Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Young Master's Revenge
For readers afraid that Meca Tanaka's The Young Master's Revenge is a shoujo version of Hazuki Takeoka and Tiv's Masamune-kun's Revenge, don't worry. Although the two share a thematic element in the form of a high school boy newly confident in his desirability seeking to enact revenge on a girl they feel wronged by, Tanaka's story is much sweeter and more focused on the fact that Leo has gotten things wrong than Takeoka's work. Even when we see Leo's memories of the “crimes” Tenma committed against him when he was five, it's clear to us that Tenma really didn't mean any harm – instead Leo's memories are tainted by the fact that he was forced to be her friend rather than them forming a friendship on their own. Rather than a revenge comedy/fantasy, The Young Master's Revenge's first volume is setting up for a story of misunderstood intentions with a little bit of growing up.
The eponymous young master is Leo Tachibana. As the son of a poor, struggling clothing designer, five-year-old Leo was told to be friends with Tenma Tsuwabuki, the pampered daughter of a very wealthy family who made their riches owning a venerable two-hundred-year-old department store. Presumably Leo's dad was looking to get in good with Tenma's grandfather; whatever the reason, Leo clearly didn't feel that he had any choice about being Tenma's pal. Unfortunately, while Tenma was unaware of that, other kids weren't, and Leo was teased about being her lackey to the point of bullying. Because of that, he began to interpret Tenma's clumsy good nature and love of animals as deliberate attempts to torment him, and when a tumble into a turtle pond resulted in not only him being pantsed in front of his bullies but also twin scars on his butt, Leo decides that Tenma did it all on purpose. (Tanaka mentions that originally she wanted the turtles to leave a scar on his penis, but her editors rejected it on the basis that this is a shoujo manga.) Now ten years later, Leo's back to enact his awful revenge – he'll lull Tenma into falling for his newly studly self and then dump her, leaving her scarred and in tears.
As should be evident, five-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds are perhaps not the best judges of people's motivations, their own included. (Not that anyone is once emotions are involved.) Leo almost immediately sees his plans begin to crumble when he stops by Tenma's house to see that it's been foreclosed and realizes that her circumstances have drastically changed. We get our first hint that Leo's got everything about Tenma wrong when she falls over the gate rescuing a kitten; Leo focuses on her landing on him and knocking him temporarily unconscious, but canny readers will notice that it wasn't intentional on her part – she didn't care if she'd land on the pavement, because she was rescuing a kitten. Right there Tanaka establishes the baseline for Leo to begin to understand that Tenma is not who he assumed her to be all of these years, because “rescuing stray kittens” is literary code for “a good-hearted person.”
Most of this volume is about Leo slowly coming to see that his memories and reality don't line up. We see very little of Tenma's thoughts; mostly her words serve to make Leo notice that he's not actually fulfilling any kind of noble revenge mission. He's forced to question his assumptions not just about their childhood, but also about how other families live. His newly wealthy household is still clearly a warm and loving one, but Tenma paints a very different picture of how her family life went when the Tsuwabukis still had money. As she got older, she began to realize that many of her so-called friends were people whose parents told them to befriend her, much like Leo initially was. Because Leo moved away after The Turtle Incident, she assumed that he was different, and thus he's held a special place in her heart as a “real” friend when compared to the others. His return, and his attempts to flatter her by helping her out with school fees and living arrangements, only further serve to convince her of this fact. For his part, Leo is not only surprised to hear about her life before, but he's shocked that she has concrete goals (she wants to be a veterinarian) and has absolute trust in him as a friend. Not only does the whole “friend” thing seem to impede his goals of wooing her, but she genuinely likes and trusts him and is really trying to make her new life her own. Against his will, Leo realizes that his heart may be in more danger than hers.
This emotional shift is what secures the manga its place as a romance where the hero's evolution takes precedence over the heroine's. That Leo's not actually a bad guy is mostly shown at first by his overwhelming love for Virgo, his Shiba inu, and the story seems set to continue this development to the point where the story becomes a healthy romance narrative. Tanaka's fluffy shoujo art definitely helps with this, making the book softly attractive, especially since she doesn't overdo it on the tone. That most characters have either astrological or floral names is a fun nod to the romance genre as well as a kind of game you can play while reading, trying to spot all of the references.
The Young Master's Revenge is off to a promising start. While its premise seems mean at first, it's more interested in being the story of someone learning to put aside his preconceived notions and to examine someone he thought he knew more closely. It hasn't quite ironed out all of its wrinkles yet, but this looks like a shoujo romance worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Nice use of the hero's emotional growth to move the story, art fits the mood of the story well.
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