Shoujo – Comedy, gender bender, romance
8 Volumes (complete)
Just when things are going well at her new school, one of Kohane’s classmates calls her ugly! Iori has pro-level makeup skills while Kohane has no interest in beauty treatments. But when Kohane’s in a jam, Iori helps Kohane at the request of his sister. However, the cost for the makeover may be higher than she expected…
I am a big fan of Peach Heaven, so you would think I would jump at the chance to read another one of Yoshino’s series. Unfortunately, Beauty Bunny tackles one of my least liked plotlines: the ugly girl suddenly becomes beautiful all thanks to the power of foundation and eyeliner!
Peach Heaven also has a protagonist that is considered ugly/plain but becomes beautiful when dressed up. The difference is that Momoko never stayed in the fancy dresses or spent the mornings doing her hair — she was too busy balancing her school, work, and homelife to really care. Kohane, on the other hand, gets more and more interested in makeup, even though she doesn’t have the skills (or money) that Iori does. Plus, in this manga, Iori considers any girl who doesn’t wear makeup and has a beauty routine ugly while Ranmaru is just a playboy who flirts constantly. So the two manga have some definite differences in regards to outer appearances despite both male leads having the “only I can bully the heroine” attitude and other similarities (like the male lead’s best friend finding the heroine interesting).
So Kohane is 17; her mom is 35. Mika’s dream is to be the #1 hostess in the Ginza district of Tokyo, so she takes her daughter and moves from the boonies to the big city. The two have very different personalities: Mika loves fashion, makeup, and all that jazz while Kohane would rather spend time at the grocery store’s bargain sales to stretch the food budget. Mika is often flighty and selfish like other manga parents, although Kohane never gets too mad if Mika is happy since she adores her mother. (Kohane calls her mother “Mika-chan”.)
On her first day at her new school, Kohane is nervous, but things go well as she meets a girl named An and one of the top two guys in her class named Otohiko. However, Otohiko’s friend and the other member of the top two, Iori, is not as welcoming. In fact, Kohane draws his ire when she slaps him for getting so close because she thought he was going to kiss her. But Iori was just critiquing and criticizing her lack of a beauty regiment. That’s because Iori is the heir to a cosmetic company, and his skills have earned him a fan club and legions of girls who dream of having their makeup done by him. He denies he’d ever be interested in a girl who puts no effort into her appearance.
Then, Mika spends the household food budget on cosmetics as a way to cheer herself up after losing her job (partly fired, partly quit). Kohane tries to persuade Mika’s boss to rehire her mom or let Kohane herself step in so that, you know, they can eat that month. But the boss refuses, and he rudely tells Kohane that she looks nothing like Mika. That’s a sore spot for Kohane since she’s been asked and/or teased repeatedly about being adopted, and Mika has never spoken about Kohane’s dad. The heroine’s tears attracts the attention of model Himiko, who leads her to a room. Who should show up but Iori, as he’s Himiko’s twin. He ends up making Kohane over, and it’s enough of a surprise that Mika’s boss rehires her. But at school the next day, Kohane hears a rumor that any girl Iori helps becomes his “bunny” — in other words, a slave to serve him in the bedroom.
Later, as Kohane vents her worries about this to Himiko, she kisses her!
Some of you may have guessed where this is going, and I’m not going to hide it since it’s revealed in the first volume: Himiko the model is really Iori. I won’t reveal the reason here (although the manga does so at the same time as “Himiko” takes off her wig), but at least Iori’s makeup talents helps explain why he can pass as a girl. Plus, he’s smart enough to not talk much while being “Himiko”, so that also helps make it a little more believable than other gender bender stories. Still, there’s some hijinks as Iori messes with Kohane in both forms for a bit. Again, it doesn’t last long though so that there is some sort of love triangle between Kohane, Iori, and “Himiko”.
But there certainly is a love triangle between Kohane, Iori, and Otohiko, Iori’s friend. While Iori is bossy and can be very rude, Otohiko’s friendliness (and handsome appearance) quickly catches Kohane’s attention. He shows up at his regular haunt which turns out to be Kohane’s new job, and there he offers to tutor Kohane in exchange for a meal now and then. That’s partly out of his generosity and partly because he’s surprised Iori has taken an interest in her.
