Androgyny is as much a part of rock-n-roll as sex, drugs, and three-minute guitar solos, so it seems only natural that a music-obsessed manga-ka would write about a female guitarist who struts like Mick Jagger, or a male singer who can wail like Whitney Houston. Putting two such androgynous rock-n-rollers together in the same manga seems like a stroke of genius — think of what Moto Hagio could do with those characters! — until you realize that Ai Ore! is written by the author of Sensual Phrase, quite possibly the silliest manga ever written about rock musicians.
Ai Ore! begins promisingly enough. Mizuki — a tall, masculine girl — reluctantly allows Akira — a short, feminine boy — to join her band Blaue Rosen. At first, Mizuki seems to be the dominant one; not only is she taller and stronger than Akira, she’s also more charismatic, commanding her friends’ loyalty through the strength of her personality, rather than her sexual allure. (Akira, by contrast, relies on his delicate good looks to get what he wants.) Mizuki claims to hate men, but it doesn’t take long before her cover is blown: she’s besotted with Akira.
So far, so good: Mizuki is a believable character, embracing a masculine persona to camouflage how uncomfortable she feels in her own skin. (As someone who was also tall and broad-shouldered in high school, I can attest to the special misery of being bigger than many of my female peers: I vacillated between striding the halls like General MacArthur and secretly wishing I was four inches shorter.) Even Mizuki’s desire to be softer and prettier for Akira makes sense; she can’t imagine that a boy would be interested in a girl who was unconventionally feminine, despite abundant evidence that both her female and male peers find her attractive.
No, where the story really goes off the rails is in its dogged insistence on including every shojo cliche in the Hana to Yume playbook. A few chapters into the series, for example, we learn that Mizuki’s ambivalence about men stems from a distressing childhood experience in which she became so infatuated with a cute boy that she felt physically ill. (In a line straight out of Guys and Dolls, Mizuki declares, “Men are bad for your health!”) Shinjo doesn’t bother to conceal the mystery prince’s identity from readers, nor does she use that revelation to bring her leads closer together; the whole episode feels completely perfunctory, as if Shinjo were ticking off plot points from a checklist. The same goes for a story line that sends Mizuki, Akira, and a bus full of girls on a retreat. You probably don’t need me to tell you that their destination is a resort with hot springs, or that Akira infiltrates the group by pretending to be girl, or that Mizuki’s virtue is threatened by one of Akira’s classmates who’s tagged along for the express purpose of putting the moves on Mizuki.
It’s too bad that the story settles for such predictable plot twists; there’s a germ of a good idea in here, a chance to challenge the way teenagers define “feminine” and “masculine” by celebrating kids who can’t be neatly pegged as either. Instead, Mizuki and Akira revert to stereotypical female and male roles in the drama, with Mizuki sobbing and trembling and needing rescues, and Akira playing the hero. Now where’s the rock-n-roll in that?
Review copy provided by VIZ Media, LLC. Volume one will be available on May 3, 2011.
AI ORE!, VOL. 1 • BY MAYU SHINJO • VIZ • 300 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)