Danielle Leigh's Reading Diary -- Gakuen Prince vol 1

Looking for the next anti-feminist can't-take-your-eyes-away-from-this-train-wreck shojo manga?  (or as I think of it, the next Hot Gimmick?).  I think I might have found it in Gakuen Prince....the difference being Gakuen Prince has a much stronger sense of absurdity and fun about its hormone-fueled proceedings and, therefore, is much easier to accept as a pure trashy pleasure than its more dour predecessor.

Gakuen Prince is a reverse harem shojo manga, in which our clueless prince, Mizutani, enters a formerly all-girls' school with out realizing that he is about to become the hapless plaything of the majority of the school's still mostly female population.  More than just reverse harem, this shojo manga places its attractive male students at the mercy of the stalking, sexually-aggressive girls.  It is the male students who have to fight to survive the bold, if not outright illegal, sexual advances of the too-powerful, and downright frightening, female students.

Some of the male students have learned how to cope with these quite frankly terrifying portraits of teenage lust run amok by becoming skilled players, others take on the idol role and maintain their distance from their admirers, and still others vow to be faithful to one girl to keep the others at bay.  Poor Mizutani is so confused by this whole situation he leaps at the first chance to save himself from the very hungry mob and save his very endangered virtue by pledging his devotion to a real doozy of a girl.  Of course, he picks the one girl who has no interest in love or matters relating to below the belt, and in fact, wants nothing more than to avoid her classmates' interest at any cost and live a quiet high school life (poor girl, doesn't she know she's in a shojo manga?).  Okitsu covers her pretty face with lame, over-sized glasses, and tries her best make herself invisible to her classmates.  In other words, she is just entirely too much fun to mess with (she's really just doomed from the start).

Most of the first volume is a series of mishaps, bullying, lovingly depicted, and often sexually explicit, harassment of all kinds, and eventually Mizutani and Okitsu hammer out a "marriage of convenience" agreement that might just save them both.  Okitsu is both a an ultimate pushover for a prince in need and a surprisingly determined fighter, as she now must suffer even greater harassment than Mizutani for selfishly keeping one of the few pretty boys the school has to offer to herself.  Okitsu really makes the title because she is really a weird little biscuit who becomes Mizutani's savior, instead of his willing victim.  Okitsu is no Hatsumi and for that I'm thankful -- she can give as good as she gets.  She'll probably (predictably) fall for Mizutani in time, but I expect an amusing and cracked-out ride along the way.

The art mixes shojo cliche central with hilariously unattractive portraits of individuals at moments of high stress or emotion (which is most of the time).  Everyone's shojo prettiness is stripped from them in key moments, reminding the reader how ugly and transformative the entire high school experience can be.

Buyer please be aware (rather than "beware") -- this title is quite explicit about sexual matters of all kinds, so much so the title borders on "Mature" footing, which is a large part of its very cheeky & slightly shocking fun.

Review copy provided by Del Rey.

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