I’ve been a fan of graphic novels for quite some time and over the past year I’ve forced myself to learn how to read manga (and have quite happily enjoyed the fruits of such “labor”). I’ve read several series now which have been exciting, beautiful to look at, and engaging in their stories and depth. Most notably, Death Note, which is not only the best manga I’ve ever read, but one of the best books/series I’ve ever read.
Death Note, however, like virtually all of the manga I have read is shonen, or geared toward a male audience. I had not really tried to experience much shojo, or girl-oriented, manga. So, the other day, in the name of professional development, I sat down at lunch with an issue of Shojo Beat and began reading.
I’ll admit it. I had a hard time.
Luck turned out to be on my side. It happened to be the issue of Shojo Beat where the first installment of Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase (author of Fushigi Yugi, Ceres: Celestial Legend, and Alice 19th, among others) appeared. Unlike the other series in the magazine, Absolute Boyfriend actually grabbed my male attention with its humor, art, and scifi elements all in a story about a teen girl who has not been the luckiest in the love arena.
The story, in a nutshell.
Riko, a bumbling, yet enthusiastically endearing teenager, throws it out on the line for her most recent crush, and is rejected. After a series of events, she orders an online boyfriend, who shows up, naked, in a box the next day. The power of her kiss turns him on (literally and figuratively) and he becomes the most devoted boyfriend imaginable. Of course, there is a catch. Riko only has a three day trial of the Nightly Lover figure (robot, doll?), which she names Night. Unfortunately (for Riko, but fotunate for the comic story it creates), Riko miscalculates the amount of time she has before needing to return Night and ends up owing the company $1,000,000. Hilarity ensues, especially in the form of Night’s amorous intentions and enthusiasm to please Riko, as well as the Nightly Lover salesman that randomly appears and inserts himself into various situations in Riko’s life.
This comedy combines with some very real issues facing a teenage girl such as the clique-iness of teen culture, rivalries among her peers, school, gender relationships, and simple survival in a life ignored (in Riko’s case, completely since they are absent) by one’s parents. In addition, Absolute Boyfriend adds in a dose of somewhat cliched storylines, such the shy male friend whose unrequited love/crush leads him to act out against his love interest while also trying to protect her from all harm, but these, if anything, simply add to the manga’s charm. Soshi is delightful as this character and his plight is one the reader both sympathizes with (how can a regular guy ever compete against a manufactured perfect ideal) and laughs at (his devotion to Riko is only surpassed by Night’s inhuman puppy dog-like loyalty).
Absolute Boyfriend is rated T+ for older teens, though it is quite tame compared to other similarly rated manga out there. Sure there is a naked butt or two, but, at least in the 3 volumes currently available (volume 4 will be released in August), that was as mature as it gets graphically. Content-wise, it is worth noting that one of the major conflicts in the story is Night’s overt affections (as a robot/doll/whatever dedicated to providing Riko with happiness and physical pleasure) and Riko’s refusal to have sex with someone if she is not in love. In addition, there is Riko’s own internal conflict between physical desire and her personal convictions. So, while sex is discussed, it’s done with consideration for actual teen viewpoints on the matter. It’s not just teens boinking.
I highly recommend this series (to both girls and boys!) and look forward to future volumes. If this is what shojo has to offer, I’ll be reading more!