President Momoi-Kun by Higashi Nishida (Shachou Momoi-kun, serialized in Opera; EDGE Comix edition 2011, Juné edition 2013)
This is an example of a type of BL that is rare in translation: gag manga. There’s plenty of rom-com, sitcom, nuttery and slapstick in translated BL, but the only other title devoted specifically to gag humor that I can think of offhand is All Nippon Air Line (note acronym). Opera has a reputation in the West as a publisher of more sophisticated / alt-indie / literary BL, but they also run stuff like this, which is none of the above.
The titular Momoi-kun, who is a bit of a layabout, has just accepted a figurehead position as president of his father’s company, purely because he wants to find a cute young executive with glasses to be his boyfriend. The secretarial position for his office hasn’t been filled, so he gets shown around and assisted by one of the managers, who happens to be a not-so-cute older guy, but with glasses. This of course eventually leads to romance, but that’s not nearly as important as the fact that it leads to gags.
Gags about glasses. Gags about company politics. Gags about bizarre coworkers. Self-referential gags about being a gag manga. Most of the jokes are out-of-left-field non-sequiturs, and although some of them are quite funny, they don’t add up to anything or forward the (minimal) plot. Around the halfway point, the author remembers that there is supposed to be a romance in here somewhere, and throws in a little stock-scenario emotional bonding and some unlikely elevator sex. And for a dose of emotional whiplash, dropped right into the middle of the volume is an unrelated one-chapter tragic romance (which gets recycled as a gag at the end of the volume).
I’m not sure what the appeal of this title is supposed to be. The romance, such as it is, is not convincing, the story having blown all its goodwill and suspension of disbelief on the gags (and it does not help that the characters’ personalities and motivations change at whim to suit the current setup), and almost all of the gags are generic ones that have nothing to do with the characters or situation, so it’s not satisfying as a BL manga. On the other hand, it’s also not satisfying as a gag manga: the bits of relationship-building interrupt the flow of the humor, especially in the second half of the book, and although the gags are occasionally outstanding, too many are old warhorses and/or uninventive. I suspect that this series was more fun to read in serialization, as a few pages of crazy in-between the actual story-driven stories (most of the chapters are quite short, contributing to the lack of plot momentum). It doesn’t even have visual appeal to fall back on; the cut-out cover is appealing, but the interior art is stylistically generic and not very technically accomplished.
Unless you are a huge fan of this author, or a huge fan of gag manga, or have a compulsive-obsessive need to own ALL THE BL (like me), you can skip this one.
This is part of a series on otokonoko media, works for a male audience that focus on crossdressing boys; you may want to take a look at the intro post.
(This book is not to be confused with Boy Princess, a BL manhwa series by Seyoung Kim that involves crossdressing, Shounen Oujo ~ Mimic Royal Princess, a shoujo manga series by Zenko Musashino and Utako Yukihiro that involves crossdressing, or Josou no Ojisama ~ Drag Prince, a BL anthology series that involves crossdressing.)
The topic of today’s review / commentary / thing is an otokonoko manga featuring a straight romance. Bent totally circular, but straight. As far as I can tell, this manga isn’t published in any language that I can actually read, but I wanted to talk about it anyway because it confuses me, in an interesting way. (My Japanese is minimal, so this summary is based on picture-reading, Google Translate, and sweating through short passages with a radical dictionary, so don’t expect complete comprehension.) I’m going to spoiler a lot of the plot, because it’s not translated and I expect that few people will have the opportunity (or desire) to read it anyway.
Our hero Naotora is a cute Japanese schoolboy who has been shanghaied into becoming the bride of the crown prince of the fictional Southeast Asian country Urunei. (I’ll admit that I’m not sure of the context here; there’s all of three pages to explain the setup before Nao gets handcuffed and shoved onto an international flight.) The role of course involves crossdressing, but also, for some reason, golden tiger ears; the book’s subtitle means “tiger princess Nao” in Indonesian (the last part of Naotora’s name means “tiger”, so there’s a pun involved), and the “tiger princess” seems to be of some kind of special significance in the fictional culture.
Unfortunately Urunei is in the grip of political turmoil, and no sooner has he arrived in the palace than he’s the target of an assassination attempt. But lo! Aforesaid prince (his name is given phonetically as Afumado Bin Shaya Rafuman, god knows what they were aiming for), who is of course handsome and dashing, swoops in to rescue Nao and take him to a local festival where prince-dude can do the seductive “wipe food off the other party’s face and eat it” thing. This leads to an argument which ends with prince-dude sweeping Nao off his feet (literally) and kissing his thighs, which gives Nao an erection, thus outing him as a guy, leading to some “OMG I made out with a guy” angst abruptly terminated by another assassination attempt, requiring prince-dude to buckle some more swash in a suitably dramatic and dashing way. But lo! When they finally get back to the palace, Nao discovers, via a totally gratuitous bathing scene, that prince-dude a) is in fact not a dude, and b) has an amazing ability to pack her impressive frontage into that sleek princely uniform. (This all happens in the first chapter, by the way.) It’s vaguely implied that prince-girl prefers girls and isn’t happy about the dudeparts, but she gets over it, of course. I suppose it helps that Nao is a girlish little cutie and she never sees him in male clothing (and aside from the first three pages and a one-panel flashback, neither do we).
