Kodansha has been picking up all sorts of shoujo manga, but most of it is digital only. I have to wonder whether this because they want to give harder-to-market works a chance to find a fandom or to simply hide titles like this out of shame.
BEAUTY BUNNY, by Mari Yoshino. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2017.
Kohane is a 17-year-old who takes care of her flighty, irresponsible hostess mother while she accomadates to her new high school. Things get off to a bad start when class prince/makeup company scion Iori calls her ugly. Things only get worse when he gets Kohane out of a scrape with a makeover and he decides to make her his personal pet project. Kohane never had much interest in makeup and other girly things, but maybe his skills will help her change her mind...
In the spirit of the season, I was willing to give Mari Yoshino a second chance. Peach Heaven might not have been to my taste, but surely she couldn't write anything worse than that? Plus, it involves a guy interested in makeup, so maybe it'll use that as a platform to explore harmful gender norms and the like, right?
Alas, it was not to be. Beauty Bunny is in many ways WORSE than that, as Iori uses makeup not to explore his own identity or masculinity, but to reinforce a lot of toxic ideas about femininity, all while being the biggest creep possible.
It cannot be understated just how awful he is. Over and over he states how he is the only person in his class (and by extension, the cast) to say if a girl is or is not ugly, something which is based entirely on whether they are wearing make-up or not and if it meets his exacting standards if so. He constantly browbeats and negs Kohane when she tries to confront or talk with him, admitting openly that he does so for his own entertainment. Once he takes a particular interest in Kohane, he regards her jealously, to the point that he declares her his 'guinea pig' once she starts to explore make-up on her own for the sake of another guy. He barges into Kohane's home and attempts to sexually assault her more than once, even if every attempt is interrupted and blown off by others. That's not even getting into the fact that he leads a second life as his sister (who currently lies in a coma), models his family's products under that name, and forces a kiss upon Kohane while doing so.
It goes without saying that Iori Yashima is a real piece of work. Even when he's alone with his best friend Ohotani, he can't stop being a dick and leaves Ohotani to smooth things over. The only time he stop being the worst sort of asshole is when he's working with make-up. Only then can he manage to be gentle and poetic about his work. It's like a spell that turns him into a decent human being only for as long as the brushes and lotions are in his hands. Alas, these moments are all too brief, leaving the reader only with an insufferable asshole and the girl he torments. It's like Yoshino has a fetish for snotty asshole boys because it's all she seems to write.
Poor Kohane! Like Momoko before her, she's a practical girl who has to take care of her family, although in this case she's caring for her flighty, immature hostess mother. It's little wonder that she would have neither the time, the cash, or the inclination for make-up or make-overs. It's also little wonder that she's constantly horrified by Iori breaking just about every personal boundary she has at any given point, no matter how hard Yoshida tries to force the doki-dokis later on.
It's a shame then that the manga tells her over and over than she can't be properly feminine without make-up. When she doesn't have Iori telling her that she's wasting her womanhood by not wearing it, she has others pointing out how pretty she is when she lets her hair down or wears make-up or how much prettier she'd be with some on. Over and over the message is reinforced: you can't be properly feminine without a layer of paint on your face. I could launch into a rant about all the reasons why this is the most shallow, backwards, sexist nonsense possible, but this review has already gone on long enough. It's not worth it for a manga and a mangaka who are determined to trade in some the worst, most regressive ideas possible in shoujo.
What truly kills me that is Yoshida is not a bad artist, if not a particularly ambitious one. I do like her character designs, even if she needs to find a new trick to indicate that a heroine is not a stunning beauty other than "messy hair." If anything, she kind of undercuts her own premise by making Kohane cute to begin with, as she doesn't look all that different with make-up on and her hair out of braids. The only way she could make her transformations feel more artificial would be to give her a pair of big, ugly glasses.
Otherwise a lot of my comments for Peach Heaven still apply here. Her page composition is nothing to write home about, her panels tend to stick close to everyone's faces, and she still has a tendency to lean on sparkly screentones in lieu of actual backgrounds.
Beauty Bunny is anything but beautiful. The art is perfectly fine, but the content of the story is misogynistic and socially backwards. Kodansha needs to try a lot harder with its shoujo licenses if this is the kind of stuff they're putting out.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published digitally and are currently in print.
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