Ai Ore! Vol. 3

By Mayu Shinjo. Released in Japan as “Ai wo Utau Yori Ore ni Oborero!” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shoujo Comic (“Sho-Comi”). Released in North America by Viz.

This is a turning point for Ai Ore! in many ways. It’s the last volume published before the move from Shogakukan to Kadokawa Shoten, which is why it reads very much like it’s ending. It marks a point where the series stops trying to be a satire or parody of these sorts of mangas and simply becomes another example of them, albeit a funny one. And it also has Akira develop to the point where, though I still have a few reservations, I can now admit without irony that I am enjoying this title.

For one thing, this volume doesn’t even pretend to be about Mizuki anymore. Akira is the star here, and most of what we see are his attempts to deal at being in love with Mizuki. He wants to win her affection and love, his hormones are raging at him to seduce her as soon as possible, and he’s getting bad advice all round from many of his friends – some of which, in fact, we’ve seen him use before in earlier chapters. Akira is trying to find a balance between ‘women like a strong, sexy guy who can take command’ and ‘I know what’s best for her because I am an asshole’, and it’s not as hard a line to cross as he would like.

This makes him stand out from other typical Shogakukan male heroes, even more than the cutesy pretty girl looks he’s stuck with. An excellent example is a chapter where a rival shows up – Tsubasa, another pretty boy who looks like a girl that Mizuki met and accidentally enthralled a couple of years earlier. He challenges Akira to a competition, with Mizuki being the winner. Akira, of course, accepts, and is very curt to Mizuki – “just sit back and wait for me to come claim you”, he notes, and you want to smack him all over again. The contest itself, though, which shows him basically letting his lecherous classmates practically rape him just so that he can get their vote – shows that power is not really what drives him at all. And a good thing too, as he’s so bad at using it.

The end of that chapter has Ran, the slightly more sensible of Akira’s two playboy friends, asking him “Have you given any thought to how Mizuki feels about this?” Well, no, he hadn’t. It’s only partly his fault – Mizuki is still the weak link in this story, though she’s not as bad as she has been. We don’t worry as much about her doubting her femininity or trying to act girly… but we also empathize with Akira, as her waffling really is driving the reader crazy now as well. Mizuki here, I believe, finally at least understands what love is, and that she’s madly in love with Akira. I just wish the couple had better communication. But then I say that about most manga couples.

In the last chapter, everything comes together. Mizuki says that she loves Akira, Akira realizes that this wasn’t something that he could have forced, no matter how he tried, and the two have now been intimate. As I said, it READS like an ending – readers of Shoujo Comic would be satisfied with the way it wrapped up here. Of course, if they also purchased Kadokawa Shoten’s Asuka, they would see the series continue – and so will we, with Vol. 4. Which will also see it return to standard 200-page format, I believe. In any case, finally recommended with few reservations.

Also, great title drop right at the end there, for folks who wondered what Ai wo Utau Yori Ore ni Oborero meant.

Ai Ore!, Vol. 2

By Mayu Shinjo. Released in Japan as “Ai wo Utau Yori Ore ni Oborero!” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shoujo Comic (“Sho-Comi”). Released in North America by Viz.

Another volume of the meant to be fun but mostly incredibly frustrating Ai Ore, where you keep waiting for the heroine to embrace her inner prince and tell Akira where to stick it. But that’s not what’s going to happen here, and instead we’re going to get more and more of Mizuki getting in touch with her inner feminine emotions and learning what love really is. Which, honestly, is mostly fine. As long as Akira’s not being a horrible jerk.

No, really, it’s true. There’s a sequence of about 100 pages or so midway through this volume where Mayu Shinjo stops focusing on how possessive and stifling Akira wants his love to be, and how he will destroy everything about Mizuki’s life in order to make her his. Instead, we get actual fun plots featuring our heroes interacting with the other characters. Mizuki has to pretend to be a yakuza girlfriend. Akira gets sick and Mizuki has to take care of him. Mizuki goes to Akira’s culture festival, and finds him dressed as a catboy. This is really fun stuff. Mayu Shinjo has been writing manga for years, and has none of the newbie’s issues with pacing or padding. And since Akira isn’t being a brat, his relationship with Mizuki is actually enjoyable.

Then there’s the rest of the manga. As I noted in my review of Volume 1, he’d be a perfect horrible shoujo male lead if he weren’t so immature about it. We see here that he comes from a very overprotective family, and was no doubt spoiled rotten. This helps to explain a lot of his behaviors, but doesn’t necessarily make them any better to watch. To be fair, he is a little better here, especially when he finds he has competition in the form of Mizuki’s old childhood friend Shinnosuke, who has returned from university and is (needless to say) smoking hot. And also manly, something which sets Akira’s teeth on edge.

