Friday, March 6, 2020

My Androgynous Boyfriend volume 1 wasn't what I was expecting (Manga Review)

My Androgynous Boyfriend Vol. 1 - 6/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

On first read, I was disappointed with My Androgynous Boyfriend vol. 1 (Seven Seas). It didn't in any way conform to my hopes or expectations given its title. But after knowing that, I read it again.

On second read, reading it for what it was (instead of what I wanted it to be), I found it to be enjoyable, cute, and sweet. It still wasn't what I hoped, but it wasn't bad either. That's the problem with expectations. It's also the problem when you are desperately searching for representation and mirrors in the world. It's hard not to place all your hopes and expectations into someone else's work and expect it to be what you need, rather than what they intended.

I wanted My Androgynous Boyfriend to really focus on a gender non-conforming individual and dig into the inner and social complexities of gender non-conformity and/or the non-binary experience. In many ways, I was hoping for a dramatic piece that would be a combination of the tone of "Our Dreams at Dusk" and the non-binary character Ciel from Sophie Labelle's comic "Assigned Male." I wanted to see that representation, to gain insight into their experience, learn from it, and find parts of my own experience mirrored in it.

But that's not what My Androgynous Boyfriend is. At least, not in volume 1. Instead, this is a sweet, comedy, romance about a male model, who identifies as male, but who likes dressing in gender non-conforming ways and his girlfriend, an editor in a fashion or lifestyle type magazine. It's mostly about how sweet they are as a couple even though others might think them mismatched. The reason for the mismatch has nothing to do with Meguru's gender non-conformity and everything to do with the fact that he is a beautiful model and Wako is an "average" (although she's presented as attractive) "normal" woman.

In fact, their relationship is built on her finding his androgyny super hot and him finding her normalcy super hot. They are clearly in love, they are also very secure in the other's feelings. That's actually a nice change of pace instead of the angst of other relationship manga. The story doesn't come from their conflicting feelings about each other or insecurities, instead, it comes from their every day experiences. So although the manga had nothing significant to say about gender non-conformity, it actually said a lot by normalizing it and making it not a dramatic feature of their relationship.

As for Meguru, the model, sometimes he dresses in feminine clothing, sometimes not, sometimes a mix, sometimes just haute couture or urban casual from either sex.  He identifies as male and uses male pronouns. He often wears makeup and feminine hair styles. There is nothing transgender or non-binary about him or how he identifies, at least in volume 1. This "androgyny" seems to be solely about his gender expression. That too has value, even if it isn't a serious or dramatic storyline. Again, this is a comedy manga apparently, and talking big social issues doesn't seem to be the direction it is going in.

Along the way we get to see them on dates, how they met (she went instant fan girl on him in high-school because of his "androgynous" looks), at work, and a variety of various contexts. We also meet another male model who wears feminine clothes and is "friends" with Meguru. This character, Kira, also has a strange personality that serves as a good straight man for Meguru to play against.

The most relatable part of the whole volume for me was when Meguru and Wako go to IKEA to buy a couple little things. They end up spending hours there and buy a couch they didn't need. Sounds right.

Perhaps one of the most amazing scenes, and one that speaks volumes about Meguru's character, is when Meguru and his friend Kira are getting interviewed and the interviewer assumes they are a gay couple. Meguru could go along with it, but instead makes it very clear he is with Wako and very much in love with her. In no way does this come of as homophobic. It just comes off that he is a standup guy who really loves his girlfriend, and even if having an "average" girlfriend hurts his modeling career, he doesn't care. He always seems kind and attentive to her needs and just generally sweet and good. It's nice to read a manga where the people are fundamentally good and kind.

There were however some nods to homophobia. Right on the first page, a random character, speaking about Meguru being male but dressing feminine, says: he's "not even gay or a cross dresser." This type of sentiment is not critically examined or interrogated in any way. A similar situation comes up when a colleague of Wako's defends herself as not being "prejudiced" about Wako dating a woman (she thinks Meguru is a woman) and then asks if Wako is the man in the relationship. This is played for laughs. There's a similar scene with a waiter that echoes this same dynamic. At the very least, these do attest to where society still is in dealing with LGBTQ+ people.

