Kiss Him, Not Me! Volume 1
Who decided the prince should be with the princess?
We’ve all (probably) been there, haven’t we? Our favourite character in a TV series is suddenly – and without warning – killed off. For heartbroken (and overweight) Kae Serinuma, it’s the last straw; she takes to her room, refuses to come out, even to go to school. When, at length her mother and older brother Takuro force her up and out of bed and into the light of day, they don’t recognize her; when she looks in the mirror, she doesn’t recognize herself. Grief (and forgetting to eat) have transformed her into a gorgeous, sylph-like creature. And now it seems all the boys in high school want to date her. But there’s still a problem. Because Kae is a fujoshi and a committed otaku; she only sees romantic implications in the ways her fellow (male) students interact with each other and just doesn’t know how to handle their advances. There are four bishounen who are vying for her attentions: sporty Nanashima and Igarashi from her own year, then one from the year above, quiet, considerate Mutsumi, and one from the year below, precocious Shinomiya.
As Chapter 2’s title ‘Can She Do It? A Real Life Otome Game’ implies, Kae finds herself living an RPG in which she is the heroine – and it’s all too much. She tries to be sporty. She tries to go on a date with them all and pass by the enticing merchandise in the anime shops. She even invites them home so they can study together (she’s really behind, having missed so much school) and has to hide all her collectables so as not to betray what a truly obsessive fan she really is. “What do I do about this ocean of otaku goods, this fujo-sea?” What will happen if they find out? Does she care how they feel about her? Is she developing feelings – beyond friendship – for any of them?
The transformation of Serinuma Kae from overweight, glasses-wearing fujoshi into slender, doe-eyed fujoshi is pure make-believe, fairytale wish fulfilment. The light-hearted tone (reflected in the drawings as well as the text) seems to be asking us not to take it all too seriously. However, I think, that, given a choice, I rather prefer the way the much more realistic heroine of Princess Jellyfish is presented by Akiko Higashimura – but it would be unfair to judge Junko too harshly after only one volume.
Junko (as she charmingly but unashamedly informs us in her Author’s Note at the back) has already published eight BL manga, so she knows her subject matter well. Only one English translation, Mr Mini-Mart, has been published (fleetingly) by DMP but I’ve read most of the others in French, published by Taifu Comics and IDP, and some of them are very good indeed: poignant, insightful and amusing, especially My Bodyguard, Under the Umbrella With You and Starlike Words. But this, her first shoujo series, has made her name, already running to seven volumes with undoubtedly more to come. Her graphic style is contemporary and attractive (although I could pick a bone with her for the unflattering way she portrays Kae’s mom). And for anyone unfamiliar with the tropes and terminology of BL, don’t worry; this is a Kodansha publication and translator David Rhie has done an excellent job, supplying notes explaining all you need to know and more besides to get the BL (and popular non-BL series) references.
With any harem story, whether Nisekoi or this reverse harem, the trick is to keep the reader guessing. Just when we’re rooting for X to be the one that our heroine falls for (the ‘one just for her’ to paraphrase CLAMP) another of the four does something unexpectedly thoughtful or gallant and we’re thrown a curveball. This is a story in which you’ll definitely be kept guessing as to which boy Kae will end up choosing – if any of them at all, for that’s still an option! – and the unique twist is that she’d much rather ‘ship’ them, leaving herself out of the picture. This means much deliberate and entertaining misdirection on the part of the mangaka.
It’s been a while since we had a shoujo/josei romcom that’s happy to play with the genres in such an entertaining way and in this respect, it brings to mind the mischievous mayhem of series by Ai Morinaga such as Your and My Secret (gender-swap) and My Heavenly Hockey Club (one girl, plenty of boys but she’s more interested in eating and sleeping). Fujoshi have featured more prominently in manga and anime of late, although it’s usually a side character who ends up with the BL fixation. (Natsumi Konjoh’ s comedy manga Fujoshi Rumi also features a couple of BL-obsessives who get together to create their own doujinshi, using their male classmates as models and earning a 16+ rating in the US.)
How you feel about Kiss Him, Not Me! will depend on whether you find the heroine’s weight-loss issue acceptable – or not – as a hook on which to hang a plot. If you don’t take it too seriously, you’ll find this first volume is entertainingly cute, with adorable leads in the four boys and our slimmed-down heroine.