The Spring 2017 Manga Guide
Aho-Girl Vol. 1
What's It About?
Aho-Girl, an original comedic four-panel slice-of-life manga by HIROYUKI, is translated as “clueless girl” throughout the series, although “idiot girl” or “airhead girl” might also apply. The crux of the first volume is that high schooler Yoshiko Hanabatake is stupid, cheerful, and unable to read social cues and her childhood friend and neighbor, irritable Akuru Akutsu, has taken it upon himself to guide and watch over her—or Yoshiko and her mother won't let him do anything but try to look out for her, anyway. Rounding out the cast are Yoshiko's friend, painfully shy Sayaka Sumino; the almost-as-airheaded delinquent Ryuichi Kurosaki; the secretively perverted and unnamed head hall monitor; and Akuru's ashamed-to-be-an-idiot little sister Ruri Akutsu. Their daily interactions are often taken to extreme levels of stupidity and/or pervertedness, thanks to the general level of cluelessness that hangs over all of them—Yoshiko by far the worst culprit.
Aho-Girl (6/20/17) will be available for $12.99 from Kodansha Comics. An upcoming anime adaptation will air in Summer 2017.
Is It Worth Reading?
Aho-Girl lives and dies by cruel and oftentimes randomly perverted humor, and a reader's reaction to this kind of humor will increase or decrease their enjoyment of this volume as applicable. Even if cruel humor and largely selfish characters (à la Gintama) are your thing, though, the jokes just don't always connect. The four-panel format is limiting and requires jokes to be tossed out every few panels, so the frequency of non-stop attempts at humor may be partly to blame, as some comedic moments elicit a chuckle, while others seem to try too hard. When all else fails, HIROYUKI seems to think: add something perverted, like boob fondling, panty flashing (and forced panty revealing), or a mother helping her daughter plan an attempted date rape (but the target is male, so it's supposed to be okay?!). Obviously, the proceedings aren't supposed to be condoned and the extremes to which Yoshiko in particular will go without realizing the potential malice behind her actions is supposed to be part of the joke, but it just doesn't always manage to make the reader anything more than uncomfortable. That's not to say the perverted humor never works. The uptight hall monitor secretly harboring erotic feelings for Akuru and imagining all the things she wishes he would do to her in the vein of an even more aggressive Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers is humorous more often than not, as is her utter naiveté when it comes to how bizarrely she acts around him.
Besides Sayaka and Ruri, no one is remotely likable, although that's entirely the point. Akuru takes on his task of “handling” idiot Yoshiko with Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady-like furor—looking down on her, hating her almost every moment, and even “comedically” punching her lights out and sending her flying like Team Rocket on a fairly consistent basis. The setting is clearly Looney Tunes-esque and the characters’ actions are not to be taken too seriously, but there are only so many times you can see the idiot-is-an-idiot-and-straight-man-punches-her-for-it interaction before it gets tiresome. Yoshiko ought to be more likable, considering she clearly almost never has ill intent, but she pushes other girls in particular into clearly uncomfortable situations (often along with the help of her odd mother) and even seems to pick up on that discomfort and still doesn't care.
HIROYUKI's art is simplistic, largely due to limited panel space, as only the first page of each chapter is lain out differently than the typical four panels. The art basically lives and dies on its character designs since backgrounds are so minimal and unimportant, and in that regard, it does present a pleasing art style. Aho-Girl offers something for fans of darkly-leaning humor and selfish characters, but even then, there are far better examples of that kind of humor at work out there to choose to read instead.
Humor is said to be the absolute hardest genre to write in, and the literary definition of “comedy” makes it clear that, against everything you learned in kindergarten, the joy of it is laughing at someone you consider inferior. Needless to say, that leads to the premise that what one person finds funny, another sees as mean. All of this is leading up to the fact that Aho Girl was one of the least humorous comedies I've read in a long time, although I can see where a different person would get a laugh out of it.
