Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, October 11, 2009
      ( 10/11/2009 10:17:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“IT’S ALWAYS SPARKLING AROUND MY BROTHER.” Shiro, the student council prez at Hato High, is one of those golden lads: a smiling pretty boy in the manner of so many shojo teen idols, he’s the charismatic center of his school because he “always draws people to him.” His younger sister Masago (a.k.a. Maa) is much less noticeable, however: “average” looking, she struggles with class-work that comes more effortlessly to her “genius” brother and shyly pines in the background for the bespectacled council v-p Yasaka. She half dreads going to Hato High because she knows she’ll always be in her brother’s shadow.

This dynamic changes suddenly, though, when Maa’s older brother is killed while pushing his sister from the path of an approaching truck. “I should have died -- not Nii-Chan!” Masaga cries to Yasaka in despair. But “God does some pretty clever things.” Instead of traveling on, Shiro’s spirit takes refuge in his sister’s body, sharing it with her. Why is he cohabiting with his sis? Everybody thinks it's because he has some "unfinished business," but nobody knows exactly what it is. Perhaps his presence is connected to the school's upcoming Culture Fest, an event that the living Shiro was feverishly promoting, though more likely it involves his helping his sister become her own woman.

A “Teen-Plus” rated manga series, Ken Saito’s Oh! My Brother (CMX) is like a high school variation on All of Me with male and female souls sharing the same body to comic effect. The idea central to both comedies -- that sometimes it can take two people to make a decent whole -- is good fodder for character comedy, and Saito makes smart use of her material. While some of the school-based tangents seem more than a little distracting (a subplot involving a former rival of Shiro's may pay off in later volumes, but it just seems irritating here), the primary sister/brother interaction is drolly convincing. Both of our leads clearly have stuff they need to work on: if our heroine’s mousiness keeps her from being noticed, our hero’s Type A cockiness has similarly restricted his life possibilities. “Could it be you were living so hard,” Masago thinks near the end of the first volume, “that God made an exception and gave you another chance to let you know there’s still so much to see?”

Saito (a woman, I’m told, though the artist’s gender is masked in a four-panel side strip attached to the first volume’s bonus story) draws this fluff in a suitably feathery style: skipping over the grimmer moments to keep her Thorne Smith fantasy airy. At times, you may wish for stronger visual cues as to who is momentarily possessing Maa’s body (in a movie like All of Me, of course, Steve Martin’s performance made that clear before he even spoke), but the dialog quickly lets you know what’s up. DMX's translation (courtesy Alethea and Athena Nibley) pays particular attention to the layered social honorifics of the story's high school setting, and while I have to admit to being initially confused by the number of different names a character can have, in the end it added to the texture of this enjoyable sibling rivalry fantasy.

"Even after I died, I possess you, Maa," Shiro crows in one of the duo's inner monologues. "It's hilarious." Maybe not hilarious, but decidedly amusing.


# |

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

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