Monday, July 02, 2012

Review: Pretty Face Vol. 1

I found the pitch for this one pretty irresistible.

Under the tagline “He wanted to be her boyfriend…He’ll settle for being her twin sister!”, there’s a paragraph explaining the wacky premise of the series:

When his school bus crashes, teenage karate star Rando is sent into a coma. A year later he wakes up to find that his disfigured face has been reconstructed in the image of the girl he has a crush on! Not knowing what Rando originally looked like, the mad plastic surgeon Dr. Manabe used a photo in Rando’s pocket as the model for his reconstructive surgery.
And it actually gets even crazier as you read on. It quickly becomes clear that Manabe may not be working with a full drawer of scalpels, as not only did he give the poor Rando, who came to him looking like this—
—the face of the girl in his pocket (“What kind of idiot carries a picture of HIMSELF??!” Rando demands), he also encourages the boy to let him go the rest of the way and give him breasts and sex reassignment surgery (Rando refuses, and it remains a point of contention between him and his only confidant).

But wait, there’s more! Because that wouldn’t be weird enough, while Rando is running around trying to find friends or family that remember him and might have a picture of his old face he can give to the doctor in order to fix him, he runs into the girl of his dreams, Rina, whose face he now has. And she just so happens to have a long lost twin sister that looks exactly like her, so she assumes Rando is actually her twin sister and has him move in with her.
So Rando finds himself having to choose between abandoning Rina, re-breaking her heart after she finally got her beloved runaway sister back, or playing as if he’s the amnesiac young lady until here real runaway sister really returns.

Obviously he chooses the latter, as there wouldn’t be much of manga if he didn’t. After about 48 pages setting up the unlikely set of coincidences that gets Rando posing not only as a girl, but as the twin sister of the girl he likes, manga-ka Yasuhiro Kano plunges his star into episodic conflicts centering around his trying to keep his secret and learning to live as a young woman after growing up as a badass dude.

The sexual content is remarkably tame, and while Rando occasionally gets a bloody nose in the girls’ locker room or after seeing a flutter of the lace on his new sister’s undergarments, he’s never in danger of revealing his identity via, say, an erection under his school uniform miniskirt.

There are even scenes where he finds himself in sexual peril of a very serious degree, including one where the leader of the jujitsu club—sworn enemies of his own former karate club, who can’t defend themselves without their leader Rando—tries to force himself upon Rando. They don’t use the word “rape,” but the intentions are pretty clear, and Rando gets out of it by head-butting everyone around him into unconsciousness.

This lead to my favorite panel, wherein Rando returns to his adopted home, his berserker energy worn off and his head covered in blood, and his adopted mother demanding to know why he's in such a state:
Later, a young, ladies-man teacher tries to take advantage of Rando’s desperation to get a passing grade, and leans in to kiss him/her, and Rando has to resort to…
…well, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any pro-wrestling, is that a reverse suplex…?

Despite the dramatic material, these scenes are played for laughs, and Kano manages to keep the material light, skirting the seriousness and scariness of the scenes by having his protagonist be an utterly invincible physical fighter. While the bad guys who seek to take advantage of him may be intent on harming him, the reader knows Rando is never in any real danger—it’s akin to watching someone threaten Clark Kent with a pistol or knife.

In one later episode in the first volume, Manabe has Rando try on a huge set of incredibly life-like fake breasts he created, should Rando ever find himself in a situation that would threaten to reveal his true sex if he didn’t have breasts, and our hero ends up stuck wearing them for 24 hours until the medical glue wears off.

He is then subject to the male gaze (and some female envy) for a full school day; prior to this the only attention from boys he had gotten was the admiration of his old karate club, who served him with blind loyalty after they watched the pretty young girl destroy their rival club with nothing but head-butts.

Rando learns a very special lesson:
Girls have it rough.

I kind of wish that I could say Pretty Face is all about a young man learning exactly what it’s like to walk a mile or 400 in a young woman’s shoes, but while there is a bit of that, like everything else in the book, it’s light, and played mostly for laughs. Pretty Face has a pretty male perspective on what it means to be a woman, and is more concerned with gags over everything else (up to and including fan service, which the first volume contains very little of) but then, it’s not a dissertation on gender politics, it’s a humorous high school comedy comic.

And one with an admirably outrageously convoluted premise at that.

I liked it, and will certainly read the second volume.


After the headbutting rampage-to-period gag sequence, this was my second favorite sequence, in which Rando tries to study math as hard as he can:
I've been reading manga (and watching anime) for a loooooong time now, but the insanely exaggerated, out-sized emotions applied to everyday things bit so common to both still cracks me up.


Matt I. said...

Oh MAN, Pretty Face, jeez... I loved that series with no sense of irony back when I was 14 (yeah, I was a pirate, but I was a moneyless teen then, and I buy a lot of comics now. Though I still can't really feel moral dismay for pirating untranslated manga).

I also really liked Mx0 by the same author. It's a high school comedy about a kid who accidentally enrolls in a magic school, and it is also dumb fun. Has that been licensed in English... nope!

Nick Ahlhelm said...

This sounds like a crazy concept in the vein of Ranma. And I mean that as a great compliment.

Oh, and that looks to be a belly-to-belly suplex. A reverse suplex would be a drop forward.

Maxy Barnard said...

I STILL love Pretty Face with no sense of irony. Yasuhiro has a great sense of how to create great slapstick comedy with a meaning behind it, which he's done well with on the previously mentioned Mx0 (which for real, ran twice as long as Pretty Face, and really should be licensed) and to a much lesser extent on the poorly thought through Harisugawa in Mirror World, his latest short-run series about a guy being trapped in a mirror unless he confesses his feelings to the girl he loves.

But anyway, Pretty Face is great and I'm sure you'll enjoy everything but the ending of it. It's totally my go to to show my pervier female friends what's so great about comics