Shojo Beat Review | Absolute Boyfriend

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The inter-character relationships are what really sell this book, with Riiko caught between Night, the flawless man who sees her and the world with child-like awe, and Soshi, her hesitant but caring best friend.

(Viz Media; 200 pgs B&W; $8.99 ea.)

(W/A: Yuu Watase)

Vol. 1 – available now

Vol. 2 – available 08-01-2006

 

 

 

One of the most tried-and-true formulas for anime and manga series is the "magical girlfriend" story. Take one shy, nerdy guy who can’t get a girlfriend, add one gorgeous, submissive female goddess/space alien/robot/etc. to become the love of his life, or, better yet, add a bunch of girls who inexplicably like the lead milksop and let them fight over him. There’s a long history of stories of this ilk, most of which have been smash hits in the US (Oh My Goddess!, Tenchi-Muyo!, and Chobits, to name a few).

Absolute Boyfriend takes that premise and turns it on its ear. Rather than a nerd-with-a-heart-of-gold male protagonist, AB stars Riiko, a cute, effervescent every-teen girl. Riiko is part of the popular clique at school, but that doesn’t help her score a date with her crush Ishizeki. She has the perfect guy right under her nose in Soshi, her next-door neighbor and childhood friend who masks his feeling for her in childish insults. Living alone (her parents are abroad on business) and feeling even more so, the desperate Riiko’s luck changes when she meets Gaku Namikiri, a travelling salesman in an oddly futuristic get-up. In a scene that neatly parallels the fateful beginnings of Oh My Goddess!, Gaku thanks Riiko for returning his lost cell phone by asking her if there’s anything she wants.

"Okay," she answers sarcastically. "I want a boyfriend"

The next day, a box is dropped on Riiko’s doorstep. She opens it to discover a naked man inside, but he’s not just any man: he’s Night, a robot from the "Nightly Lover Series" programmed to Riiko’s specifications to be the absolute perfect boyfriend. Night is amazingly life-like, right down the moles on his skin, and impossibly gorgeous. He’s also programmed to be the ideal lover, which means he’s ready to have sex at the drop of a hat, something the young, inexperienced Riiko wants nothing to do with. She’s looking for romance, and in the sweet, loving Night, she thinks she’s found it.

Night is loving but, as a robot, ultimately naïve. He is also, unfortunately, still a prototype, and when Riiko blows the deadline on her 3-day trial, she is given an offer: either pay Night’s $1 million price tag, or teach Night everything there is to know about women so that the company can improve their technology. Night’s robotic identity, however, must remain a secret. Soon, Night is enrolled at Riiko’s high school, "collecting data" and gaining the unlucky Riiko a slew of enemies. A million-dollar debt may be a scary prospect, but nothing can be as frightening as the wrath of jealous high school girls.

Absolute Boyfriend is the creation of Yuu Watase, a fan favorite on both sides of the Pacific and the mind behind a myriad of strong shojo stories starring teenaged female protagonists, including Imadoki, Ceres: Celestial Legend, and the smash-hit Fushigi Yuugi (all available in English from Viz). Whereas many of Watase’s protagonists in the past have been endearing ditzes, the same cannot be said for AB’s Riiko, who is a strong, intelligent, and above all realistic teenager. The inter-character relationships are what really sell this book, with Riiko caught between Night, the flawless man who sees her and the world with child-like awe, and Soshi, her hesitant but caring best friend. Both men are fiercely protective of Riiko, and when Night’s naivete lands her in trouble is when the sparks really start to fly.

With thousands of pages of manga under her belt, Watase’s storytelling is fully developed and, on this particular book, absolutely impeccable. The story moves at a fast clip, with new story developments and new conflicts in every chapter. Each chapter also ends with a wicked cliffhanger, making this one of the few stories in Shojo Beat that will make you think monthly might not be often enough. The art is clean and expressive, and the characters are drawn with a thick, smooth line-style that Watase also used to great effect on Imadoki. Fushigi Yuugi may be Watase’s most popular book, but with the excellent Absolute Boyfriend, she has proven that her work continues to improve.

See the related links below to read Jason's review of Shojo Beat's sports entry, Crimson Hero!

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