Otomen 3-4 by Aya Kanno: B

These two volumes, although mostly comprised of one-shot chapters with silly plots (Kanno writes that she’s trying to hit all the major shoujo clichés), still manage to introduce two new characters and elevate the status of Ryo and Asuka’s relationship to “officially dating,” though that doesn’t result in any changes in the way they interact.

Volume three begins with Asuka agreeing to help Ryo out at a daycare center. He fully intends to lead the kids “in a manly manner,” but they soon tire of meditation and calligraphy. Eventually, he wins them over with fancy snacks and earns the love of a motherless boy who wants Asuka to fill that role.

An amusement park date’s next on the agenda (complete with dynamite-toting crazy), followed by a chapter about Juta’s family. The final chapter of the volume introduces Tonomine, Asuka’s kendo rival, who instantly becomes my favorite character. He, too, was forced to squelch his love for a traditionally feminine pursuit—he’s a genius beautician—and Asuka helps draw him out with a display of his own sewing prowess.

In volume four, Asuka helps Ryo’s dad understand girls just in time for his daughter’s birthday, then discovers a secret garden at school that’s been lovingly tended by a hulking fellow named Kurokawa. After Asuka reassures Kurokawa that loving flowers is not wrong, he proceeds to be subtle comic relief for the rest of the volume, surreptitiously sneaking up on beautiful people and “adorning” them with flowers.

When summer vacation rolls around, Asuka’s dreams of a beach date with Ryo (which awesomely involve riding dolphins) are stymied when he’s drafted to help with the business of a classmate’s uncle (a shoujo cliché I’ve seen a couple of times). This turns into a multi-episode tale of snack shack rivalry, complete with swimming challenges and displays of Asuka’s, Tonomine’s, and Kurokawa’s hidden talents. And, yes, there is a dolphin.

As you can see, the plots are nearly always extremely silly, bordering on ridiculous. The fact that this is obviously intentional makes it much more amusing than it would be in a series where the creator was genuinely trying to get away with stuff like this. I enjoy the cast a lot, and even though it’s clear that the plot is not going anywhere any time soon, Otomen is still a fun read. I liken it to Ouran High School Host Club in this regard, actually. I’m generally not one for episodic stories, but there’s a charm in both of these series that keeps me coming back.

Review copy for volume three provided by the publisher.

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