Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Your and My Secretby Jason Thompson,
Episode LXXXIII: Your and My Secret
I'm working on a scale which rates all shojo manga from "Most Innocent" to "Most Cynical." It's easy to think of really pure-hearted manga which are full of love and self-esteem: I Am Here!, Kimi ni Todoke and Hana-Kimi for instance. But against the old stereotype that Japanese culture is about sincerity and emotion, there are plenty of manga which go the opposite route and are incredibly snarky and cynical and evil, manga like Adekan or Maria Holic that make me want to take a garden hose and wash the smutty feeling out of my mind afterwards. For me, the correct amount of snark is somewhere inbetween, somewhere around Otomen, or maybe Fujoshi Rumi (did you know that on JManga.com it's called Otaku-Type Delusion Girl?) or pretty much everything by Ai Morinaga.
When I first read Morinaga's manga I didn't know if it was shonen or shojo, and the answer is probably "neither." Most of her work has run in magazines which are on the borderline between boys' and girls' manga, like Kadokawa Shoten's Asuka (aka "shojo with fantasy, sci-fi, extra screentone and extra breasts") and Mag Garden's Comic Blade (aka "that weird mishmash of manga that caused ADV Manga to go out of business"). Her manga, such as Duck Prince, The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan, and Your and My Secret, all have a romantic element (if man-x-frog romance in the case of Strawberry-Chan) and can be enjoyed by both genders. (Her true shojo series, My Heavenly Hockey Club, is my least favorite of her manga, partially because it's the tamest.) Her art is nice, and she draws attractive girls with big watery eyes and handsome bishonen with their shirts off.
But Morinaga isn't a fanservice artist. She's a gag artist. She'll gladly go from a shot of a hot girl or guy to a shot of a wrinkly old lady or a fat old man or a big mosaic-covered penis JUST TO RUIN YOUR DAY. And she loves ruining her characters' days too: the hero of Duck Prince who starts out as a wimpy, picked-on nerd but gets transformed into a wimpy, picked-on bishonen; the title character of Strawberry-Chan, a pet frog helplessly in love with its owner who likes to stick a straw up its *** and inflate it; and the hero of Your and My Secret, a shy nice guy who switches bodies with a beautiful girl who turns out to be much more of a man than he is. Call it cruel, call it funny; Ai Morinaga's not on your side. Especially not if you're a sensitive bishonen.
Your and My Secret, originally titled Boku no Kanojo no XXX (“Her and My XXX”) and known to scanlators who work from the less-than-literal Chinese translation as the “My Barbaric Girlfriend,” is one of Morinaga's longer manga (it ended this summer in Japan at 8 volumes, although the Tokyopop edition was left unfinished with one volume to go, in true Morinaga-esque bad luck). Akira Uehara, the main character, is a shy guy in love with Nanako Momoi, the toughest girl in his class. He wants to confess his love to her, but he never gets the chance, because she's always in the midst of beating up some other poor fool. Then one day he gets an excuse to go to Nanako's house and he is captured by her mad-scientist grandfather, who wants to use him as a test subject. But the experiment goes wrong, and Akira's brain is switched with Nanako's! Nanako-in-Akira's-body (we'll just say Nanako for short) now has a dude's body to go with her crude personality and bow-legged posture, and Akira-in-Nanako's-body (let's call him Akira) now has the body of a beautiful girl in which to dream his sensitive, emo dreams of love!
