Oh Mayu Shinjo. We meet again. It's not the first time she's written a manga about musicians, so she was a natural choice for this month. I just wish she didn't have so much of a taste for trashy romance.
SENSUAL PHRASE (Kaikan Furezu), by Mayu Shinjo. First published in 1997 and first published in North America in 2004.
Aine is a romantic high school girl with dreams of becoming a great songwriter. On her way to an audition, she nearly gets hit by a car. Inside that car is Sakuya, the handsome lead singer of the popular band Lucifer. The accident causes Aine to lose her lyric sheet, and at the concert she discovers that Sakuya found them and turned them into a song. He immediately makes her the band's official songwriter, and he's equally determined to give her plenty of material to write about by attempting to seduce her at every turn. This attention soon makes Aine the target of many jealous parties. Will Lucifer's fandom and Aine's school friends tear their romance apart before it even begins?
Sensual Phrase is the manga equivalent of a bad romance novel, even more so than the manga adaptations of actual Harlequin novels floating around the internet. It constantly uses cheap shoujo clichés to further its thin plot along. Maybe this is fun when you're a teenager, but as a grown woman I found it tedious.
Aine and Sakuya's relationship is shallow, dull, and deeply unbalanced. Aine is only distinguished by her earnestness and a rather muddled understanding of her own desires. Sakuya, on the other hand, is smugness personified from beginning to end. The only connections the two seem to share is a common interest in music and a mutual lust for one another. Even then, the latter is mostly expressed by having Sakuya molesting Aine whenever he can (whether she wants him to or not) and all but pissing on her to make Aine as 'his'. Shinjo clearly recognized that this could make him look like the creep that he truly is, so she was determined to give him plenty of moments of heroism. What that means in practice, though, is that she keeps throwing strange men and bitchy girls at Aine so that Sakuya can play at being a white knight while Aine whimpers on the sidelines.
When she's not writing yet another bit of cheap drama, she fills the space by having Aine and damn near every other woman in the story go into raptures about how Sakuya is so beautiful, talented, and all-around amazing. Apparently he's so dazzling, so literally radiant that he overshadows all the other band members, which is why I couldn't tell you a damn thing about them. From my experience, the more that a mangaka has to explain to the reader how awesome a character is instead of demonstrating it, the less awesome the character truly is. Thus, her claims come off as incredibly weak. They are further undercut by the fact that the lyrics on the page don't exactly convey any sense of excellence. Mind you, this is due in part to the difficulties of translating lyrics from one language to another. Like poetry, it's not enough to translate it literally. It takes a flare for rhyme, rhythm and language to make it sound like something someone could sing. This undercuts the notion that Aine is supposed to be so talented at writing love songs despite her youth and romantic inexperience.
Sensual Phrase wants so badly to be a risqué showbiz romance, but I have a hard time believing that even the teen girl audience this was meant for would buy into this. There's no passion, no genuine tension, and no personality to be found here, and without any of those it simply blends into the crowd of shoujo manga.
Shinjo's artwork is as clichéd as her storywriting. The characters are exceedingly average-looking. The girls are round and big-eyed, and the boys are stereotypical bishonen. One quality that does distinguish Shinjo from the crowd is her commitment to fanservice. Whenever Aine's clothes are ripped off (yes, this happens more than once), her undergarments and nipples are fully detailed. Sadly, she's not even-handed with this sort of detail, as Sakuya's nipples are never to be seen despite being shirtless fairly often. She doesn't bother with shading, so everything looks incredibly flat.
Shoujo Beat titles rarely include any sort of extras, but why on earth did Viz feel the need to pad this out with a short essay from some freelance journalist?
Sensual Phrase is little more than a music-themed, modern-day bodice-ripper. The story is nothing but sexist shoujo clichés and the art is plain and generic. Sensual Phrase is about as sensual as a tuna fish sandwich.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 18 volumes available. All the volumes were published and are currently out of print.