There are two main problems with the story: Yoshiko, the eponymous moron is so unbelievably stupid that she quickly becomes incredibly annoying, and a lot of the humor is based on her sexually harassing people. When one character's entire reason for being in the story is to have Yoshiko make jokes about her big breasts while grabbing them, that's especially funny. When it moves on to Yoshiko making comments about the character's breasts existing to distract people with the implication that she does it on purpose, that's not okay. Body shaming makes up an alarming amount of the gags where the Student Monitor (owner of the aforementioned breasts) is concerned, and Yoshiko's inability to comprehend the words “no” and “stop” carry things from “tired boob joke” to flat-out “in poor taste.” The same can be said about her efforts to seduce her male not-really-friend Akkun, who spends most of the book either trying to save Yoshiko from herself or to cut ties with him. Yoshiko's mom, Yoshie, desperately wants Akkun to marry Yoshiko and get her off her hands, and this leads to a chapter about Yoshiko tying Akkun up and trying to get him to nuzzle her breasts. Since Akkun is clearly mad and uncomfortable, this is more disturbing than funny. The same can be said about a horrible chapter where Yoshiko and Yoshie try to get the one girl who befriends Yoshiko to show them her underwear as some sort of purity test. It's really uncomfortable, and having it played off as a silly gag just doesn't sit right. That they eventually harass Sayaka into doing it just makes the whole thing worse.
As for the rest of the humor, it's largely centered on Yoshiko being so dumb that she can't even count beyond ten. If she was a side character, that might have worked, but as the heroine of the series, it gets old really quickly. Whether she's truly that unintelligent or is just playing a game does come into question once or twice, but for the most part we're forced to assume that she really is the way she appears to be. Now this may be the teacher in me talking, but it does raise the question of whether or not we're meant to be laughing at someone who has no control over her actions, which would be troubling. But given the series’ status as a humor piece, it's more likely that the creator simply went overboard in his efforts at comedy. In any event, no amount of perfectly competent artwork and good use of the four-panel setup can save this series for me, and if you're tired of sexual harassment being passed off as a joke or okay because a girl is the perpetrator, you should stay away as well.
Yoshiko is an idiot. Akkun hates that she's an idiot. Akkun beats up Yoshiko for being an idiot. Yoshiko goes on being an idiot. Yoshiko likes bananas, because she's like a monkey, in that she's an idiot. Apparently this is all hilarious.
It's going to sound familiar talking about the issues with Aho-Girl, because the same has been said of all stupid, awful, but popular comedy. Aho-Girl isn't just bad, it is annoyingly bad. Yoshiko isn't just stupid, she is aggravatingly stupid. Beyond that, she's just an unlikeable jerk. She refuses to better herself, instead taking pride in being a slacker who will never achieve anything in her life. She even mocks those who are as unintelligent as her but who are actively trying to learn and improve themselves, throwing in their faces how she gets to enjoy life more because she's given up on ever being smarter and chosen instead to leech off society. She's the type of idiot that makes you ashamed to be a human being, like the proud ignoramus who gets interviewed by a news network on the side of the road to provide perspective on a current event, then demonstrates they have no understanding of law or ethics or history or culture of any kind.
Because of how insufferable Yoshiko is, you would think that Akkun would provide catharsis with how regularly he beats her up for her idiocy, but no. Instead he comes off as a bully, even drifting into the area of psychopathy. Clearly the point the series is trying to make is that he's no better than Yoshiko even though he's intelligent and hard-working and she's idiotic and shiftless and so they're both equally valid targets of mockery. Maybe that would actually work if Yoshiko had some sort of redeeming quality, or if they both weren't so heinously awful to the point it wasn't funny. Akkun smacking Yoshiko around does nothing to make either of them better because it does nothing to correct or prevent her behavior, it's just part of their eternal, unfunny double act. They're awful, unlikeable people, and seeing them torment each other isn't worth dealing with their unbearable presences.
Aho-Girl is dauntlessly unentertaining. It doesn't merely offer a helping of unfunny jokes, it grabs you by the head and shoves you face-first into the serving bowl. There is simply no getting away from how obnoxious and mean it is, and it's almost disgusting how it seems to interpret this as charming and entertaining.
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