The body-swap machine is accidentally destroyed and Nanako's grandfather runs off to Hawaii, leaving the main characters unable to switch back. They decide to keep their secret and try to live life in one another's shoes. Nanako discovers that she loves being a man, and she happily gets into her new role, swaggering around acting tough and putting up weightlifting posters. ("Y'know, I really like bein' a guy! I think it matches my personality a lot more!") Akira's parents are proud that their son is growing up, his cheerful classmate Shiina thinks he's cooler, and even his little sister, who used to pick on him, develops a brother complex. As for Akira, unfortunately, becoming a girl just makes him more depressed. Now he has even less chance of ever going out with Nanako, and he has to watch helplessly as she becomes more popular as “him” than he ever was. The only bright spot is that he can take lots of long baths and get nosebleeds when he looks at “himself.” Nanako warns Akira not to do anything with “her” body, which is shamelessly hypocritical, considering that she's been busily discovering the delights of young manhood. (“B-but you were in the bathroom having all kinds of fun with my body, earlier!” “That's different. You're a guy.”) Indeed, Akira in Nanako's body is so shy and vulnerable and cute that even her female classmates can't help thinking “I suddenly had an urge to press her down on the ground…” Soon Senbongi, Akira's former best friend, also has the urge to make out with this girl who's so much cuter now that she's not always cursing like a sailor and attacking people. And then Nanako starts dating Shiina…
In case it's hard to follow the plot, here are just a few of the potential pairings:
- Akira (as a girl) x his former best friend Senbongi
- Akira (as a girl) x whatever other girls are around, in class, in the locker room, on the school field trip, etc. (“"I understand we won't be like girls on TV and in manga that change naked together, but…")
- Akira (as a girl) x Nanako (in Akira's former body), in the ultimate experience of narcissism (“Actually, I look pretty good…”)
- Akira (as a girl) x Shiina's 22-year-old student-teacher big brother
- Akira's little sister x Nanako (in Akira's former body)
- Nanako (as a boy) x Shiina
- Nanako (as a boy) x any other girl that happens to be around (poor Shiina…)
- Nanako (as a boy) x Senbongi
- Shiina x Nanako's creepy old grandfather
Will Akira and Nanako ever get back inside their own bodies? Does having (offscreen) sex with random women make Nanako a lesbian? Will Nanako's grandfather ever fix the damn machine? Your and My Secret is a fast-paced comedy full of every imaginable kind of sexual innuendo (if not any actual nudity); at first it seems like every character is going to have sex with every other character and the story is going to end by volume 2, but later on it goes into cruise mode and gets into some more long-running story arcs. The lovey-dovey shojo-ish artwork is like the spoonful of sugar around the actual story content of masturbation jokes, period jokes, sight gags (when an angry teacher shouts “This type of trash is only suitable for rats and cockroaches!” suddenly there's a swarm of rats and cockroaches in the room) and picking on the main character in every way imaginable. A lot of Akira's torment comes from Nanako's grandfather, who is in no hurry to fix the machine because he likes having Akira around the house to cook and clean and do all the other stuff Nanako never did. (He's a lot like the magical dog in Duck Prince, who also exists to make the hero's life miserable.) He extorts money from Akira on the pretense that he needs it to fix the machine, he cockblocks Akira on a date by showing up at the same love hotel, and he's generally totally useless until the fateful day in volume 6 when, finally, Nanako's father (who looks like Spock from Star Trek, BTW) comes back from his extended absence and isn't happy to see what happened to his daughter.
And yet, even though Your and My Secret a lot of the standard school manga storylines (Valentine's day, the school trip to Hokkaido, the hot springs trip, etc.), and a little mad scientist silliness, the plot is always really about sex and gender confusion. It's a reversal of the standard shonen manga gender-swap story; in manga like Pretty Face and Ranma 1/2 a guy transforms into a girl but is still a macho guy inside, but in Your and My Secret the guy discovers to his dismay that deep down inside he's a Yamato Nadeshiko…although since this is a story where you're supposed to laugh at the main character's misfortunes as much as you sympathize with him, our hero can't admit what he's really feeling, and instead he has to suffer through a lot of forced kisses and harassment. ("Why am I getting so excited? It must be the female hormones running through my body!")
This story is a parody; it's about as sensitive to gay, gender and transgender issues as a brick with a tankobon wrapped around it. But it's funny and smart, and Ai Morinaga obviously knows what she's doing as she brutally hacks apart the clichés of yaoi, yuri and straight romance manga. Nanako's manliness and Akira's femme-iness are so over-the-top they can't be taken seriously. Morinaga even makes fun of the old manga cliché, “I don't like boys, I just like (insert name of boy here)!” (In one scene in Your and My Secret, two girls are reading a yaoi manga with that line, and they laugh and say “Ha! Isn't that the same as saying you're gay?”, which freaks out Akira, who's listening.) The other great thing about this manga is that it's unpredictable: Morinaga seems so willing to do crazy things to her characters, the characters’ gender & orientation are so up-in-the-air, I really didn't know how it was going to end. But I guess the moral of the story is, if you're an uke you're an uke, no matter what body you're in.
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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