Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: Ao-chan Can’t Study!
beta-read by ThatOtherGabby
It’s an extraordinarily pure story about ordinarily dirty people, a hilariously wholesome subversion of ridiculously hollow storytelling, and a beautifully hidden trove in annoyingly plain soil. Indeed, I now have something I can definitely call my favorite manga.
The eponymous protagonist of Ren Kawahara’s romantic comedy manga (Lewd) Ao-chan Can’t Study! is introduced looking back at a loathed childhood introduction of hers, a time when her more naive self confidently explained the debauched inspiration for her given name at school on Parents’ Day. The official English goes “’A as in ‘apple’ and ‘O’ as in ‘orgy,” but guessing off “How I Got My Name” from the end of the first volume and a bit of research (read: jisho and imiwa?), the specific Japanese term that served as the inspiration for her name may be “aokan,” which means “outdoor sex.” Whatever the explanation, I can feel the present Ao’s shame over it, making me indecisive about laughing at it, and even more so after having gone through the whole manga series. I mean, even if I ended up a witness to another disappointing descent into more deceptive degeneracy, I probably would’ve kept on reading out of morbid curiosity and hardcore horniness, but still.
As for why I kept on reading, well, in the first place, my fellow Roman Catholic blogger Medieval Otaku recommended this series through its anime adaptation, which served as my gateway. I would’ve qualified the previous sentence with a “Fortunately,” but now I’m realizing that as usual, the fortune pretty much came from God Almighty working through us nuts. Though while I quite enjoy EDOGA-SULLIVAN’s opening theme, Kenjiro Tsuda’s voice acting, and what little I’ve heard of Sarah Wiedenheft’s voice acting, I think the best thing the anime adaptation did for me was to get me and my more adulting butt to legally buy and read the manga, especially the volumes the anime didn’t cover.
But back to the first volume. Present day proper comes in with high schooler Ao going about her life with the mindset of a typical man-hating tsundere female character, complete with idolized notability at school. As per usual, my sadomasochistically straight sexuality is excited, while my pridefully pounded purity is worried.
But then her erotica-writing father at home, who’s practically the series’s overall antagonist – the “man behind the man,” so to speak, or, in this case, the man behind the woman – thanks to the shame he brought to her daughter, further depicts her as a tsundere for good reason. Said father, who’s mainly known as Hanasaki Horie, also reminds me of a fellow sleaze named Happosai from Ranma 1/2, especially thanks to the both of them being shrunken dirty old men. And looking back at it, at this point, the plot and characterizations are pretty much demanding wholesomeness on a regular basis.
Fortunately, that wholesomeness came through, with Hanasaki making himself distinct from that more unrepentant pervert thanks to his attempts at being an actual father, something that sticks out even more thanks to the fact that he’s a single father. And the moment Hanasaki thinks “I believe I smell a sexual awakening…” is the moment the comedy has finished its preparations to really start going wholesome for the very first time. Yes, I know what I just wrote there. Yes, it is “lewd, not creepy” wholesome, but it is also more than that. We’re talking wholesomeness that even a repressed Roman Catholic like me would love.
So yeah, a sex joke is clearly coming (no pun intended), and so is a fair question: How do you make wholesomeness out of a sex joke?
Enter Takumi Kijima, Ao’s love interest. He responds to Ao’s secretly forced flashing in a way a degenerate like me would take with mixed feelings at best and sheer hate at worst:
“You don’t have to debase yourself like this…
I already like you.”
Takumi says all that so earnestly, all while Ao expects him to go dirtier. Then Ao goes through the rest of her day with complicated feelings, because how can there be love struggling against lust or love or infatuation or horniness or lewdness or blah, right? And if I were in Takumi’s shoes, it’s very likely that I would’ve reacted just like Ao’s image of men and taken her right then and there! And if I don’t take her then and there, I probably would’ve played more mind games on her until she thinks that it’s all her fault that I’m jumping on her! Is it any wonder that we’d feel driven up the wall even more by Takumi’s reaction there, then?
Still, so began a cycle of madness and wholesomeness that somehow managed to get better and better, and not in an eromanga sort of way. Now, I should remind you that this manga is a romantic comedy, and that the comedy runs on a lot of sex jokes. I must be an even worse degenerate for actually liking this, then!
But seriously, it’s a beauty that runs on subverting degeneracy, whether in drama or in comedy. For a degenerate like me, a degenerate who wants to stop being degenerate but still doesn’t know (read: believe) enough about how, this manga is a Godsend with a capital G. It’s an extraordinarily pure story about ordinarily dirty people, a hilariously wholesome subversion of usually hollow storytelling, and a beautifully hidden trove in annoyingly plain soil. Indeed, I now have something I can definitely call my favorite manga.
And of course, those three characters I mentioned earlier aren’t the only significant characters in this Don Bosco magic show. The next one I’d like to mention is Miyabi Takaoka, an arc antagonist and Ao’s childhood friend. She’s introduced in Volume 1 as a character who seems to be Ao’s confident love rival at best and a spiteful man-stealer at worst, but just like with Hanasaki, she isn’t turned into a hate sink. Instead, revealed beneath those cold, blunt, and cocky wiles of hers is an ordinary girl looking for what most people think is ordinary love, and she holds some degree of boosted confidence in herself, especially in her sexuality, thanks to her trend-chasing faith in Hanasaki Horie. She can be considered irritating, but still, she wants to have only one guy, and she’d probably be even more pissed if she found out that Ao was fantasizing about having a threesome with her and Takumi. Miyabi probably doesn’t even consider herself a loose woman!
