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Backstage Prince Vol. #02 Manga Review

4 min read

The tumultuous relationship between a young Kabuki actor and his assistant-turned-girlfriend comes to a dramatic head.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Kanoko Sakurakoji
Translation/Adaptation: Mai Ihara

What They Say
There’s trouble brewing behind the kabuki curtain. Ryusei’s dad doesn’t want anything–or anyone!–distracting his son from his chosen profession. It’s no secret that he disapproves of Ryusei’s romance with Akari. Now he’s determined to sabotage their relationship any way he can!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
One thing I found praiseworthy about the first volume is that it avoided the tendency of shoujo manga to dwell on minor plot hiccups and melodramatic twists and skipped along at its own brisk pace. This, of course, is a double-edged sword; while it’s nice to see some story development, there’s also a distinct lack of tension any time some outside force shows up to tinker with Akari and Ryusei’s relationship. This volume unfolds in a similar manner, and yet its appeal is beginning to become more apparent; despite some very specific problems I have with the ways in which some of the characters behave, the story itself is strangely compelling.

This installment picks up where the last left off. Akari and Ryusei are forced to keep their romantic relationship under wraps, primarily because Ryusei’s father doesn’t consider Akari a suitable mate for his son, but also because the press has begun to pick up on the fact that the young Kabuki actor (and budding commercial star) may be in love. Ryusei’s father attempts to set Ryusei up with a famous actress, but the two don’t hit it off. Ryusei also has some competition for Akari’s affections in a fellow actor, whose more outgoing nature could spell a major threat. When Ryusei enters into a month-long performance contract out-of-town, leaving Akari to her own devices, their love (and Ryusei’s acting) seems headed for a rough patch.

There’s a distinct lack of logic to much of what happens during the several chapters that make up this volume. This isn’t to say that the story doesn’t make sense, per se, because it does; there’s nothing complicated about it. There is, however, a tendency for conflicts between the characters to be resolved too quickly and cleanly. In one chapter, we’re experiencing the high-school-appropriate puppy love between Ryusei and Akari, but by the end of the second volume, the two are (to avoid spoilers) significantly more serious despite numerous obstacles that aim to prevent that. Ryusei’s father relents to their relationship for one very specific reason that in reality, would probably not serve as such completely compelling motivation. Every conflict within and towards Ryusei and Akari’s relationship is pushed to the side without any significant character growth or self-reflection. And just about everything is done according to Ryusei’s wants.

That’s probably what I find most bothersome about this story. It’s purportedly told from the point-of-view of Akari, but it’s Ryusei who has control over the way in which many important events unfold. Akari is perpetually indecisive and is often reduced to tears out of helplessness (self-imposed and otherwise), while Ryusei’s moody reactions and controlling manner are almost always appeased in some way or another. The characters aren’t abusive to one-another exactly, but Akari’s lack of agency and Ryusei’s tendency to take advantage of that is at the very least emotionally-manipulative and suggests a distressing immaturity that isn’t addressed in any meaningful way.

But there’s certainly something to be said for the merits of cuteness and fluff, and, ignoring the more problematic elements of Ryusei’s behavior, this manga has it in spades. This volume is a very quick read, for the simple fact that it’s a very good example of popcorn entertainment; each page is like another salty, buttery kernel that’s momentarily satisfying and which leads you to immediately crave the next, but which you just know isn’t very good for you. Just like many other unhealthy habits, it can be just fine in moderation.

In Summary
Even though I have my problems with many parts of the narrative, I think, with this second volume, I’m starting to “get” Backstage Prince. While the author might not really have a clear handle on how to realistically allow her characters’ relationship to unfold and grow, her enthusiasm for the art of Kabuki and the inherent intensity of the sort of teenage love she’s chosen to portray makes it almost infuriatingly easy to get involved in the goings-on of the plot. Ryusei’s possessive attitude gets old pretty quickly, but there’s enough else going on that I’m not willing to write the entire manga off as a lost-cause yet.

Content Grade: C+
Art Grade: C+
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 13+
Release Date: June 5, 2007 (Print)
MSRP: $8.99 (Print)/$4.99 (Digital)