Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sensual Phrase (manga, vol. 1) by Mayu Shinjo

It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I actually kind of liked this. It's cheesy and reads like the sex-crazed fantasies of a teenage girl, and yet it's somehow addictive. In real life, Sakuya would piss me off, but, as long as I don't allow reality to intrude, I can enjoy this series.

Synopsis:

Aine has never really been that into pop stars and rock bands, but when her friends urge her to enter a lyric-writing contest she decides to give it a shot, writing some very suggestive lyrics. Later on, she is almost hit by a car while trying to rescue her dropped lyrics. The driver is a gorgeous guy who Aine decides must be foreign, because of his blue eyes. After flirting with her a bit, he hands her an all access pass to the band Lucifer's concert at Tokyo Dome (Lucifer is a visual band - some examples of this are Malice Mizer, Miyavi, and Moi dix Mois; try a Google image search, it's fun).

Aine decides to go and is shocked to discover that Lucifer's lead singer is the gorgeous man she met. Not only that, but the last song he sings that night is her song - she was so flustered by him that she never even noticed that he picked up her lyrics and took them with him. The guy, Sakuya, takes Aine backstage and announces that Aine will be Lucifer's new lyricist. Just as Aine is close to talking herself into the job, Sakuya's manager, Koichi Sasaki, tells her to leave, because Sakuya's only playing with her. However, after Aine leaves, hurt and embarrassed, it's revealed that the song Aine wrote is one of the most popular songs at the concert.

Aine can't believe it when Sakuya bundles her into his car, takes her to a classy apartment, and begins seducing her. He stops before they get further than unbuttoned shirts and confirms, to Aine's embarrassment, that Aine is a virgin (get your mind out of the gutter, it's just his playboy intuition talking). Aine's a little outraged when she realizes that the reason he was seducing her was probably so that he could stir her imagination up and prompt her to write even better, steamier lyrics. When Aine agrees to be Lucifer's lyricist, against Mr. Sasaki's objections, Sakuya only smiles and hands her the keys to the enormous apartment - apparently, the place is now hers, for her to use while she writes her lyrics.

Aine enjoys getting to attend things like Lucifer's concerts and photo shoots, but it quickly becomes apparent that her job is not without risks - Sakuya's fans are rabidly devoted. Aine becomes afraid when she finds out that her name and contact information has been passed around at a recent Lucifer concert, but she doesn't want to worry or upset Sakuya. Things get worse, however, when some girls show up at her school and dunk her head in a bucket of water. Sakuya puts a stop to that, but they're not finished yet. Although Sakuya is now a student at Aine's school (they're both 17), he can't be near her all the time. One of Sakuya's fans decides that Aine is probably only worth something to Sakuya as long as she's a virgin, so she decides to arrange to have Aine's raped. Once again, Sakuya manages to swoop in in time to save her, and this time he's really pissed. Aine, who sympathizes with the fans' jealousy, cools his anger somewhat, and the girls swear they won't do anything to her again.

Mr. Sasaki accuses Aine of causing Sakuya trouble, distracting him from his work, so Aine guiltily does her best not to bother him. However, after the wonderful experience of getting to hear Lucifer's fans's enjoyment of her newest lyrics (which they have no idea were written by a girl), Aine discovers that Sakuya has sought her out - and he even kisses her in public. Later, he stops by her place in order to spend his precious free time with her. They have a nice time, and Aine allows herself to imagine, just for a second, that they're actually a couple.

It's just a fantasy, though. Aine keeps getting reminders that it's all just business between her and Sakuya. Takako Kai, the director in charge of Lucifer, has decided that their newest music video should emphasize the eroticism of their lyrics, to the point of being close to an adult video. She says she wants Aine to produce the music video because of the natural feel she seems to have for the band, but it's later revealed that it was Mr. Sasaki who insisted that Aine do this. Mr. Sasaki also asks Aine to come up with a male pseudonym for herself, because it would be better for Lucifer. For some reason, Mr. Sasaki seems to enjoy upsetting Aine - perhaps he's hoping that, if he upsets her enough, she'll leave.

