Milady and I finally finished Fruits Basket. I feel like I should have a t-shirt that says something like "I survived Fruits Basket." I shouldn't complain - as shoujo goes, Furuba is definitely top-tier. That said, it'll be a while, probably quite a while, before I get around to starting on another shoujo angst-fest like (say) Kare Kano simply because shoujo is, after all, the chick-flick of manga and anime and I'm definitely not a chick, and particularly not a middle/high-school-aged chick.
Of course, finishing Fruits Basket leads to the inevitable question: What shall we read next? The only reason I was reading Furuba (again) in the first place was because I needed something for Evening Manga Reading with Milady. We'd read Video Girl Ai, Chobits, Midori no Hibi, and several other manga over the years, and after getting through all 136 chapters of Fruits Basket, it was time to pick something again.
I looked through things on my laptop (we were still in temporary digs at the time), and considered manga on my hard drive that interest me. I tend to like medium-to-long complete manga for this application. We get through 1-3 chapters in a typical night, so it's not hard to finish up a short manga in less than two weeks. Likewise, it's nice to have the story end when you're reading it with someone else, instead of having to go back and remind everybody what whas happening in this story three months ago when the last chapter came out.
Unfortunately, these two requirements remove many good manga from the list: Mahoraba, Karin (currently stalled in scanslation), Mirai Nikki, Doujin Work, and a host of one-shots all are too short, non-terminal, or both.
I didn't want another boarding-house romance (because we'd finished up Love Hina before starting Furuba), and so my list came down to a few entertaining choices. At the top of the list was Ai-Ren, both because it's so good, and because it's unlike anything she's seen before in manga.
She promptly shot that one down because she didn't want something sad/depressing. Now I don't ultimately regard Ai-Ren as depressing, but it's definitely not the feel-good manga of any year, either.
So I was left scrambling. I considered Ah! My Goddess, but we had a magical girlfriend story before in both Video Girl Ai and Chobits, and I wasn't looking forward to the degradation of story qualty I've heard about after the first 100 chapters, which would leave me the choice of just stopping (which we almost did with Love Hina a couple of times), or suffering through an unknown number of bad, reductive, franchise-milking manga chapters a-la Berman and Piller-era Star Trek.
And then, scrolling through the hard drive, I stumbled across an old friend: Hotman.
Hotman was perfect: It isn't mostly about kids, it's not depressing, and there are at least ten volumes translated. Will we get to the end of the story? No. It's not fully translated. In fact, it may never be fully translated, and the scanslation that has been done so far is...well, quick and dirty is probably not a bad description. To be fair, Null are doing an HQ re-scanslate of it, but they're only on volume 1 of that project. So, if you want to read it in the near future, you are going to be looking at the quick-and-dirty version.
Which is OK - it's still thoroughly worth reading. One note: the translators have elected to romaji some common Japanese words instead of translating them. This is, frankly, a good thing most of the time. Not only is it difficult/impossible to come up for a conversational equivalent to "Aniiki" for instance, it would also remove some cultural flavor to do so. The untranslated words are usually things like "tadaima," "sensee," "gochisousama," etc, so are good survival words to learn if you have an interest in Japanese anyway.
So what is Hotman, what is it about, and why should you care? Good questions.
Meet Takaya Enzou
He's an art teacher in a middle school. Yes, I know - I never had an art teacher that looked like that either. At left is one of the advertising-knockoff chapter opening pages Kitagawa sensee uses. Enzo is also a former gang leader. Sounds like GTO, doesn't it? Well, yeah, but, ahem, Hotman, and GTO came out at practically the same time, as did Salaryman Kintaro and Gokusen. Obviously 1994 was a good year for heroic characters in authority roles. There are also some crucial differences between the two: GTO is shounen, Hotman is seinen, Enzo really is passionate about art (actually, he's passionate about a lot of things).
He quit being a gang-banger because he was presented with a baby girl (Nanami) on his doorstep five years ago who is supposedly the result of his misspent youth. He decided that being a responsible father was his penance for being such a such a menace to society in his younger days. Caring for sickly Nanami is the focus of his existence, and her well-being is never far from his thoughts. At right: Enzo and Nanami take a much-deserved vacation.
But there's more to Enzo than teaching art and being super-dad. He's the eldest son of a deceased TV and film star mother who had a number of kids with a succession of husbands. Enzo has gathered all four of his half-siblings togther in what was his mother's house in Tokyo. He's at once the man of the house, father figure, eldest sibling, and primary breadwinner for the assembled family. His siblings (who are between 23 and 14 years old) are sometimes annoyed by his blowhard/overbearing ways, but seem always to understand that he really does love them and wants the best for them and that Enzo's effusive grand gestures are the only way he can express his feelings.
Each of Enzo's siblings has his own stuff to deal with. Shima (eldest sister, 23) is so busy being a responsible mother figure to Nanami and her siblings that she may never actually be a mother for lack of a man. Hinata (16) is an amusingly typical high-school girl. Athletic Haiji and bookish Ryu (twins, 14) are an indivisible pair of opposites who often seem more mature than Hinata, and at other times are reckless in their youth. They all miss their mother, and hold her memory sacred even as they recognize that she really wasn't all that good at being a mother. At left, Enzo talks about the importance of family meals to his siblings and daughter. L-R: Shima, Nanami, Enzo (standing), Hinata, Haiji (standing), and Ryunosuke. At right: Enzo teaches art like he does everything else - with passion.
There are friends and acquaintances associated with everybody as well, some of whom are minor characters, and some of whom are pivotal to the primary plot.
After looking at these sample pages, you've probably observed something else about Hotman: its art is topnotch. Kitagawa-sensee draws faces well and distinctively and his anatomy is generally quite good. Backgrounds are distinctive and page design is straightforward. We've had exactly two pages in eight volumes that required a second look to figure out who was talking to whom. Given the vagueness of English pronouns compared to the specificity of Japanese pronouns, that's pretty good page layout. Given that the manga originally ran 1994-1997, it really isn't dated at all, except by technological objects and the lack of much two-page composition. Even the action scenes are well-drawn.
Kitagawa-sensee has essentially given us the variety of a harem manga without actually having a harem. Frankly, it works better than most harem romance mangas. It has a certain Leave it to Beaver/Father Knows Best quality about it even as it plays with topics like anorexia, poverty, and the slacker lifestyle. It's an amusing juxtaposition, especially when Enzo's street-thug past comes back to haunt him, as it does periodically.
I'd read through vol 8 by myself a couple of years ago and generally enjoyed it. Now we're reading it together, and it's just as popular with Milady as I'd hoped it would be.
Hotman was apparently quite popular back in the day. Popular enough that it, like Salaryman Kintaro, GTO, and Gokusen, was made into a live-action drama series in 2003. I have yet to see any of it, but it was quite popular at the time. I believe it has been fansubbed and should be available somewhere out there...
Not quite slice-of-life comedy (there is a definite, if rather relaxed plot arc), not quite episodic drama, not quite seinen romance, Hotman does a great job of just being entertaining in the best seinen manga tradition. No villains are defeated, no worlds are saved, no panties are exposed in female pratfalls. Instead, it succeeds the old-fashioned way - by telling a story worth reading. Enjoy.