Friday, June 17, 2011

Your & My Secret (manga, vol. 1) by Ai Morinaga

Synopsis:

Akira, a good-looking but not very manly kind of guy, has a crush on Nakano, for reasons I don't really understand. Nakano looks like a lovely, sweet-natured girl, but anyone who gets in her way or talks to her quickly becomes aware that she's actually rude, violent, and direct to a painful degree.

When Nakano is called in sick at school, Akira volunteers to bring her the day's handouts. He learns that Nakano wasn't actually sick, but was instead being experimented on by her grandfather, who wanted to test something he invented that was supposed to make people smaller. Nakano volunteers Akira as a guinea pig instead of her, but then they both accidentally get zapped. Instead of becoming smaller, Nakano and Akira's personalities switch bodies.

Nakano seems perfectly fine with the situation, happy that she can do things without having to worry about being ladylike (never mind that she was never very ladylike anyway). Akira, on the other hand, is desperate to get back into his own body and frustrated that Nakano's grandfather doesn't even seem to be trying to fix the machine that could switch him and Nakano back.

In this volume, Nakano, in Akira's body, starts dating her best friend Shiina (who has no idea she's not dating Akira). Akira's best friend Senbongi falls in love (or would it be more accurate to say "in lust"?) with him, not realizing that he's dealing with Akira in Nakano's body. Also, Akira experiences his first period and learns how to bat his eyes and look cute in order to get his way with men.

Commentary:

This was recommended to me by a few people. I think this is only the second of Ai Morinaga's work I've ever tried, but it seems like Morinaga comes up with some great series premises. This bit of craziness was difficult for me to write about, because there were enough things I really disliked that I kind of feel like I shouldn't have liked it. Somehow I ended up enjoying it anyway.

If this volume's jokes had only centered around Akira being more feminine in his behavior and Nanako more masculine, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did. What really got me laughing was Akira and Nanako's reactions to their body switch. Akira had the expected reaction – he's just enough of a teenage boy to be psyched at the chance to get to see his crush's naked body (hey, he has to undress and shower sometime), but he'd still like his own body and life back.

Nanako, on the other hand, revels in her new body. She approaches this situation like it's her ticket to try out any “guy thing” she might ever have wanted to do. For her, that means getting to do karate, having sex with a perfect stranger (technically, she didn't flat-out say she had sex, but it's implied and that's how Akira understands it), and dating Shiina, her best friend.

Akira's female body gives him some identity anxiety. He has never been considered manly, but it really bothers him that everyone seems to like “Akira” better now that Nanako has his body. His classmates and family are all thrilled at how cool and manly “Akira” has gotten. Meanwhile, Akira, in Nanako's body, is worried that he makes too good of a girl. He'd probably freak out even more if he knew that all his male classmates blush and get nervous and starry-eyed whenever he smiles at them.

While Akira can't stop worrying about gender issues, Nakano doesn't seem to be the slightest bit affected by worries of any kind. She simply assumes that, now that she's got a male body, her behavior will sometimes be affected by male hormones. Her strategy for dealing with this is just to go with the flow. When she starts to notice how cute Shiina is, she asks her out. Does she wonder if this might mean that she's a lesbian? Nope. In her mind, since she's in a guy's body, it's only understandable that she'd find herself attracted to a girl.

If Akira starts to fall for his friend Senbongi (which I'm not entirely sure I'd be okay with at this point, since Senbongi seems to be the type who thinks that girls who struggle and say “no” are even cuter than willing girls), you can bet Akira won't be nearly as blasé about the whole thing. So far, this series seems like the perfect setup for Akira torture – with Senbongi, he'd either start to fret about being gay or he'd fret about becoming too much like a girl, and with Nanako, anything they did with each other while in each other's bodies would just be...weird. Judging by the little preview for the next volume, it looks like Morinaga's going to introduce another part to their weird love polygon, Shiina. Will Akira start to fall for Shiina? Will he fall for Senbongi? Or will his love for Nanako stay strong (although goodness knows why, since he can't think of a single reason he likes her beyond how she looks)?

