Sunday, June 15, 2008

Absolute Boyfriend (manga, vol. 6) by Yuu Watase

This volume includes not only the last part of the Absolute Boyfriend story, but also two additional one-shot short manga stories by Watase, "I Won't Let You Be a Star!" and "Aromatic." I've got lists of read-alikes for each one, so scroll down for the bit you'd like - this is going to be a long post.

Last Chapters of Absolute Boyfriend:

In this final volume of the Absolute Boyfriend series, Riiko and Night are finally together. Although Riiko has chosen Night as her boyfriend, she's still upset when she finds out Soshi (Riiko's friend and Night's rival for her love) is moving to Spain. Soshi still loves Riiko but believes he's leaving her in capable hands, since Night's malfunctioning appears to be cured. Unfortunately, everything is not as it seems.

When I read the first volume of this series, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue, because the premise of the series was just so...girls' version of a cheesy boys' manga. I mean, come on, an ordinary girl gets herself a perfect robotic boyfriend who'll do anything for her? Switch those genders, and you've got the perfect plot for a romantic boys' manga with buckets of fanservice. There's some fanservice here, too, although not nearly as much as in some of the earlier volumes - Night spends some time either naked (no naughty bits showing, in case you were wondering) or half-clothed.

Watase keeps things from getting too formulaic, though, by throwing the reader some curve balls. Just before this volume, for instance, Riiko decides to stay with Night rather than Soshi - she chooses the fake guy over the real one, something that may shock and upset some readers. It was never really a question of choosing a good guy over a bad one, since both Night and Soshi are great guys, but one might've thought she'd choose a human. Then, in this final volume, Watase again does something that may shock and upset some readers - she goes for a bittersweet ending, rather than allowing Riiko and Night to live happily ever after. As a person who loves the happy endings in romance novels, I was a little disappointed, although I still enjoyed the manga.

Another appeal of this manga (and of Watase's manga in general) is Watase's art style. Her artwork is very pretty. Her characters take precedence over everything else (making her backgrounds a bit weak in comparison) and are just beautiful. Some people, however, may also not like this manga and others by Watase because of how similar her female and male characters look. The best way (and sometimes only way) to tell some of her characters apart is their hair, the way they dress, and the way they act. If you switched Night and Soshi's hair and clothing, it might be very difficult to tell them apart, since their faces are so similar.

In this volume, I think Soshi and Night shine. Soshi is the tragic rejected guy, but he stays strong, smiles, keeps his friendship with Riiko, and doesn't whine about things. Night works hard to be a great guy and prepare Riiko for the time when he won't be there anymore - when I reread this part of the series, I still tear up at the bits where Night is teaching Riiko to cook, or when he's trying to reassure her that he's fine. Riiko doesn't do much in this volume besides be blissful and a little wary about her and Night's wonderful relationship. However, I was happy that, although she's devastated when Night can no longer be with her, Watase doesn't dwell on her grief, but rather jumps forward in time to show us how Riiko is managing to do fine without Night. It's bittersweet, but nice, and not the least bit annoying.

I should also add one thing that some readers (or possibly their parents, depending on the age of the reader) may not like - Night and Riiko have sex, and this is shown. There's no detail, just the implication that Night and Riiko are naked, they're in bed together, and there are sparkles everywhere. It's tastefully done, and it's not like Riiko has jumped into bed with Night as soon as she met him - it took six volumes to work up to this. Besides, if she had jumped into bed with Night right away, Night wouldn't have begun malfunctioning (and some people might be even more upset by this, since there's sort of the implication here that she should've slept with him sooner).

