piranha: red origami crane (Default)
[personal profile] piranha
the title is a play on 乙女 (otome; young lady) and "men" (in english), and it refers to boys who like girlish things. i've seen another term for this, which seems to carry more of a connotation of such men also not being very sexual or aggressive/assertive when it comes to love: 草食男子 (soushoku danshi, literally "herbivorous guy"; i guess because herbivores are less aggressive?).

masamune asuka is quite the manly guy, excelling in karate and kendo. but he has a secret: what he really likes is cooking, sewing, knitting, and everything sparkly and cute. when he was a young teenager, his father left home because he had always wanted to be a woman. this affected asuka's mother very badly, and, because she saw that her son liked girly things, she forced him to be completely masculine.

of course denying a large part of oneself doesn't ever work well, but asuka doesn't actually want to be a woman; he just wants to do things that normally are in a girl's domain. one day a new transfer student joins his class; miyakozuka ryou. ryou has grown up without a mother, and with a tough father, and she's pretty much taken on the role of his son; he taught her karate and kendo, and training with him is one of her favourite things. she doesn't know how to cook or sew, and she likes action and horror movies. asuka and ryou are quite taken with each other, and quickly admit their secrets and start helping each other.

i started reading this because i think japan, and especially shoujo, needs manga in which people break through gender barriers, and it sure can't hurt westerners either. this is a true gender bender; not as in magic body swapping, or pretending to be a boy/girl, but as in stretching the meaning of gender beyond its standard perceptions.

i am glad i didn't put the manga down after reading the first 2 volumes in scanlation, though i was tempted to. unfortunately this is probably among the worst scanlations i have seen. it is truly terrible; not just in english phrasing, but important bits are translated with the wrong meaning, and it generally makes the manga seem like crap. if you can only read english, do yourselves a favour and get viz's official version instead, which is actually quite good; viz has improved quite a bit in the last 3 years.

i'm up to volume 6 (of 12) now, and beyond the translation, the manga itself is uneven. the lead character is wonderful, the supporting cast is fun, the love interest is sweet. the plot is ... there seems to be little of it, and while i am generally fine with character-driven drama, i think there needs to be a bit more structure so the gender stuff is not swept aside up by ancillary comedic antics. there isn't any philosophical musing on gender; it is just presented as people wrestling with falling outside the norm, how it hurts them, and how they come to terms with it. the lead characters are not the only people who do so; asuka's best friend tachibana is an aspiring shoujo mangaka, and he's hiding both his authorship from his friends, and his gender from his fans. and then we have tounomine hajime, asuka's rival on the kendo team, who's really into fashion and make-up. tertiary characters are ariake yamato who is so small and cute that he's always mistaken for a girl, and kurokawa kitora, who loves flowers above all things.

IMO the live action adaption is a considerable improvement over the manga at this point; it takes what's good from the manga, arranges it better, and leaves most of the truly bad parts out (except a bit at the end, *sigh*). ryou especially comes across as having rather more of a personality than she has in the manga. it is well acted (leads: masaki okada and kaho), and technically very well done -- remember how i was kvetching that the fights were so very bad in gokusen? well, here the fights are extremely well choreographed and executed; the ending sequence is a work of art. there aren't tediously many of them either; most of the drama is spent much more quietly.

strangely, even though this is a much better production than gokusen, and deals with a subject important to me, it didn't emotionally touch me as much. no idea why.

it's not any big revelation for anyone who's been pondering gender seriously already, but it's quite progressive in the shoujo manga universe, and indirectly acknowledges that gender isn't binary, and that liking pursuits commonly attributed to the "opposite" gender doesn't turn one into a transvestite or transsexual or make one homosexual, and i am happy that it's quite successful in japan. so yeah, recommended.


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piranha: red origami crane (Default)
renaissance poisson

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