Reviewby Casey Brienza, Apr 18th 2009
High school student Asuka Masamune may be all man on the outside, but on the inside he's all woman—and his mother can never, ever know. The adventures of the boy who loves cooking, cleaning, crocheting, cute stuff, and shoujo manga continue in this volume. First up are the unwanted attentions of an adorable freshman boy who is determined to get Asuka to teach him to become a real man. Then, as the weather turns colder, Asuka, Juta, and Ryo plan a fun-filled Christmas Eve dinner in their new hideaway. What will happen when the Snowstorm of the Century interferes with their plans? And finally, Asuka's mother returns from Japan with some unexpected news—she's found him a fiancée! Will she be attractive enough to turn him away from his beloved Ryo?
In the first volume of Otomen, mangaka Aya Kanno admitted openly that she does not have much in the way of interests in common with Asuka. He is more than “woman” than she is! Therefore, her characterization of a person who loves girly girl sorts of activities is, to put it delicately, rather academic in nature. Unfortunately, the strain of sustaining a character that she herself does not understand empathetically was already starting to show slightly by the end of volume one. The situation is worse still in the second volume, and the palatable effort Kanno is putting into being nonstop witty and silly does not fully conceal the series' significant flaws.
This volume includes three wholly unconnected storylines that feel, for all intents and purposes, like the mangaka cannot think of anything better and is stalling desperately for time. The first involves the appearance of Yamato, a blond, big-eyed first year who looks like fangirl jailbait but dreams of growing up to become the manliest of manly men. Of course, he believes Asuka's carefully cultivated image and eagerly apprentices himself to the person he believes to best match his vision of the perfect man. A tedious series of pages then shows Yamato chasing worshipfully after Asuka and Asuka trying desperately to hide his “otomen”-ness from the boy. Needless to say, the story resolves more or less the way you would expect a comedy series such as this one to, but it is deeply problematic that Yamato does not become a recurring character. Characters introduced in the second volumes of ongoing series tend to become important members of the supporting cast—that Yamato does not signals to me that Kanno does not yet have an overarching vision for this series. Not good.
The second story arc is a Christmas Eve-centric plot, with the three friends planning a celebratory party and Juta planning a romantic evening for the two inspirations of his ongoing manga for Hana to Mame, Love Chick. It's good for a few laughs, especially when the trio busies itself cleaning out an abandoned shed at the edge of campus to turn into their new lunchtime home base. (The place has skeletons in its closet…literally.) In the end, despite a snowstorm of truly epic proportions the evening of their intended party, Asuka and Ryo get to spend some quality time together. Which, it ought to go without saying, goes precisely nowhere.
The final storyline is at once the most improbable and over-the-top, but like the others, it is just a vignette that has no long-term bearing on the overarching storyline. Asuka's mother is introduced for the first time, and visually speaking, she is a female version of him. She also starts having a nervous breakdown every time there is even a hint of femininity in Asuka's interactions with her, which is good for sadistic laughs. She has found him a fiancée, the daughter of an improbably, fantastically rich family that has built its only child a veritable palace of cuteness in the backyard. She herself looks like a limp-wristed Gothic Lolita fashion plate. Anyway, there is a little bit of dramatic tension relating to Asuka being outed as an otomen to his mother…but fortunately, Ryo rides to his rescue on a white horse, and he does not have to marry a girl he does not love.
The artwork continues to be the manga's strongest asset, but there aren't as many delightful convergences of overflowing cuteness as there were in the previous volume. Kanno, who drew light fantasy in Soul Rescue and brooding noir in Blank Slate here does slick satire in multiple styles. This choice is pitch perfect visually speaking, but it does not really strengthen the package per se on its own terms.
If you are a fan of shoujo manga such as Ouran High School Host Club that exist purely to mock their own genre codes, then you should like Otomen. Beyond that, the series will be of limited interest to a larger manga readership. Which is truly a shame…because it could be more. Who knows, though; maybe it will be. The series is currently ongoing in Japan, so neither Kanno nor Asuka the Otomen had their last word.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Amusing plot premise, memorable characters, and stylistically appropriate art.
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