Ayame 14 is another great work by Amano Shuninta. Taking an entirely different tone to The Feelings We All Must Endure, this manga still manages to explore some great themes in regards to sexuality and identity formation.
Ayame 14 centers around a 14-year-old girl awakening to her sexuality. Her portrayal is pretty realistic to the actual experience of adolescence, as she’s basically horny at all times. Additionally, she is very clearly gay, getting turned on by any other woman or girl that she sees. She never explicitly identifies as gay, but she shows no attraction to men so it’s pretty obvious.
The manga explores her day-to-day life, showing how it intersects with her sexuality while also exploring other aspects of her life. A decent amount of focus is given to her friends who are frequent targets of her fantasies. Ayame is the real core of the manga, but her friends provide a needed contrast. They too act like normal teenagers, but as far as we can tell they aren’t constantly horny like Ayame. At the same time, they serve as potential partners for Ayame, since she’s very much attracted to them. There are hints that any of her friends could be into her as well, adding a fun bit of mystery to the story.
In general, I would call this a slice-of-life manga. I suppose it’s a yuri manga, since it focuses primarily on a gay girl, but it’s definitely not a romance manga. At the same time, the focus on sexuality might be off-putting to some slice-of-life fans. It has the same tone as many other manga in the genre, but its comedy is much more sexual and it’s more focused on exploring one core concept. This helps to make it a unique manga, but it also gives it a less broad appeal.
One thing that’s worth noting is that Ayame masturbates constantly, and this is depicted in the manga itself. Usually, this isn’t creepy, and I wouldn’t say that it ever gets pornographic with it. That said, the amount that it focuses on it could be seen as a bit off-putting. She is only 14 after all, and while 14-year-olds certainly masturbate all the time, the extent to which we see it is probably a bit much. Still, I think that it’s generally a sign of this manga’s openness in regards to sexuality.
And that openness is really valuable. This is hardly a perfect manga, but it’s really rare to get works focused on healthy teenage sexuality, something that’s absolutely necessary. That’s doubly true for works focused on queer teens. It might be a bit too sexual to be aimed at teens, but it’s a work that I really would’ve liked when I was Ayame’s age. This manga has a frankness to it that I really like; Ayame sees her desires as being somewhat perverse, but the story itself never plays it like that. The idea that her desires are wrong are played for comedy, making it clear that they’re totally natural. As in her other manga, Shuninta doesn’t do this perfectly, but the attempt has value in itself.
Overall, I wouldn’t say this is a great manga. It’s funny and it serves a very important role, but it’s not something I’m likely to re-read frequently. It occasionally gets a bit creepy with its portrayal of sexuality and the characters outside of Ayame aren’t all that deep. Still, I haven’t read any other manga like it, so it’s worth reading for that alone. Next week I’ll be wrapping up this look at Amano Shuninata’s works, looking at her various other yuri manga.