Ai Ore! (written and drawn by Mayu Shinjo and published by VIZ Media) has a cute cover picture, our two androgynous leads paired together and smiling. Makes you think we’re in for a charming high school love story.
Don’t let it fool you.
Ai Ore! tries to pass itself off as a quirky romance about a boy who looks like a girl and a girl who looks like a boy, but it turns out to be the uncomfortable tale of an exceptionally unhealthy relationship. At the start of the manga Mizuki, the lead guitarist of Blau Rosen is ready to split up the band when Kaoru, her best friend and lead singer, is moving to America. Akira, the effeminate boy from the school next door, volunteers to join. He tries to get close to Mizuki, and comes with her to the airport to say farewell to Kaoru. But he didn’t want to say goodbye – he wanted to take advantage of the sad and vulnerable Mizuki so he could steal a kiss.
Creepy, right? It all gets worse from there.
Akira, our cute, blushing male lead is just as deceptive as the cover. He is obsessive about getting Mizuki as his own, sneaking into her all girls school, locking the two of them in the music room and tagging along on her school’s overnight trip. He even wraps himself in a towel and pretends to be a girl so he can get in the hot springs with her. This is creepy and perverted, but Akira gets just plain scary when he decides to dole out punishment on a girl that dared to go after his Mizuki-chan, making a move that goes way over all sorts of lines.
Mizuki is looked at by other characters as a strong young woman, and that’s how us readers are meant to see her, too. But not only is she easily manipulated, she’s completely unable to get herself out of uncomfortable and downright dangerous situations. And then there are her interactions with Akira: she’s willing to miss a school trip so they can go on a date, and lets him push her way past her sexual comfort zone. She yells at him when he touches or kisses her without permission, but only chastises herself later for her harsh words. “I said mean things to him!” she moans. “He tried to molest you!” I want to yell. It’s frustrating, and makes me a little ill.
Other characters aren’t painted in the kindest light. One of Akira’s friends attempts to steal Mizuki away, and the other one agrees to rape a girl for Akira with only momentary hesitation. Homosexual characters aren’t looked at favorably: Mizuki only thinks she likes girls because she’s confused, and the actual lesbians are portrayed as sexual fiends.
The art is pretty enough, with a cute girlish character design for Akira, and handsome figures for Mizuki and her band mates. Of course, moments when Mizuki is most drawn to Akira are also when he appears most devilish. He exclaims “I was so very happy!” about having kissed Mizuki, but his smile is more predatory than cute. Backgrounds are very bland, as Shinjo prefers to use airy bubbles or action lines to denote the mood of the scene rather than show us where these characters are standing.
Ai Ore! should be a manga about music and gender roles, and that’s what I was looking forward to when I first picked it up. But instead I got a love story that makes my skin crawl. I’m obviously in the minority, as user reviews on Amazon show an overwhelming love for this manga, but I just can’t get on board with a book that shows such a twisted relationship as being perfectly alright.
ISBN: 9781421538389 • MSRP: $12.99 • Published by VIZ Media • 300 pages • Released May 3, 2011