Tenshi Ja Nai!! Vol. 1
As soon as I saw the title of this particular book, I got a bit of a warm and fuzzy feeling about the new manga publishing company Go! Comi. They offer a translation of the title ("I'm No Angel!"), but they didn't go so far as to rename the book. It's always nice to see a book's original title make it across the ocean.
More important than the name of the series, however, is the engaging romance that can be found within its pages. Tenshi Ja Nai!! is a twisted romance between a boy and a girl -- both of whom attend the same elite girls-only school.
As hinted by the book's cover, Shigematsu's artwork features especially attractive character designs. While the look of the main protagonists remind me a little bit too much of the heroes in W Juliet, the other cross-dressing romance manga series, the story of Tenshi Ja Nai!! so far is a little bit more complex than that of VIZ Media's popular series.
Hikaru Takabayashi was a very cute little girl, and now that she's fifteen years old, she's a very fetching young lady. When she was a kid, she posed for a photographer friend of her mother's, earning a brief period of fame. Unfortunately, grade school girls can be exceedingly mean, and they tormented her for daring to stand out. It didn't take much schoolyard abuse before Hikaru decided that her life would be better if she stopped trying to bring any sort of attention to herself. Thus, the charming, attractive and talented young girl became introverted, shunning her classmates altogether.
Many years later, Hikaru has made it into the prestigious Seika Girls' Academy, where she hopes she will be able to promptly blend into her environment and graduate unscathed. But what kind of self-respecting manga would allow a main character to live a life like that, anyway? As luck would have it, not this one.
Tragically (or so she thinks), Hikaru's dreams of blissful anonymity are cruelly thwarted when she learns that her roommate, Izumi Kido, is a television idol. Hikaru is aware of all of the trouble that comes with fame, and she doesn't look forward to dealing with it even on a secondhand basis. However, moving in with a star isn't the prime shocker in Tenshi Ja Nai!!. When the beautiful Izumi contracts an illness, Hikaru discovers that the owner of half of the male hearts in the nation is actually a man!
Since this is a romance manga, Izumi is an attractive, complex and hard to understand man, but that's part and parcel of manga life. I look forward to seeing how Hikaru handles it. Will he feel threatened by her after she discovers his potentially career-ending secret? Will she be able to share a room in an all-girls school with a guy without attracting undue attention? Then there’s the question that really forms the core of the entire series: will Hikaru ever come out of her insulated shell and start living her life proudly again?
This series is good enough that it will certainly convince readers to stay around long enough to find out the answers to these questions. Many of the themes of this series have been seen before (again, if you like this book, check out W Juliet), but it's entertaining enough to go through these similar situations just to see how this particular author handles them.
The book's adaptation is very impressive, easily putting its quality on par with the historically excellent releases from Dark Horse or Del Rey. Sound effects tend to be translated in unobtrusive ways, and the artwork's reproduction is exceedingly clean compared to other releases that I've seen in the past. Let's hope that the production quality of the first few releases from Go! Comi carry over to what they have in store for us down the line!
Good production values, sleek artwork, and an engaging (if not groundbreaking) story help to make this a fine release for any fan of twisted romances. I just have to wonder; when I was in college, why wasn't I lucky enough to get a super attractive FEMALE roommate who was posing as a guy in order to make it as a movie star? I guess I know the answer to that. I wasn't even lucky enough to find a 360 on launch day. Still, it's a question that will forever haunt me.