学园王子 (Gakuen Ouji)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, mature, romance, reverse harem
12 Volumes (complete)
At one elite high school, girls don’t just dominate the guys in numbers; they dominate them — literally. Desperate to escape the crazed female populace, transfer student Azusa bumps into Rise, an unsophisticated girl who has no interest in fighting over any other guy. Azusa thinks he has found the perfect fake girlfriend, but Rise just wants to not stand out in any way. Will either of them find peace here, or will they keep attracting unwanted attention?
Gakuen Prince would normally be a series I would never touch. But this series has at least one thing going for it!
First of all, this manga is for older teens. It doesn’t quite get to adults only territory, but it’s very close. There is physical violence, bullying, attempted rape, and orgies. But before we go into these mature aspects, let’s start with the overall story.
The manga’s opening chapter focuses on Azusa, a new second-year student to a formerly female-only high school. There are some not-so-subtle hints he has some sort of tension with his father, so he’s not in the greatest of moods on his first day. But while he knows this school, nicknamed Jyoshi-ko or Joshi High, is going to have a lot of girls attending, more and more oddities pile up. A half-naked boy crying. The student council president, Reiko, saying that there will be a commotion. A warning from the student he was advised to seek out for advice, Suguru, known to most as Munechika. But when he sees a note being passed around in class, the situation truly sinks in: the boys are the girl’s slaves. The males (minus the few substandard ones) must either be an untouchable and unobtainable idol, commit to one girl, or sleep with all who ask — whether you like them or not.
Azusa quickly tries to high-tail it out of there, and that’s when he meets plain Jane Rise. Rise, as readers learn, is traumatized from being bullied in elementary school, so she tries to be inconspicuous as possible to avoid any type of conflict. Azusa doesn’t know this and just sees a girl not trying to get into his pants, so he quickly announces that they’re dating.
Of course, Rise is not thrilled, but the girls of Joshi High — particularly the members of the rich, prestigious S class — are even less so upon learning a commoner is dating a handsome guy. Rise is only attending this school because her mother hopes she’ll marry a rich scion, as their family is firmly middle class. Each grade is divided into S to F class — the higher the rank, the more elite you are. But all the males are in S class by default because there’s so few of them. Rise is in A class and has no friends through a combination of her choice, her dislike of the school, and her dull looks and habits. But it meant a peaceful life for her. Now, though, she’s targeted again by “harmless pranks” and “accidents”.
Seeing Azusa’s misery at Joshi High, she agrees to be his fake girlfriend until he finds someone to love. But while this relationship is supposed to protect them, others still want to force them apart — not to mention Azusa’s personal demons and Rise’s own insecurities. And while the girls resent Rise for claiming Azusa, perhaps it’s one of their classmates, the quiet, spacey, and rumored wild child Omi (usually called by his family name Akamaru), who wants to see them break up most of all…
Gakuen Prince was Yuzuki’s first serialization, and there are indications throughout the story. You can tell from the manga itself as well as the author’s comments that there were some general missteps with the story. Like there’s a whole volume about a prince, and then he’s barely a factor for the rest of the manga. The manga is a bit crunched at the end. Things like that.
The biggest victim, though, is Azusa — both Azusa himself and in regards to love triangle with Akamaru.
In the first chapter, for instance, Azusa is fairly “with it” to notice Joshi High is odder than the rumors. The next chapter, he loses about 50 IQ points. Are you tired of hearing or reading, “I’m a man, so let me protect you!”? Well, meet Azusa. He’s a guy who basically says, “I’m a man, so protect me!” This would be a nice twist if Rise was initially volunteering to save Azusa. Nope, he sees someone not interested in jumping him and then makes her his savior. Then he wants Rise to make him food and assumes she’s being bullied because she’s gloomy and wears uncool glasses. It isn’t until he’s scolded by Suguru that he realizes that he just can’t take from Rise; he has to give too (i.e. protect her). Then he has her transferred to S class with him, but after that, he loses IQ points again. This pattern repeats several times, much to Akamaru’s anger.
Why the normally aloof Akamaru has taken a special interest in Rise and has a intense loathing for Azusa is a huge part of the story, and let’s just say that Akamaru will have a lot of fans. Azusa has his good points, but my goodness, he’s a moron. Other characters have a hard time pinning down his personality because of the coldness he sometimes displays, and that causes problems. He’s not exactly the heart-pounding wonderful hero that many shoujo readers crave; it’s Akamaru that takes on this role. While both are technically bad boys with family issues, Azusa’s few shining moments are just constantly upstaged by Akamaru’s. The two dislike each other immensely, so of course one of them is going to have their heart broken and have to reluctantly let Rise go. No matter which ship you support, you are probably going to be let unsatisfied by the ending. Rise does make a decision in the end (and the final cover spoils it), but looking back, for as much mature content and wild edge the manga had, Gakuen Prince really dropped the ball in regards to Rise and her boyfriend. If you don’t like love triangles, this manga isn’t for you.
