It's difficult to find a reverse harem that's only a single volume, as most tend to catch on well enough to be published in full. Well, I managed to find one, although now I wonder if my efforts were worth it.
THE BEAUTIFUL SKIES OF HOUOU HIGH (Houou Gakuen MiSORAgumi), by Arata Aki. First published in 2008, and first published in North America in 2011.
Kei is a tomboyish lesbian who keeps striking out with girls. Kei's mother believes her daughter's lesbianism is simply a phase (despite the fact that being around men literally makes Kei nauseous), and her idea of a 'cure' is to secretly enlist her daughter into Houou High, a prestigious all-male high school. The chairman of the school is in on her mother's scheme, and not only refuses to let Kei transfer out, but she must keep her gender a secret OR ELSE. The only person aware of Kei's gender is her roommate Yui, the scion of a medical magnate who is also a manipulative little sociopath. Now Kei has to find a way to survive what feels like her own personal hell, all while dealing with her other classmates and Yui's own schemes.
This series feels like what happens when someone sits down and thinks "What if I crossed Maria Holic with a reverse harem and sucked out everything that might be sympathy inducing or funny?"
Houou High clearly believes itself to be a dark comedy, and while it's got some darker elements, it completely fails as a comedy. I think it's because poor Kei never gets the slightest break from all the mean-spirited mockery. Her sexuality, her boyish looks and figure, her naivite - all are played off as cruel jokes by one character or another. Kei's mother is shallow and selfish, wanting her daughter to change orientation solely so she can have grandkids in the future. She calls her daughter "an imitation of a man" in her own relationships, and she flat-out tricks her daughter into attending Houou High in the hopes of curing Kei's lesbianism and Kei snagging a rich husband to boot. It's safe to say that her mother would not be winning LGBTQ Ally of the Year.
It only gets worse once Kei gets to the school, because she's stuck with the spoiled, horrid Yui, a guy who sees Kei as a toy, something he can manipulate, stalk, and abuse as he wishes because he's used to getting his way in all things. His moods shift on a dime from 'sweet and friendly' to 'psycho', which the mangaka attempts to treat as humor but instead it comes off as disturbing and irritating. The closest thing Kei has a to a friend is Kousuke, a big, thuggish guy who turns out to love the same bizarrely sexy ripoff of Hello Kitty that Kei does. He's also so dense and good-natured that he can't tell that his best friend Yui is manipulating him and others. There's also a couple of middle-school mad scientist twins who go after Kei, as well as the strange and masochistic Kirie, who is jealous of the attention Yui gives to Kei and wants to be the focus of Yui's abuse because...um...er...reasons. I think the gag is that everyone but Kousuke is out to get Kei for one reason or another, and that everything is just so over-the-top that it's supposed to be funny. The problem is that 'outrageous' on its own does not equal 'hilarious.' You have to make some effort to write actual jokes, and mocking the lead and no one else does not count as a joke. It doesn't even capitalize on the notion that Kei is stuck in a reverse harem that she couldn't care less for - a more self-aware writer might use this as a jumping point for humor or satire, but Aki prefers to pick on the lesbian and call it funny.
Let me use a more familiar Western series to put into perspective why Houou High fails as a comedy. It's not funny onto itself that Lucy keeps pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, but what makes it funny is that Lucy can keep coming up with new ways to get Charlie Brown to try and kick the ball, or that Charlie Brown can keep finding new ways to convince himself that this time it will be different. Black comedies like Houou High need a bit of a silver lining and some effort put into the comedy to temper its darkness, or else the darkness will swallow the story completely and the humor will be lost.
Aki didn't put much more effort into the artwork, as the character designs are very basic, androgynous, and flat in their expressions. She also abuses her own version of super-deformed, where everyone tends to have the same "O<>O" face regardless of the situation. Sure, there's a nice variety in the panel sizes and a little bit of layering with the panels, but they're full of boring looking characters and equally boring backgrounds, most of which are composed of screen tones and effects. Houou High's story may be offensive, but its art is just plain dull.
There's an omake where the mangaka spends more time talking about the creation of Usasy (the weird sexy Hello Kitty ripoff) than the manga itself, which explains a lot about the quality of the manga as a whole.
This series was published in the USA by Digital Manga Publishing. 1 of 4 available volumes were published, and is currently in print.
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