Otome no Teikoku Manga, Volume 1 (オトメの帝国) Guest Review by Mariko S

April 27th, 2016

OnTV1It’s a happy day here at Okazu!! We have a new Guest Reviewer, Mariko S who has bravely decided to wade back into a series I panned back in 2008. Buckle in and get ready for a completely different perspective. Take it away, Mariko!

Welcome back to Otome no Teikoku, Volume 1, a world that, on first glance, you may find difficult to love. I had similar feelings to the ones Erica expressed in her original review when I first read this manga. However, because I was a big fan of the art style and realistic sexiness of author Kishi Torajiro’s MAKA-MAKA books, unlike her I persevered through the subsequent volumes. And, as it improved more and more and I started to really look forward to reading it, I thought, it’s really worth Yuri fans taking a second look at it. Erica invited me to do guest reviews for the series, so here we are. Let’s restart at the start, so we can understand later how things are changing.

The opening frame of the first chapter seems to announce a particular intention – an upward shot of a high school girl in uniform with hershirt hiked up, bra undone, breasts peeking out, and a skirt so short that it doesn’t touch the chair she’s sitting on. It seems to warn away anyone who’s not here for pure titillation. Given that the author’s previous works featured adult content it’s a forgivable assumption. But those works were not just mindless porn – they hadwell-developed, attractive but believable characters in relatable situations. So please bear with the growing pains here as we work
through the challenges of an adult author fumbling with what exactly
he wants this series to be.

As for what OnT is *now,* though, warm up your eye-rolling muscles. The first volume does feature a ton of service of every flavor – most every chapter has some assortment of panty shots, nip slips, groping, or nudity. Maybe it was demanded by the publisher, maybe Kishi-sensei felt like he needed to grab readers’ attention some way while the characters’ personalities weren’t developed yet. In some ways it is a little refreshing to have a series where things are a little more physical, rather than your standard akogare blushing, longing looks, and perhaps a chaste kiss at the end of it all. Humans are sexual
beings and sexy things are entertaining. It’s just that here, to start, all of the “sexy” stuff is either purely voyeuristic or too over the top, removing any sense of a moment between the characters.

Each chapter is composed of a number of vignettes. In this volume they tend to be very short, with 3-5 per chapter, but later there will usually only be 1 or 2. Each vignette focuses on a pair or small group of the girls. One of the things I find refreshing is that despite going to the same school, not all of the characters know each other or hang out together – they each have girls they are usually with, as well as some they interact with occasionally and others not at all. For now, let’s only talk about one of the pairings, Chie and Ai, which is the earliest example of character progress. We first meet them in chapter 2, through a ridiculous setup where Chie is thinking weirdly nasty thoughts about what Ai’s nipples look like, until she gets a downblouse glimpse of the real thing. The characters here have none of their eventual personalities – Chie will be rewritten entirely to be a sweet, friendly, self-conscious girl. The next times we see them, in chapters 3 and 4, they’re just doing servicey stuff – nothing to do with who they are. In chapter 7 though, we see some changes. It’s still “boob stuff,” but mixed in there Chie shares some honest feelings about why she behaves the way she does and the way others treat her body, along with the beginnings of a confession. Finally, chapter 11 continues the positive trend and is mostly about Chie giving Ai a Takarazuka hairstyle and roleplaying a dramatic moment with her that turns a little heart-pounding… until Kishi-sensei’s early favorite ending, the comical interruption, intervenes. Take heart that the other stories will similarly improve!

One of the really positive things to say even at the start – Kishi-sensei is a very talented artist. He draws details others wouldn’t think of, and with a  distinctive, more realistic style.

Another early positive is that some genuinely funny things happen. As eye-rolling as much of the copiously unrealistic service is, you can see the hints of things to come in the comical and cute parts sprinkled in between the pervy stuff.

Finally, I would say, the off-kilter creativity of the vignettes is a real strength. Rather than your standard schoolgirl setups of commuting, club activities, school festivals, and eating snacks, Kishi-sensei sets up a lot of casual, everyday situations and conversations that only improve as the ecchi elements get dialed down. Eventually his talent for expressing more subtle eroticism will really start coming out of these unique setups.

I am not quite as down as Erica was on the way sexuality is depicted here. I’m not sure it really is the default assumption that these girls are bi, (or gay or straight for that matter). It’s not as evident in the first volume, but as the series goes on the relationships of the pairs will take on many different shadings, not all of them sexual, and not all the characters have a pair. Granted, since this is after all an all-girls-school Yuri story, there’s a disproportionate skew toward “likes/loves girls in some way.” While this is a frustrating trope of every all-girls-school Yuri series, I feel it’s not so problematic here due to the vignette nature of the chapters. By not having an overarching narrative or insisting that all the characters interact, and cutting between a large number of characters, it’s easier to appreciate the separate dynamics of each pair. The way sexual orientation is used here is not all that muchdifferent from other all-Yuri-all-the-time schools in things like
Strawberry Panic and Sakura Trick, at least in concept. It’s the execution that is failing right now, missing or mistaking characterization for too much unrealistically exhibitionist goofing around.

Ratings: (leaving these from Erica’s review, as I basically agree for this volume.)

Art – 7
Story – 3
Characters – 3
Yuri – 2
Service – 4 million

Overall – 3

E here: Well thank you Mariko for balanced second look at Otome No Teikoku! I know I’m looking forward to your discussions of the later volumes.

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6 Responses

  1. lurking says:

    Do any of these yuri-in-an-all-female-school series ever portray the main characters a la “here are the major characters, see them feel same-sex attraction, meanwhile the place has a few hundred other students and for all you know most of them are heterosexual a la straights outnumbering lesbians IRL, remember how some parents choose all-girl schools to keep their daughters away from boys?” instead of a la “here are the major characters, see them feel same-sex attraction, of course everyone else at the place swings that way, they probably all chose the place to have a better dating pool”??

    • Mariko says:

      The only examples I can really think of off the top of my head are Oniisama-he and Blue Drop. Most if not all “elite private all-girls school” series shoehorn in a disproportionately high number of characters who lean bi or gay, if they don’t just make everyone crushing on everyone else. Maybe they think they’re giving the audience what they want (and maybe that is what most of the audience wants) but I’d be happier with a more specific story of one pair of girls falling deeply in love in a believable context.

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