Title: Ai Ore! Love Me
Author: Mayu Shinjo
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 3, $12.99
Vintage: 2010 by Kadokawa Shoten, November 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Romance, comedy, gender bender
Welcome back to another volume of Akira-is-the-worst-boyfriend-ever-and-I-can’t-stand-this-manga. Oh, sorry, did I start right off the bat with disdain and cynicism? My bad. I should at least let that come in a little later as I get continually more frustrated with things. But then, this is the third volume I’ve forced my way through. Well, let’s get on with it. It’s Christmas, and the band is having their annual Christmas party, much to Akira’s frustration, as he wanted to spend the time alone with Mizuki. The other girls in the band challenge Akira for the right to spend some alone time with Mizuki, and he trumps them all one by one in chess, poker, and hyakunin isshu…until the girls finally give in and Megumi coughs up the key to a spare room. As usual, Mizuki has little say in the manner, and despite her annoyance and embarrassment, Akira manages to convince her to stay (with a little guilt trip maneuver). They exchange gifts first; Akira gives Mizuki a locket, and Mizuki gives Akira a handmade scarf. Akira, who is fairly up front about what it is he wants to do this night, is pushed away by Mizuki who thinks he’s trying to trick her into bed. This offends Akira, who retreats for the time being. New Years’ comes quickly after, and Akira and Mizuki are invited to Rui’s house for a yakuza party. Akira starts drinking right away and turns up his sexy meter to full blast. Using his adorable, girly attributes to his advantage, Akira dispatches Rui, Ran, and the other party goers so he can be alone with Mizuki. It’s obvious what he wants…again. Except this time he’s hoping to get a little sake in Mizuki so that she’ll make the first move. It’s a trial for Blaue Rosen next, when the band’s next gig is canceled because the son of a friend of the owner wants his band to play on their date. The band’s leader, Yuya, spots Akira and makes a deal with the girls – if Akira goes out with him, he’ll let Blaue Rosen keep its spot. Akira agrees almost immediately, not wanting Mizuki’s band to have its gig canceled, and the two are off on their date. When Yuya starts getting overly friendly, Akira decides to teach him a lesson and reveals his true gender. Unfortunately, Yuya is unperturbed by this and decides to keep chasing after Akira, prompting Mizuki to wonder if Akira likes boys after all. After a rousing show, Akira and Mizuki share a kiss in the street, but are interrupted by a young maiko (an apprentice Geisha) from Kyoto named Tsubasa who appears to know Mizuki. Initially they believe Tsubasa to be a girl, but the truth is revealed when he shows up in Akira’s class at Dankaisan. With a little snooping, Tsubasa figures out what’s going on between Mizuki and Akira, and sets a plan in motion to win over Mizuki for himself. Tsubasa sets a trap for Akira, then tries to convince Mizuki that Akira is only dating her because he really likes men and is using her as a cover up because she’s a masculine looking girl. Akira manages to escape and confronts Tsubasa, who then challenges Akira to “a match between men”…where they will compete to see who is the school’s best princess. Tsubasa goes for his maiko act, but Akira takes things to a serious degree by allowing the boys at the school to do almost anything they want to him (including placing hickeys on his body) in exchange for votes. Even Ran thinks Akira is taking things too far, and chastises Akira for hurting Mizuki’s feelings. It’s time for Akira’s back story next, where we learn that he was often made fun of and treated differently because of his delicate looks. Frustrated at never being treated like a boy, and unable to become a girl, he retreats to a nearby park, where Mizuki, whom Akira mistakes for a boy just as Mizuki mistakes him for a girl, gives him a pep talk and invites him to a Blaue Rosen concert. It is at this concert that Akira realizes Mizuki as a girl, and after secretly watching a vulnerable Mizuki cry in the street after making a mistake during the show, his heart and mind are locked on the path of winning her heart and becoming strong so he can protect her. Things get tense when Akira spots Mizuki flirting with a female classmate, and he calls her out on never having told him with words how she feels about him. Mizuki is too embarrassed to respond, so a frustrated Akira tries to get an answer out of her another way. Pretending to be a female friend of Mizuki’s sister, Akira comes over to spend the night. Feeling that their words aren’t reaching each other, Akira tries to get physical instead, which only upsets Mizuki. Soon after, Akira learns that Mizuki is attending a marriage meeting. The marriage meeting turns out to be with a surprising candidate – Ran Nikaido. Akira immediately attempts to put a stop to the meeting by pretending to be a waitress, and then pretending to be Ran’s ex-girlfriend and revealing how badly he mistreated “her.” Ran is not deterred, however, and in fact seems serious about using his father’s connections to make Mizuki his. Akira has just about had enough, however. He comes to the conclusion that Mizuki must be having trouble with her feelings because she must not see him as a man anymore (probably not helped by the fact that he dresses as a girl ALL THE TIME), so he decides to quit the band, which first and foremost means he won’t have to pretend to be a girl anymore (he can just dress cutesy and girly without an excuse now), but also leaves the band in tatters, and Mizuki’s heart in confusion.
