ABSOLUTE BOYFRIEND (Zettai Kareshi), by Yuu Watase. First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2006.
Riiko Izawa wants a boyfriend more than anything. So far, every boy she's asked out has turned her down. The only consistent guy in her life is her next-door neighbor/childhood friend Soshi, and he spends his time taking care of her in lieu of her parents or fighting with her. While lamenting her latest strike-out, Riiko meets a strange man with an even stranger offer: a website where she can order the man of her dreams. Riiko expects to be nothing but a scam, but soon enough there's a package on her doorstep containing a life-sized, attractive, and extremely nude android boy ready to fulfill her every need. Of course, there's always a catch. If she doesn't return her new boytoy after the trial period, she'll be stuck with a seven-figure bill. It turns out that the perfect man may sound like a great deal on paper, but maintaining one is a lot more work than Riiko expected.
I went into this review knowing only two things:
- It was basically like a gender-flipped version of Chobits
- It was widely regarded as Yuu Watase's worst series.
I was intrigued by the first statement and baffled by the second. How could it be worse than Fushigi Yuugi? Still, I enjoyed Chobits and I've generally liked every other licensed Watase manga I've read, so I was willing to give it a shot. It must get worse further down the line because thus far it falls squarely in the middle as far as quality goes.
Riiko is fairly standard as far as Watase heroines go. She's not too bright, she's not all that socially adept, but she's cute and spunky enough to get by. Also like many of her heroines, Riika's got a snarky guy at the sidelines who all but has "love interest" stamped on his forehead. Truth be told, I found Soshi to be the more compelling of the two, even if he's mostly defined by his frustration at his absent family and his deeply repressed desire for Riiko. Maybe this is merely relative as anyone would look like a force of personality compared to Riiko's android, Night. Some of this is by design, literally. After all, he's meant to be a blank slate upon which his owner can project all her horny teenage dreams. Still, he doesn't seem to progress that far by volume's end save for learning what jealousy is.
Maybe Watase is doing this on purpose, though. Maybe the point is that perfection will never be as interesting as a real, complicated relationship. If so, then she keeps muddying that message by having Night perform some superhuman feat of strength against some random masher to keep the romantic rivalry going. She also keeps hinting that the salesman has an agenda of his own, but it's not followed up far enough to make much of an impact. Mostly it just feels like Riiko is nothing but a third wheel in her own story. So much is going on around her but she's so far removed from it that virtually anyone could have filled that role. It's far from the worst beginning for a Watase work that I've read, but it's hardly the most promising either.
Watase is a fairly dependable artist and Absolute Boyfriend is no exception to this. She still has a hell of a time drawing guys who don't look like Tamahome, and no amount of hair color changes or glasses can hide that. The biggest difference between this manga and her other works is the sheer amount of nudity. She's often thrown in a bit of cheesecake in her other manga, but here she exploits Night's frequent nakedness for all she can. She milks a lot of humor out of the fact that Night is shipped in the nude and tends to strip at lightning speed whenever he tries to seduce Riiko.
Absolute Boyfriend isn't great by any stretch, but it's nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests. It's pretty derivative and not all that progressive, but when compared to both shoujo manga as a whole and the collective works of Yuu Watase it's fairly mediocre.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. All 5 have been published and are currently in print.