BACKSTAGE PRINCE (Kiwametsuke - Gayuka Ura Oji), by Kanoko Sakurakoji. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2006.
Akari follows a black cat into a building one afternoon, only to discover that the building is a kabuki theater and that the cat belongs to one Ryusei Horiuchi. Ryusei is a handsome young man who is cold and distant in Akari's class, but he is a star onstage, a descendant of a long line of kabuki actors. Akari stumbles her way into becoming Ryusei's personal assistant, despite not knowing anything about kabuki, but soon she becomes more than just an assistant to Ryusei. Will Ryusei and Akari overcome jealous parties and Akari's own insecurities to stay together?
I dreaded reading this volume, knowing that comes from the creator of Black Bird, a distressingly popular shoujo series that is one of the worst manga I've ever read (and trust me, I will get to that one someday). While I can say that this work does not feature the disturbing and highly oversexed qualities of her more recent work, it's just as bad.
Akari is lacking in two qualities: personality and backbone. The moment she encounters any sort of negative comment, she immediately determines that she is COMPLETELY UNWORTHY OF LOVE and flees, all in the name of creating incredibly forced and utterly unnecessary drama. She's such a passive character that she doesn't even enter into her assistantship of her own volition - she's tricked into the role by one of Ryusei's costars, who works so quickly and convienently that he might as well have been name Deus Ex Machina.
Mind you, everything happens a bit too quickly and convienently in this manga. Ryusei goes from quiet and taciturn to declaring his love before mid-volume, and it feels utterly false. On the other hand, he's just as void of personality as Akari, so the two becomes a well-matched pair of bland drama llamas. You'd think he would also serve as a source of exposition on the details or history of kabuki, but the manga doesn't even go there. The kabuki angle is mostly there to give Ryusei to wear a kimono most of the time.
Backstage Prince couldn't be more contrived if it tried. It's got a cast completely void of personality, the romance is far too rushed and forced, and the plot moves along only by shallow, stupid drama.
The character designs are generic, simple, even a bit flat (to the point where Akari often looks like she has no nose). They're expressive enough, but it does no good when Akari spends most of her time pouting and crying and Ryusei spends most of his time glowering. Backgrounds are rare and mundane, instead replaced with a veritable explosion of shoujo sparkles and similar effects. Panels are large, but assembled plainly.
The only extra is a side story about Ryusei's childhood, which add nothing beyond explaining why he has a cat.
This series is contrived, overly dramatic, and lazy as hell. This prince is nothing but a frog.
This series was published by Viz. Both volumes were released, and both are currently in print.
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