Portrait of M and N Volume 1 by Higuchi Tachibana
This is a series I was intrigued by when I read the solicitation in Previews. The relationship between a masochist and a narcissist seemed like it would be a little different than most shoujo series. While the premise might seem engagingly weird the execution left the story with some predictable plot elements.
At this point I have read many manga that start out with the protagonist entering high school and just wanting a “happy normal school life.” As soon as this happens you know that wacky things will be afoot that will cause said protagonist to suffer more in high school then they have ever suffered before. The protagonist might be dealing with aliens, reincarnation, a pushy witch, a student council with strange hierarchical rules, or in the case of Portrait of M and N’s Mitsuru struggling to hide her extreme masochism.
Mitsuru’s family is proper and upper class. They warn her not to be the subject of unwarranted attention like before as she prepares to face her first day of high school. Natsuhiko is another student at her school with a dark secret, and the couple are destined to be thrown together. Natsuhiko bumps into Mitsuru and his coke-bottle lens glasses slip off, revealing a beautiful face. Mitsuru thinks he looks just like her favorite character in a story she’s reading. Mitsuru and Natsuhiko run into each other when they are hiding out in a classroom to avoid having lunch with their classmates. Natsuhiko accidentally overturns a desk on Mitsuru and her reaction is to beg him to injure her more before she passes out. Natsuhiko doesn’t act repulsed by Mitsuru’s revelation and when she wakes up in the nurse’s office and talks to him some more she thinks that she might have found a true friend. Mitsuru subsequently observes Natsuhiko’s dark secret too. When his glasses are knocked off and he catches a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror, he just wants to stare at his own beauty all day long.
Mitsuru and Natsuhiko’s relationship develops in a halting fashion. She’s sure of her feelings for him, but Natsuhiko’s self-involvement is an effective barrier. They both owe their psychological issues to severe family problems. The second boy (there always is a second boy, isn’t there?) is Hijiri, an upperclassman who learns Mitsuru’s secret and blackmails her into spending time with him. The plot lines revolve around the couple’s dread of discovery by their classmates and some mean antics by some girls who are jealous of the attention that Mitsuru seems to be receiving from boys. I haven’t read Higuchi’s other series Gakuen Alice which I think was published more recently but the art in Portrait of M and N reminded me a little bit of Banri Hidaka’s work, especially the somewhat spiky bangs on most of the characters. The front pages for many of the chapters have a slight gothic feel, which I wish was carried over more into the main illustrations.
My ideal ending for this manga would be for Mitsuru and Natsuhiko to just embrace their weirdness. Perhaps Mitsuru could hold up a mirror for Natsuhiko to gaze upon himself as he beats her up and they could both live happily ever after. Unfortunately I’m guessing that their relationship will prompt a return to happy normalcy, with the most interesting aspects of their personality erased. I wasn’t too happy at the way Mitsuru just seemed to be passive about being passed back and forth between her two suitors. I’m interested enough in the outcome to stick around for volume two, even though this manga wasn’t as weird or kinky as its premise suggested.