High school student Asuka Masamune has a reputation as a cool and stoic guy. He’s ranked number one in the country for kendo, and has black belts in both judo and karate. His name alone inspires fear in the hearts of his would-be opponents. But Asuka has a secret. Beneath this carefully-crafted masculine exterior, he yearns to read shojo manga, make plushies, and fall in love. When he meets tomboyish Ryo Miyakozuka, his veneer begins to crack. He finds himself wanting to do things to help her, like finish a home ec sewing project, make tasty bento lunches, and teach her to make the perfect birthday cake for her father. After Ryo mentions that she prefers masculine guys, Asuka tries to be her ideal, but with some encouragement from frenemy Juta, eventually realizes that he wants to be his real self with the person he cares for.
It’s difficult to see exactly why Asuka falls in love with Ryo in the first place, but once they start hanging out together, her personality begins to come through. They’re joined by classmate Juta, whose playboy ways tick Asuka off, but whom he gradually accepts because Juta’s friendship is also important to Ryo. They develop a kind of xxxHOLiC dynamic, with Asuka preparing lunch for the three of them while muttering things like “why am I always making enough for this guy as well?” Unbeknownst to Asuka, Juta has another reason for hanging around. He’s actually Jewel Sachihana, the mangaka behind Asuka’s favorite shojo manga series, Love Chick, and Asuka is the model for his heroine, as no one else embodies true femininity so well.
One of best things about this subplot is that pages from Love Chick work their way into the story, and you can see how well Kanno emulates that generic shojo art style. Also, as events unfold, it becomes clear that Juta is using incidents from Asuka’s life in his manga, even nudging him into action a few times in order to get new material, and that the male love interest looks exactly like a boy version of Ryo. Asuka remains clueless so far, only mentioning that he “surprisingly identifies with it a lot.”
In addition to the glimpses of Love Chick, there are plenty of other amusing things in Otomen. My favorites include the panel where Asuka, after binging on girly items, thinks “I’ve got to control myself” then looks down to see he has unconsciously completed a teddy bear; the scenes in which Asuka and Ryo both declare their intentions to protect the other, complete with flowery background (an image later replicated in Love Chick); and the part where Asuka purposefully leaves a volume of Love Chick lying around in the path of a heartbroken guy, who proceeds to go all sparkly over it.
Lastly, I’m really enjoying the male perspective. While a male protagonist is by no means rare in shojo, you’ll usually find them in science fiction or fantasy works and not in a high school romance. Asuka’s not your average guy, of course, but neither is he simply a typical shojo heroine in male disguise.
With its quirky characters and comedic approach, Otomen promises to be a lot of fun.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.