The story itself is also very focused on superficial aspects of beauty. Whether it is the modeling profession or how Wako views herself, it is all about physical looks. Thankfully the characters are kind and nice, but it does send a bad message in regards to body positivity.

As for the art, it's good, but not exceptional. The characters are clearly identifiable, the anatomy seems realistic, and there isn't any fan service. But there also isn't anything extraordinary. There's no sparkly screen tones or complex line usage. It's detailed enough and realistically depicted enough, and it totally works for the story, just nothing to write home about.

Overall, I wanted it to be super queer. But it isn't. That doesn't make it bad, it just makes it different from what I hoped for. But on the other hand, despite not being the social commentary I wanted, it still may feel like representation to some non-binary or gender non-conforming people. At the very least, we have a male lead character who often wears very feminine clothes, makeup, and hair styles. That's something.

So it's kind, sweet, and romantic. While it's hard to call it true LGBTQ+ representation without any social or emotional implications, it is still a man wearing feminine clothing and makeup, and that is being normalized and even admired in the story. Although it wasn't the dramatic unveiling of the complex life of a non-binary person that I wanted, it was an enjoyable read once I realized what it was: a light comedy with an almost randomly gender non-conforming male model at the center (ie it's more like someone was asked to write about a feminine male model, rather than being written by someone with deep personal connections to gender non-conformity). All told, My Androgynous Boyfriend volume 1 gets a 6/10 especially for the kindness and love the two leads show each other.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6.5 - nothing revelatory, sadly, but the interactions between Meguru and Wako are sweet, supportive, and endearing.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 6.5 - We don't really know too much about their personalities yet, they both come across a bit like stock characters at first. Kira is interesting though with a very distinctive personality. However, they left much room to grow in the depiction and depth of the two leads.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - fine, clear scripting, but nothing super special in the language.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - I've had to suspend some disbelief because this is a comedy, particularly with Wako's fanaticism about Meguru, his Instagram account, and fashion in general. But their feelings do seem genuine and they provide enough situations for us to see that in action.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6.5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0 - nothing much yet
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 1 - it does feature a man who wears women's clothing, makeup, and hair styles. But no real commentary on the LGBTQ+ experience in society.
  • Female agency (0-5): 0
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - too early to say
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - fine, but no bonus points.
  • Other (0-5): 2 - it's funny, kind, and sweet and the way they love each other is wonderfully depicted. It's nice to have a happy, stable couple, and they get points for this!
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 1 - the few times random people in the story make homophobic comments they aren't really interrogated, but at the same time, it's probably a fairly accurate depiction of what people would say. Doesn't appear the author is homophobic though, but doesn't really interrogate or critique those comments either.
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 1 - very focused on conventional standards of beauty: thin, perfect features, etc...
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0 - I teetered on giving it a negative point here because I do feel like Meguru was a stock character that the author was told to write about. This gives the sense of queer baiting to just the slightest degree (after all, I was hoping from the title that it would be much more queer). But I don't think any harm was intended. We'll see as the series progresses.
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2):  -1



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  1. I personally really liked this start to the series. I didn't expect it to be super queer but just a cute straightforward story with a straight boy, who's interests and looks can have him pass as either gender. I loved the fact that Wako and Meg are so supportive of each other but I wasn't expecting Wako's personality to be the way it was. Other than that I don't have any complaints about it, I'm just looking forward with how the mangaka continues the story and how the characters develop. :)

    1. Yeah, now that I know what to expect, I have a feeling I'll enjoy the rest more. It's so tough when your expectations don't match something, but that isn't always fair to what the creator had in mind. I think I'll go into the next one much more in line with it and thus able to appreciate it for what it is. It sure was cute, and I love rom-coms where the couple are really sweet and nice to each other. We need models (no pun intended) like that in our lives.


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