Yumeko is an ordinary high school girl who recently starts developing a strong obsession with seeing a certain male body part in real life. Realizing she might be able to do so under the guise of painting nude portraits, Yumeko decides to join the art club at school, where she finds an awkward boy who might prove to be an adequate outlet for her curiosity.
A lot of us develop strong obsessions or attachments to certain things at various points in our lives. For some it can be sports, for others it can be love, but for the titular Yumeko of Avant-garde Yumeko, it's the penis. The book makes it very clear that it's not so much an immediate obsession with sex per se, but a fascination with the male genitalia as if it's this elusive mythological creature that she's trying to capture the essence of. While it's not a common thing that every teenager goes through, it's certainly a rather straightforward and unique approach to the idea of sexual awakening, and definitely something that feels in line with author Shūzō Oshimi's approach to adolescence.
Yumeko finds herself drawn to penises but she's not sure why, doing everything in her power to figure that out. By the end of the volume, she still doesn't have all of her answers, but she is one step closer to achieving that wider sense of self, discovering more of who she is as a person and the root of where that attraction lies. In many ways, it is the beginning of that rough, messy and at times over-the-top transition that some people go through when they start coming out of adolescence and making their first steps into adulthood. On paper, that sounds like a very interesting setup that is rife with comedic potential.
The problem is, the manga's biggest strength might also be its biggest weakness, because while it plows through Yumeko's journey of sexual awakening at full speed, the destination may not be worth some of the things that it's trampling over to get there. Most of this comes in the form of Yumeko herself, who is both charming in her single-mindedness in trying to find the meaning of life through dicks, and incredibly frustrating because that's literally all there is to her. When she starts interacting with others, particularly the one boy who ends up as the canvas for her creative exploits, it becomes very hard to see her in a positive light, and I don't just mean in the way that Oshimi usually portrays characters as uncomfortable or unpleasant. Yumeko's main relationships in the book are predicated on constant threats both physical and social. She's not super communicative about what exactly she's trying to do, she blatantly disregards the comfort of other people, and at one point later on in the book, she commits some really uncomfortable acts of physical aggression. If the book made clear that Yumeko was on some kind of spectrum and signaled its intention to explore that element to her character, then I could maybe understand her behavior (even if I don't agree with it), but the author's notes at the end of the book leave no real indication of that. If anything, all of these moments are framed as just byproducts of the nature of adolescence, despite there being a significant lack of nuance to their depiction compared to what other books with similar themes have brought to the table.
Some of this comes down to the genre, as the gag/comedy nature of the book isn't always the best way to handle these subject matters or at the very least, makes its intentions very confusing. The artwork flips between being very realistic and anatomically correct to over-the-top and exaggerated for the sake of comedic contrast. This is particularly reserved for certain character reactions and major climactic moments of discovery. It is definitely funny when the manga presents certain moments with an overwhelming sense of self-importance and you take a step back and realize that all of this is revolving around a girl who's just obsessed with dicks. However, when we get to the over-the-top reactions of some of the characters specifically, I'm not laughing so much as I am feeling bad for some of the things that they're being put through, most of the time at the behest of our main character. It can be whiplash-inducing as I find myself smiling and giggling at one scene but then immediately feeling terrible in the next one.
Yumeko is the type of person who gets very defensive and terrified about anybody approaching them physically or looking at them in a certain way while simultaneously molesting and making another person strip in front of them for the sake of her own goals. And the worst part is, she doesn't really acknowledge the discomfort she's causing others even as we reach the end of the volume. She does seem one step closer to figuring out the root of her obsessions, but there is no self-reflection at all on the actual steps she took to get there. She doesn't grow closer to the person she took advantage of, and there's never a consequence to her complete lack of respect for boundaries. Honestly, I'd go so far as to say it feels like the book kind of glorifies her actions by making it very clear that she's prone to doing the exact same things as she gets older, which just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.
Overall, Avant-garde Yumeko is a manga that certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do, but with all the care and forethought of a sledgehammer smashing through a glass house. There is certainly an appeal to the premise or just the spectacle of it all, but it doesn't change the fact that it can be uncomfortable to read through on multiple levels. Maybe that's the point and that Yumeko's selfish, over-the-top nature is just another aspect of our adolescence that Oshimi's trying to capture, but that potentially relatable feeling is at odds with the surreal and over-the-top gag nature of the manga. I definitely don't think I'll ever be returning to Avant-garde Yumeko again, and so far I would classify it as one of Oshimi's weakest works.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Interesting premise, with artwork that capitalizes well on its comedic potential
|discuss this in the forum (6 posts) ||
Full encyclopedia details about