Yahoo! It’s Guest Review Wednesday and we have another fabulous guest review from Mariko S on Kishi Torajirou’s Otome no Teikoku series. (Read the earlier reviews to catch up: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3.) Please welcome back Mariko and give her your undivided attention!
Is all service created equal? That’s my question for the day. Around here, “fanservice” has a decidedly negative connotation, right down to the impact it has in the ratings system. There’s the feeling that in every case, the work would/could be improved by having less service. But to begin answering my question, we’ll have to decide what “is” is, so to speak.
My personal definition of “fanservice” is content that is sexual or uses a provocative POV outside of sensible narrative requirements. That is, just because a character has sex or is naked doesn’t mean that it’s service, and just because there’s no nudity or sex doesn’t mean the scene *isn’t* service. As subjective as this definition clearly is, I think in most contexts it’s reasonably obvious when you’re seeing it.
So can service ever be good? Going back to what I said in the volume one review, sex is a part of who we are, most people like sex and sexy things, and at least Americans have far too many negative hangups about sexual content. It *shouldn’t* be wrong to enjoy a sexy picture or scene. Therefore, in my opinion, there are three questions to ask yourself to determine the merits (or lack thereof) of the service:
1. Does what you’re seeing make sense for the work in question? If it’s an ecchi comedy, you would likely be disappointed if there *wasn’t* service. But it’s definitely weird to see all the service in something like, say, Saki.
2. Does it distract/detract from the woman’s (let’s be honest, this almost exclusively concerns female characters) broader characterization (or, rarely, enhance it in some way)?
3. Finally, the sniff test. Was it enjoyable, with a sense of fun, or did it leave you hoping you will feel better after a shower?
I bring all this up, as you might guess, because volume 4 of Otome no Teikoku (オトメの帝国 4) could carry the subtitle, “Return of the Service.” After last volume’s nearly service-free outing, maybe the editors or fanbase said something about it, or maybe Kishi-sensei just felt he hadn’t drawn enough boobs lately. But unlike the often-trashy first volume, where the perspective was often upskirt and downblouse during ordinary conversations, here the service has more context. There are no awkwardly leering angles or eye-rolling gropings. It’s really confined to three chapters where it makes sense from what we know of the characters, and is at least fun, even if it strains believability that real girls would be likely to do these things. As nuanced as this series can be, its heart is still “sexy schoolgirls having fun,” so there will always be a service aspect. I try to judge it based on whether it’s true to and respectful of the characters, and is used as an occasional seasoning rather than an overpowering marinade. ^_^;
First, Michiru returns to snapping sexy pictures of Airi in an empty classroom after school. Airi absentmindedly removes her bra, leading to a little testing the waters on each side about taking topless shots. This is definitely the most ridiculous setup, but if we accept what we’ve seen of these two to this point, it’s at least tolerable. And by way of a silver lining, there are a couple of things about the way this chapter is handled that I found noteworthy in a positive way. First is that (consistent with all the art to this point) Airi has a very realistic body. Likewise, the poses she tries are not bombastic pornstar gymnastics – she’s very much a slightly embarrassed girl who nevertheless wants to be sexy for her girlfriend. Which is my second point, that the scene does a decent job of showing some sexual tension between Michiru and Airi (even if it the dialogue isn’t great). Maybe I am being a little too forgiving because I still remember what it was like to be a teenager desperately hoping things would go a little farther than they were likely to, but also nonetheless terrified of that possibility. Kishi-sensei captures some of that here, I feel.
One of the other two service chapters is a Nao chapter, which shouldn’t be surprising. She wants to indulge her fetish for public nudity in swim class, but after finding and taking her chance, gets a little more than she bargained for. The comedy ending was pretty great, I thought. I actually did laugh out loud the first time I read it, it was so silly. The last service chapter featured the debate club playing a variant of RPS where the loser gets her skirt flipped up. It’s just typical funny business for that group, with Nononon as usual trying to play like the others with only moderate success.
What Else is Going On?
So, what if my argument isn’t convincing and you’re thinking, “This volume better deliver the goods elsewhere to offset that nonsense.” Don’t worry, it’s got you covered!
