Otomen, Vol. 1, Written and Illustrated by Aya Kano
Viz Media Shojo Beat
ISBN 9781421521862, 208 pgs.
$4.99 US digital (iPod & iPad only); $8.99 US
If you haven’t seen one of my moving reviews, please give a look at my last review of Monkey High, vol. 1. The results of a review are the following:
Keep: I liked the book enough to pack it up!
Donate: I liked it or think that others will like it, so I will donate it to the local library system
Trash: I didn’t like this book, and I wouldn’t donate it (eeek!)
One of the great new things about technology is the ability to have your books wherever you like as long as you have your digital device with you. While I certainly appreciate having a physical book and feeling the paper, smelling the ink, and experiencing the raw, unfettered joy of reading, I also enjoy being able to slip multitudes of books into my pocket, and the ability to read during downtime, long bus and car rides, and basically wherever I want. That is why when the Viz Manga App first hit the iPad shortly after the tablet’s debut, I was extremely excited. I would be able to take a whole stack of manga with me on the road. Now, with the iPod App, I can keep all my books between both devices and reread manga whenever I like.
Another good thing about the Viz Manga App is that allows me to check out series that I haven’t read or seen before at a discount price from their retail selling points, and that was good enough for me to check out the first volume of Otomen. Even more exciting, I picked up the volume during Viz‘s March Madness sale and got the first volume for a dollar; you can’t beat that price!
Otomen is a shojo manga about a high school boy named Asuka who is proficient in kendo and other martial arts and spends most of his time at school trying to be the manliest man possible – except that on the inside, he loves crochet, sewing, and cooking. In this first volume, we see him fall in love with Ryo, a girl who is fairly manly.
The premise of Otomen is really quite cute, but, without proper management, could have been pretty terrible. We’ve seen other manga with reversed gender roles (Ai Ore comes to mind) that have been schlock, and others (W Juliet, anyone) that weren’t really that… well, interesting. The whole premise would be fairly predictable, but a third main character, Juta Tanibacha, spices things up nicely as a mangaka who writes Asuka’s favorite manga series Love Chick (which is obviously based on Asuka and Ryo’s relationship, except their genders are reversed).
Despite previous attempts at this type of story, I think that Otomen is probably the best crafted that I have read. The characters are very well developed and the events in the plot, while a bit episodic, are also very basic and don’t try to complicate the general plot line. The first whole volume we see Juta crafting his manga while Asuka sputters about trying to work up the courage to ask Ryo out on a date. Seeing Juta help Asuka work through his problems and try to maintain friendship with his “muse” is really quite amusing, and still stays true to the idea of the story.The whole mangaka writing a story about two characters inside a manga is enjoyable meta-humor that I think is something rarely seen in shojo published in the US, and it is what makes Otomen such a great read.
The art is also wonderful – and yes, I realize that while I normally hate on the hearts, flowers, stars, and glitter, they are quite appropriate given the subject matter, and their use is never cloying, so I can put up with it in Otomen. The art is a subtle mix of shojo and shonen characteristics, which I liked, since there is plenty of “cool tough guy action” as well as stuffed bunnies and ornate bento lunches. I also appreciated the fact that Love Chick, the fictional manga-within-a-manga has completely different art than Otomen, which seems obvious, but is a nice touch.
As far as the digital delivery, Viz Media has done an excellent job with their manga app on the iPad and iPod. Books are easily downloaded and purchased in-app, and also easily read. While I dislike the fact that other tablet users and PC users are unable to access this content, it is a great delivery system for Apple devices. The cost per volume is also very acceptable, since at $4.99 I feel as though I am getting a pretty good deal for my entertainment dollar. Free samples allow you to view the first chapter of the fist volume of any series on the app, which is a good choice, and helped me decide to start reading Otomen. The advent of the Viz manga app will definitely not change my love for the written page, but I will most likely begin to follow specific series on the iPad because I am not necessarily that rushed to get them and I really like the price point. I am glad that Viz has entered the fray with this iPad/iPod app, and hope that they will continue to expand their offerings to other platforms.
As far as Otomen goes, I think it is great fun – it is whimsical and breezy and still has enough depth to satisfy those with tastes for more complicated stories. I am interested to see how the series will continue, especially with some of the hints at what could be some messy/complicated plot lines. I’m also interested in how Juta will play out as a mangaka – this part of the book is what really makes it tick, and I hope that we continue to see his progression as a character. Overall, Otomen is a great read that is cerebral enough to approach gender roles and identity and still has time for a “standard” shojo love story, an unusual mix that makes a really entertaining comic book. Highly Recommended.
Mover’s Ranking: Keep
It’s not hard to convince me to keep my iPad, and that’s one of the strengths of this type of content, but at the same time, even if I had the paperback books, I would be packing these up for my move. This is a manga you really need to read!