Saturday, January 5, 2019

REVIEW: Gakuen Prince (manga, vol. 1) by Jun Yuzuki, translated by Harumi Ueno

Gakuen Prince is, I think, supposed to be a romantic comedy. Possibly a dark romantic comedy? It was licensed by Del Rey.

This review includes spoilers.

Review:

I bought this and the next two volumes while bargain bin shopping a while back. The cover made me think it might be some kind of "bad boy + nerdy wallflower" romance. It's not.

Jyoushioka High School used to be an all-girls' school until a few years ago. Although it's now co-ed, the school's girls still vastly outnumber the boys. All the boys are placed in S-class, which only the richest and brightest girls are assigned to.

Azusa Mizutani is the school's newest male transfer student. He has no idea how the school works, and he soon realizes that he'll have to learn fast. Since boys are few and far between, nearly all of the girls are sex crazed. S-class gets first dibs on raping the boys, after which they're fair game for anyone who can get at them. Munechika, the school's most powerful guy, has learned how to make the system work for him, and his advice to Azusa is simple: just accept it and don't get anyone pregnant.

Azusa doesn't have many options. He can take control and actively seduce girls the way Munechika does, keep running until he's finally cornered and raped, or find a girl who's willing to date him and thereby stake her claim on him. When he accidentally comes across Rise Okitsu, a girl who just wants to make it through high school without getting involved in any trouble, he decides to declare her his girlfriend.

I always liked Del Rey's manga releases because they all had pages of useful translator's notes. Those notes are probably the best thing about this pile of garbage.

This series is basically just an excuse for lots of on-page abuse and near-rape. Within the first few pages, Azusa spots a guy in tears because a gang of girls ripped all his clothes off. During his first class, he reads a note being passed around in which all the girls are talking about how hot he is and what it'll be like when they tie him up, take embarrassing pictures of him, and rape him. (I don't recall the word "rape" ever being used in the volume, but it's pretty clear that's what the girls intend to do.) After Azusa forces Rise to help him, she's bullied and set up to be raped by a lesbian who she initially mistakes for a man. There are a couple instances where girls try to drug Azusa - in fact, they actually do manage to give him something near the end of the volume, which leads to Azusa almost forcing himself on Rise (she punches him).

The brief quiet period after Azusa initially announced that he belonged to Rise bothered me on multiple levels. Both Azusa and Rise started to relax, thinking their fellow students' sudden friendliness was genuine, and all I could think was how gross it would be to smile and laugh with students who were only behaving like decent human beings because of a necktie (students who are dating each other exchange neckties).

There are a few gender-flipped instances of the sorts of things women often encounter. For example, when Azusa first finds out how the girls treat the boys, he tells himself that the boy he saw on his way to his first class must have had a problem (had done something that led to the girls attacking him). That kind of thing wouldn't happen to him because he's different. So we have victim-blaming as a form of self-comfort (which doesn't last long in this case). Then there's the whole "ownership" aspect of dating - guys gaining some measure of protection by declaring that they "belong" to one particular girl. The gender-flipping didn't make any of it less gross, and I have a feeling that, in the end, Yuzuki was aiming more for "titillating rape fantasy" than some sort of commentary on rape culture.

There was also some "not like other girls" crap. Rise was the only girl who wasn't involved in the boy-hunting and the only one who seemed to be even slightly bothered by any of it. There were also multiple instances of her fuming about the "heifers" and "sluts" at her school.

If I continue on, it's because I already own the next couple volumes and it's always hard for me to force myself to offload stuff I haven't read. I can't get the "what if it gets better?" voice to shut up, even in cases like this, where odds are really good that it won't get better and might even get worse.

Extras:

Four pages of translators notes, a couple pages of honorifics explanations, a few author freetalk sections (including the postscript, in which the author writes "Well, to tell you the truth, I've been drawing manga just by my instincts, so I don't know the basics of building up a story." (175)), and at least one humorous four-panel comic featuring characters from the series.

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