Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
      ( 8/25/2009 07:54:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"AND THE ONLY TIME I WEAR A SKIRT IS AT SCHOOL BECAUSE IT'S MY UNIFORM." Though the prevalence of gender-bending shojo romances can be disconcerting to many of us straight-laced Western geezers, the regular appearance of new titles on the shelves clearly shows that there's a young girl audience for this kind of stuff. A good thing to remember if you're the sort to get bummed by the reactionary status quo squad: there's a teen-aged audience today lapping up manga that tests the boundaries of traditional sex roles -- and enjoying it.

From what I can tell, Mai Nishikata's debut series, Venus Capriccio (CMX), follows the tenets of gender stretching manga quite faithfully. You have your heroine Takami, a tall and model slender high school girl who has difficulty holding onto a boyfriend because of her tomboyish ways, and an impossibly beautiful male lead who exudes sexual ambiguity in every panel. When the first volume opens, we see her on a disastrous date with an arrogant jerk who ridicules our heroine's un-ladylike eating habits. "For a first date, you're sure stuffin' your face!" he states just before dumping her.

"I was holding back with three pieces of cake and two colas," she later explains to her confidante Akira, but before we can ponder the vagaries of human metabolism, we're shown her ethereally handsome friend at the piano. A "Half" (half Japanese/half Austrian), Akira has been Takima's best bud since they first met at childhood piano lessons. Though her schoolmates see Akira as a "totally hot guy," Takima views him more as a girlish friend than a potential date. It isn't until the lad gets into a fight with her short-lived ex- ("Who knew she had a thing for girly-men?" the macho dickhead sneers) that Takami starts to see him as more-than-a-friend.

Once our heroine realizes her attraction for Akira, their romantic connection begins to fitfully develop. Though the piano prodigy is a couple of years younger than Takami -- he's still attending junior high while our girl is a high school student -- in a lot of ways he's the more mature figure. The fourteen-year-old is definitely her superior at the piano, even tickling the ivories at jazz club. When the two are asked to play a duet at their music teacher's wedding, it's unclear whether Takami will be able to stay in sync with Akira.

The centerpiece of the first volume is a gender blurry sequence where our couple -- thanks to a series of credulity stretching plot mechanics -- compete in drag to become prince and princess at a high school competition. The boyish Takima puts on a suit, while Akira dons a dress, looking, as someone in the audience notes, "super-model beautiful." The masquerade is revealed before the contest ends, but its revelation doesn't appear to have a negative effect on our duo's school status. If anything, Akira's drag appearance at Johoku High School gets a fresh crowd of eager young schoolgirls yearning after his lithe young self. Hard to imagine a similar scene playing out the same way in an American high school.

Niskikata's art is airy and easy to follow. She has a knack for suggesting the physicality of characters still caught between kid- and teenhood, and she's able to do this without belaboring the point. Though her leads are idealized beauties, they don't -- as in some shojo series -- come off so unrealistic that that they remain pure creatures of the comics page. Too, the artist keeps the cartoonish emotional moments to a minimum.

Though Venus Capriccio has more than a few moments where you can see the writer/artist overworking to get her situations in place, both its playfulness and eye for the awkwardness of adolescent romance make it an appealing little romance. When Akira tells our heroine, after a disastrous date at an amusement park, "all the time we spent together here will be become fond memories," we believe him and want to see the twosome take their relationship further -- with or without the cross-dressing.


# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

Ask for These Fine Cultural Blogs & Journals by Name!

aaronneathery.com News
Aaron Neathery

American Sideshow Blow-Off
Marc Hartzman

Arf Lovers
Craig Yoe

Sean T. Collins

Barbers Blog
Wilson Barbers

The Bastard Machine
Tim Goodman

The Beat
Heidi MacDonald

Kevin Church

Big Fat Blog
Paul McAleer

Big Mouth Types Again
Evan Dorkin

Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag

Blog This, Pal!
Gordon Dymowski

Rod Lott

Cartoon Brew
Amid Amidi & Jerry Beck

Cartoon Web Log!
Daryl Cagle

Clea's Cave
Juana Moore-Overmyer

Collected Editions

The Comics Curmudgeon
Josh Fruhlinger

The Comics Reporter
Tom Spurgeon

Christopher Butcher

Comics Waiting Room
Marc Mason

Comics Worth Reading
Johanna Draper Carlson

a dragon dancing with the Buddha
Ben Varkentine


Electromatic Radio
Matt Appleyard Aaron Neathery


Eye of the Goof
Mr. Bali Hai

Fred Sez
Fred Hembeck

Greenbriar Picture Shows
John McElwee

The Groovy Age of Horror
Curt Purcell

The Hooded Utilitarian
Noah Berlatsky

Hooray for Captain Spaulding
Daniel Frank

The Horn Section

The House Next Door
Matt Zoller Seitz

Howling Curmudgeons
Greg Morrow & Friends

The Hurting
Tim O'Neil

I Am A Child of Television
Brent McKee

I Am NOT the Beastmaster
Marc Singer

In Sequence
Teresa Ortega

Innocent Bystander
Gary Sassaman

Irresponsible Pictures

Jog - The Blog
Joe McCulloch

The Johnny Bacardi Show
David Allen Jones

Dirk Deppey

King's Chronicles
Paul Dini

Let's You And Him Fight
One of the Jones Boys

Mah Two Cents
Tony Collett


Michael's Movie Palace

Nat's TV
Nat Gertler

Ned Sonntag


News from ME
Mark Evanier

No Rock&Roll Fun
Simon B

Omega Channel
Matt Bradshaw

Pen-Elayne on the Web
Elayne Riggs

Peter David

Dorian White

Progressive Ruin
Mike Sterling

Punk Rock Graffiti
Cindy Johnson & Autumn Meredith

Revoltin' Developments
Ken Cuperus

Marc Bernardin

Matt Hinrichs

Self-Styled Siren

Spatula Forum
Nik Dirga

Tales from the Longbox
Chris Mosby


The Third Banana
Aaron Neathery & Friends

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Toner Mishap
B2 et al

Trusty Plinko Stick
Bill Doughty

TV Barn
Aaron Barnhart et al

Unqualified Offerings
Jim Henley

Various And Sundry
Augie De Blieck

Video WatchBlog
Tim Lucas

When Fangirls Attack
Kalinara & Ragnell

X-Ray Spex
Will Pfeifer

Yet Another Comics Blog
Dave Carter

A Brief Political Disclaimer:

If this blog does not discuss a specific political issue or event, it is not because this writer finds said event politically inconvenient to acknowledge - it's simply because he's scatterbrained and irresponsible.

My Token List of Poli-Blogs:

Roy Edroso


Jane Hamsher

James Wolcott

Lance Mannion

The Moderate Voice
Joe Gandelman


Amanda Marcotte & Friends

The Sideshow
Avedon Carol

Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo

Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow

Welcome to Shakesville
Melissa McEwan & Friends

Blogcritics: news and reviews
Site Feed

Powered by Blogger

    follow me on Twitter