For a good portion of the story, though, it’s Rise and/or Azusa getting dragged into a situation, and the other plus Akamaru getting involved in the mess. The second half is more about the love triangle as Rise’s heart wavers. So as much as I pile on Azusa, most of the cast is all over the map: both strong and weak, dumb and smart, independent and dependent. Rise herself is torn between wanting to avoid girls’ envy, but she does make some stands… and then often ends up suffering. Rise’s friends consist of a girl who is tsundere to her and a fairy-tale dreamer who won’t kiss her boyfriend until they get married. And despite the lack of adults in the manga, almost everyone answers to a higher individual or authority. It’s like a weird system of checks-and-balances. Whenever one of the cast has a moment (good or bad), either their own flaws or another person mixes things up. Munechika, for instance, seems much like the student council president type, but he’s really only a member of the disciplinary committee and has limited power. The actual student council president has incredible power and influence, but when she’s away, some of the other members feel free to stir up some trouble.
Basically, everyone has a screw loose in their head. Or three. Or all except one. But what do you expect when this drama-heavy series goes waaaaay beyond normal drama involving a fake relationship. Rise opens her notebook one time and finds razor blades all along the edges along with “die” written repeatedly inside. Characters are sexually assaulted by other students, sometimes in groups. Even both love interests do some inappropriate actions. This definitely isn’t a series you would lend to someone just getting into reading manga because Joshi High is messed up. The sexual inappropriateness and bullying is lessened toward the end because of progress, but still… everyone here could benefit from some counseling. The deviancy and delinquency here is extraordinarily high for an elite school (and one that is not isolated to boot).
Normally, Gakuen Prince would not be a series I’d touch. So why do I not dislike it as much as I typically would? One word: comedy. Yes, the whole story is absolutely ridiculous and disturbing (more on that later), but the humorous portions are spot-on. Dialogue, randomness, art, even the end-of-chapter bonuses are hilarious. Examples of each:
- There’s a teacher who’s absolutely a clueless, obtuse idiot. Naked student crying in the hallway? “What? Did you forget your underwear?” But hey, the teacher is a moron, but at least he’s a nice moron: “Here, I’ll lend you mine. It’s 100% cotton.”
- Munechika’s getting busy with a girl. Suddenly, Azusa comes in through the window. Because the door was locked of course. And this room is on the third floor!
- Rise and the midget Samejima have some hilarious expressions. They look like Japanese demons and Noh masks. Samejima gets stepped on and comes out ecstatic. How many shoujo heroines out-ugly mice, causing the rodents to run away in fear?
- Munechika is racing to the rescue! Except he’s still in high school and can’t drive, so he’s on his way on a scooter. A kick scooter. Because a car would be unrealistic, you know!
Seriously, I can’t help but crack up when reading this manga. Some comedy manga wish it had this level of humor. It tapers off a bit as the love triangle becomes the focus, but there are still some guffaws now and then.
Yuzuki’s artstyle is rather unique. I’ve already discussed Rise’s and Samejima’s crazy expressions, but they really are a highlight. You can’t call this typical shoujo art when the protagonist’s smile is really a horrible snarl. Rise herself is quite attractive, but she tends to stick to her pigtailed, glasses-wearing self. This is a nice change from girls in manga who tend to never revert to their pre-makeover selves. Lots of titillating scenes are included, but many are included more for their shock value rather than romance. Yuzuki’s characters’ eyes are also quite detailed, but what’s more unique are the thick eyelids. Overall, the art is quite different. I don’t mean this in either a negative or positive way; it is just plain different. It is a breath of fresh air compared to many cookie-cutter shoujo styles, but it lacks a lot of beauty that shoujo manga is well-known for.
Honorifics are used. The digital version uses the original translation from Del Rey, which had a fairly higher-than-average use of Japanese for a school romance manga. Even the title is a bit unusual, going with Gakuen Prince instead of the original Gakuen Ouji or translating it fully to something like Academy Prince. I’m guessing it’s either because they kept “Gakuen” in the school name or because something like Academy Prince would have sounded too lame.
The digital-only volumes features significant differences, which isn’t a surprise considering how many years have passed since the original and the use of a different team. Even the font is different, switching from a font that uses lowercase letters to an all-caps font. “Prefect” is used to describe Munechika’s and Akamaru’s position when they hadn’t been used before. Accent marks become rare and romanizations differ (Jyoshi-kô vs Joshiko). The dialogue becomes more… I guess I’d describe it as hip and Americanized. It’s just a different feel compared to the early volumes which had a translator and an adapter versus a different person doing both. It seems like the early volumes do a better job of showing the overall eliteness the school is supposed to have (including the chapter names, which are all based on book or TV show names), but the later volumes are more accessible and shows off the wild edge in the characters.
But the biggest disappointment is the loss of all the translation notes. Del Rey volumes have pages and pages. Kodansha’s has little to none. It’s not heavy on Japanese culture, yes, and Del Rey may have overused Japanese in places, but it’s still disappointing to not at least have a list of the names the chapter titles are parodying. Oh, and one volume of the Kodansha volumes suddenly uses Japanese name order.
Gakuen Prince is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I shake my head in annoyance at the actual story, but I also shake my head in an affectionate “ah, that goofball~” kind of way at the humor. If you take the story seriously, it’s disturbing on so many levels, and the love triangle is substandard thanks to Azusa being overshadowed. If you can tune out the violence, just enjoy the absurdity.
Yuzuki’s The Prince’s Black Poison is also available from Kodansha Comics digitally.