Speaking of Akira torture, I was extremely amused when Akira got to experience his first period. It was an easy joke and was bound to come up at some point, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Akira is great fun. I can easily imagine that being in a female body might actually give him an opportunity to figure himself out – whether he ends up staying in Nakano's body or gets his own body back, I think he'll be a likeable character until the end.

I did some checking, and it looks like this series might still be ongoing in Japan, with 7 volumes available in the U.S. (published by Tokyopop, which means availability issues could be on the horizon). One of my problems with Morinaga's My Heavenly Hockey Club is that it got to the point where it seemed like the same general jokes, with no real resolution on the horizon. Similar to Tomoko Hayakawa's The Wallflower, the series could end in the next volume, or 20 volumes later. I hope that Your & My Secret doesn't have a similar feel, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

The one thing I really worry about with this series, though, isn't so much that its jokes might get old, but rather where the story might end up. I hope this is supposed to be a comedy, and not a romantic comedy, because, at this point, there isn't a single person I want Akira to end up with. Like I said, Senbongi seems like a rapist waiting to happen. Nakano is just...not very likeable. She pretty much lost any points she might have had with me after she admitted to sleeping with a random girl whose name she didn't know and then started dating her best friend not long after that.

Although I think Akira and Shiina, if they got together, could easily be voted “the most boring couple on the planet,” I hate all the other options so much that I hope those two end up together. If it comes down to a choice between Senbongi the Sleazeball and Nakano, I'd rather Akira ended up with no one.

I don't own any of the other volumes, but if I come across some I'll be sure to get them. Barring some nice finds, this is a series I'll probably end up reading via ILL. My dislike for several of the characters means this series could quickly sour for me, but, at the same time, I'm enjoying the humor so far.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Princess Princess (manga) by Mikiyo Tsuda; Princess Princess (anime TV series) - Tooru transfers to an all boys' school in order to escape some family craziness, only to learn that his new school has a tradition of assigning to the prettiest students the roles of "princesses" during their freshman year. Princesses are charged with improving student morale while cross-dressing and behaving like cute girls. It's not long before Tooru is asked to be a princess along with Yuujirou (who doesn't mind the job) and Mikoto (who hates it). If you'd like more gender-bending humor, you might like this.
  • Ranma 1/2 (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Ranma 1/2 (anime TV series) - The main character of this series, Ranma, has been cursed to turn into a girl every time he's splashed with cold water (he turns back when he's splashed with hot water). He's also engaged to a girl named Akane, who hates boys. Although it's clear the two love each other, in typical Takahashi fashion they refuse to admit it. It's a funny, weird series. Those who'd like more gender-bender humor with romance that goes down a lot easier might want to try this. Be warned, however: I'm not sure the romance ever has a proper resolution. That doesn't make it any less fun, but it might be frustrating for some.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Those who'd like a much darker look at gender issues might want to try this. Physically, Ichijo Mashiro is neither male nor female, although he presents himself as a male. He and several other anonymous students are made to take a special weekly class that takes place in a strange dream world. In the dream world, everyone looks different - except Ichijo, who looks like himself, only dressed in girls' uniform. In order to graduate, each student has to find a key in the dream class, located inside one of the students.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student in a school filled with the rich and privileged, accidentally breaks a vase owned by the Ouran High School Host Club and must join the club in order to repay them for the vase. The club is filled with cute and gorgeous Ouran High School boys, who soon figure out that Haruhi is actually a girl. Haruhi isn't very gender-concious - she has no problem with pretending to be a boy, but she's not icky about it the way Morinaga's Nakano is. Because Haruhi is so practical and oblivious to gender issues, the humor isn't quite as gender-centered in this series, but it's still a lot of fun.
  • Otomen (manga) by Aya Kanno - Asuka looks like the perfect manly young man, but he has a secret: he likes traditionally feminine things like cooking, sewing, shoujo manga, and stuffed animals. What will happen when he starts to fall for a clueless girl who likes macho things? Those who'd like more gender-related humor might enjoy this. I've only read one volume, but I can at least say that I thought the characters were more likeable than most of the ones in Your & My Secret.

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