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Portrait of M & N Volume 1

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Portrait of M & N Vol. 1

Portrait of M & N Vol. 1

© Higuchi Tachibana / HAKUSENSHA

The Bottom Line

Is it possible to create a light, wholesome romantic comedy in which the female lead routinely gazes up covered in bruises and blood, perhaps with a tooth chipped, and says things like, "Use your strong kicking skills and make me your love slave?"

Those who aren't manga fans would probably say no. The rest of us know that in manga all things are possible, and Tachibana Higuchi sets out to prove it with Portrait of M&N, a shojo teen romance about two nice, kinky young people.

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  • Elegant art
  • Appealing lead characters
  • Unusual premise


  • Conventional, predictable storytelling
  • Frustratingly low-key romance


  • Original Title: M to N no Shouzou (Japan)
  • Author & Artist: Higuchi Tachibana
  • Publishers:
  • ISBN: 978-1427817242
  • Cover Price: $10.99 US / $13.99 CANADA
  • Age Rating: T – Teens Age 13+ for mild violence, non-sexual kinkiness
    More about content ratings.
  • Manga Genres:
  • US Publication Date: February 2010
    Japan Publication Date: October 2000
  • Book Description: 208 pages, black and white illustrations
  • More Manga by Higuchi Tachibana:

Guide Review - Portrait of M & N Volume 1

Mitsuru, a.k.a. "M," is a masochist who flies into an ecstasy of desire whenever anyone hits or kicks her. Natsuhiko, a.k.a. "N," is a narcissist who can't look at his own reflection without falling in love. Both are trying to live ordinary high-school lives, but they discover one another's fetishes, and their sexual secrets create a private bond between them.

This sounds like a setup for high-grade perviness even by manga standards, a transgressive erotic fantasy. One can’t help but imagine a shojo artist like, say, Miki Aihara (Hot Gimmick) or Kanoko Sakurakoji (Black Bird), whose nominally vanilla romances are already soaking in BDSM tease, running wild with this concept. But in the hands of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice, it’s surprisingly gentle. It’s yet another thing that could only happen in manga: a chaste, family-friendly comedy about extreme sexual fetishes.

Mitsuru's and Natsuhiko's fetishes aren’t presented as sexual tastes, exactly, more as triggers for cartoony alter egos. When Mitsuro is injured or Natsuhiko glimpses himself in a mirror, they turn into different people until someone or something snaps them back to normal. They're like clockwork toys, controlled by whatever internal forces wind them up, an impression Higuchi encourages by describing their plight in affected fairy-tale narration ("I would like to tell you all… the story of two lost lambs") and ending each chapter with an image of the pair posed like dolls.

Once they learn about their shared kinkiness, Mitsuru and Natsuhiko vow to protect one another's secrets from the rest of the school, and the story becomes a "can't let the neighbors know" sitcom. In another manga, the secrets the characters go crazy trying to defend might be Chinese curses or psychic powers or skeletons in the family closet; here, they're fetishes. The effect is the same.

Neither of the leads shows any interest in fulfilling those forbidden desires; they want to conceal them, suppress them, fit in at school. (Natsuhiko does have one indulgence: a mirror-lined room where he cocoons himself at home.) It's obvious from the start that their kinks line up well enough that they could be, if not a happy couple, then at least a satisfied one. But the possibility doesn’t occur to them. These two need Dan Savage.

I’m not sure if I’d enjoy Portrait of M&N more if it really were what its premise threatens, a boundary-challenging exploration of kink and desire, rather than a standard shojo romcom with a slightly naughty gag. As it stands, it's a sweet story.

The leads are wholesome young people who just happen to have a little problem with public displays of depravity, and the friendship that blossoms through their shared secrets is charming. Portrait of M&N is about kinkiness, but it's not itself kinky. Maybe even masochists need to take it gently sometimes.

Shaenon Garrity is a manga editor, writer and comics creator. She is the author of CLAMP in America, and the creator of Narbonic.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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