Tuesday, November 29, 2016

REVIEW: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 1-3) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey

I didn't know much about this series, going into it. I had heard some complaints that the romance never went anywhere in the anime adaptation, so I expected it to be a romantic comedy. I was surprised, but not displeased, to discover that it was actually far more focused on humor than anything. If I had had more volumes of this available during my vacation, I'd definitely have read them. Now I have to decide if I want to continue this series via purchases or have it be one of those series I catch up on once a year, whenever I take a vacation.

Just as I've done in the past for my big vacation manga binges, I'm going to include all the volumes I read in one post. Each volume will include a synopsis and short review. This post is technically spoiler-filled, but I don't know that any of it would really ruin the volumes for anybody, since the visuals are such a big part of the humor. Still, consider yourself warned.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vol. 1) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey - A high school girl named Sakura tries to confess her love to cool-looking Nozaki, only to get roped into doing the beta (inking the solid black areas) for his manga – it turns out that he's secretly a shoujo mangaka. Sakura then meets several of Nozaki's other helpers and learns a bit about some of the more annoying aspects of shoujo manga creation, like overly controlling editors and having to make sure nothing in the story breaks Japanese laws.

This is, I think, only my second series ever that deals with the manga industry. The other one was The World's Greatest First Love. It was primarily a romance, but it did give a few peeks into the life cycle of a manga volume, mostly from the viewpoint of manga editors. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, on the other hand, is primarily humor and looks more at the manga writing/illustrating side of things.

I have no clue how much of the manga creation stuff in this volume was true, but, regardless, it was funny. This series turned out to be one of the best I read during my vacation. I laughed at Nozaki's efforts to create romantic moments in his series that contained no illegal aspects. Sakura got to be his guinea pig for potentially romantic options, which usually weren't very romantic at all.

Then there was Mikoshiba, another one of Nozaki's helpers. He looked like a handsome playboy but was actually extremely awkward – and also unwittingly the inspiration for the heroine in Nozaki's manga. There were lots of other great characters besides him: Seo, a brash girl who made nearly everyone who met her angry; Kashima, a “princely” girl who had tons of female admirers (and who probably couldn't remember any of their names); and Maeno, Nozaki's former editor, who forced all his artists to include tanuki in their works, just because he liked them. Nearly everyone Nozaki knew and every potentially romantic situation he encountered was worked into his series in some way.

One of my favorite moments in this volume was when Nozaki played a dating sim. He was so fascinated by the player character's weirdly helpful best friend that he accidentally found himself shipping them, to the point that he pulled an all-nighter just to create a short fan comic for them in which they could actually end up together. It was both funny and kind of sweet.

Humorous manga can be hit or miss. This one turned out to be much better than I expected – a bit odd, but solidly enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vol. 2) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey – This series doesn't really have a plot, just lots of jokes that run for varying numbers of pages. In this volume, Nozaki is his current editor's fanboy, to the point that it seems like he has a bit of a crush on him. Sadly for him, his editor has no interest in socializing with him and just wants him to do his work well and turn it in on time. Mikoshiba demonstrates his inability to keep from saying things that embarrass the heck out of him, and Kashima may have a crush on the president of the school's drama club (he, by the way, is constantly annoyed with her). At the end of the volume, everyone tries to help out a sick Nozaki by finishing his manga pages for him.

The things I most enjoyed about this volume: Nozaki's unrequited affection for his editor, and Wakamatsu and his horrifying relationship with Seo. The bit with Nozaki and his editor was kind of adorable – I suppose I should have felt bad for Nozaki, but he was as clueless about his editor's desire for a purely professional relationship as he was about Sakura's crush on him. Nearly everything his editor said and did was wonderful, as far as he was concerned.

The stuff with Wakamatsu made me both cringe and laugh. Seo became both the reason he developed insomnia and the sole cure for his insomnia. Also, the poor guy was literally incapable of driving Seo away. Everything he did just made it look more and more like he liked her.

This volume was good, although my enjoyment was a bit more subdued than it was for the first volume.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vol. 3) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey – Nozaki's editor has a high school class reunion to attend, Wakamatsu inexplicably starts dating Seo (sort of), Kashima tries to learn to sing for Hori (the president of the school's drama club), we get to see a bit of Miyako in college (one of her classmates mistakenly thinks she's dating Nozaki), and Nozaki continues to try really hard to find inspiration for his manga.

Is it just me, or does Nozaki seem to be kind of bad at his job? He seems to be completely lacking in creativity – he can't come up with new storylines unless the real people on which he based his characters go through those experiences first. Also, he can't draw backgrounds and sometimes has problems drawing his own characters. Well, whatever, it made for some great humor. I loved the increasingly detailed set Hori and Mikoshiba created for Nozaki, and I laughed at Nozaki's completely self-serving support of the idea of Wakamatsu dating Seo. Valentine's Day was fun too.

My absolute favorite manga-related bit of humor was the part about Wakamatsu's adventures in learning the numbers for the different screentones. Since he had problems remembering them, he came up with his own names, and Nozaki tried to humor him. The results were hilarious.

I'm definitely going to continue reading this series.

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