From the stack: Ai Ore! vol. 1

Who could have predicted that the comic I read this week that really made my skin crawl wasn’t Usumaru Furuya’s Lychee Light Club (Vertical)? No, that dubious honor goes to Mayu Shinja’s Ai Ore! (Viz). It manifests the kind of dreadful sexual politics I secretly hoped for from The Beautiful Skies of Hou Ou High, providing a handy reminder that one should always be careful about the wishes one makes.

It begins with an all-girl rock band losing its lead singer and the subsequent application of a boy for the vacant spot in the line-up. The band members are all sexy and androgynous, and they’re idols at their all-girl high school. The would-be singer is delicate and feminine, and his classmates have declared him the princess of their all-boy academy. Mizuki, the de facto leader of Blaue Rosen, is reluctant to admit Akira to the band. She doesn’t think she’s particularly fond of guys, but Akira is persistent. In fact, he’s creepily persistent. One might even say he doesn’t take no for an answer.

His desire to join the band is driven mostly by his obsession with Mizuki, and her repeatedly expressed disinterest doesn’t really penetrate Akira’s disconcerting determination. He’s one of those “just a matter of time” love interests who keeps acting like the girl’s already fallen for him (or that she doesn’t have a say in the matter). In spite of her formidable demeanor, Mizuki can’t seem to effectively fend off Mizuki’s persistent advances. Worse still, and obviously, she doesn’t really want to.

This is the part where I start ranting like an old prude, but dynamics like this really bother me. I hate the whole “I know what you want better than you do” précis, and I think it sends a horrible message. I really hate unwanted physical affection being presented as romantic or, even worse, cute. I hate when female characters are repeatedly put in peril so their stalker love interests can save them and look marginally better by comparison. And I hate Akira.

I find him repulsive. Part of this is due to the way that Shinja draws him. She’ll give Akira close-ups, narrated by Mizuki talking about how cute or ardent he looks. I think he looks demented in these panels, but maybe I’m just projecting my interpretation of his behavior on his appearance. It’s certainly partly because of the horrible lines he uses on Mizuki. (“Instead of singing about love, drown yourself in me.” “I came to take advantage of… your sadness, Mizuki-Chan.” “Don’t  you like me licking you?”) But mostly it’s just his obnoxious, menacing behavior. His final acts of the volume go so far beyond the pale that the second should begin with him being sent to jail.

Listen, I’m not naive enough to think that this kind of thing doesn’t have its audience, and I certainly don’t think that I’m going to make any difference by bitching about it. But when my primary response to a romantic narrative is “Nobody who actually loves you would treat you that way,” then it seems worth noting, at least for the record.

(Based on a review copy provided by the publisher.)