*Warning, this post contains minor spoilers!*
I’m not going to lie, I was initially leery of this series because of the “scandalous” cover of the first volume, which features a mostly naked man. I didn’t want to buy it in stores because I didn’t want the cashier at Borders to judge me, so I ended up buying the entire series online. Bear in mind, I was an awkward teenage girl at that time.
However, I do remember loving this manga, because I also binged both the Japanese and Taiwanese drama adaptations (Japanese first – the Taiwanese one wasn’t out yet). I also splurged on another of Yuu Watase’s works, Alice 19th, which I will be revisiting later for this blog series. But will Absolute Boyfriend stand the test of my growing cynicism and jaded view of the world?
Absolute Boyfriend follows Riiko Izawa, a 16-year-old girl who yearns for a boyfriend. After a string of rejections and a chance meeting with a mysterious salesman, Riiko ends up in over her head when a boyfriend is delivered right to her door. The problem is… he’s a cybernetic doll, and he’s determined to prove to Riiko that he can be her “ideal boyfriend,” which causes mayhem in Riiko’s life. But can Riiko develop a real relationship with a man who isn’t? Absolute Boyfriend ran from 2003-2005 and was completed at 6 volumes.
After re-reading the first 3 volumes, the points that appealed to me on my first read-through continued to resonate. Absolute Boyfriend is a series that relies on familiar tropes, but presents those elements in a fresh, and sometimes unexpected, way.
Riiko is an understandable heroine and a believable teenage girl. She’s sixteen, she makes mistakes, she’s awkward, and she struggles with her budding feelings for Night as well as her confusion over her interactions with childhood friend, Soshi. She also has a (somewhat hilarious) violent streak, and she grapples with money problems, jealousy, betrayal, and the stresses of high school. Night, the “absolute boyfriend” of the title, is a combination of chivalrous, hilarious, and frustratingly naive, as his actions and his stalwart dedication to Riiko constantly cause trouble for her and threaten to expose his true identity. He’s an enjoyable and charming lead, although his outbreaks of jealousy and occasional violence are a drawback. However, since he’s programmed to Riiko’s tastes, his possessiveness serves a dual purpose; it shows both Riiko and the reader what can happen when a boyfriend acts that way. Soshi, the last lead, is a typical “boy next door,” but he shows some unique traits that separate him from the stereotype. He’s loyal and sure of his feelings for Riiko, but also shy and uncertain when he compares himself to Night.
Though the “love triangle” bit is a common trope in shojo manga (and the YA genre in general), Absolute Boyfriend goes about it in a way that doesn’t feel overused. I know they’ve been beaten into the ground, but honestly, I love a good love triangle if it’s done well or done in a unique fashion, and this one does strive to separate itself from the pack, especially since one member of the triangle is an AI. All three sides of the triangle – Riiko, Soshi, and Night – also function independently of one another, so their complex romantic entanglements, despite serving as the crux of the story, don’t become the sole focus. There’s plenty of other issues and story-lines going on in this manga, so the love triangle doesn’t feel like a stale addition to a tired plot.
Also, this is the first shojo manga I read that really delves into the topic of sex in a relationship, and it’s handled very well. Riiko must sleep with Night in order to make him “permanently” hers, so he can never be claimed by another, but she says she doesn’t want to take a step like that until she’s truly in love and is ready for it. Despite constant pressure by Gaku – the Kronos Heaven employee who helps her out with Night – she doesn’t relent in her decision to wait until she’s certain she wants to progress the intimate nature of her relationship with Night, and I think it’s a good message to send. The manga isn’t “sex negative” or anything – in fact, it comes across as positive – but stresses the idea of people being ready for such a step at different times, which is nice to see acknowledged. There’s some other progressive ideas inserted into the story as well, which I didn’t remember from my first read-through, but appreciated seeing on a reread.
There’s also a nice blend of humor and drama/romance in the plot over the first 3 volumes. Riiko battles with recognizable issues, often with comedic setbacks and dramatic conclusions, and the story’s pacing is well-balanced. The serious parts don’t overwhelm and drown out the comedy and vice versa. The narrative explores a unique question about artificial intelligence, genuine emotion, self worth, and the potential drawbacks and positives of building romance, and it does so in a way that feels fresh and new, even though the series is over a decade old.
Yuu Watase’s art is also excellent; I love her character designs, as it’s clear that a ton of effort has gone into them. The different textures and inking is also very impressive, and I remember being just as struck by it back when I read it the first time as I was on this reread. The art style also lends itself well to humorous parts of the story; the facial expressions and reactions are on point, and I actually chuckled out loud during a few panels, which is due to the art as well as the content.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my reread of Absolute Boyfriend so far – it’s definitely one that should not be judged by the cover, as I’ve found it more compelling than the brief summary and a glimpse of the cover art would imply. I look forward to re-experiencing volumes 4-6, and see if my reaction to the conclusion will change!