Happy Monday, all! Before we get to the review, I have some links for you. First up is the 2011 Great Manga Gift Guide over at All About Manga. Here is a link to my own (Mostly) Manga Gift Guide. Deb Aoki of About.com has a list of the best new manga of 2011, and a preview of the 25 most anticipated titles of 2012. And, if you need a last minute gift, I’m selling off some manga on the cheap here.
Title: Oresama Teacher
Author: Izumi Tsubaki
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volumes 5 and 6 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2009 by Hakusensha in Japan, November 2011 and January 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, romance, hilarity
We begin with Takaomi and Mafuyu alone on a beach at night, trying to determine the proper procedure for going on a date. At the end of volume 4, Takaomi dragged a confused Mafuyu off to the beach. You see, Takaomi had discovered that a group of thugs was stalking the shores, specifically attacking couples out at night. Takaomi’s plan is to act like he and Mafuyu are one of these hapless couples in order to draw them out. As the two begin a bizarrely violent attempt at “playing” in the ocean, another couple happens along and, distracted by the strange scene before them, are surprised by a group of young men looking to rob them and rough them up. Seeing that his targets have arrived at last, Takaomi sprints over to them and antagonizes them with a few choice words and a kick or two. The thugs grow furious and attack, but Mafuyu watches as Takaomi appears to take their punches instead of fighting back. Just as she begins to worry, the thugs call in the cavalry to teach Takaomi a lesson, and a sadistic grin spreads across his face as a lust for blood fills his eyes. Takaomi’s true self emerges, and not even Mafuyu can stand up to his fearsome presence and skill. With his lust for violence purged, the two delinquents are invited to the home of the couple they saved, which happens to be the home of their rich mistress. The young miss is quite stuck up, unfortunately for her, which incites Takaomi’s natural arrogant ass personality. It soon becomes clear, however, that most of the young lady’s frustrations stem from her unrequited love for her butler. It’s up to Takaomi and Mafuyu to knock some sense into these lovebirds. At the same time, we get more glimpses into Takaomi’s personal motivations, including hints to the real reason behind his presence at Midorigaoka Academy and his bet with the school’s principal. Back at school, Bancho has received a new letter from his pen pal Snow (which we know is Mafuyu), and begins composing a response, drawing from the little things that happen to him throughout the day. Like eating cookies with Mafuyu and Hayasaka, beating up the soccer team for destroying a flower bed, and being stalked by a “flower spirit” that mysteriously leaves plant gifts for him around the school as thanks. You know, normal, everyday stuff. After this little bit of down time, things get kicked up a notch when both Mafuyu and Hayasaka receive mysterious scrolls in their shoe lockers. The letter comes from an odd source – the top investigator and modern day ninja for the Student Council, Shinobu Yui. As they go about their everyday business, Mafuyu’s keen instincts continually draw her attention to this strange student as he follows them and spies on them around the school by crawling on ceilings, hiding in trashcans and behind “camouflage,” while nonchalantly asking personal questions about Mafuyu and Hayasaka to try and gleam information about them. Mafuyu spots him each time, but Hayasaka appears completely oblivious…and yet is still able to dish out some damage on him unknowingly. A couple of bonus comics wrap up volume 5, detailing some surprising (and hilarious and cute) relationships between people from the rival high schools of Saitama Prefecture.
As volume 6 opens, Student Council resident ninja, Shinobu Yui, decides to take the fight straight to the Public Morals Club and approaches Mafuyu with a challenge. Knowing she can’t fight him herself, she tells him he must first fight Super Bun (who we know to be Mafuyu herself). As they square off, Yui fills Mafuyu in on the details of Takaomi’s bet with the school principal. The principal wants to fill the school up with delinquents, but bizarrely, Takaomi wants to get rid of the delinquents and improve the school. It seems entirely backwards, but Mafuyu has little time to think on it. However, just as Yui is about to start their battle, Hayasaka rushes onto the scene, giddy over the appearance of Super Bun. Mafuyu gets inventive…and a little creepy…and manages to defeat Yui, who returns to Student Council President Miyabi in disgrace. To make up for his previous failures, Yui comes up with an all new plan. He’s going to quit the Student Council and join the Public Morals Club, so he can get close to Mafuyu and Hayasaka and learn the secrets of the club. He’s in for a surprise when he joins, as the club only has two real members (plus two fake members that are actually Mafuyu), doesn’t have any sort of activity schedule, and doesn’t even have a club room to meet in. Yui decides this is unacceptable, and drags the other two along to find an empty room. They find a few mysteries along the way when they discover several empty storeroom that used to be classrooms, suggesting that the student body used to be much larger. In an effort to find out what happened to all the students, the gang hunts down some yearbooks, but is surprised to find that though they are only five years old, the images within are of a drastically different student body. Wondering what could have happened in so short a time to send the school spiraling downward, they continue to search out clues, but find that they all seem to be hidden away or otherwise missing. Finally, Mafuyu realizes that Takaomi might have the answers they’re looking for, but suddenly remembers that this is his first year as a teacher there, which only raises more questions. How