Hopefully this is the last one of these I’ll have to review. Please let it be the last one I have to review. A quick note first. I think this is the point of the story where Mayu Shinjo switched publishers and continued Ai Ore with another company, where I’m not sure if it’s been completed or not. I’m a bit confused by the original volume breakdown between the publishers. Viz Media is publishing it all under one title (the Japanese version is published as two separately named series), and I think each Viz volume is 2-in-1 (or at least one and a half). So there’s a bit left; I think it’s broken up as five volumes with Shogakukan and three with Kadokawa Shoten. Anyway, it’s not really important. What’s important is that I think it’s just as awful as I did reading the previous two volumes. You can go back and read those reviews for my overall thoughts on the series and why I dislike it in its entirety. This time I’m just going to focus on the specific issues in this volume. Like the chapter devoted to Akira’s life before he met Mizuki. Shinjo tries hard to make Akira sympathetic this volume, but it doesn’t at all work for me. She tries to turn it into a sensitive gender identity issue, but unfortunately she’s not Shimura Takako (unfortunate for anyone who’s reading Ai Ore and not Wandering Son). And also, Akira is an asshat. Also, it’s hard to buy that Akira is so flustered about his gender when he clearly dislikes being mistaken for and treated as a girl, but uses every opportunity to do so. He really only acts “manly” when he’s about to get violent, or when he wants sex. Series that deal with gender identity/gender bending way better than Ai Ore: Wandering Son (of course), Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Otomen, Fushigi Yuugi, Grand Guignol Orchestra, Ōoku The Inner Chambers, Seiho Boys’ High School, Paradise Kiss…. And you’re way better off reading any one of those than Ai Ore. But if you must read Ai Ore, well, you’re getting more of want you’re coming to this series for. More romantic angst, more cross dressing, more way too adorable Akira, more treating Mizuki like a prize to be won, more Mizuki being totally loyal to a guy who lets other guys touch him all over….Moving on from that is my next issue – there’s no tension in this story. Sure, Mizuki and Akira fight, but it obviously won’t amount to much. Mizuki’s marriage meeting with Ran is about the most boring part of this book. Mizuki doesn’t sway for even an instant; she has zero interest in Ran, and only has eyes for Akira. The fact that Ran intends to “get serious” means nothing at all. Well, it means nothing if his intent is to win Mizuki for himself. If his intent is to finally make Mizuki admit her feelings to Akira, well, that might work. But since the beginning, Mizuki’s only had eyes for Akira, and she hasn’t wavered, not even when Shinnosuke came back into her life and made his feelings known. Even when Akira mistreats or manipulates her, or gets angry over her actions (or lack of them), she never considers breaking up with him. It makes things kind of boring. And it makes Mizuki a pretty flat character. I’m not asking for tons of drama, because I’m not a fan of that either (hello We Were There). There’s trouble in their relationship, sure, but there’s never anything that really and truly threatens it, and that doesn’t make for a very good story. And it makes Akira’s over dramatic actions pretty silly. Never mind the contest he has with Tsubasa to see who will “win” Mizuki, without any input from Mizuki at all. He’s not stupid, so I don’t know what makes him think that if Tsubasa wins, Mizuki will suddenly belong to him. Mizuki has a mind of her own, which Akira tends to forget, it seems. This plot is used in other stories, of course, but usually the girl puts up more of a fuss; Mizuki basically just says “Well, OK, you were mad, you apologized, it’s cool, whatever.” She never broaches the idea that it’s HER decision and not theirs. She barely even puts up a fuss that Akira allows the guys at his school to put hickeys on him to win their votes. Akira just takes over the entire situation and Mizuki barely gets a word in. Actually, she doesn’t put up any fuss at all; her only reaction is that she starts to think Akira must really like guys and is only dating her because she looks masculine. That’s the wrong thing to get angry over, Mizuki! If you’re a big fan of this series, I would be genuinely interested in knowing what it is that makes you enjoy this series. I’m completely serious, though I can’t promise I won’t argue back.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.