Ai and Chie continue to get better and better. In one chapter, Miyoshi is goofing around drawing things on the chalkboard, and eventually draws a love umbrella that she makes Ai and Chie stand underneath for a picture. Despite Ai’s resistance at the time, later she makes it her phone background and muses to herself how in America, two women can get married. ^_^ Next, Chie is upset that Ai has a new handmade charm on her bag from someone else. It makes her question whether they have as deep a relationship as she thought. She goes to Miyoshi and Ayano to talk about it, and the ever-direct Miyoshi just asks Ai right out about it. Despite Ai’s explanation that her club advisor made everyone a charm, something’s still off with Chie. Ai eventually forces her to admit that even though it’s silly, she’s still jealous. Ai kisses, holds, and comforts her. What’s nice is that, if this were a standard manga setup, Chie would just act out on unfounded, unreasonable suspicion and jealousy, and “hilarity” would ensue. Here, Kishi-sensei adds another layer – Chie *knows* she’s being ridiculous, and really tries to be mature and act like nothing’s wrong. Ai is just too perceptive, and reassures her not by removing the doll, but by acknowledging Chie’s feelings and reminding her that things are good between them.
Honoka and Alicia continue their odd couple antics, and Alicia is slowly winning past the years of scarring from bullies and rejection. While collaborating on a BL comic, Alicia makes some progress by sharing candy with Honoka, but runs into a fresh (hilarious) batch of Honoka’s weird fears and insecurities. And in the last chapter, we begin a multi-chapter arc for the pair when Alicia invites Honoka to Christmas at her house. Honoka tries various ways to get out of it, and doesn’t know what to wear or what to bring, but still Alicia gets her there, where Honoka finds out that Alicia’s host family is an actual gay couple!
We also get the first hints of drama in the series with a new, multivolume arc that begins here concerning Shizuka, Mio, and Kaoru. To begin, we get a closer look at Kaoru’s popularity and the way she effortlessly brings the underclassmen into her orbit. There’s also some oblique hinting at her background, concerning a rejection at age 16. Then, Shizuka asks Mio on a date to a summer festival. They meet and flirt and have fun, and as it turns out, Kaoru has brought her new friend Mayu to the same festival. Suddenly, with a thousand yard stare, Kaoru spots… Shizuka. Kaoru approaches, and while the two kohai are just happily in awe of the older girls’ beauty, she plays a coy cat-and-mouse game with Shizuka’s feelings and surreptitiously caresses her. Mayu at least picks up that something is going on. To be continued!
One of the best chapters, though, is an Ayano and Miyoshi chapter where we get to see an uncharacteristically vulnerable Ayano, as well as the fierce loyalty and empathy that are the flip side to Miyoshi’s often ditzy antics. Ayano puts on a brave front when she is groped on the train, nonchalantly telling the other girls and playing it off like it was no big deal. Miyoshi sees through this act, though, to the hurt she’s actually feeling. Miyoshi genuinely embraces her friend, helping her open up about the experience, then gets pissed off for her and vows to protect Ayano from now on. I like that there was no attempt to pass the molestation off as “secretly pleasurable,” linger on it, or eroticize it in some way. The focus was entirely on the way Miyoshi helped her friend when she needed her most.
MahiMahi have some chapters, where they get up to typically bizarre, childish antics. They can be cute, but boy are they weird! Nao also has another chapter, along her usual lines, as she tries to find a way to imitate in her classroom something she read about online. Yuu and Mari only make a brief cameo, also up to their usual light S&M games. And finally, a foil/friend for Onoda appears! Onoda is distraught over working so hard but not placing as high academically as she expects. She finds out that Nanasawa, a kind, pretty, popular girl, is first, and all her old insecurites and jealousies start plaguing her again. On the way home, she sees a girl who dropped her things, but haughtily judges her and makes all kinds of excuses not to help. When Nanasawa stops to help the girl and the she gratefully accepts the aid, Onoda has to begin confronting that she not only might be wrong about people, but also is often generally not a very nice person. Hopefully this is the beginning of a chance for real growth for her character, who can be quite sympathetic but is so often her own worst enemy.
Art – 9
Story – 7
Characters – 7
Yuri – 7
Service – 6
Overall – 7
Thank you Mariko for this review and for your thoughts on the idea of fanservice! I’m enjoying your reviews very much (probably more than I would thee actual manga. ^_^)