Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jul 12th 2009
The Magic Touch
Chiaki Togu is a shy first year student at high school who has trouble talking to anyone—let alone boys. The only time she perks up is during club activities; she is the rising star of the Massage Research Society! As an aspiring professional, she sees new clients everywhere, and she immediately falls in love with the stiffest back in the school, a back which belongs to the super-popular and super-handsome Yosuke. Unfortunately, he does not like to be touched, and he will not let Chiaki massage him…unless she can get him to fall in love with her! It turns out that Yosuke may have some sinister motive for this bizarre proposition, and for better or for worse, it may well be Chiaki who is the one to fall in love first.
Newbie mangaka Izumi Tsubaki explains the genesis of the The Magic Touch shoujo series in a talkback strip at the end of the first volume: Under the pressure of an impending deadline, she came up with a massage themed short story “half as a joke,” and to her utter surprise, her editor accepted it. Needless to say, this reviewer is even more surprised than Tsubaki herself—because The Magic Touch is the single worst concept and the single worst execution of a shoujo manga serial that this reviewer can recall seeing since the start of her reviewing career.
Of course, that short story, called “Teach Me Prince,” found smack dab in the middle of volume one, became the basis of an ongoing storyline—as reasonably successful short stories are wont to do in Japan. And all that does is attenuate the agony. Where be the agony, you ask? Well, let's start with the premise. A high school massage club? The very idea is, and even the mangaka herself acknowledges it, incredibly schlocky, and the development of a heroine whose reason for existence is to rub the tension out of other peoples'—and especially her boyfriend's—bodies is bound to offend the sensibilities of a large number of readers in the West. The links to prostitution are awfully hard to ignore, and lest you be inclined to read the Massage Research Society as mere escapist fantasy, the manga always jolts you back to reality by reminding you in footnotes that high school students are not allowed to become licensed masseuses. (Incidentally, this mandated professionalization of the massage industry itself in Japan is in part reaction to the conflation of legitimate shiatsu and other traditions of massage with sex work.)
And even those readers who are able to think past the sordid implications of the story premise itself are certain to be disgusted by the utter, almost passive-aggressively so, mediocrity of the narrative execution and character development. Although Tsubaki originally intended this story to be a joke, it's clear she is under tremendous editorial pressure to write your standard schooldays romance. (Just as well because she is not particularly good at humor, anyway, and the series is not that funny even when jokes are being clumsily cracked.) The first volume trades upon dramatic irony—Yosuke has mistaken Chiaki for her more sociable sister and has an ulterior motive for leading her on. But that subplot is resolved to quickly, and The Magic Touch disappears the evil twin like an inconvenient truth and fast devolves into your usual bag of manga tricks. Volume two takes the massage club on vacation, and volume three to an inter-school massage competition. Yawn. What's next? A Christmas Eve date subplot?
Even plotting pointlessness may have been forgivable if the characters had been nuanced and interesting…but they are not. Chiaki sparkles about as much as a wet blanket, and Yosuke is a cipher even to his girlfriend—and it's hard to feel convinced that there might be some great secret worth learning about him in the future. Even the non sequitur revelation that all the characters have superpowers just exhausts patience. The most entertaining character—and this isn't saying much—of the whole lot is Mihime, member of a rival school who always wears wraparound mirror shades because apparently his eyes scare people. You might want to stick around to see what his eyes actually look like, but somehow I doubt many manga fans will feel particularly compelled even by that potential “promise.”
Tsubaki's main creative asset is her artwork. For such a young creator, her layouts are outstanding, and although her drawing style changes dramatically from volumes one to three, by about halfway through the second volume she has developed a luminous, almost ethereal grace to her character designs that seems utterly wasted on such a banal narrative creation. Pay particular attention to how she draws Natsue, for example. It is simply gorgeous. Perhaps the mismatch between art and story/character development is a function of Tsubaki's relative youth and lack of experience with life, and she will improve with time. I would recommend, though, that in the future she be paired with a good writer.
In conclusion, The Magic Touch does not have the wit to be satire or the strength of conviction to be genuinely affective romance, and without either of these things, it is easiest to say that it has nothing worth cherishing at all. Indeed, the only thing “magical” about it is how quickly you will be absolutely desperate to get its yucky fingers out of your personal space.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : B
+ Well...the artwork is pretty, and you might laugh. Once or twice.
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