Tuesday, September 19, 2017


This one may not be as literally angelic as the last one, but it's certainly a lot more interesting to talk about.

CHEEKY ANGEL (Tenshi na Konamaiki), by Hiroyuki Nishimori.  First published in 1999 and first published in North America in 2004.


Megumi is a brash young boy who simply wants to do martial arts and to grow up into the manliest man ever.  A chance encounter with a wizard leads to Megumi getting a magic book, which in turn misinterprets his wish and turns him into a girl.  By the time he reaches high school, Megumi has become renowned just as much for his beauty as for his fighting prowess, and class thug Soga becomes her number one fan.  Megumi is conflicted; he still sees himself as a heterosexual man at heart, so the last thing she would want to do is fall for a man...right?


Shonen romances are tricky to pull off well.  A lot of them are little more than middling fanservice fests or celebrations of super-manly super-dudes who beat up all the bad guys while pining for some milquetoast beauty he can never seem to talk to.  Cheeky Angel doesn't take either path but instead forges its own.  It takes the time to build up its cast, has some fun with the concept of gender, and is all the better for that effort.

I really, really liked Megumi.  He's personable, strong but with an equally strong sense of loyalty and nobility.  While the reason for her genderswap is frankly ridiculous, it also makes him (and thus the reader) hyper-aware of the ways boys and girls present themselves to the world and to others.  She's equally as frustrated by how boys get creepy, pushy, and weird around her as she is at the notion that she should be meek and mild simply because she's a girl.  This is not helped by her best friend Miki, the only person who still remember's Megumi's past as a boy. Miki thinks she's helping Megumi through her constant advice and pressure to conform, but mostly it just spurs Megumi to rebel harder and makes Miki come off as the biggest killjoy possible.

In true shonen romance fashion, Megumi's main love interest is a bleached-hair yankii with a face only a mother could love.  Yes, there's another, nerdier guy who only wants to prove his manliness to him, but he doesn't get nearly the screentime that Soga does.  Still, Nishimori undercuts Soga's swagger with a hearty dose of silliness and the occasional moment of vulnerability, which goes a long way towards humanizing him.  The same is equally yet oppositely true of Ichiroh, the nerdy one.  He's usually played as a fool, but he does get a few moments of glory and decency.  This approach not only lends the two depth, but helps them to feel like emotional equals to Megumi.  Both are perfectly decent guys with their own hang-ups, so Megumi's choice isn't completely telegraphed.

The only thing that feels off is the impetus for the story itself: the magic.  The story just completely glosses over the notion that wizards, genii, and magic are real and functional within this universe (even if it can be occasionally hard of hearing).  The flashback to Megumi's past is over with so fast that it's almost possible to forget about it entirely until Megumi starts talking about himself as a boy.  It's also incredibly fast-paced, as plot threads that most series would drag out for volumes at a time are seemingly resolved in a matter of a few chapters.  Nonetheless, this is easily one of the most entertaining shonen romances I've read in a long time.


Since Nishimori isn't one of those shonen mangaka who is focused on fanservice, his art is nothing all that remarkable.  The character designs are fairly simple but still manage to be appealing.  Soga is drawn very much in the vein of characters like Eikichi Onizuka, a mean face that melts into super-deformity whenever he starts getting lovey-dovey over Megumi.  The action isn't anything special either, which is surprising considering how frequently the cast is picking fights.  Honestly, the only thing that Nishimori seems to really be into drawing is Megumi's hair.  It always seems to be swishing around him in long, graceful wisps and it's the one touch of elegance in an otherwise workman-like book.


Cheeky Angel is a refreshing twist on a typically shallow subgenre with an (mostly) endearing cast and an approach to the battle of the sexes that's more thoughtful than you usually see in shonen.  This is a series that even I could fall in love with.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 20 volumes available.  All 20 were published.  The physical volumes are out of print, but the series is available digitally.

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