Four-Eyed Prince, vol. 1
By Wataru Mizukami
Rated T, ages 13+
Del Rey, $10.99
Four-Eyed Prince is a cliché-ridden story of a girl who admires a classmate from afar, confesses her love, gets rejected, and goes home to find out that he is her stepbrother. Sachiko is yet another of those plucky orphans who is being dumped on a random family member, in this case, the mother who abandoned her as a baby. The prince, Akihiko, is your usual spectacles-wearing manga guy, cool and aloof, and he wants nothing to do with his klutzy, emotional new stepsister. (Note: Although they go to the same school, Sachiko had no idea this guy was her mother’s stepson until she walked in the door of their house. He, of course, knew it all along. Like life, manga isn’t fair.)
Warning: Spoilers and indignation after the cut
Akhiko disappears, Sachiko goes out after him, it rains, and she winds up, soaking wet, in a bar where the cute bartender, Akira, fixes her some hot milk with brandy, feels her up a bit, and takes her for a walk. On this walk, she unburdens herself of all her feelings about Akihiko, then passes out and wakes up naked in Akira’s bedroom….
… which is in her new apartment….
… because Akira is Akihiko’s secret identity. Like Superman, he changes so profoundly when he puts on glasses that even the woman who has been obsessing over him for months doesn’t recognize him.
And of course he doesn’t “take advantage” of her, because Akihiko may be a jerk, but he’s not a cad. Being a jerk, he calls her “easy” and says all girls are sluts. And Sachiko, well, she’s left to make the best of it.
So, at this point in the story, I was wondering whether the life of a manga-ka is so hard that none of them ever get to be in a real relationship. The setup is so lacking in any kind of emotional authenticity that it’s hard to understand why anyone thought it would be a good idea to write it down in the first place. Yes, it mixes up a lot of shoujo-manga tropes, but most of them aren’t very good tropes to begin with. What’s worse, the only character who expresses genuine emotion, Sachiko, is mocked and put down for it.
Then the clouds part a bit. Akihiko confesses that he is deliberately putting on different personalities to hide his real self. Abandoned by his father, Akihiko was taken in by Sachiko’s mother, his stepmother, who is working hard to pay off the gambler’s debts. Akihiko took on the bartender job so he could become financially independent. It’s still as full of holes as a fishing net, but having been a teenager once, I know that “you don’t know the real me” thing is gonna resonate.
Sachiko decides she wants to get to know her new stepsibling better, and what better way than to enter the two of them in the “Coolest in School” contest, dressed as a pirate and a kidnapped princess? Sachiko wanted Akira to play the part, but Akihiko shows up, glasses and all, and they announce to the entire student body that they are stepsiblings. Everyone starts laughing and jeering, but when Akihiko whips off his glasses and sweeps Sachiko into his arms, the audience turns to jelly and they win the contest handily.
Ah, the power of spectacles.
On the way to the hot springs, Akihiko accuses Sachiko of flirting because she talks to another guy. Then he mocks her looks and takes off with the other guy’s girlfriend. When Sachiko gets frustrated and pushes the girlfriend, Akihiko slaps her in the face. It’s all OK, though, because it turns out the other girl was dissatisfied with her boyfriend because he was too kind and considerate, and she asked Akihiko to come on to her to make him jealous. When the cuckolded boyfriend tries to punch out Akihiko (and gets tossed ignominiously into the pool), well, then, his girlfriend is all hot for him again. In case we don’t get it, Akihiko spells out the moral of the story for Sachiko: “When you consider the lengths that girl went to, it must mean that she really cares about him, right?”
Yup, and if a guy hits you, it’s probably your fault for being too demanding. Sheesh!
There are people who argue that books like this are bad for teenage girls because the girls are such terrible role models. (“His words are usually harsh,” Sachiko says as Akihiko yells at her for dropping a dish, “but underneath it all, my Four-Eyed Prince really is kind to me.”) I actually think this is a good story for teenage girls, because they will react with such indignation to Akihiko’s jerkiness that it will be even harder for the next guy to push them around. (In case you don’t have any teenage girls around, let me tell you that indignation is pretty much their default emotion.) In fact, I have nothing but pity for the poor spectacles-wearing guy who tries to hit up a girl right after she reads this. His earth will be scorched.
Furthermore, Akihiko is actually a good depiction of an abusive boyfriend; he’s charming one minute, cold and controlling the next, and just when Sachiko is totally frustrated, he lets a bit of his real, vulnerable self slip through. It’s a textbook case, especially the business at the hot spring.
The volume ends with a “bonus” story that’s basically more of the same—emotionally aloof rich guy, spunky part-time housekeeper, you know the drill. Let’s just say, it’s no Emma.
While it’s safe to say this book is not for everyone, it’s also safe to say that no one outside the target audience is going to read it anyway. Mizukami’s style is best described as extreme shoujo: The eyes are enormous, the main character goes chibi about every third panel, and flowers and sparkles are everywhere. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Arina Tanemura—less crowded but just as energetic. Tanemura’s heroines usually have more backbone, though.
Although I think it’s intended as a romantic comedy, Four-Eyed Prince reads like cautionary tale to me; while Sachiko will probably get her man in the end, it’s unlikely that American readers are going to think it was worth it.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, who probably bitterly regrets that decision right now.)