Portrait of M and N Volume 1

4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre Love Triangle

Boy meets Girl. Boy gets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy gets Girl again. You really can’t get a more classic storyline, and putting interesting twists on that ages-old scenario has provided fodder for writers for untold generations. Any book with a “romance” tag on the spine is most likely going to spin you some variation on the theme.

In “Portrait of M & N,” Tachibana Higuchi (creator of Gakuen Alice) has apparently decided to create the most messed-up characters he can, and run them through that traditional storyline.

The story begins with “M,” the high school girl named Mitsuru who is beautiful and polite and shy and is everything a manga heroine should be. The problem is, Mitsuru hides a terrible secret. The slightest hint of violent action towards her has her down on her hands and knees, begging to be beaten and abused and to be used in any way that would please her attacker. Mitsuru is, as the initial “M” would suggest, an extreme masochist whose harsh upbringing by her firm-handed mother has lead her to associate pain with love, and abuse with pleasure.

Now, the normal companion to an “M” would be an “S,”, but here Higuchi gives us an “N” instead. Natsuhiko is an isolated and shy boy at Mitsuru’s school, who hides behind giant coke-bottle glasses and distances himself from everyone. One day the girls at the school discover that behind those thick glasses Natsuhiko has the looks of a pop star, and is probably the best looking guy at school. The problem is, Natsuhiko completely agrees with them. So much as glancing at his own reflection in a mirror or reflective surface has him fawning all over his own perfection, unable to tear himself away from the perfect beauty that is his own face. Yes, Natsuhiko’s “N” stands for Narcissist.

And that’s the story. Both Mitsuru and Natsuhiko are horrified by their own deviancies, and transferred to this new school in order to escape their pasts and reputations. They attempt to hide their true natures, and their mutual fear starts to bring them together. But they are both able to control their urges only so far before Mitsuru is crawling on the floor begging someone to step on her head and Natsuhiko is entranced in the mirror swearing eternal love to his own beauty.

The first of a six-volume series, this first volume of “Portrait of M & N” spends most of the time unveiling Mitsuru’s and Natsuhiko’s secrets, including the pasts that made them who they are. Mitsuru is the first to be attracted to Natsuhiko, but his own narcissism leaves him unable to see her beauty as equal to his own, and so he is interested in little more than mutual support and protection. A rival appears ( of course) in the form of Hijiri, and upper classman who decides to claim Mitsuru as his own, but for different reasons than you might think.

The back-up story to “Portrait of M & N” is called “A Girl in a Birdcage” and is also the story of dysfunctional lovers, in this case a young woman who finds her self being trapped and controlled by her boyfriend, and eventually learns to love submitting to his will.

To be honest, “Portrait of M & N” was a little too bizarre for my tastes. In the author’s notes Higuchi writes that the series was born out of the desire to see a really beautiful woman beaten so hard that her face begins to bleed. Seeing the female lead in both “Portrait of M & N” and “A Girl in a Birdcage,” which was written as a “romantic Valentine’s Day story,” it is clear that Higuchi has some different ideas of love than I do.

It is this same bizarreness that keeps you reading “Portrait of M & N,” and I have to say that I enjoyed this first volume because of it. I really can’t imagine how Higuchi is going to stretch the story out for the remaining volumes. At the end of Volume one, the story seems pretty much complete, but there is more to come. And more weirdness at that.

“Portrait of M & N” originally ran in that famous shojo comic “Hana to Yume” from 2000-2002, and actually pre-dates the more famous “Gakuen Alice.” In fact, if you are a fan of “Gakuen Alice,” “Portrait of M & N” is actually set in the same world, and one of the characters, Yoichi Hijiri, started off in this series.


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