Indeed, Miyabi is further established as Ao’s main foil and best friend, especially through their similar pride. I like to think that on top of Ao’s slow burn with Takumi, Ao’s bond with Miyabi is why the two best friends don’t have much of a love rivalry at all. It’s even more beautiful to watch with their well-displayed individualities, with a great example of that in the development of the whole love hotel misunderstanding from the end of Volume 1 to the start of Volume 2, which has added hilarity thanks to the love hotel staff going “No minors allowed” at Miyabi’s attempts at getting it on with Takumi. Yes, that legit happened, my fellow degenerates. Let’s solidly make up our minds about that stuff like underage sex already, and here, have some immature punnery: I know it’s hard.
Speaking of love rivals in Ao-chan Can’t Study!, though, well, Miyabi isn’t even the only one who qualifies for that role in the manga. Next up there is Midori Kaneko, who gets introduced in Volume 5 as Miyabi’s schoolmate. She’s cool, blunt, and cocky like Miyabi, but while Miyabi is more the extroverted sort of cool, Midori is the more introverted sort of cool. And now I’m starting to see a pattern in the main female cast, considering Ao’s own confidence of coolness and coldness as well. And then there’s how thirsty they all are! These icy and thirsty girls all seem like interesting candidates for a romance with the warm and pure Takumi, no? We can even make a harem story out of this!
But here’s the thing about Midori: She’s not gunning for Takumi. She’s gunning for Ao.
Yeah, that’s right. Midori Kaneko is a lesbian. And she’s sneakily assertive about it. And again, on top of being sneakily assertive, she’s focused on having one lover. Midori is certainly more cunning and aggressive than Miyabi, and those traits are certainly discomforting, but like with Hanasaki and Miyabi, she’s not turned into a hate sink. She does get decked in the face on top of being scolded and rejected by Ao, but still, whether comedically or dramatically, she’s wonderfully characterized as someone who can take a hint, too, even with the reluctance accompanying her forwardness. And now I consider her the character I relate to the most in this manga full of wonderfully human characters.
Still, the eight-volume manga manages to keep itself well-anchored to the life of Ao Horie as a high school student overcoming her relatively little childhood trauma. Maybe some readers, especially more hardcore degenerates, would consider it boring with such a light conflict and mundane developments, but on the other hand, those looking for such lightness and ordinariness, especially without degeneration, would probably find a person who’s more blessed than she thinks, and not just in terms of romance. Like, it’s not just Ao being a proud and perverted erotica writer’s embarrassed and straitlaced daughter that makes the story funny. Going back to stuff like the love hotel scenario, the comedy also comes from characters actually being more sensible than a degenerate would usually expect, but not without giving a glimpse of how they could’ve been worse. And as far as I’ve learned from Creative Writing classes, particularly from the work of Bebang Siy, subtlety is more effective when it comes to discussing sensitive stuff. Stuff like Takumi’s pleadings as he holds himself back from jumping Ao while she’s vulnerable, Miyabi’s sneers as she declares her desire to have Takumi for herself, Midori’s very familiar creep talk as she corners Ao in the dressing room, Hanasaki’s figurative tentacles influencing not only Miyabi but also the anime industry, little Ao talking about her perverted parents so innocently, and of course, the many close calls Ao and Takumi have with each other…Sure, they can bring about comedy, but there’s never comedy without anything serious underneath. Same goes the other way around, whether we like it or not. I mean, recently, I’ve been thinking that every joke is actually a half-joke, and that jokes expose not only who we are and who we have been but also who we can be.
All that’s starting to remind me of my desire to bombard the world with edgier stories, ‘cause hey, real life is certainly not easy, and real people can be worse. But going through all those seemingly boring and cliche confrontations in Ao-chan Can’t Study!, which are complete with quotes I’d rather have you read yourself than spout them around like some typical nobody online would, had me remembering this: If I can’t properly value the little things, then how will I be able to properly value the big things? Such carelessness had already led me to abusing a very wonderful woman before, and as I continue to feel the desire to have a better half and properly act on said desire, I find myself called to a path with a lot more loneliness for me, something that I probably should have along with the holy form I’m meant to have instead of all that mediocrity-loving popularity I’ve been stupidly wanting for so long. What am I supposed to do, then?
Well, if a few mundane characters are enough to make a very interesting story, then why am I worrying this much? Plus, I already know that this obscurity I’m tsundere for has been giving me more benefits than my clout-chasing ass likes to admit, and I already know that I’d be able to give myself and others strength and worthwhile times even if I’m bound to live as a nameless shadow beneath other people, whether other people believe it or not. My fame is inevitable, and so is my cancellation, especially as I also go by an alias like “The Overlord Bear.” What’s there left for me to do but make the best out of those phases according to God’s will, then?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be heading back to fulfilling my white knight errant quests and humiliating myself in the process. God Almighty keep on helping us all, of course!