photographer who appears in the first chapter) is mentioned by name. I would have liked to see more flashbacks to Canon’s school days; I think it would have helped to understand just how much Canon’s friends meant to her and made her need for revenge for their deaths more personal. 

Artwise, Canon is quite well-drawn for a debut series. I mentioned in my review of Night of the Beasts how Shiomi had a tendency to draw short-haired women like men, and it’s the same here with a female vampire named Machua, who even dresses in menswear-style clothes. If not for the lipstick and heels, I would have sworn she was male. Aside from that complaint, though, I think I may actually prefer the style of Canon over those of her later works. As an extra, there’s also a colored version of some of the chapter title pages in the front of each volume, something I always love. All four are beautifully done.

I think any fan of vampire fiction would really like Canon. Even those who don’t normally like the genre — like me — may find themselves won over by the intriguing plot, despite all the violence and gore (of which there is plenty; why is this only rated “Teen”?) It’s just plain good, and I highly recommend it.

Add a comment April 3, 2010

Over the Rainbow

Originally posted on Mar. 5, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: Over the Rainbow
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Keiko Honda
PUBLISHER: Central Park Media
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 4 (Bad)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Keiko Honda, All My Darling Daughters, romance

It’s always a risk to blind buy a volume of manga when you’re unfamiliar with the mangaka’s other works and haven’t read many reviews about the title. It worked out for me a few weeks ago when I picked up Angel’s Coffin during a “going-out-of-business” sale at my local Waldenbooks, but Over the Rainbow was definitely not worth the bargain bin price of four dollars I paid for it at Right Stuf.

Over the Rainbow is the story of two up-and-coming lawyers in their late twenties named Arou Bouya and Keita Daigo. One day, while spending the day at an amusement part with divorced Keita’s young son Toru, they encounter a beautiful young woman on the roller coaster. The woman, for some inexplicable reason, has completely lost her memory. The only clue to her idenity is a ring she wears, which bears the engraving, “To Key, with love,” so she is given the name Key. A few months later, when Arou and Keita decide to start their own law practice, they hire Key to be their receptionist. Together, they handle some unusual legal cases while a romance develops between Arou and the amnesiac.

One of the biggest problems with this series is that, as a one-shot, it is only five chapters long. When the storyline stretches over roughly about two years, there’s just not enough pages to let a story like this develop in so few chapters. Things just…happen in Over the Rainbow. There’s little-to-no build up to anything, not even the romance between Arou and Key. It’s clear that Arou has a bit of a crush on Key from the moment they meet at the amusement park, but they interact so rarely and have so little sexual tension between them that it comes as somewhat of a surprise when Arou suddenly decides he’s in love with Key in the fourth chapter. And the mystery of Key’s past? We get some hints as to who she was before she lost her memory, but nothing really concrete. That whole plotline just kind of goes nowhere, really. We never learn why she got amnesia in the first place, and it’s hard to tell if the things we do learn about her are the truth.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Arou and Key are simply boring characters. They’re generic nice guy and generic nice girl, nothing interesting or noteworthy about them at all. The character I found myself most fascinated by was actually Keita, but, to my disappointment, he only got one chapter devoted to his story. It’s a shame, because I would have much rather read four more chapters about his life as a single father who is still in love with his race car driver ex-wife than Arou and Key’s dull romance. That might have actually been interesting. Even the clients and minor characters have more personality than Arou and Key.

One thing I do like about this one-shot is that it touches on some real-life issues that you don’t normally see dealt with in manga (at least from an adult’s point of view): divorce, miscarriage, single parenthood, working mothers, sexual harrassment, therapy, death of a child, attention-deficit disorder, deafness, and elderly dementia among them. Granted, nothing is explored in depth, but I appreciated that the subjects were at least touched upon.

I have to say, I find it strange that CPM decided to rate this series 13+. Not only is it unlikely that the average thirteen year old is going to be interested in a story like this that was written for an older market, but there are several sex scenes and sexual situations that I feel are a bit too risque even if they don’t show any breasts or butts. (One in particular during the last chapter raised my eyebrows.) It’s a questionable choice, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary. They also didn’t do a very good job with the translation. There were several times I was confused about what was going on because dialogue was put in the wrong speech bubble, and it got on my nerves how they capitalized every new line when a sentence was broken up by ellipses.

The artwork is probably this story’s one saving grace. It’s not anything incredible, mind you, and it’s definitely a title from the nineties, but I did like Honda’s artwork. Most of the characters have a unique look to them, making it easy to tell everyone apart, and the three leads are fairly attractive.

Even with the nice artwork and the decent chapter about Keita, though, I can’t in good conscience recommend this title unless you’re looking for something to cure your insomnia. As of this writing, Right Stuf still had about thirty books left in stock in the Bargain Bin, but if you want my opinion, I say save your four dollars and put it toward something more worth your money — like Angel’s Coffin or All My Darling Daughters, two infinitely better one-shot manga volumes. You’ll thank me later. Trust me.

