Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
NTR Netsuzou Trap
As little girls, Yuma always looked out for Hotaru, who tended to get picked on. Now in their second year of high school, the girls remain friends, but ever since Yuma got her first boyfriend, Hotaru's been acting oddly, saying that she'll help Yuma “practice” for her relationship with Takeda. Hotaru's had boyfriends since middle school, so what's going on here? And why is Yuma starting to find Hotaru's kisses more appealing than Takeda's?
If you like your yuri sweet and focused on the emotional relationship between the protagonists, like in Whispered Words or Sweet Blue Flowers, NTR Netsuzou Trap is not the series for you. It has much more in common with Citrus in its more sexually aggressive characters, though perhaps the best way to describe it in terms of the English-language market is that it's yuri for people who usually like yaoi: more aggressive and less consensual than the large part of English-translated yuri.
The point of view character is Yuma, a high school second year who has just started dating a male friend in her club. She's never been particularly interested in a relationship before, it seems, and the implication is that she liked Takeda enough as a friend to agree to try dating. This also seems tied emotionally to her long-standing friendship with Hotaru. When the two girls were little, Hotaru needed Yuma to protect her from bullies, but as they've grown up, Hotaru hasn't seemed interested in interacting with any other girls besides Yuma, instead starting to date boys in middle school and, the implication is, becoming sexually active fairly early. This left Yuma, who had tried her best to get Hotaru accepted by her other girl friends, feeling abandoned and somehow left out, so when she begins dating Takeda, there's a real sense that she feels she's “catching up” to Hotaru, or at least moving a little bit into her world. Much to her surprise, however, Hotaru begins acting oddly, insisting that Yuma needs to “practice” sexual acts with her before doing them with Takeda so that she'll be prepared. Not only is Yuma baffled by her friend's actions, but she's also concerned with how they make her feel: good. At this point it seems less like that's because it's Hotaru touching her rather than Takeda and more as if it's due to the fact that Hotaru is far more aggressive than Takeda, refusing to take no for an answer.
This is where things get a bit uncomfortable. The story is trying to frame this as Yuma is more attracted to Hotaru than to her boyfriend, but Takeda's such a nice guy that he doesn't try to do half as much as Hotaru does, making such a comparison feel specious. Takeda respects Yuma's discomfort – when she gets freaked out by him asking her to stay over, he backs off; when on an overnight trip she opts not to sleep with him and instead have the girls bunk together, he's disappointed, but he doesn't press it, commenting to Hotaru's boyfriend that he understands that she's nervous. Hotaru, on the other hand, takes this to mean that Yuma prefers her touch to her boyfriend's, when really what appears to be going on is that Yuma isn't in the headspace to be having sex with anyone, male or female. When we add to this Hotaru's use of classic abuser lines like, “If you'd really wanted to, you could have pushed me away,” and you've got one of manga's typical unhealthy romances down to a “T.”
If this is your kind of romance fiction, this stands to be a pretty good entry into the genre. It definitely suffers on this front from a lack of explicit content, or even fully-drawn bodies; while Kodama's art can be very sensual when she's drawing legs and lower torsos, the lack of nipples makes most of the scenes involving breasts look a bit off, particularly since she doesn't draw upper bodies in general particularly well. Scene cut-offs feel a little awkward, mostly in the more prurient parts, like Kodama has just stopped drawing and moved on rather than eased the reader out of the scene. Hotaru is also clearly more than just the aggressor in the story – there's a strong implication that she has been dating boys and sleeping with them as a way to get over Yuma, or at least keep her feelings at bay, and that she might have a reputation for sleeping around, as we see in one scene where she refuses her boyfriend and he gets angry, as well as in another where other girls tell Yuma that she has a reputation as a boyfriend thief. For all of that, Hotaru doesn't seem like she particularly loves Yuma, which is a problem from the emotional angle; however, her past pain could simply be masking her feelings in order to protect her.
NTR Netsuzou Trap is a fairly unusual yuri story, at least in the English-language market, with its emphasis on the boys in the series and less consensual romance. If nothing else, it's good to see the variety that the genre has to offer, even if Kodama Naoko's full series debut has its issues. (As a point of interest, she had a story published previously in a volume of Code Geass: Queen.) Kodama is aware of some of her problems, such as Takeda being more sympathetic than the girls, so as the series goes on, there'll likely be changes. As far as this book is concerned, however, it doesn't quite come together the way that it needs to, even though elements prove interesting in the genre of more aggressive romance.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ We get a good feel for Yuma's character, pages are set up to read very easily. Kodama draws very sensual legs.
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