Otomen Volume 1 by Aya Kanno
Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve read a first volume of manga that was so thoroughly captivating. Otomen is absolutely hilarious, with characters and situations that provide a refreshing antidote to the typical shoujo manga.
Asuka has a secret. He loves girly things like sewing, the color pink, shoujo manga, and cooking. Unfortunately he has been raised by his mother to repress his feminine side and cultivate manliness. As a result, he is a stoic and emotionally repressed master of master arts. He meets a new girl at school named Ryo and protects her from bullies. Asuka can feel himself falling in love with her, and begins to unconsciously manifest his love for cute things by buying shoujo manga and sewing up an adorable teddy bear. The expressions on Asuka’s face are great. Kanno manages to make him look simultaneously thrilled at cuteness and horrified by the thought of his secret being discovered.
Ryo has been raised solely by her tough judo-loving father, so she is utterly incapable of doing feminine things like making cute lunches or baking a cake. When Asuka hears her say that she’s attracted to masculine guys, he’s determined to cut off the feminine side of his personality. But he quickly finds himself helping Ryo with sewing projects and making cute lunches for her. Asuka and Ryo are joined by Tachibana, a pushy boy who acts like a playboy at school. In a more typical shoujo manga, a love triangle would quickly develop between the three characters, but Otomen provides an interesting twist on the situation – Tachibana is secretly a shoujo manga artist and has been quietly observing Asuka for years in order to get a model for how his female characters behave. Tachibana encourages Asuka to pursue Ryo so he can get more material for his manga.
Ryo sees Asuka’s softer side and comments to him that he’s so cute it makes her want to protect him. He wants to protect her too. This is a promising and interesting relationship, and I’m interested in seeing how things between Ryo and Asuka develop over the course of the series. Ryo is a little bit of a cipher. She loves martial arts, is helpless at traditionally feminine tasks, and is generally clueless about romance. I thought it was interesting that in an author’s note Kanno mentions that she thinks of and draws Ryo as a “thick-skinned and clueless cool boy”. Some manga series take a couple volumes to get going, but I could tell within the first few pages that Otomen was going to be one of my new favorite series. Now I just have to suffer until volume 2 comes out in May.