The new shojo manga Otomen, by Aya Kanno (the artist behind the very different, violent Blank Slate), follows high school dream guy Asuka Masamune, a martial arts jock who's all-around pined after by the female population. But he harbors a dirty little secret behind that manly exterior: he loves girly things. Loves them. His interests are very feminine and include sewing, cooking and reading shojo manga. But Asuka lives in a world where men must act like men, so he keeps his interests buried deep within. Well, that is until ladies' man and general trouble maker Juta Tachibana notices Asuka's habits. Juta draws these habits out through Asuka's crush, the lovely Ryo Miyakozuka, who herself is quite the counterpart to Asuka, unable to sew or cook for her life. Juta encourages Ryo and Asuka's relationship, often tagging along as a third in this unlikely group of friends, but secretly, he's a renowned manga artist who is using Asuka as the basis for a very successful shojo manga.
The relationships between the three main characters is pretty complicated, but that in turn makes it pretty interesting. Asuka is pretty much perfect and exemplary in everything he does, but lacks the confidence to indulge his whims publicly, which Juta, in turn, encourages to both of their benefits. Because if Asuka doesn't grow, neither does Juta's manga character, which is why he's trying extra hard to make the oblivious Ryo realize Asuka's feelings for her. Usually I don't really like the "perfect" type of guy in books because a flawed character is always more interesting, but this little feminine twist is just enough to make me want to root for Asuka. And Juta is wonderful. He ultimately wants to see Asuka happy, but is a sly womanizer with dubious motives. It's Ryo who's the least interesting at this point, but I'm sure as the relationship grows between the trio, more of her personality will come forth. Ultimately, this manga is a lot of fun, quite the difference from Kanno's bleak, dark Blank Slate manga. I welcome the change.