by Carlo Santos, Mar 2nd 2008

Love Master A

GN 1

Love Master A GN 1
Aria Sakurai has the worst luck with boys: in her young life she's already been rejected 50 times, earning her the ironic nickname of "Love Master." Perhaps by transferring to a new school, Aria can give up on love and adjust to a more normal life—but things quickly become anything but normal when she's forcibly selected to become the first-year Student Council president! Suddenly Aria finds herself surrounded by a trio of hot guys (and one tomboyish girl) and being asked to help various students in the ways of romance. Apparently some people took the "Love Master" designation literally ... However, Aria's problems really start when devious types start flirting with other members of the council—or worse yet, when they start flirting with her!

So, you're a young girl in the prime of your teenage life, supposedly not interested in meeting boys, but deep in your heart you really wouldn't mind. Here's the plan of attack: Don't try to sneak your way into the Host Club. Don't bother signing up for the Hockey Club. Just stride right down into the halls of prestige and power—the Student Council! At least, that's the point of Love Master A, which offers yet another take on the rapidly wearing out "reverse harem" formula. Fans of the genre will find what they're looking for—silly school antics, hints of true love, and plenty of cute guys to look at—but when every other high school romantic comedy manga offers exactly the same thing, meeting the minimum requirements just doesn't cut it anymore.

But it's not like the opening volume of this series is overtly bad—it does follow some guidelines for a good and proper story, like having an appealing main character. Aria manages to avoid the usual personality pitfalls like gluttony, boy-craziness, and stupidity, and instead comes off as a likeable girl-next-door who just happens to have a lousy history with the opposite sex. Her willingness to help newfound friends in the first few chapters is also a big plus: hey, she's unselfish too! How could anyone not like this girl?

Unfortunately, the situations that Aria is thrown into are far less promising. Her quests to help other students find love often take the most predictable plot path, offering a contrived schoolyard dilemma (boys' and girls' dorms can't interact!) which is then met with an equally contrived solution (let's have a tea party) and a sappy finish. Some chapters are even less developed: the mind-numbing Chapter 4 combines two of the most overdone clichés—getting lost in the woods and New Year's traditions—to produce an uninspired piece of schlock.

Things get slightly better in the chapters where the main characters become the romantic targets: an episode where a manipulative girl tries to seduce one of the Student Council boys, and another where an upperclassman makes the moves on Aria. It's here that we start to see friendship and jealousy develop between the main characters, and most importantly, the shades of romance between Aria and the Student Council's "normal guy," Jin. As mentioned before, however, this stuff is to be expected for the genre—and there's nothing to suggest that we should care about Aria's boys more than any other particular harem. Basically, between the run-of-the-mill plotting and so-so characters, there's nothing that stands out at all.

The artwork also fails to stand out in any way, relying on all the usual stylistic conventions that make it look like Shoujo High School Comedy #31447. The characters are reasonably attractive—and Aria definitely nails the girl-next-door look—but they lack any truly defining visual features. You might as well refer to the boys as "the sporty one," "the dark-haired one," and "the glasses one," considering how they've been designed to perfectly fit such stereotypes. Meanwhile, the page layouts often trip over themselves in trying to cover the plot within the given page limit; these short episodic stories result in a lot of visual clutter. On the other hand, the finale of each chapter generally allows more room for the artwork—more spread-out panels, better use of white space—but this is, once again, exactly what one would expect from this kind of series. When the artistic style is best described as "no-style," that's clearly a sign of weakness.

Despite the source material's mediocre qualities, at least the translators are having a good time: some of the best comedy moments come from dialogue that has been deftly converted to English. Main-boy-of-interest Jin often mangles the language, resulting in puns like confusing "formal" with "formula"—obviously, that's not what he said in Japanese, but it certainly gets the humor across. The more ordinary, conversational dialogue isn't quite as colorful; there's some attempt to bring out the characters' personalities, but when the characters aren't very well written in the first place, even the translation can't fix that. Other technical details like sound effects and cultural notes are explained effectively, although the cultural glossary could probably have afforded to be a page or two longer.

So to all the high school girls out there: give the Student Council a try if you want to pick up some hot guys. But don't give Love Master A a try if you want to pick up some fun, fresh manga, because this one is pretty stale. Its first mistake is in entering an already crowded genre; its second mistake is in doing absolutely nothing to make itself stand out in that genre. It's got the likeable heroine, the cute guys, and the wacky situations, but without any of the charm or addictive qualities of its more popular counterparts. And with the series strictly confined to an episodic, chapter-by-chapter format, it doesn't look like things are going to pick up much in the next volume. Aria may be a Master of Love, but she's not a Master of Having Escapades Worth Reading About.

Production Info:
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : C

+ A likeable lead character who avoids the usual pitfalls and stereotypes of personality.
Utterly predictable in its plotting, male characters lack spark or uniqueness, and the art looks exactly like everything else out there.

Story & Art: Kyoko Hashimoto

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Love Master A (manga)

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