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+)
Cathy saysMarch 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm
I know this is just a tiny part of your review, but what is it with manga and hot springs’ resorts! I swear, shoujo mangaka, there are more plots in the world then hot springs’ resorts! Just for once, could they, I don’t know, go hiking or skiing or touring art museums!
Oh my god Sensual Phrase. I totally forgot about how ridiculous that story is.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 7:43 am
I know! I understand that Japan is a volcanic archipelago, and that hot springs are both a feature of the landscape and a part of the culture, but still… It does seem like students might go to a zoo or a museum or a historically important city once in a while. I guess the hot springs trip is the equivalent of the senior prom or homecoming game in an American YA novel.
And yes, wow, was Sensual Phrase silly! For a manga about a songwriter, it had some of the cheesiest lyrics I can remember!
lys saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm
I’m going on a tangent here, but shoujo totally has skiing episodes! There is skiing in Portrait of M&N. And there’s snowboarding in Gals! I believe Boys over Flowers also shipped its characters off to the slopes, but it’s been a while… Oh, one more—a chapter in My Heavenly Hockey Club features hot springs at a ski resort! (Ai Morinaga seems to delight in using and abusing all the manga clichés she can think of, so this chapter is fairly great). I could think of a few hiking examples too (at least two of them from titles listed here, actually), but I won’t bore you. Unless you’re interested!
Kate, shoujo manga characters go to Kyoto all the time on school trips! I can think of a couple zoo episodes too, but it’s true they’re not nearly as prevalent as hot springs. Manga clichés can be great when done by certain authors—I love shoujo in part because of that familiarity and consistency—but sometimes it is just ridiculous.
lys saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm
Oops, sorry about the broken italics! Darn it.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:28 pm
I’ve got your back — wayward italics have been wrangled, and your numerous examples of field trips to other locales have been duly noted!
As soon as I’d typed my initial comment, I remembered hiking expeditions in My Darling! Miss Bancho and Monkey High!. So yes, you’re absolutely right: hot springs are not the only place that shojo manga-ka think to send a high school class on a field trip. (It just seems that way sometimes!)
Cathy saysApril 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm
Haha, yes, and I remember Ouran (thought they’re a rich school, so…) also did a skiing trip, and didn’t We Were There do both a hiking trip and something else? I can’t really remember, but something of that sort. So it isn’t universal! But I always find it overwhelming. Whenever a school trip is brought up, I’m always, like oh, well, here we go again, time for hot springs hijinks….
Noura saysMarch 30, 2011 at 12:21 am
I am actually looking forward to the release of the first volume of Ai Ore! in May. I did read Mayu Shinjo’s Sensual Phrase years ago and I didn’t think it was all that great but it sure is good to see more of the mangaka’s works available in English.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 7:50 am
Have you read anything else by Shinjo? Looking at her Wikipedia entry, she seems quite prolific.
Noura saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:00 am
Other than Kaikan Phrase a.k.a. Sensual Phrase, I haven’t read anything by the mangaka. I tried reading a little of Love Celeb but didn’t go too far as I don’t like reading scans much. I own all the 18 volumes of Kaikan Phrase and I thought it was really good at the time as I was just starting my own collection but now I found that there are more better shoujo series out there. Again, I am always interested in Mayu Shinjo’s works as it is a good have some sexy shoujo in your collection.
LG saysMarch 30, 2011 at 12:58 am
I’ve only read one volume of Sensual Phrase so far, although I think I’ve got a few more somewhere in my collection. I thought it was a weirdly addictive kind of terrible, too over-the-top for me to take things that would normally bother me seriously.
Ai Ore! doesn’t sound like something I’d like even on that kind of level, though. The setup sounded a little interesting, but the rest of it not so much.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 7:49 am
The best trashy fiction gets its hooks into you and compels you to keep reading, even though you know how silly it is. Alas, Ai Ore just never did that for me; lots of things happen that ought to be juicy and entertaining, but the execution is so disjointed and lifeless that I never got caught up in it. I was secretly hoping it would be as addictive as, say, Honey Hunt.
Noura saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:02 am
I totally agree that Honey Hunt is addictive, though it might not be all that good. I found myself wanting more. I keep hoping that we won’t end up with the worst pairing as it happened in Hot Gimmick.
JRB saysMarch 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm
“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.)”
As a woman who was quite tall as a girl (and ended up pretty tall, but not as tall as I wanted to be – I was sure I was going to hit 6′) and was entirely happy being tall, I want a manga about a tall girl who likes being tall and is confident about it, dammit. Every shoujo with a tall heroine just has to have her go on about how uncomfortable and selfconscious she is and how she wishes she were small and delicate, blah blah blah… Bah humbug.
Anyway, I had hopes for Ai Ore, even though genderbending manga in general tend to be a disappointment by going back to stereotypical gender roles in the end. Sounds like those hopes will not be fulfilled, sigh.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm
Sounds like you were a lot more at home in your own skin at fourteen than I was! I had a big growth spurt in junior high and reached my full adult height by the time I started high school. I was hardly the only tall girl at my high school, but I also had a deep speaking voice and a terrible short haircut (sort of like that awful ‘do Mary Stuart Masterson had in Some Kind of Wonderful), which meant that I got called a boy quite frequently. My life improved considerably when I grew my hair out and the boys finally caught up to me, height-wise. I didn’t always hate being tall — it’s certainly an asset when I play sports or buy clothing — but I didn’t have the self-confidence in high school to pull it off. So I tend to go a little easier on manga-ka whose tall teen heroines are angstful about their size.
As for Ai Ore!, the gender-bending aspect is little more than a tease; the author doesn’t have the imagination (or courage) to actually do something subversive with her characters.
BurningLizard saysMarch 30, 2011 at 7:05 pm
There once was a time when I was considering reading shoujo. I read one (can’t remember which), and then after that it felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. Which is entirely not a valid argument when one considers my love for everything shonen. (Wow…translate that word into english and suddenly we have a supremely creepy sentence here).
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm
Don’t write off shojo just because some titles capitulate to cliche! Moto Hagio is a badass: look for They Were Eleven, A, A’, or A Drunken Dream, all of which are really beautiful, weird, and thoughtful. Ai Morinaga writes some of the funniest, rudest high school comedies on the market. And Kiyoko Ariyoshi! Swan may look like pure, unadulterated shojo, but at its steely core, it’s a surprisingly manly shonen tournament manga.
Kris saysApril 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm
I haven’t finished reading this yet, but I’m enjoying it so far. It’s cute! It has some real problems, but I’m trying to ignore them and just enjoy it as a sort of shoujo cliche. It works well as that.
Katherine Dacey saysApril 3, 2011 at 10:09 am
Cliches don’t bother me if the story is well constructed, but everything feels so half-hearted in Ai Ore that I never could abandon myself to the story and just roll with it.
Robyn saysMay 23, 2011 at 7:07 am
Volume 1 started out w/ such promise… until the end. The last few pages were really shitty.
maya saysJuly 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm
i read almost all the mangas of Mayu Shinjo’s . and for me Ai Ore it one of the best manga she done!
i love soo much mizhoki and Akire! thay soo cute!
also this mangke have soo much to say on many topics in every manga she done..
And not forget her amazing Drawing talent !