Otomen Volume 2 by Aya Kanno
I continue to enjoy this series about a boy with feminine hobbies who is forced to act super-masculine, showing his true identity only to a couple of close friends. In the first story Asuka is stalked by a feminine looking boy named Yamato who has decided that Asuka is his ideal of masculinity. What will happen when Yamato finds out that Asuka loves to spend his time making adorable bento lunches? It turns out that Yamato wants to become more masculine in order to impress a girl, and he has a vision of himself as a stoic, narrow-eyed shoujo hero that effectively lampoons shoujo stereotypes.
In the next story Asuka stresses over how to spend the perfect Christmas with his not-girlfried Ryo. He knits her a scarf, and plans a feast in their group’s new hangout place – an abandoned school building that might just be haunted. Juta, the high school boy with a secret career drawing shoujo manga, lurks outside the window in order to spy on the couple in order to gather source material.
The final half of the book becomes even more absurd. Asuka’s mother comes back from overseas and we see why he’s so afraid of his secret feminine side being discovered. His mother constantly references his father’s decision to become a woman, and threatens to die from stress if Asuka acts womanly. She announces Asuka’s engagement to the daughter of some business associates of hers. He goes to their house and discovers that looks like a European castle on acid. Iruka decides that Asuka is going to be her prince, if he likes it or not!
While I enjoy Otomen as a light disposable series I’m sometimes left with the sense that Kanno isn’t taking full advantage of the story that she’s set up. It seems to me that there’s room for even more satire on gender roles and shoujo conventions than I’m seeing. Ryo continues to act mostly as a focus of Asuka’s attentions, and I wish a little more of her personality was shown. Kanno’s art does a good job shifting into parody. Yamato’s obsession with angular masculinity produces a sharp-edged version of himself that is so extreme it looks ridiculous. Iruka’s room looks like a Walt Disney movie come to life, complete with wide-eyed deer, smiling flowers, and hearts scattered everywhere. My problem might be that I’m unconsciously expecting Otomen to be an Ai Morinaga series when it clearly isn’t. Otomen is still fun to read, and I’ll be looking forward to volume 3.