Valentine's Day may be past, but that's not going to stop me from trashing on some poorly conceived harem manga.
PURI PURI, by Chiako Taro. First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2007.
Shocked by the scandalously sloppy looks and behavior of his students, the principal of the all-girls Saint Sophia's divinity school decides that the best solution is stricter surveillance and to make the school co-ed. That's how Masato Kamioda became the school's first male student, hoping to use this opportunity to study for the priesthood like his foster father. Following in that holy path will be more challenging than Masato anticipated, as when he's not being threatened with expulsion by the student council he's being tempted by the soft, squishy, panty-clad bodies of his fellow students. In particular, the body of sweet, motherly Ayako might be the biggest temptation of them all.
Chiako Taro looked at the post-Love Hina world of manga and declared "You know what this genre needs? Catholic guilt!" And thus, Puri Puri was born. All joking aside, this manga's holy trappings are little more than window dressing for yet another paint-by-number harem manga.
Masato is just one of numerous Potato-kuns, torn between his priestly life goals and his teenage horniness. Mostly he's just here to serve as the focus of a lot of fanservice and slapstick, the only two punchlines that Taro seems to know. Masato is surrounded by a gaggle of cliches masquerading as anime girls. Some are based on more common archetypes (such as the haughty rich girl/student council president Shizuka and the shy, bespectacled nerd/wannabe exorcist Ayumi) while others are basically just characters from Love Hina with the serial numbers scratched off (such as the sword-wielding samurai-wannbe/student council enforcer Sherrice or the short-haired prankster Eri). The only who doesn't fit that mold is Ayako, but that's because her role is to be blandly nice as part of her role as the primary love interest.
Like most milquetoast harem stories, this is a purely episodic affair. Each new chapter throws Masato into some sort of school-based scenario that mostly serves as a vehicle for fanservice. Sometimes it's downright literal, as there's more than one chapter where he's just thrown into one of the school's numerous locker rooms for no good reason. Sometimes it serves as a chance to add another girl to Masato's growing harem or an opportunity to demonstrate how lovely and perfect Ayako may be, but the fanservice is the glue that holds it all together. It's all very stock-standard stuff and unless you've literally never read another harem manga in your life I can't imagine Puri Puri making much of an impression on anyone.
It's a shame that Taro wasted what is honestly some decent art on what is otherwise such an unremarkable book. There's a sort of retro charm to his character designs, with a decent amount of variety in style and faces well-made for the sorts of big goofy reactions he likes to draw. Just about the only concession to the times was drawing the girls' noses with just a little dot. He's also not too indulgent with the fanservice. Yes, there are panty shots and accidental gropings a-plenty, but usually doesn't linger long on them or zoom in at creepy angles.
This series was published by DrMaster. This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes available. 7 volumes were released and are currently out of print.
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