When Sakuya sees Aine leaving in tears, he decides to write and sing a song just for her, a song Aine assumes will once again have steamy lyrics designed to stir up her desires. Instead, confusingly, it turns out to be a love song. Aine tries to shrug it off, but Sakuya won't let her, and the two of them almost end up in bed together until Sakuya stops things after he notices Aine's trembling. Aine assumes that he stopped because she's only worth something to him as a virgin, so she decides that, from now on, she'll keep things strictly business. For the music video, she suggests erotic scenarios in which the female models' faces are hidden from the camera, allowing fans to more fully imagine themselves in the models' places - and Aine's idea is accepted, by everyone but Sakuya at least.

Aine dreads having to watch Sakuya's scenario get filmed, but then Sakuya stops things in the middle of filming, says the model isn't doing it for him, and strips Aine down to her underwear and has her take the model's place. Everyone is shocked, but it's immediately apparent Sakuya will be more amazing if he's with Aine - because, even if they don't realize it yet, Aine and Sakuya are in love.

Commentary:

The first thing I thought when I saw this series' artwork was, "This must be kind of old" - the original copyright is 1997, so it kind of is. There are aspects of the artwork that I don't like (Sakuya's hands are freakishly huge, and their structure doesn't seem quite natural), but otherwise it's not too bad.

I said at the beginning of this post that I liked this volume, and I'm not really sure why I do. Sure, Sakuya has some of the characteristics I like in fictional guys - he's good-looking, confident and yet with a vulnerable side, and he's got some great mysterious aspects to explore. However, he's also arrogant and comes on way too strong - at the beginning of the volume, after nearly running Aine over, he practically gropes her, and he's only just met her. At their third meeting, he nearly strips her shirt off. By the end of the book, he gets her nearly naked in front of lots of people and video cameras.

Sakuya's the kind of guy who, in the real world, I'd want to smack - but that's the thing, this series isn't reality, not even close. In reality, a 17-year-old girl with no lyric-writing experience wouldn't be churning out erotic lyrics, blushing with embarrassment even as she happily goes to hand the lyrics over to the guy who inspired them. In reality, Aine's parents would probably need to be involved, and there would certainly be some serious legal considerations over the idea of a 17-year-old girl writing erotic lyrics for a popular band, getting harassed by jealous fans, and getting stripped naked for a sudden unplanned appearance in an erotic music video. With all of these things happening that are so completely outside the bounds of reality, I seem to be able to take Sakuya's behavior in a stride and accept it all as cheesy, awful fun.

As terrible as this series is, for me, for now, it's a good kind of terrible. I'll have to see how long I can sit back and enjoy a series that inspired an anime that gave birth to a real band. Japanese pop culture can be such fun to read up on sometimes.

Extras:

There are occasional author free-talk sidebars, in which the author/artist writes about bands she's found out about since she began Sensual Phrase.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga. Those who'd like another romantic series featuring the music industry and a mysterious, sexy male character who can be both protective and a bit of a bastard (not necessarily such a bad thing, at least in fiction) might want to try this.
  • Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - After being dumped by Sho, her boyfriend, childhood friend, and the guy she's basically lived her entire life for, Kyoko is consumed by a desire to crush him. Determined to become more famous than him, Kyoko goes to a talent agency as big as Sho's. The road to fame isn't quite as smooth and easy as Kyoko expected it to be, but, through guts, determination, and talents she never realized she had, Kyoko slowly manages to grow as an actress. Ren, a famous actor, dislikes Kyoko for her motives, but, as Kyoko discovers she actually likes acting, is it possible that Ren's feelings towards her might change? This is another romantic series focusing on the entertainment business.
  • Black Bird (manga) by Kanoko Sakurakoji - Misao is horrified to discover that Kyo, her first love, is actually a tengu, a kind of demon, and that she has the dubious honor of being special - a demon who drinks her blood gains a long life, one who eats her flesh gains eternal youth, and one who makes her his bride will have a prosperous clan. Kyo wants her to be his bride and promises to protect her from all who would harm her, but Misao doesn't want him if he only wants her for what she can do for his clan. Kyo has to convince her that he really does care for her, but can love between a demon and a human really work out? Like Sensual Phrase, this series is pretty racy (Misao is always getting hurt, and Kyo heals her by licking the wounds in scenes that have a tendency to look like sex scenes), and both series feature heroines who doubt that the mysterious, sometimes brooding, sometimes teasing guys who say they love them really do love them.
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. The "love figures" aspect makes this series a bit racy, although, I'd argue, not quite as racy as Sensual Phrase. There's a few parts in this series where jealous girls attack Riiko - very similar to what happens to Aine.

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