As for those wondering how seriously Shinjo is taking this manga, I would like to point to the helicopter, the boxing match, the shopping trip, the entirety of the yakuza omiai and culture festivals… there’s a lot in here that’s just a hoot, provided you remember to turn off your brain a bit. The humor here is a bit more subtle than Butterflies, Flowers, so it’s not as easy for me to throw off the casual sexism the way it is for that title. But I have to admit it, even if I do want to strangle Akira half the time, Ai Ore! remains a complete page-turner. It’s pretty much exactly what you want from a potboiler – the inability to put it down. Let’s hope the next volume continues that trend, and I’ll try to stop complaining about things that I would rather the author be writing about.

Ai Ore! Volume 1

By Mayu Shinjo. Released in Japan as “Ai wo Utau Yori Ore ni Oborero!” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shoujo Comic (“Sho-Comi”). Released in North America by Viz.

I think I’ve finally managed to figure out the lineage of this particular title. It debuted in 2006 with that long Japanese title translated as “Instead of Singing About Love, Drown Yourself in Me” at Shogakukan, in the pages of their shoujo in name only magazine Shoujo Comic. It ran for 5 volumes (including what we see here), and then the author had a very public falling out with her company and left, taking her work with her. The title ended rather abruptly in Sho-Comi, but then began as a “sequel” in Kadokawa’s shoujo magazine Asuka – in reality, it merely picked up right where it left off – and ran for 5 additional volumes. Kadokawa has licensed the whole shebang to Viz, and they’re releasing it in these slightly oversized, 300-page editions.

As for the manga itself, well, it may bear Kadokawa’s name, but it reeks of Shoujo Comic. This is a Mayu Shinjo title, and even though she’s playing with gender roles, and her lead girl is a handsome prince type rather than a cute busty girl, you have to go into it knowing what to expect. She isn’t known as the “Queen of Smut” for nothing, and even though Ai Ore! is technically rated T+ by Viz, it’s going to be knocking on the door of M without actually going in. What’s more, all of her favorite cliches and tropes are here and present, to the point that when we got to the distasteful final scene where the hero asks his best friend to rape a girl so she can be taught a lesson, my reaction was mostly surprise that it took that long.

In any case, the premise of Ai Ore! is that Mizuki is the “handsome prince” lead guitar player in an all-girls band, all of whom look very masculine and bishonen. They go to an all-girls school, where she’s the apple of all her fan’s eye. But then her best friend and lead singer moves to New York, and they need a new singer. Enter Akira, who has a great voice and looks like a cute teenage girl… except he’s a boy. And what’s more, he’s obsessed with Mizuki, and determined to make her fall for him. The trouble is that the naive Mizuki isn’t even sure what love *is*. She just knows that her chest hurts when she gets near him…

It has to be noted that the author is clearly writing this with her tongue firmly in her cheek. She knows what her teen Japanese readers want, and is giving it to them in spades. Mizuki is actually a rather interesting cross between your typical put-upon Shinjo heroine, a dense and clueless Hakusensha type, AND a handsome guy in the role of the “uke”. Aside from the occasional shots of Mizuki’s breasts or seeing her naked, this could be a BL manga – no doubt deliberately. As for Akira, he’s even more interesting. He’s trying to be the standard hero of these sorts of manga – I believe TV Tropes calls it the ‘Bastard Boyfriend’ type, i.e. “Sure he’s mean and callous and manipulative and forcing himself on me, but OH SO HOT.” The trouble is that he’s young, selfish, and immature, and therefore doesn’t really have the right tone. So we see him vacillate wildly between sweet little boy, manipulative seducer, and callous jerk. I’m actually rather interested to see if he manages to settle on one by the end of the series.

Honestly, there wasn’t anything that really irritated my sensibilities until the final scene, mostly as I was reading it with my “this is a Shinjo Mayu” switch turned on. The final scene is pretty horrible, though, with the lesbian seductress who attempted to sexually assault Mizuki a chapter or so earlier being “taught a lesson” by Akira and his best male friend (who has a crush on him, sort of). I’m not sure of the author will actually go through with it – I suspect not – but it’s a bad place for a cliffhanger, as it leaves a bad taste in your mouth that affects the entire volume. One might also ask why the strong and tall Mizuki always seems to be overpowered by various people whenever they attempt to seduce her, including the much smaller Akira, but hey…

In the end, this manga knows its audience, and the author knows how to line up current trends and her undoubted skill at shoujo smut to make an interesting story. Mizuki and Akira are different enough from the usual cliche that I want to know more about them – not just the crossdressing, but even their “true personalities” seem fluid and not set in stone, very appropriate for the teenagers they are. I’m not certain how much of this is meant to be comedic, as in a Butterflies, Flowers type, and how much is just the usual shoujo “he does it because he loves you” drama, as in Black Bird, but I’ll definitely give it another volume to find out. And anyone who was a fan of Black Bird, or Stepping on Roses, or Hot Gimmick, or even Sensual Phrase, the author’s other English-language title, should love this.