I have a hard time reviewing comedy. I can’t give away any of the jokes in the review, that would ruin the manga. But most of my conversations with friends about this series revolve around, “Remember that time the funny thing happened?” So how do I tell you to ignore your gut instinct and just read this manga?
Oh yeah, like that.
Ignore your gut instinct and read this manga.
You may think, “But this looks like something for girls!” First off, stop defining yourself by such narrow gender stereotypes. Second, it’s not. Or at least, it’s not only for girls. It’s an all-spectrum kind of manga. If you like funny, you’ll like this manga.
Perhaps, “I don’t like Four Panel Gag manga” is your issue? Don’t worry. It’s actually funny. As in every person that I know who’s read this, even those that don’t like manga, has absolutely loved it.
Perhaps you’re worried that the comedy won’t translate over to your culture. True, much of the best comedy relies on an implicit cultural understanding between the comedian and the audience. And this does make it difficult to understand comedy cross-culturally. Would it help if I told you that the comedy relies heavily on character and funny pictures? And not so much on wordplay that doesn’t translate out of Japanese?
The basic setup is that our protagonist, Sakura Chiyo, has a crush on her classmate Umetaro Nozaki. But he has a secret that she never saw coming! Even after spending several hours helping him with his manga.
On its surface the manga, by Izumi Tsubaki, is about creating manga, and a lot of the comedy derives from playing with shoujo manga tropes and expectations. Such as, how do you have a romantic bike ride for two when it’s against the law to ride two to one bike? I’ll not give it away, but the entire setup is hilarious and had one of the first jokes that had me busting a rib laughing and is what convinced me that I would love this series.
I could let this review devolve into that annoying friend who won’t shut up and keeps saying, “It’s really funny, really, you should read it,” but never really gives you a good reason to read beyond asking you to trust them. Well, I’ll do you one good, and save the jokes for the manga, but instead give you the character setups. Because Nozaki-kun isn’t all about manga tropes, but is rather first and foremost a character comedy. And there are no weak characters in this cast. At all. You’ll like them all.
Sakura herself is possibly the least quirky character, but she plays the part of the reader surrogate in some aspects, as it’s through her that we’re introduced to the world of Nozaki-kun. She still gets plenty of funny moments, such as being a bit slow on the uptake sometimes, and being in love with a guy who is beyond oblivious. A number of her comedy comes from the situations she’s put in, though her single minded, yet self aware, devotion to Nozaki, and how obvious it is to everyone else, makes her a strong lead for the series.
Nozaki is very focused and not what you’d see in a typical shoujo manga lead. Somehow he’s a good manga artist, though a great deal of his comedy comes from his awful first drafts. To the point where I can’t help but wonder how he got popular as a manga artist in the first place. He’s completely oblivious to Sakura’s feelings, and yet seems to be very perceptive where almost everything else is concerned. Like Sakura he’s our other main viewpoint character, and a lot of the character comedy comes either from his work on his manga, or his observations on the characters around him.
Mikoshiba, Nozaki’s best friend, is the first of the extended cast that we’re introduced to. He’s an otaku that tries to be a ladies man, but is far too bashful to play the part, though he looks it. He’s needy, requires external validation, and is easily embarrassed. One of the first characters introduced, he’s also one of my favorites.
Yuzuki Seo, Sakura’s best friend, is hands down the best character of the series. She always says the absolute worst thing, without even noticing, while thinking she’s pretty awesome. She’s over the top and anytime she’s involved I’m a happy reader.
Kashima Yuu is the character Mikoshiba tries to be, except she’s a girl and the target of comedic violence that somehow doesn’t get uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary on that, but like how many guys in manga are punched for comedic effect, Kashima shrugs it all off with more endurance than any of her male counterparts. It’s like she’s superhuman and, according to all the girls in the school, superhumanly good looking.
Hori, Kashima’s drama club president, spends most of his time dragging Kashima back to club meetings, but with anyone other than Kashima he’s pretty reasonable. Most of his comedy comes from being annoyed by Kashima, while also being incredibly fond of her.
Miyamae Ken is Nozaki’s no-nonsense editor who takes the brunt of Nozaki’s less than stellar first drafts, and has to deal with the aftermath of his co-worker Maeno.
Maeno, Nozaki’s previous editor, is every creative type’s nightmare. He’s bad at his job, yet somehow never gets fired, and all his feedback feeds into his own likes and not what’s best for the manga in question. It’s like Izumi is speaking from personal experience here. He just feels too over the top and real at the same time.
Miyako, a fellow manga artist, is the current victim of Maeno the Editor, possibly one of the most normal characters in the cast, though she suffers the most from having to deal with Maeno. And being a complete pushover who just can’t grasp the concept of standing up for herself.
And finally, Suzuki and Mamiko are Nozaki’s manga characters, they’re fictional characters within the manga itself, and mostly just exist as punchlines to the manga related jokes.
The cost of the volume is a bit higher than your standard manga, and there are fewer pages, but to make up for that we get some color pages at the front of the volume, and extra strips printed into the inside of the cover. Some may be turned away by the higher price point to lower content, even with the color pages, but really it’s all about paying for quality.
I could easily recommend this to even my family members, as the manga never delves into dirty humor or fanservice. There’s a joke or two about underwear, but no one is ever drawn in their underwear. It’s a classy affair, all things considered. This ties into one of my favorite ongoing gags of the series, where two characters are discussing a topic while a third person overhears them and misinterprets the conversation to comedic effect. For example, two characters talking about manga drafts while an onlooker thinks they’re a couple having a spat.
The four panel strip format may throw some people off, and I can’t entirely blame them since it’s not typical in most manga that makes it to the US. But much like Azumanga Daioh it’s definitely worth getting into. Its panels are a full page wide, unlike most four panel strips that fit two strips to a page. And even in that format we get a stronger sense of setting and continuity than your average gag manga, which makes it a good transition for readers used to regular manga.