  • Chobits (manga) by CLAMP - There is also an anime version of Chobits, which is very similar, but the manga is better and, at eight volumes, quite possibly cheaper. Hideki, a cram student, comes from the country and knows almost nothing about persocoms, robots that look and act almost like humans. Unfortunately for Hideki, almost everyone has one now for their computing needs, and there's no way he can afford one. However, Hideki gets lucky and finds one abandoned next to a dumpster. She's a bit broken and can only say "chi", so that's what he names her. Chi adores Hideki, and, as the series progresses, he comes to care for her, despite his concern about the implications of humans falling for their persocoms. This manga deals with some of the same issues of loving something that isn't actually a living being, as well as loving something that tends to wear down and break faster than a human being's lifespan. Although most of the fanservice in this manga is intended for guys, many girls may also find themselves enjoying the sweet romance developing between Chi and Hideki.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires - This is a very unusual romance novel - the main "male" in the story is an artificial intelligence program, and the main female is, emotionally, pretty unhealthy (which is part of what makes this story fairly dark in tone, and certainly darker than Absolute Boyfriend). Vic Barnhardt, a brilliant and troubled computer programmer, creates Jodie, an artificial intelligence program that she, at first, decides is female. She is shocked and outraged when Jodie finally breaks it to her that it considers itself to be male, but Vic eventually adjusts and her relationship with Jodie deepens even further. Eventually, in order to save Jodie from her boss, Vic must find him a body. This book starts off a bit slow, and Vic's emotional issues may make some readers uneasy. However, once Jodie shows up, the story becomes much more interesting. Like Riiko, Vic falls for something that isn't actually human, and, later on in the story, must try her best to deal with and help Jodie when he begins malfunctioning. In some ways, things work out somewhat in the same way they do in Absolute Boyfriend, but this book ends more happily for the two lovers. Finally, I'd like to add that this book is intended for adults, so there may be some sex scenes that may be too detailed for some readers. I can't remember the amount of detail, however.
"I Won't Let You Be a Star!":

Chima has a crush on a guy she sees every morning on the train, but she's never spoken to him. Chima's also a little bit strange - she can see ghosts. When her uncle, the principal of an all-boys school, asks her to exorcise the ghosts of some students who died in a fatal accident during the previous year's campus festival, Chiba agrees. Unfortunately, one of the three boys whose ghosts Chiba must exorcise turns out to be the boy from the train (no, he wasn't a ghost back then, he really was alive), whose name is Tsukasa. All the ghosts but Tsukasa want Chiba to grant them their last wishes (all of which involve girls). What can Chiba do for Tsukasa, and does she really want to exorcise the ghost of the boy she loves?

Of the three parts to this manga volume, I'd have to say this part is the weakest. Once Watase gives her first hint about what's going on with Tsukasa, it's fairly obvious how things are going to turn out, because this particular plot twist has been done before (although you wouldn't believe how hard it is to actually find anime and manga that use this plot device, despite the fact that I know they exist). Also, while I'll grant that this was a very small number of pages in which to establish the characters, none of the characters had very well-developed personalities. The most important things in this story were whether things could work out between Chiba and Tsukasa and what the deal was with Tsukasa.

However, it was funny reading about and seeing how Chiba tries to grant the wishes of the two girl-crazy ghosts. I also enjoyed the funny way the ghosts described how they died - Watase's use of chibi style was very amusing, and there was no attempt to make the story depressing by dwelling on the bad stuff.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • While You Were Sleeping (live action movie) - A lonely ticket collector for Chicago transit falls in love with a man she sees getting on the train every day, even though she's never actually had a conversation with him. She ends up saving his life and goes to visit him at the hospital, where she is mistaken as his fiancee. She gets to know and love his family and worries about what will happen when he comes out of the coma. Readers who liked the idea of a lonely person falling for a guy she's never even talked to might like this movie, although, be warned, a second, even better guy complicates the romance a bit. This is a nice, sweet romantic movie with some comedy to keep things fun.
  • XXXholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki's life is made difficult by the fact that he can see spirits. He meets a woman who tells him that she can rid him of his ability to see spirits. However, there's a price he must pay first, so he works for her as her part-time housekeeper, cook, and errand-runner. Those who liked reading about someone who can see spirits and who occasionally interacts with these spirits might like this book. This isn't really a romantic series, although Watanuki has a crush on a girl and character relationships are important.
  • .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - This story is set mainly within a popular virtual reality RPG called the World. This particular story (there are several .hack//whatever series, manga, and games) revolves around a detached and introverted player character named Tsukasa. Many strange things happen around Tsukasa, and for some reason he can't log out of the game. Although not much about this series is similar to Watase's short manga, there is a little bit of the "person in a coma" aspect, so viewers who like the idea of comas used as a way for characters to retreat and maybe heal might like this show.