The story takes a couple of extended trips into fanservice-land (such as buxom handmaidens being punished for misbehavior by being forced to wear vibrators glued to their inner thighs – sure, conservative SE Asian countries totally do that), but mainly there’s Plot: evil scheming rivals, thwarted political coups, lots more assassination attempts, kidnappings, dramatic revelations of parentage, double-crossing subordinates, and the escaping of certain death by the skin of their teeth, during which prince-girl and bride-boy discover (surprise) that they like each other. In fact, there is too much plot for a single volume to comfortably hold, and even without being able to understand all of it I get the feeling that a lot of plot threads get unceremoniously dropped for lack of space.
Nao pretty much gets the role of the plucky girl protagonist who holds off the bad guys by wit, guile and occasional shows of bravery until her prince shows up with the cavalry, only of course genderflipped. At one point Nao, in the course of some sleuthing that goes south, tangles with the hot but evil rival-prince guy and gets out of it by being seductive, leading to a passionate kiss from evil rival guy. At the climax of the story, after a lot more action and prince-girl’s dramatic murder (spoiler: *psych*), evil-dude gets shot and falls off a boat; he drags Nao in with him but in the process gets a view of Nao’s crotch, realizes he kissed a guy, and drowns in a state of gay-panic self-loathing. And so our couple lives happily ever after in genderbent bliss.
(Off topic, but the combination of gratuitous crossdressing, political intrigue, and swashbuckling reminds me a lot of Shounen Oujo ~ Mimic Royal Princess, except that one is shoujo and this one is shounen, so instead of androgynous lolicons, gender politics, and hot heteroflexible pirates, we have fetish underwear, boobies, and close-up shots of erect dog penis. Also, Shounen Oujo is spectacular and really badly needs to be licensed, whereas this one not so much.)
What confuses me deeply about this thing is that I can’t tell what fantasy it’s selling. On the one hand, the story itself is firmly heterosexual; the one case of guy-on-guy making out ends up with said guy getting his just desserts through not only death but the soul-destroying realization that he has inadvertently committed teh ghey. On the other hand, the book is eager to display Nao’s curvy feminine succulence, starting with the cover and interior color page and continuing through pretty much the whole book; he gets almost as many fanservice shots as the various well-endowed secondary female characters. (Prince-girl, oddly enough, gets almost no fanservice other than the one bathing scene which reveals her sex and the portrait on the back cover; instead, she gets to be cool and heroic). I suppose that if you want to fantasize about being a cute crossdresser you might as well fantasize about being a hot sexy cute crossdresser, but the way Nao is handled feels like you are supposed to want to drool on him, not be him. And he spends an awful lot of the story being seductive at, or being seduced by, male or thought-to-be-male characters. But at the same time it doesn’t feel like the “instant bisexual threeway, just add your wang” kind of girl-on-crossdresser story that pairs up two characters that are both fantasy objects, in part because prince-girl is not nearly as sexualized as Nao is.
So I don’t know, maybe they’re just trying to cover all the bases? This is one of the things that interests me about otokonoko media; it’s so catholic about what you the reader might want out of it or who you might want to be or might want to bang. But it’s still unusual to have an individual story that is so ambiguous, especially running in a mainstream shounen magazine.
It’s also unusual for a heterosexual otokonoko romance to only have the crossdresser on the cover, although in this case I guess they couldn’t have put prince-girl on the cover without either making it look like m/m or blowing the big reveal. Incidentally, this is not the first shounen manga from Akita Shoten to prominently feature a crossdressing boy’s naked ass; I believe that honor goes to No Bra volume 4, published ten years ago. Crossdresser ass: it is perennial. (Also, the whole Shounen Champion / Champion Red magazine complex is way into crossdressers.)
If you have an ardent desire to own this book for yourself, I got it off of J-List (potentially NSFW), but it’s available from the usual Japanese-import suspects and of course amazon.co.jp. It’s not a must-have; the art is competent and consistent (and not very moe-fied, for a change) but still fairly basic shounen stuff, and while it is nice to have a story with a significant plot besides the romance, this one has too much plot for its length and doesn’t really get it to gel. If you spot it in your local Kinokuniya it might be worth picking up, but it’s not worth going out of your way for.