Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution, vols. 1 and 2
By Yuuki Fujinari
Rated T, for Teens
Yen Press, $10.99
This story is based on a dating-sim game, which explains a lot—the lack of backstory, plot, and character development, for instance. It’s kind of like a boy-harem version of Aria, a pleasant slice-of-life book in which the characters interact cheerfully but nothing much actually happens.
The main character, Hitomi, is fat and unattractive, and the story makes no bones about that. It wasn’t until I read the Wikipedia entry on the original game (Otometeki Koi Kakumei Love Revo!!) that I learned that she actually does have a backstory—she used to be a beauty queen, in fact, but she gave in to the temptations of junk food and put on a ton of weight. The story ignores all possible physical or psychological explanations for this—we’re here for good-natured fun, not complexity.
Hitomi goes to one of those high schools where the most popular boys have been chosen by some type of secret ballot, so we get introduced to them right away, in order. They fit the standard stereotypes: The alpha male, the hot misunderstood guy, the sporty guy (he doubles as the token shouta character), the yakuza heir who is trying to shake off his past, and the bookish, sickly guy. There’s also a doctor, of the type that pops up a lot in manga—young, hot, drinks and smokes a lot, and flirts outrageously with his patients. There are a couple of girls other than Hitomi but they might as well be cardboard cut-outs for all we see of them.
By an astounding coincidence, Hitomi and her brother (who is also quite cute and has a weird little-sister complex) live in the same residence as the doctor and the five hot guys. Hitomi’s brother is the apartment manager, and a number of their little adventures are centered around this building.
So what do they do? In the first chapter, the guys staple some papers for school orientation packets. Seriously, that’s the main action in the chapter. OK, it’s a way for us to get to know the characters and start getting a feel for the story, but really… In the next chapter, Hitomi can’t figure out a math problem and keeps asking everyone to help her, without success. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that she was mistakenly using a college study guide. In the third chapter, Hitomi and her friends make a special sitting area in their apartment building’s sunroom for the sickly, bookish character. And so it goes. My favorite chapter: When Hitomi is away at summer camp, the boys go shopping, eat candied apples, and win a bunch of plushies for her at a shooting gallery.
And that’s how it goes. Little stories about everyday life, played out by characters with very few neuroses or conflicts. It’s bubble-bath reading, blatant wish-fulfillment with little connection to everyday life.
At some point, Hitomi starts dieting. You would expect that there would have been some dramatic turn of events—she was rejected by a potential boyfriend because of her weight, or someone said something hurtful—but nope, she just starts dieting because it’s the right thing to do, and in one chapter she wins free tickets to a pool so she starts exercising there. Once the chapter is over, the pool never shows up again; continuity is not this story’s strong suit.
Hitomi’s character is drawn in a completely different style from the rest of the cast. The other characters are very much in a standard shoujo/bl style, willowy boys with fairly detailed faces, hair, and clothing. Hitomi is a set of simple curves, and her eyes are mere dots in her face. Presumably that is because she stands in for the reader, and too much detail would make that hard to achieve. There is one male character, Touru, who is chubby and bespectacled and is drawn in the same style; he seems to have a very small part, and according to Wikipedia he eventually goes to America and loses the weight and the glasses.
The one icky thing about this book is Hitomi’s brother, Takashi, who is beyond overprotective and well into stalker territory when it comes to his little sister. In the last chapter of volume 1, Hitomi and her friends dig up a mysterious box which turns out to contain Takashi’s diaries of his day-to-day observations of his sister. There is no explicitly sexual content, but it certainly is weird. Takashi takes this cheerfully in stride, although Hitomi is mildly embarrassed by the episode. And then she swoons in Takashi’s arms. Again, you could connect some dots regarding Takashi’s attitude and Hitomi’s weight, but this book certainly isn’t going to do it for you.
Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution is fine for what it is, a daydream world in which the boys are hot but still friendly with an unattractive girl (and with each other, for that matter). The art is quite competent and the dialogue isn’t bad, although more translator’s notes would be helpful. I imagine it would work even better in the format in which it originally appeared, as chapters in a weekly or monthly manga magazine; when those chapters are gathered together, the weaknesses are more apparent. If you’re looking for action, give this one a pass, but for simple stories, the manga equivalent of a cup of tea, a rocking chair, and a cat, this series will fill the bill nicely.