Takitsugu Kabuki comes from a family that teaches the traditional incense ceremony - Kabuki (what most of the characters call him, so that's what I'll call him, too) is special, because he can smell people's pheromones. At school, he uses this ability to get himself a little extra cash by "listening" to students' pheromones and matching them up with the perfect person for them. He hopes one day to find the person whose pheromones indicate she's perfect for him, the same way his grandfather found his grandmother. Then Kabuki meets Hatsune, the first person whose pheromones he can't smell. He agrees to help her find her perfect person anyway, but he also ends up protecting her from someone who's trying to kill her.

Okay, so this story's premise is a bit silly. Kabuki can smell pheromones? That sounds both stupid and icky. Also, the villain is pretty uninteresting, and the way Kabuki managed to find Hatsune and save her was so stupid it made me laugh. However, if you can get past all that and don't expect anything ground-breaking, it's an appealing romantic story. Watase focuses her attention on Kabuki, so the story is pretty much from his point of view, and he's an interesting guy. He's obsessed with the scent of a woman named Reiko, but he's still nice enough to help out Hatsune, despite the fact that she's such a wallflower he didn't even notice her at first. The ending is completely predictable, but still very sweet. I do wish that Watase had had the time to develop Hatsune a little more - by the end of the story, all we know is that she likes Kabuki and is a bit shy.

Finally, if you like that sort of thing (which it turns out I do), Kabuki spends the entire manga in a kimono, and Watase does a very nice job at drawing him in it.

  • Heart Dance (book) by Robin D. Owens - This is actually the 6th book in Owens' Celta series, but it matches this short manga story better than the other books in the series do. Saille T'Willow is a matchmaker and the new head of his famous matchmaking family. In this world Owens has created, people can find their Heartmates (kind of like soulmates) by creating a Heartgift - anyone who is not the creator of the Heartgift's Heartmate will not really see or want to touch the Heartgift, whereas a person's Heartmate would be drawn to the gift. It should be easy for members of a matchmaking family to find their Heartmates, but Saille's horrible grandmother has hidden his Heartmate from him. Saille decides to take the drastic step of sending his Heartgift out into the world for anyone to touch and pass on - this is something considered a shudder-worthy prospect be people on this world. Saille discovers who his Heartmate is, but it's not good news - it's highly unlikely that she'll accept his Heartgift and agree to be his Heartmate. Readers who liked the "matchmaker finding his match" aspect of Watase's story, plus the bits of action and romantic tension, might like this book - just remember that it's a romance novel intended for adults, so it's got a few sex scenes.
  • Dead Until Dark (book) by Charlaine Harris - This is the first book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid. Most of the people in her small Southern town know about her special abilities, but most people can forget about it a bit because Sookie makes an effort to either not read people or not show that she's read someone. It's an exhausting life, however. Before the beginning of this book, vampires revealed their existence to the world, and in this book Sookie discovers something she thinks is wonderful - it's very hard, if not impossible, for her to read the thoughts of most vampires. Sookie usually doesn't date, because it's hard even being around someone whose thoughts you can read, much less having sex with them. When she meets Bill, a vampire, she finds herself in her first truly happy, almost normal relationship. Unfortunately, being around Bill means that she gets drawn into a lot of supernatural danger. Readers who liked the idea of someone with special abilities falling for someone on whom those special abilities don't work may like this book.

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