This series, originally called “With!!” in Japan, is one I have liked for a long time. I own it in Japanese, and was very excited when I heard that CMX would be releasing it in English in the US. This was originally a Hakusensha title that ran in LaLa, which is one of my favorite manga magazines. So many fun series originated in LaLa, including Ouran High School Host Club, Kiss Yori mo Hayaku, and Vampire Knight. CMX was kind enough to send me a copy of their release to review, so I thought I would take a look at it and compare it to my Japanese volume. The art style in this series is nice, if somewhat messy at times. I am not sure if Ken Saito is a man or a woman, but I will say that if it is a man, then he (like TANAKA Meca, also a man) has an excellent grasp on the “shoujo” sort of art style.
The US cover uses the same cover art as the Japanese volume (seen here), but the view is more close-up, and the background more plain. The back cover of the US edition features a lovely picture of Shiro that was originally included on the inside flap of the Japanese volume.
This is the unlikely story of an average girl named Masago (AKA Maa). Her life is fairly normal except for the fact that she has an amazing older brother. Shiro is outgoing, popular, and charismatic. People flock to him and he enjoys every minute of it. Maa has always been overshadowed by her popular older brother. She is used to it, but it is always somewhat depressing to see how disappointed people are when they realize Shiro’s younger sister is so boring. Shiro is a hard person to live up to. He is even president of the student council. He is also good friends with a boy named Kurouma, someone who Maa has a big crush on.
However, everything changes one fateful day when Shiro, who is staying late after school to work on a student council project for the upcoming school festival, asks Maa-chan to wait for him at a nearby store. He will meet her when his meeting is over, and they can walk home together. As instructed, Maa-chan waits for Shiro, but when Shiro finally makes it to the shop, disaster strikes. Just as Maa-chan starts to cross the street towards Shiro, she realizes she is directly in the path of a large vehicle. Before she can react, she is pushed out of the way, and it is Shiro who is struck. He dies.
Maa-chan is devastated by Shiro’s death. At his funeral, she cries untrollably, shaken with guilt. It should have been HER that died, not Shiro! Why did this have to happen? Shiro was so popular, that his death had a huge impact on Maa-chan’s school. Everyone loved Shiro and was hurt by his loss. In particular his nemesis, Kuga (the one guy Shiro doesn’t get along with), and Kurouma, his best friend. Kurouma was present when the accident happened. At the funeral, he tries to comfort Maa, but her sobs can’t be stopped.
Therefore, it is understandable that Kurouma is surprised to find Maa on his doorstep a short time later, perfectly calm and composed, as if Shiro never died! Even more shocking is what Maa announces: She has become Shiro! Wait, what? It seems that during her spiral into despair at Shiro’s funeral, she somehow became possessed by his ghost! Shiro is now stuck in Maa’s head, and he won’t go away! He can even take control of Maa’s body! Now wait a minute, has Maa gone crazy? Did the shock of losing her brother make Maa develop a split-personality? Kurouma isn’t sure what to believe at first, but Maa’s sudden ability to rattle off a lot of information about Kurouma that only Shiro would know is a powerful factor in convincing him she is telling the truth.
Poor Maa! First there was the awful sight of having her brother die right in front of her, now she is forced to share her body with him! But why is he there? Why hasn’t he moved on to heaven? Shiro thinks it is because he has some unfinished business. It must be something important to him, like the school festival. Maybe if he (in Maa’s body) works to make the festival a success, he will be able to move on! But will Maa last that long? His personality is much stronger than hers, how can they co-exist peacefully? He is using HER body. Everything he does will be perceived by others as being done by Maa. Will his outgoing nature rub off on her? Life with a split-personality is just beginning!
After the main story of “Oh! My Brother” (2 large chapters of it in this volume) there is a cute but odd little short story about a tomboyish girl named Kareha who lives at a shrine with her father. Her father likes to put on magic shows using chemistry and science to produce colored smoke and fireworks and other amazing special effects. There is a geeky boy in her class at school who is also a big fan of magic, and he becomes involved with Kareha and her father. I am not sure why this story seems so odd. There is a supernatural element in it that seems out of place in the story, it sort of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem necessary to the plot. But I still enjoyed it.
Something interesting about the CMX release of this book is how they keep in many Japanese words and honorifics (-chan, -sempai, etc), though there is some inconsistency. Maa continues to call her brother “Nii-chan,” but when Kuga refers to Maa as “Little Sister,” they list it in English instead of leaving it as “imouto.”
I enjoyed “Oh! My Brother” very much. The relationship between Maa and her brother is sweet (if a lotbit on the sister-complex side) and the possible future plot developments with Kuga and Kurouma leave me curious to see what will happen next. Shiro’s influence is helping Maa to speak out and get involved in things she might not otherwise have done. While Maa has a crush on Kurouma, I really have no idea how much romance can happen in this series with Shiro always being so overprotective of her. No to mention the fact that he would have to ride along, so to speak, if Maa were to ever date anyone. They never really touched on the gender-bending aspect of the story — Shiro is a guy trapped in a girl’s body. IS there no awkwardness at all for Maa, having Shiro always there, especially during bathing or using the restroom? Perhaps that will be explored in the future. This series is 4 volumes long, so this should be a fun ride!
EDIT: CMX has informed me that SAITOU Ken is a woman 🙂 So that solves that question! 🙂