could Takaomi know so much about the school and make such an outrageous bet if he hasn’t been around long enough to know anything about the school? Burning with questions, Mafuyu immediately rushes off to confront Takaomi, but her probing and insistence that he’s lying to her only angers him. She does manage to learn one major detail – that Takaomi is related to the school’s Director, but he brushes off the rest of her questions and tells her to leave him alone. His words wound Mafuyu, who bursts out her secret wish to become a normal high school girl…which is overheard by a nearby Hayasaka. Takaomi suggests she quit the Public Morals Club and kicks her out of his office. The next day at school, she finds both Takaomi and Hayasaka giving her the cold shoulder. Well, Takaomi is; Hayasaka is flat out ignoring her. However, with the intimidating delinquent Hayasaka out of the way, Mafuyu is approached by some of the girls in her class. She takes the opportunity to try out the normal life of a high school girl. Mafuyu is absolutely elated to be spending time with other girls, but even in her excitement, she can’t help thinking about the time she spent with Hayasaka, Takaomi, and Bancho. When her new friends begin to tell her that they didn’t approach her before because they were scared of Hayasaka, Mafuyu immediately sticks up for him and realizes that she considers him a very good friend, one that she would hate to lose. More than that, she realizes that the life she was complaining about is actually a life she enjoys, and she is able to choose herself to live it. The story switches to tell Hayasaka’s side of this particular drama, and we find that he has also quit the Public Morals Club. Frustrated, Hayasaka runs around the school getting into fights to clear his mind. However, he still finds his mind going back to Mafuyu. As he reflects on their friendship, he realizes how much his life has changed since he met her, but decides that she’s better off without him. An already resolute Mafuyu overhears him, and she lets him have a piece of her mind. With both of them over their slump, Mafuyu decides to take things up with Takaomi, and challenges him to a game of tag, where if she wins, he must tell her the truth.
Oh man, you guys, this series is completely hilarious. I love it. I’m constantly rolling around in laughter. It’s been a while since a manga has generated this much genuine laughter from me. Izumi Tsubaki is great at drawing comedic expressions on her characters, and you can feel the energy with which she writes through your fingertips as you turn the pages. Every moment is a delight, no matter how ridiculous (and it does get ridiculous, but in a good way). It’s nice to see Bancho get his own chapter in volume 5, as he’s easily becoming my favorite character in the series. His awkward nature around Mafuyu is adorable, as he’s never had a real friend before, someone who wasn’t just one of his followers, or someone who didn’t fear him. Mafuyu isn’t afraid of him, shows concern for his well being, and stands by him when he’s in trouble. It’s fun to watch this normally strong and scary guy deal with the new feelings that friendship brings. Like when he accidentally slugs Mafuyu in the face when he finally realizes that he does have a person nearby he can share his problems with. I both do and don’t want them to discover they’re each other’s pen pal. Their pen pal relationship is almost sickeningly cute and sweet, but also hilarious, since we know what their sugary talk really means. It’s a lot of fun the way it is, but I can’t help wanting to see their reactions when they find out they’ve been close friends for so long already. If volume 5 was filled with hilarious romps, volume 6 is where some real emotion kicks in. It’s still giggle worthy, but the relationships between Mafuyu, Hayasaka, and Takaomi are really put to the test. I’m not real clear on Takaomi’s motivations for shoving Mafuyu away. I think it can be interpreted multiple ways, and we may not get a real answer for some time. It’s possible he just wants to hide the truth from her; though why he wants to is another question. He could be embarrassed about his attachment to the school, or maybe he just doesn’t think it’s anyone else’s business. Then again, it could be that he’s trying to keep Mafuyu out of his problems, because he wants to deal with them himself. Or maybe he thinks telling her will get her in trouble, so he’s trying to protect her by pushing her away when she gets too close to the answers. Of course, he could also be testing her, to see what it is that she really wants in life, or to help her find her reason for fighting on. She does discover that, after all (in both cases), as does Hayasaka, so I’ll buy that reason too. The only part I do know for sure, is that he was trying to push her away for some specific reason, and not because he’s tired of her or doesn’t want her around. Takaomi really does appear to treasure Mafuyu in some way, even if his feelings are warped. Mafuyu, in turn, treasures him and the fun she has had with him, no matter how ridiculous their time together tends to be. For Hayasaka’s part, as another rather lonely and friendless person, having Mafuyu around is a change of pace he comes to realize he enjoys; he also realizes how much fun his life has been since she came around. Every day is an adventure for them, and now that he has someone he cares about, fighting isn’t just an escape anymore, but a way to protect his friend. For someone who has been so caught up in living a normal lifestyle, Mafuyu has had an oddly normalizing effect on Hayasaka (and Bancho, as well). They’re still delinquents to the extreme, of course, but they have something to fight for now, and that’s more than they used to have. This hilarious series is turning into quite a touching story about friendship, and Tsubaki is able to balance the ridiculous and the emotional without losing any of the series’ charm.
Review copies provided by Viz Media (well, volume 6; I think I bought volume 5 myself).