Tough guys have been making their way into shoujo manga for the past couple years. I think most of the love for the unconventional love interest started or was made more popular by the manga and anime My Love Story. The series featured a tough-looking guy who loved judo but had a heart of gold. It followed his blossoming relationship with a petite girl and the very opposite-looking couple they made together. And while I didn’t quite love this series, it wasn’t because of the unorthodox love interest. In fact, I’m a huge sucker for a tough guy with a heart of gold, and actually love finding stories that deviate away from the standard handsome, popular guy. This is why when Seven Seas announced they had licensed the manga Cutie and the Beast, I immediately added it to my to-read list. It looked like it could be right up my alley and I wanted to give it a try as soon as it came out. The first volume was published on October 13th, but I was only able to pick it up this weekend. I have to say that while I do find the first volume cute, I have found that the concept behind the main relationship can be tricky to reconcile.
Cutie and the Beast follows Momoka who, unlike her high school classmates, finds herself attracted to tough guys, particularly a certain famous wrestler. This famous wrestler, Kuga, plays a villainous character on TV and in the ring, but is actually a huge softie at heart. The two started keeping in contact on Twitter, with Momoka leaving messages of support before every match that really stuck with Kuga. After finally mustering up the courage to meet him in person after one of his matches, Momoka winds up exchanging numbers with Kuga and their feelings for one another grow even as her friends don’t quite understand her fascination.
Yuhi Azumi has a pretty good style. I would say it is fairly standard for a shoujo manga, with not too many stylistic flairs. I will say that she does do a great job at injecting a bit of cute into all of her characters, especially when it comes to their expressions. Both Momoka and Kuga have moments where they really show what they are feeling in the moment, and I think this is really essential to telling the overall story, especially for a visual medium like manga. It winds up playing into the theme of Kuga being a huge softie as we see through the change in his expressions how he can go from a tough wrestler to a huge softie. I think the pages of any comic become a lot more interesting when the characters get to show a variety of expressions and parts of themselves through the visual medium.
Azumi also does a pretty good job of designing the pages to be expressive and tell the story of Momoka and Kuga’s relationship in an interesting way. For any comic, the interplay of white space, art, and panels are important for capturing mood, time, and story. While I think that Cutie and the Beast is a fairly simplistic story and manga in general, there were a few good moments within the pages in terms of design. Azumi does do a good job in using space to allow the story and characters to breathe, not relying on too much text to carry the reader through the pages. Momoka’s moments of contemplation are allowed space on the page, and we see the kind of weight a simple text message can have on a person. Or how the important factor of their age difference becomes an issue that stands between their decision to get together. I think these moments are better expressed on the page than through text.
And now we come to the elephant in the room: the age difference. It’s the one thing keeping me from giving this manga my 100 percent support. Everything else about the characters, the concept, the story I like. I just don’t think I can get behind a 29-year-old man going out with an 18-year-old high school student. That eleven year age difference is just too much, and not just because it’s a big number, but because there is just so much that changes between high school and near-30. Maturity, life experience, relationship experience, life goals, these all change as you move out of your teen years and can fluctuate year-to-year as you get into your 30’s. I know when I was in my early twenties I was a very different person than who I am now. So the question now becomes: what does Kuga find attractive in Momoka to make him reconsider their age difference as an issue? Is it because she’s always there to support him during and after a match? Or is it because she is the only person he has found that isn’t scared of his tough-guy facade? Either way I’m concerned about the dynamics of this relationship and how it will develop.
Besides that major issue, I think if you can look past it, Cutie and the Beast has the makings of a cute shoujo romance. If you love those stories where the tough guy reveals his soft and gooey insides, like I do, then you might like this one. A pro wrestler who has a pet bunny and hates being seen as the bad guy in real life meets a girl who is attracted to him for who he is. It’s a classic love story based on seeing through facades into who someone truly is. I think that’s a basic tenet of a good love story, wanting someone to see your true self and appreciate you for that. Kuga has had to don a mask of the villain in the ring, something that is the opposite of who he is. Consequently, this means that his perception as the bad guy bleeds out into his everyday life, something that doesn’t get him many dates. Momoka winds up being the only one to show him any direct support through Twitter, fan mail, and then text.
I think that’s another thing I like about this manga, how Azumi incorporates social media into the story. Now that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become the norm for many people when communicating and making connections and friendships, I think it’s only right that they become incorporated into the media we consume as well. Momoka winds up making her first connection with Kuga by talking to him on Twitter, leaving messages of support for him before his matches. He winds up sending her a message over Twitter to get her phone number, and then everything takes off from there. The intersection between technology and love has been expanding ever since the internet and phones became a thing. They have helped facilitate many a love story.
Let me know in the comments if you have had a chance to read Cutie and the Beast and what you thought about it. I’d love to hear your opinions.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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