Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Now that Akira and Mizuki are officially a couple, Akira wants to touch Mizuki all the time. She's okay with that, but she doesn't feel ready to go all the way – a concept he struggles to understand. He also wants her to recognize that she's attractive as a woman, not just as her school's “prince,” although he may not be happy with the results. In the middle of all of this comes both Dankaisan and St. Nobara's school festivals, both of which will cause Mizuki and Akira to see themselves, and each other, in different lights.
Let's just get this out there right now – if you didn't like the first volume of Mayu Shinjo's forceful romance between a manly girl and a womanly guy (in terms of appearance, anyway), you will not like this one any better. Shinjo is somewhat infamous for her emphasis on apparently unequal relationships, and where volume one of this series was less so than the majority of her works, she is back to classic Shinjo storytelling here, which means that our hero doesn't always realize that no means “no,” not “now.” But if you are a fan of the romance genre or Shinjo herself, there's a lot of book to enjoy.
Our story picks up right where it left off last time – with Akira orchestrating the revenge rape of the upperclassman who tried to assault Mizuki. Mizuki figures out what's going on and is aghast – she can't understand why Akira would think that this was acceptable retaliation. For his part, he doesn't see why he shouldn't return violence for violence, but to his credit, he does listen to his girlfriend and call it off. While the fact that he was going to carry out his plan in the first place is enough to make him unpalatable as a character, that Shinjo allows him to be stopped is a good sign. In fact, Akira stops himself at several points in the book from forcing himself on Mizuki when they have a drastic miscommunication. At one point she invites him in out of the rain when no one else is home. Mizuki sees this as an opportunity to have a cozy chat and some quiet time. Akira thinks he's going to get some action. At first he seems unwilling to stop (“Do you really think I can stop myself now?”), but when Mizuki starts crying, he realizes his mistake. That he could get as far as he did without seeing that she was not, in fact, on board with his plans is upsetting. That he does stop allows us to keep reading without feeling too icky.
The central conceit of Akira's character is that he is a normal (well, maybe in Shinjoland), perverted teenage boy who looks like an angelic girl. He is not above playing up the girl aspect if he feels he needs to, which makes his more depraved moments that much more startling. In all honesty, these conflicting sides of the hero are likely supposed to be funny. In some cases they are – his earnest expression when he's talking about sex, his vicious putdowns of his friends Ran and Rui who want to be just a bit too close to him, and his worries about Mizuki not seeing him as male are all at times entertaining and slightly endearing. However Shinjo takes the jokes a bit too far in this volume, making them more uncomfortable than amusing, a clear step down from volume one.
Mizuki's character is built around the fact that she waffles between being a normal sixteen-year-old girl and a dashing prince. She enjoys both opportunities, and mentions during the school festival how much she likes playing prince to her fellow students' princesses. There is a definite impression that she has a self image that is lacking – midway through the book she mentions that she got tall in the sixth grade and stopped wearing skirts in high school, suggesting that she became uncomfortably aware that she did not fit her society's image of what a girl should be. Akira makes an effort to show her that she can, in fact, be a beautiful woman, a goal shared by her childhood friend who makes a brief appearance this volume. Mizuki, however, doesn't seem certain that she wants to accept that possibility, making it clear that while Akira revels in his dual appearances, she most certainly does not.
Perhaps the best parts of this volume belong to Ran and Rui, Akira's sort-of friends at Dankaisan High. Both boys are taken in by Akira's sweet looks and occasionally manage to translate his comments into something off-color. Rui is the funnier of the two, fantasizing about the most mundane things and then having to turn away and hunch over. At one point he wants Akira to pose as his fiancee in order to get out of an arranged marriage – not because he likes guys, though. Just Akira. It's different. Ran maintains a more sober crush on his effeminate friend, but every so often his baser nature will come through, such as when he makes a cat-earred-and-tailed Akira pose as a “pet” for the student council's booth at the school festival. When one customer requests to see Ran pet the “kitty,” he is only too happy to comply.
As with the last volume, Shinjo's art is noticeable only in that she clearly only draws the named characters. All background people are done by a different artist, and while they blend a bit better this time, it is still clear and a bit jarring. Otherwise the art is pleasant and serviceable, with easily identified characters and nice backgrounds – Mizuki's room is especially good. While there are a fair amount of racy scenes, no specific anatomy is shown, not even breasts, so nothing is too explicit. Viz's translation has a couple of typographical errors, but if you're reading quickly, you shouldn't notice.
Although not as enjoyable as its predecessor because of an increased non-consensual factor, Ai Ore is still solid romance writing for romance fans. While Akira suffers from decreased likeability, it is still clear that he is head-over-heels for Mizuki, and as Mizuki gets more development, she becomes easier to understand. With the humor of Ran and Rui thrown in, plus some interesting tidbits about the recording of the drama CD – which really reveals a lot about Shinjo herself – this is still a good beach book. Whether it remains as such has yet to be seen.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Some good romance and humor. Mizuki becomes more understandable.
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