Monday, May 25, 2009
Backstage Prince, vol. 1
The story: Ryusei is a famous teenage kabuki actor. By chance, he and Akari, a female classmate, meet when she injures him with her bookbag after school. Later, they meet again when Akari follows Ryusei's cat, Mr. Ken, back to the kabuki theater. When Akari finds out how injured Ryusei is, she volunteers to be his assistant. Ryusei, who is actually a shy, anti-social misanthrope, only allows her to do so because his only friend, Mr. Ken, seems to like her.
Reaction: Akari comes off as a friendly and positive, yet ordinary, high school girl. When she's mystified as to why her friends are interested in meeting Ryusei, she simply states that all she wants from a guy is to hear him say, "you're the only one for me!" For the most part, this is a fairly pedestrian high school shojo romance and Ryusei and Akari jump into their relationship quickly once Ryusei realizes how much he needs Akari. She really becomes his source of strength when he has trouble performing.
Deep thoughts: While I only have a basic awareness of what kabuki is, I think it makes for a much more interesting setting for this short, two-volume series. I found the inner world of Rien, the traditional term for the kabuki world that is used throughout this story, fascinating in terms of its tradition and hierarchy. I don't think I would have found it as satisfying of a setting had it been set in, say, a regular theater or TV or film set (although Ryusei is cast in a historical drama at one point in this volume).
Artwork: This being a shojo story, there's a heavy use of screen tone throughout and lots of "sparkly" moments that I could do without. Then again, it's pretty par for the course, considering the genre. Kanoko Sakurakoji's art isn't particularly stunning, but it's not bad, either. However, this manga's saving grace are the kabuki explanations between chapters and at the end in an extra story. I also loved the costumes in the historical drama Ryusei and his friend/manager Toshiya star in.
The verdict: If only... This story isn't particularly bad and, honestly, the kabuki setting really keeps it from falling down into "meh" territory for me. I think I'd like this more if only the mangaka had drawn out the romance just a little bit more and made it less of a "I'm not good enough for him" plotline.
Regardless, it's only two volumes, so I'll stick around to see how it all ends, especially considering the expectations placed on who is deemed "worthy" of dating Ryusei (as one might guess, Akari doesn't exactly meet those expectations). Backstage Prince is available in the U.S. from Viz.