Rating: 5/5 – A Deceptively Smart “Anti-Harem” Manga.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow
I’ve talked about harem manga before in my reviews for ComicSpectrum. By all means, read one, but one is all you’re going to need, as the story and characters are almost always the same no matter who the creator may be. Of late, Japan seems out to challenge my broad brushstroke commentary, and Aho-Girl (translation: Idiot Girl) may be the best throwing down of the gauntlet to date. It’s almost an anti-harem manga, with a protagonist who literally has no interest in any of the women throwing themselves at his feet, and as these women introduce themselves to us in the story, it’s easy to see why.
Akkun is a studious male looking to get high marks in school to get into a good college. Idle time is studying time, and thus there is no time for playing around or goofing off. Unfortunately, he’s been friends since childhood with Yoshiko Hanabatake, the titular Aho Girl on the cover. She consistently gets zeroes on her exams, wishes every day could be Sunday so there’d be nothing but playtime all week, has a serious banana fetish (use your imagination), and is quite simply Akkun’s polar opposite. Convinced that one day Akkun will fall in love with her and marry her (so she can continue to do nothing but play), Yoshiko lives in a delusional world without consequences, and impossibly manages to pull it off. How she’s managed to survive this long and stay in school is a suspension of disbelief you’ll have to bring along should you decide to pick up this title. And you should pick up this title. It’s deceptively fun.
The series is told in the traditional yonkoma (4-panel) gag format, and as mentioned, creates a harem manga setting without relying on the actual trappings of the genre. Akkun isn’t some hapless dope pining over the girls fawning over him. Even the ultra-cute (and fairly normal) Sayaka is kept squarely in the friend zone as he focuses solely on his schoolwork. His side-job – keeping Yoshiko alive and trying to get her to study – keeps him busy, but it’s again more of a friend helping a friend than anything else. Not once did I get the idea that over time Akkun is going to “come to his senses” and fall for one of these girls. He’s playing the role of the only sane person in the room. Throw in an overly obsessive school monitor, a mother desperate to marry off her idiot daughter so she doesn’t have to deal with her in her old age, and a little sister living in fear of becoming the next Aho Girl, and you have a cast of characters that give this series a solid foundation to build on for future volumes.
The humor translates well to English, but it’s nice to have the index at the end of the book explaining some of the more culturally-specific gags. I found myself laughing out loud at some of them, as the humor jumps from the physical to the mental at a very brisk pace. It would be easy to dismiss this book as nothing more than lowbrow comedy, but it’s just at those moments when it’ll throw an obscure reference for the intellectual crowd to keep you off your toes. When was the last time a comedy manga mentioned the literary concept of sturm und drang or the tigers running around the tree from Little Black Sambo? Write this series off at your peril…there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
I’m holding fast to my idea that you really only need to keep one harem manga in your collection. That said, I’m likely to keep reading Aho-Girl because it flies in the face of a lot of what conventional harem manga provides. A cast of characters that manage to avoid falling into stereotype while at the same time playing stereotypical roles, humor that runs the gamut from slapstick to highbrow, and solid artwork that blends kinetic insanity with great character design…all this adds up to a book well worth checking out, even if you’ve already found that harem manga you want to follow. Go ahead…pick up a second one. I won’t tell.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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