In my review of volumes 1-10 of Cheeky Angel, I wrote, “Sometimes I’m not a fan of episodic storylines, but Cheeky Angel pulls it off because Nishimori-sensei never loses sight of the most important aspect of the story: Megumi’s struggle to choose between accepting her current femininity and finding a way to return to what she once was.”
Unfortunately, this no longer holds true for this trio of volumes. Since the end of volume ten, when Megumi learned that the curse would eventually wear off and she’d revert to boyhood, the series has spent very little time occupying her head. Instead, she is seen almost exclusively from the point of view of other characters, and comes off as extremely changeable, so much so that it’s impossible to know what she’s thinking or feeling about her predicament. Without this unifying focus, Cheeky Angel becomes a string of mostly dissatisfying episodic stories.
That isn’t to say there are no cohesive elements, however. In volume eleven, the idea of a manliness contest is proposed, with Meg and her pals judging each other on how they behave in various situations. Genzo becomes obsessed with the idea of being a man and shrugging off adversity, which comes in handy when he becomes the victim of the curse that had formerly plagued Meg. His stoic acceptance of his fate earns him Meg’s admiration, and his change in attitude also helps him mature. Unfortunately, this also means we’re in for many, many scenes wherein Genzo is challenged by random thugs and must refrain from fighting back.
Many, many scenes.
Focus on the manliness competition fades in the next volume, however, when Meg’s nemesis, Keiko, proposes a womanliness contest, which Meg also agrees to enter. Here’s where some annoying glimmers of sexism arise. Initially, Meg is convinced that the womanliness contest will involve cooking, and she and Genzo agree to participate in a bento-making competition to give her some experience. When Genzo wins, he is berated by the ladies present for not allowing Meg to win. What? Girls need to be coddled so you don’t hurt our pwecious feewings?
Keiko’s got something bigger than cooking in mind, however, and in volume thirteen the idea of a treasure hunt is proposed. Meg’s devoted maid, Yoriko, wants to have some input on the rules, including an evaluation by judges on how well the candidate encourages her male partner. In her effort to convince Keiko, she says, “Drawing out the best in any man is the essence of being a woman. And hasn’t that always been the ultimate measure of womanliness?”
I averted the terrible tragedy of having flames shoot from my eyes by telling myself that perhaps Yoriko doesn’t mean this. It is later revealed, after all, that she stacked the deck in the partner-choosing lottery to ensure Meg would be paired with someone from her group of slightly loserish male friends, whom she would no doubt be called upon to encourage in the course of their adventure.
The treasure hunt starts promisingly but devolves, as all things must do with Cheeky Angel, into a conflict with random thugs. Aside from a few really nice moments—Genzo saving a chick at a summer festival and Yasuda’s clever attempt to get to the bottom of the genie’s wish-granting methods, which may prove important later—these three volumes are extremely disappointing. The series can do better than this; I hope it turns itself around soon.