As for Iori, he decides to mess with Kohane since she took the exaggerated rumors of what his bunny is so seriously. When he finds out Otohiko is tutoring her, Iori decides to also be her tutor… for beauty! And so whenever Kohane has something important going on, she starts slacking off her routine, or if Iori’s bored and/or irritated, he does her makeup and hair and gives her advice. In an exchange he himself decided, Iori comes and hangs out at her house so he can eat her food (with the added bonus of annoying her).
One thing the author did apologize for: this isn’t a how-to manga. The plot would make this a natural setup for a guide for young ladies and men who are unsure about choosing the right color foundation, how often to use cleansers, proper hair care, etc., but it’s not. While Iori talks a bit about good techniques, I wouldn’t classify this as an informational or educational manga. Not saying this had to reach Cells at Work! levels of edutainment, but it was a completely missed opportunity for Beauty Bunny.
On the bright side, I liked how Kohane didn’t suddenly change from a plain Jane to a bombshell. She dresses up on occasion and spends more time on herself, but a lot of the focus on makeup and stuff is about just taking care of yourself versus suddenly transforming into a hottie. Iori himself says he wouldn’t call a girl ugly as long as they put in some effort into her appearance. In addition, the identity of his mentor may also be a pleasant surprise instead of being treated as a joke.
Still, for much of Beauty Bunny, the emphasis is on Kohane being torn between the two hot guys. Yes, Kohane earns the envy and loathing of much of the school’s female population for hanging around Iori and Otohiko, and especially as news of her being Iori’s official bunny spreads. But despite making at least one close female friend right away (An), Kohane spends hardly any time with her. That’s due to the author more than Kohane, but it also drags on the love triangle longer than necessary. All three had opportunities to get off the love train or prevent it from stopping at a rival station, if you know what I mean. While Iori’s hot-and-cold attitude is just due to his personality, Otohiko’s attraction to Kohane is also tempered by his past. So he’s not quite the usual sweet romance option destined to end with a broken heart.
To counter this though, there were few scenes that made me like Iori more than I expected though. Without revealing what happens, let’s just say the usual getting hit on by guys at the beach doesn’t turn out like in most manga, and the “afraid of thunder” scene has a twist. Still, he does end up being forceful more than once even though those moments are presented in a rather tame light.
Compared to a lot of manga featuring rich young men, though, Iori has a surprisingly good relationship with his family. There’s some tension because, well, he’s cross-dressing for a reason, but it’s nice to not have a guy with parental issues in a story like this. They’re not avoided altogether, though, as Kohane has to learn more about her heritage. But even though Mika can be self-absorbed, the two are very close. That’s always nice to see, and because of that, the end-of-series conflict doesn’t feel forced, out-of-place, or overly dramatic. Beauty Bunny keeps its tone constant, so this is one of those manga where if you like the first volume, you’ll probably like the entire series.
The art is very similar to Peach Heaven. The downside of Yoshino’s style is that faces — particularly for the female characters — can be a little flat. Character designs are also very similar to her other works, so some just look like palette swaps. Comedy bits are usually pretty funny, like when Iori “reels” in Kohane with a job offer, so that’s a positive. The outfits that “Himiko” and Mika wear are hip and pretty. Kohane’s pre- and post-makeover self is not extremely different, which is good in my opinion. Thinner eyebrows, more eyelashes, and a more fashionable hairstyle — the usual in these sorts of stories. Nothing involving weight, as she’s already slender. There are some mature visuals where Kohane imagines what she’s going to do as a bunny, and Iori sees her without a top when he’s giving her a makeover. So the manga does stay in the teen/older teen range, especially as Iori “volunteers” additional tutoring services. Otherwise, it’s simple and straightforward, but this gives the series a light, easy-to-read feel. I do get a bit confused when I see Kohane on the cover with brunette hair, but the art inside has her hair light.
Honorifics are used. Translation notes appear starting in volume 3. The English version uses the term “cis women” and “trans”, which is fairly unusual but not in a bad way. Typo: “recognizeme”. Otherwise, don’t have much else to add.
Beauty Bunny isn’t the worst example of makeover manga I’ve read, and it features a few pleasant twists despite some of the unsettling real-life messages that readers may get. But Beauty Bunny‘s love triangle takes up pagetime when it would be better devoted to the parts of the story that keep this from being just another “put on makeup = get a hot boyfriend” manga.
Kodansha Comics has also released Yoshino’s Peach Heaven.