So I was reading older blog posts that I have neglected due to being super busy and I came across one about a Mayu Shinjou manga called Demon Love Spell that mentioned that the heroine was actually competent. Making a comment stating my shock given my experience with Shinjou’s manga, the author brought up another manga, Ai Ore. Curious, I checked out the MAL profile which stated that it was about a boy-ish looking girl in a band and a very girl-ish looking guy. Well with a premise like that, how could I not take a peek at this manga? I’m a terribly curious person after all. I’ve tried many manga and anime just because I heard horrible things about them and given Ms.Shinjou’s track record, I could not believe she would be capable of writing a manga that wasn’t horrible.

Guess who is the guy and who is the girl.

Typical sexy cover for a Mayu Shinjou manga, but not so typical is the gender of each character on the cover.

But she did! I never thought I would be saying this, but I actually enjoyed a Mayu Shinjou manga! It’s definitely far from perfect, but I did like how the heroine, Mizuki, did actually look like a guy; and Akira, the hero, looked like a girl. Now outside their appearances, Mizuki wasn’t very masculine. She was super innocent and naive about love, and she definitely had the Mayu Shinjou touch even if she’s a bit more interesting than most of Shinjou’s heroines. Although what makes her interesting is that even if at her core she is very feminine, and even quite passive, like the typical Mayu Shinjou heroine; Shinjou actually wrote the story and Mizuki in a way that allowed her to have assertive moments and a life beyond just her man. The stark contrast between her outer appearance and her inner self was also another aspect of what I found so compelling about Mizuki. I’m always happy to see manga questioning appearance/gender assumptions. This is true for Akira too. He’s tough and cool even if he’s short and very girl-like.

But I think the most shocking aspect of Ai Ore is that Akira is actually a kind person. He does actually love Mizuki and is very considerate of her; often asking her opinion and backing off when she feels uncomfortable. Not to mention the manga actually makes it a point through Akira’s own words, to show that one’s outer gendered appearance is meaningless. What matters is what gender you feel you are. Mizuki stumbles with this more, but ultimately she arrives at the same conclusion. She lets go of her insecurity caused by the stares and comments she and Akira garner walking hand in hand. These comments are basically people trying to decide what gender she and Akira are, and in turn whether they are a gay couple. It was a rather nice message and one I did not think I would find in a Mayu Shinjou manga. I mean Shinjou tends to write the most traditionally masculine guys and feminine ladies, on top of quite problematic things. It was definitely a pleasant surprise.

There are still some creepier aspects that seep in and that are oft associated with Shinjou’s manga, but most of them are regulated to small almost “rival of the week” dudes. And oddly enough, the worst offenders go after Akira. It’s still creepy and uncomfortable seeing Akira get touched up and forcefully kissed, but at the same time, I’m shocked that the recipient of the abuse was the male love interest this time around. Mizuki gets her share of non-consensual kisses, but Akira definitely gets it much worse. I can’t help but wonder if Shinjou was playing around with the idea of writing yaoi or perhaps because Mizuki looks so masculine, she didn’t find it as erotic to put her in those situations? Because outside of knowing Mizuki is a girl, she really does look like a male character that Shinjou would draw. (In fact, I was confused at first whether all the band members were girls or not because they all look like guys!) There is also an older female student that attempts to rape Mizuki, and if that wasn’t unsavory enough, the manga has Akira use one of the guys who is infatuated with him as revenge by promising him he can do anything to him if he goes and rapes the girl that attempted to rape Mizuki. Fortunately Mizuki steps in and denounces how messed up this revenge is, but nevertheless, it was rather unpleasant to have this scenario play out at all.

The creeper aspects of Shinjou's manga are oddly enough forced onto the male love interest.

The creeper aspects of Shinjou’s manga are oddly enough forced onto the male love interest.

Besides that, there was also one unsavory instance of possessiveness from Akira toward Mizuki. Basically Mizuki thinks she would look weird in feminine clothing because she looks so masculine, but Akira decides to show her that that isn’t true by dressing her up. Once dressed up though, Mizuki is gorgeous and guys just keep staring at her and everyone wonders if she’s a model. Mizuki is oblivious to this, but Akira notices and he isn’t happy. He grabs Mizuki into some blushes and demands she change back into her masculine clothing, saying that only he can know how beautiful she really is. Given his complex, I can understand that he would be worried about her leaving him for a masculine guy; but at the same time, it’s crazy and creepy for him to drag her into some bushes and demand she change then and there. Also, I have to wonder what would happen if Mizuki wished to start dressing in feminine clothing afterwards. Given that she is happy how she is (minus a few times she wishes she was more feminine because she keeps being mistaken for a guy), the whole situation is totally side-stepped. But I can’t help but wonder, would Akira force her to dress like a guy? It makes one wonder just how far Shinjou would take his possessiveness. It’s a hard call to make because on the one hand, Shinjou’s track record is pretty bad, but on the other hand, Akira doesn’t get this possessive ever again.

To be honest, if those creepy aspects were removed, Ai Ore would be something I could definitely recommend to everyone. Still, even with the creepier aspects, it’s quite an interesting manga if only due to the fact that it’s refreshing to see such a masculine looking heroine who acts so feminine, and the fact that the manga makes it a point that gender is on the inside not outside. I never thought a Mayu Shinjou manga would actually raise questions about gender and normalizing the fact that gender isn’t always linked to appearance. I feel like I stepped into an alternate universe where Shinjou actually writes decent manga. Maybe trying Demon Love Spell might not be such a bad idea? Oh, what am I getting myself into. Can there exist two manga series that are decent by Shinjou? Maybe Ai Ore was a weird fluke or something…