Add a comment April 2, 2010

Absolute Boyfriend

Originally posted February 24, 2010 at Livejournal.

TITLE: Absolute Boyfriend
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Yuu Watase
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 6
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Fushigi Yugi, Ceres: Celestial Legend, Imadoki, Alice 19th), Chobits, romance, comedy, drama, science fiction

Hands down, my all-time favorite mangaka is Yuu Watase. Her artwork is beautiful, her male leads gorgeous, and the storylines are always enjoyable, full of comedy, drama, and sexy romance. A lot of people consider Absolute Boyfriend her weakest work, and I can understand their critiques of it, but when it comes to overall entertainment value, this series is my second favorite of her series. (The first being Ceres: Celestial Legend). It’s like a guilty pleasure, yet I feel no guilt at all for loving it.

Lonely sixteen-year-old Riiko Izawa wants a boyfriend, but she has the worst luck when it comes to asking boys out. One day, after being turned down by her latest crush, Riiko recovers the cell phone of a strangely dressed man named Gaku Namikiri. He’s a salesman for a mail-order company called Kronos Heaven, and as a thank you for returning his phone, he offers to give her a discount on anything in their catalog. However, the only thing Riiko wants is something money can’t buy: a boyfriend.

As it turns out, to her surprise, you can. Kronos Heaven has developed a line of realistic-looking “figures” (robots) called the Nightly Lovers series. On a lark, Riiko orders one of the figures from a secret site online and arrives home the next day to find a hot naked “man” in a crate outside her apartment. She initializes him with a kiss and names him Night.

Though she intends to return Night after the three day trial period, due to a technicality, Riiko is late in doing so and must pay Night’s full price tag — a million dollars! Obviously, no ordinary high school girl has that kind of money, so Gaku makes a deal with her. As long as Riiko can keep Night’s robotic nature a secret and allow Night to gather data on what women want, Night can stay with her. The question is, is perfect Night the one Riiko really wants, or is it handsome human Soshi, her next-door neighbor and childhood friend who confesses he’s in love with her?

Something I really liked about this title in comparison to Watase’s other works is that there is actual suspense in who Riiko will chose in the end. In other Watase titles, it’s obvious who the heroine loves almost from the beginning. She may turn to a secondary love interest temporarily when she can’t be with her first choice, but it’s always clear that he’s second in her heart. Not so with Riiko. She cares deeply for both guys, and it’s very difficult for her to decide who she loves more. Night is the perfect boyfriend — her dream guy — but no matter how human he may seem, he’ll never age or be able to give Riiko children. Life with him will never be normal. Soshi, on the other hand, despite being an imperfect human, has always been there for her and knows Riiko better than practically everyone. It’s a tough decision, giving this story a true love triangle.

Speaking of the guys, I have to point out that both Night and Soshi are H-O-T. Watase always draws gorgeous guys, but I think she’s outdone herself with this title, especially with Night. I used to think Tooya (from Ceres) was the sexiest Watase male lead, but Night has overtaken him to take that title. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Night has an amusing habit of stripping off all his clothes whenever he thinks Riiko wants to have sex. Yum! It’s female fanservice at its best. And for those who have a thing for guys with glasses, Soshi is really handsome as well. I do wish that Riiko had more of a unique look to her, though. She’s cute, but pretty much looks exactly like Aya from Ceres.

The strongest aspect of this series is probably the comedy. There is a bit of drama later in the story, but this is, essentially, a sex comedy, something that readers should keep in mind. Absolute Boyfriend is not meant to be read as a deep, philosophical series. Despite its outward similarities to Chobits (incidentally, another favorite series of mine), which asked tough questions about the relationships between humans and robots, AB is, at heart, simply a high school romance with a touch of a science fiction flavor.

There are weaknesses in the plot, admittedly. I’m thinking specifically of something that happens in Volume 4, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and provides some unnecessary drama. It’s definitely a low point in the series, reminiscent of a certain plot point Watase originally used in Fushigi Yugi to better effect. That’s followed by a plot twist that is really kind of silly at first glance, but it does lead to some of the most humorous (and cute!) moments in the series and allows us to learn a little more about one of Riiko’s friends, who certainly is a much better character than Riiko’s frenemy from the beginning of the series. (Boy, was she horrible!)

Despite some hiccups in the middle, I think this is a really fun series to read. It’s no Chobits, but it doesn’t set out to be. If you’re a Watase fan and/or looking for a little mindless entertainment with some yummy (naked!) bishounen, search no further than Absolute Boyfriend. He may just be your Mr. Right.

Add a comment April 2, 2010

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