Portrait of M & N 1-2 by Tachibana Higuchi: B-

Much as with Natsuki Takaya’s Tsubasa: Those with Wings, I had been looking forward to the English release of Portrait of M & N by Tachibana Higuchi only because I enjoy later work, Gakuen Alice. Aaaand, much as with Tsubasa: Those with Wings, I ended up somewhat disappointed.

Portrait of M & N is a love story starring a beautiful girl named Mitsuru Abe and a handsome boy named Natsuhiko Amakusa. Matters are complicated, however, because each character harbors an embarrassing secret: Mitsuru is a masochist (or M) and Natsuhiko is a narcissist (or N). Ostensibly, these conditions developed as a result of the way they were treated by their parents—the most attention Mitsuru received from her mother was when she was being punished, while sickly Natsuhiko was forbidden to go outside and play with other kids, and thus developed a fixation for his own reflection.

Both Mitsuru and Natsuhiko are hoping for a normal, peaceful high school life, and things seem to be off to a good start because their good looks have attracted positive notice from their classmates. That is, until Mitsuru’s masochistic tendencies are triggered in Natsuhiko’s presence. It’s almost as if she has a split personality: when she is hit in the face, she suddenly becomes aggressively submissive, offering anybody who happens to be nearby the chance to do whatever they want to her. Against his better judgment, Natsuhiko becomes friends with Mitsuru and attempts to protect her whenever she goes into M mode, and thus reveals his own secret to her, one that turns him into a tearful, blushing fool whenever he catches sight of himself in a mirror.

If you’re looking for an accurate, sensitive portrayal of masochism or narcissism, you’re not going to find it here. This is a comedy, after all, and Higuchi seemingly delights in inventing ridiculous situations for the characters to endure—like a mandatory game of dodgeball, for example. A third character, Hijiri, enters the mix in toward the end of the first volume and, realizing Mitsuru’s secret pretty quickly, uses it to extract her cooperation in protecting him from a particular dog (he has a secret phobia of his own) on his way to and from school. Mitsuru’s closeness with two of the hottest guys in school does not go over well with the other girls, who treat her very poorly. These are the most tiresome scenes in the series, by far.

Setting aside the ridiculous and the tiresome, however, there really are some things I genuinely like about Portrait of M and N. Most of the time, a shoujo romance is presented from the girl’s point of view. She falls in love with the boy and we’re privy to her emotions, but we rarely, if ever, get inside his head. That is not the case here and, in fact, I believe there has been more attention paid to Natsuhiko’s developing feelings than Mitsuru’s.

As one bit of text reads, “She swiftly fell in love in spring, he realized he was falling in love in summer.” For Mitsuru, it was easy to fall in love with Natsuhiko, who is kind and understands her, but for Natsuhiko, the realization that he is falling in love with someone else is doubly important because it means that he can. All of his life, relatives and classmates have been vocal in their doubts that such a thing would ever be possible, but he has proved them wrong, and his happiness is mixed with not a little relief.

While I find Hijiri generally annoying, he is useful in that his interactions with Mitsuru force Natsuhiko to confront how he feels about her, and they end volume two by sharing an awkwardly cute moment together. It’s for scenes like these that I’ll continue to read Portrait of M & N and hope that there’s less to irk me in volumes to come.

Portrait of M & N is published by TOKYOPOP. The series is complete in Japan with six volumes, and two have been released in English so far.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

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