The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Yu Akabane is starting over in high school with new hair, make-up skills, and hopefully a boyfriend. She has her sights set on the school's idol, the “White Prince” Shirakawa.
Unfortunately for Yu, his best friend is the brooding “Black Devil” Kurosaki. When circumstances lead her to move into the school's dorms, she discovers both Shirakawa and Kurosaki live there as the dorm leaders. Shirakawa is easy going, but Kurosaki is demanding Yu's obedience. She plans to show him she isn't intimidated even when he makes her heart pound.
Defying Kurosaki-kun is an original manga by Makino is available in a digital-only format from Kodansha Comics.
Is It Worth Reading?Lynzee Loveridge
Yo, okay let's get the elephant out of the room right off the bat. Defying Kurosaki-kun is basically Do-S Lite with a smart mouth heroine that intrigues the usually unchallenged Do-S guy and he proceeds to push and overstep obvious boundaries to the titillation of the heroine (and in some cases the readers). Everything Kurosaki does and the basis of his relationship with Yu is absolutely bad behavior. But, Defying Kurosaki-kun isn't interested in displaying realistic or healthy depictions of young romance. It wants to play into fantasy wish fulfillment about a domineering guy that wants the heroine (i.e. you) so badly he'll throw down some kabedon and unexpected kisses. The reward is finding out he's really a good guy deep down so long as you're always faithful and never, ever make him jealous.
Again, definitely not healthy representation here but these dynamics are meant to up the drama level as much as possible and I guess that continues to work for readers. I have my doubts that Shirakawa is actually going to end up anywhere near the nice guy persona he's had so far instead of some other variety of S/M behavior. Or Yu might forgo him entirely in favor of “fixing” Kurosaki. No matter the result, at least Yu mostly has a spine when it comes to his ridiculousness instead of being the popular alternative (see Yui from Diabolik Lovers) for reference.
The story also seems interested in Yu's insecurity about her natural face and how she's going to work through feeling uncomfortable without make-up. The plot so far seems to suggest that either of her romantic interests will probably build her confidence to overcome it which is something else I take issue with. As a whole, make-up often seems like a point of contention in manga storytelling. Characters that visibly use it are given negative attributes like being shallow, haughty, or “easy”. Yu is characterized this way by some of her classmates even though make-up is supposed to be something she enjoys. It's reframed again when she starts encountering Kurosaki regularly, where how arduous her make-up time is referenced multiple times and how she's worried about being seen without it on or can't do things once she's removed it. While I'm sure there's plenty of people who apply make-up to conceal superficial flaws, there are plenty more that just enjoy it artistically or to enhance their features. I don't see that version represented very often in manga. Yet another “she looks the same without it, it's all in her head” isn't very interesting and just reinforces the same old stereotypes.
Defying Kurosaki-kun is an okay option of Do-S guys are really your thing, but as a whole it contains a few too many stereotypes without anything unique as a pay-off.
Defying Kurosaki-kun fits very comfortably into the sub-genre of “uncomfortable romance.” The eponymous Kurosaki-kun is a grade-A asshole, and his default reaction to the fact that he's interested in heroine Yu is to bully her mercilessly in a physical as well as an emotional way. There are more kabe-don scenes in this manga (assuming that it still counts as one if he uses his foot and not his arm) than I've seen in a long time, and he forces a kiss on Yu not just once, but twice. We're meant to overlook these transgressions because he also saves Yu on several occasions – from a former bully, from a group of jealous girls, and from some lotharios on the street. While it is great that he's concerned enough for her not to actually wish her harm, I had hoped that we were past the days where a declaration of “no gets to pick on her but me” was considered romantic.
Sadly, this depiction of romance is endemic to YA literature outside of shoujo manga, so Defying Kurosaki-kun isn't actually doing anything that isn't actively being done elsewhere in the genre. That's where its saving grace (more or less) comes in: Yu isn't likely to put up with Kurosaki's crap for too long. Unlike heroines who just roll over and do as the romantic interest insists, Yu does want to tell him to cut it out, and she is making a decent start of it. When she first has an encounter with him, he doesn't win any points when he rips off a button her hair has been tangled in rather than allow her to touch him to untangle it, and she retaliates by cutting off his ponytail when he gets gum in it. It's not clear if he understands why she did this, but her actions do get his attention, and from this point on he makes it a point to pay attention to her. That Yu isn't sure she wants his notice is naturally compounded by the genre device that he's making her heart unwillingly go pitter-pat, but since she continues to tell him off when he gets on her nerves, there's at least a smidgen of hope for the series.
This is, however, a fairly textbook shoujo romance of the old school. The apparent hatred between the two leads, his overwhelming need to bully her, and her attraction to him despite it may not still be in the forefront of the genre, but they're still very familiar to readers. Makino's art is also fairly typical of the story type, with a dark-haired hot guy and a light-haired hot guy circling the heroine like romantic sharks and a fairly generic look for Yu with her light hair and round eyes. The fact that Yu has some past trauma that's driving her to make a deliberate effort to be outspoken is interesting and may play into the story more as it keeps going, but right now I'd say that this one is strictly for fans of the shoujo romances of the late 1990s – early 2000s.
Defying Kurosaki-kun volume 1 shows that the “bodice ripper” trope from romance is alive and well in shojo manga. It's an idea that—well, if the guy is good-looking and deep down, she really wants it, even if she doesn't know that yet—a man forcing himself on a woman repetitively is framed in a romantic manner, intending to make him more appealing to the heroine and reader alike. Kurosaki steals kisses and hasn't yet gone further, but coupled with his cold, borderline emotionally abusive attitude most of the time, it's definitely hard to ignore. Then there's the fact that main character Yu is blatantly more interested in his best friend, angelic Shirakawa. Of course, the fact that such a wonderful guy cares so much about Kurosaki and the hints throughout that Kurosaki cares a great deal about Yu in his tsundere way hint at the boy's hidden heart of gold, which Yu's boldness is bound to unearth more and more. However, she's awfully cavalier about letting him get away with his stolen kisses, even when she's still focused on her crush on Shirakawa.
Another point that stands out is that Yu apparently gave herself a makeover before heading to high school, now looking more “beautiful” with layers of makeup. However, whenever her makeup is off, she barely looks different. (Perhaps slightly smaller eyelashes is the only indicator.) It's unclear whether she's truly supposed to be “plain/ugly” without the makeup or if that's just Yu's self-conscious attitude, but since there's barely any visual difference, it's hard to see it as anything other than the latter. Then again, handsome Kurosaki doesn't see the difference, either, so perhaps it's an indicator that she has a poor self-image—or is it supposed to be showing he finds her beautiful either way?
When it comes to the art, Makino's character designs are simple and leave a bit to be desired. Kurosaki and Shirakawa are indeed good-looking but would be indistinguishable from one another were it not for the differing hair colors and facial expressions. Framing their differences via the themes of “black” and “white” does make differentiation clearer, as that extends to their background colors as well. There's that issue with Yu barely looking different in her “beautiful” version and as a whole, no character design stands out. Backgrounds are standard school and dorm setting fare, though just detailed and present enough so as not to serve as a distraction to the narrative.
Defying Kurosaki-kun volume 1 is slow to build one side of the romance, which makes the other side's aggressiveness feel overwhelming. It's not without merit and even if the track this story is set on has been telegraphed pretty early, it may be worth continuing to experience the ride alongside the characters. Readers should just go into it with the caveat that this fictional-grumpy-guy-with-a-soft-side fantasy wouldn't fly that well in real life.
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