My first review of Otomen was also sort of a look at the digital manga content on Viz’s manga app for iPad. I am talking quite a bit about digital comics these past few weeks, but I wanted to go back to Otomen on the iPad and reexamine the series. I have been really enjoying the volumes between 1 and 7, but I think now is an appropriate time to follow up.
Otomen, for those who don’t follow this series, is a comic about a boy named Asuka who appears to be the manliest of men, but secretly loves shojo manga, cooking, sewing, and other “girly” activities. He is paired up with a “manly” girl named Ryo, and manga author named Juta who uses the relationship between the two as the basis of his best-selling manga series “Love Chick.” This pairing is sometimes interrupted by other people, such as a girly-looking boy who admires Asuka’s manliness, a flower-obsessed hunk, and one of Asuka’s rival martial artists who loves makeup. This diverse group all has one thing in common – they appear to be something, but deep inside they are the opposite of what everyone thinks they represent.
I think that there is a lot of truth in this seemingly little message, but I feel like that now that we have reached the 7th volume of the series, the same old plot constructs are getting a little stale. It seems as though the same plot point is used in every major arc in the series. Otomen uses this character technique again and again, and by the time we meet the hard rocker playboy in book 6, it’s almost guaranteed that he is going to be a giant softie. Not that this is bad – it’s actually quite fun to read. Still, I am looking for the series to develop a bit and it has instead stayed mostly the same.
There are some interesting things that happen in this volume despite its overuse of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing Otomen loves. We see Juta get into drag once again in order to do an autograph session for “Love Chick,” and meets his first high school sweetheart (the girl who got him into shojo manga in the first place) and a ghost story that Asuka solves despite his reluctance and fear of the supernatural. There is a huge cliffhanger based out of the last chapter that I won’t spoil here, but threatens to change the entire dynamic of Otomen. I doubt that this event will actually happen, because if it does, Otomen would have to be about something more serious. Otomen is mostly just a one-note comedy, so I would imagine whatever happens resolves in a status quo sort of way, but I’ve been wrong about this sort of thing before.
The art in volume 7 is not the best we’ve seen in the series, but it does plenty of good for the stories in this volume. Kanno definitely has the chops for the emotions, the rough action, and the cutesy bento, arts and crafts, and anything else that Asuka gets his hands on. Kanno is especially good at inserting little touches into her art – a good example is when Juta is busy writing manga – he likes to clip back his hair to keep it out of his eyes. This adds to what you know and understand about the character with very minimal talk, and some artists would miss opportunities like this.
While I’ve griped about Otomen in this review a bit, I truly love it to death. The formula, despite being present in essentially every volume, is a good one – Otomen has proven it can be a mine of comedy silver and gold. If you haven’t gotten your hands (or your mouse) on a copy of Otomen yet, do yourself a favor and get it. You won’t regret it. Just make sure you check your normal “this has to happen in shojo manga” expectations at the door.