Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Vols. 5-7) by Tsubaki Izumi

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A few weeks ago, a reader accused me of having crappy taste because I don’t like anything popular. Well, here’s an exception for you.  At least according to Wikipedia, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun consistently places in the top 20 of Oricon’s weekly manga list (which appears to be analogous to our Billboard 100.)

My taste might still be crappy, but I share it with a lot of Japanese folks, because I think Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is incredibly cute and charming.

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Volume 7, which is available in English (despite what it looks like in the image above,) brings the reader to chapter 71 (out of 85, at least on MangaReader).  Volume 8 will be officially available from Yen press on July 18, 2017.

As I said above, I’m still enjoying the heck out of this manga.  Normally, humor doesn’t work for me in text, but something about Nozaki-kun breaks through and I’m able to enjoy it. There are still puns that sail over my head, but I like the characters and the tone of this manga enough that not getting it doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does.  It’s very possible that I’m still able to enjoy the written humor because I was so very, very fond of the anime —which I can NOT recommend enough, keeping in mind my fondness for slice-of-life. If you prefer high-octane action, this is not for you.  But, say, if you liked Free!, I would think Nozaki-kun would be a good bet for you.

One of the things I’m charmed by in the manga is how, over time, you see the rest of the high school accept Nozaki-kun and Sakura as a couple, even as the two of them continue to be blissfully… well, not exactly unaware of the sexual tension, since Sakura is still in full-pursuit mode, but more like… blissfully unaware of how comfortable they’ve become with each other in the way of Real Life ™ lovers.

Maybe this is why Nozaki-kun is getting the designation of ‘shounen’ despite being a romantic comedy.  The relationship is, despite the humor and classic rom-com antics, really very realistically portrayed (even while all the shoujo tropes are being parodied by Tsubaki-sensei).

The other thing I love about it (and the anime) is its gentleness.  For all of the shoujo send-ups, there’s hardly a mean bone in any character’s body and you can easily root for all of them.

Of course, being me, I also appreciate all the insights into the editorial and production processes in manga publication.  There’s a scene in volume 5 or 6, where the two editor characters Ken Miyamae and Mitsuya Maeno are in a planning meeting for a themed issue of the magazine “Let’s Fall in Love” (Nozaki’s manga) is serialized in.  I found that, and their “all-nighter” in which they wait for a mangaka’s overdue pages to come in (not Nozaki, he would never do that), totally fascinating.

This is the kind of slice-of-life stuff I live for.

I would suspect much of it is fairly accurate since Tsubaki-sensei not only has a lot of experience as a mangaka herself (her other long running series is Oresama Teacher), but, apparently, she has a sister who is also a mangaka (though Wikipedia did not say who that was, exactly.)  She also started publishing while in high school, just like Nozaki-kun. So, that’s kind of a fun detail.

 

Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish (vol. 4) by Akiko Higashimura

The library coughed up the two-in-one volume 4 of Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish, which takes me up to Chapter 44, “If She Turns Around, Is it Love?” or, alternatively translated in the official volume, “I Turn Around and Find Love” (which, given the translator’s notes is the appropriate title, since it’s specifically a reference to a Nobuhiko Obayashi film of the same name, “Furimukeba Ai.”)

 

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According to one reviewer on Goodreads, this volume does begin to diverge from the anime.  Having read the episode synopses, I will say, instead, that my sense is that the manga is actually still back in time in some respects, but fills in the story more.  For instance, there is the introduction of  an Indian garment company and its employees: Prez (for president) and his little sister, Nisha.

Enough orders for dresses have come in from the fashion show that Kuranosuke realizes that there’s no way the Amars can do this on their own, not if they hope to get them produced in any decent amount of time.  So, he asks a friend in the fashion business, who tells him that most dresses are made overseas, anyway.  India is the best.

A lot of this two-in-one volume involves winning over Prez and Nisha to the idea of doing a little charity work–or at least giving the Amars a deep discount.  Kuranosuke also manages to get Shuu, (his nii-san), to give him an extended loan to cover the capital investment.

The other big development is how much Shuu has changed his tune. He’s still being forced together with land-shark lady by his politically-minded father, but in this volume he really only has eyes for Tsukimi.  In fact, so much so, that Kuranosuke ends up accidentally outing himself at the fashion show because he shouts for Tsukimi to have eyes only for “this boy!”  (I’m guessing he used the pronoun ‘boku,’ and actually said something less awkwardly constructed like, “Keep your eyes on me!”)

The Amar slowly come to realize that maybe Kuranosuke is a guy… ? It’s not entirely clear they GET it, because, mostly, they seem just as comfortable to keep thinking of him as her.

The other bit of plot is that we discover that Kuranosuke’s mom is still alive. I’d gotten the distinct impression that she’d died, but it might be that she was simply banished because she was the mistress.  Regardless, she makes a reappearance in these volumes.  After having seen Kuranosuke on TV in one of the Jellyfish dresses, she calls up nii-san, Shuu, and places a secret order.  She wants one of those dresses for herself.  Shuu is put in an awkward position, but decides to use Tsukimi as a go-between.  They have more cute interactions, including one in which she ends up hiding with him under a table at a coffee shop.

Given how many pages there were in these two volumes (about 355), I was surprised how little plot was actually advanced.  Land-shark lady continues to be the villain, but she doesn’t really do much in these chapters other than call up Tsukimi to congratulate her on the success of the fashion show and to taunt her by saying it’s all ‘useless’ and how they’ll never get enough money to halt the wave of development and progress.  Tsunami is enough of a nerd that the taunt breaks her, and then she sends the rest of the Amars into similar depressions when she confesses what’s bothering her.

At the end of the volumes, it sort of looks like the Amars are broken up, because with the Indian company taking over the dress making, Tsukimi and Kuranosuke are the only ones with Jellyfish business to occupy them. The rest are feeling a little used and abused.

Tsukimi is still obsessively making dress designs and even when approached in a kind of peace offering (without being explicit, of course)…. she turns down hotpot night!

Dun dun DUN!!

I don’t know. Given what I’ve read in the episode guide, it sounds like there are other plot developments to come that we haven’t hit yet. In their place we got reams of fashion talk, including Tsukimi being dragged out to experience fashion so that she can better choose the fabrics she wants the Indian out-sourcing dressmakers to use. I have to admit that I skimmed a lot of the fashion stuff. That doesn’t interest me in the LEAST.  I like the nerds and the otaku commune and I’m moderately shipping Tsukimi and the elder brother, Shuu. I’m sure I’m supposed to ship Tsukimi and Kuranosuke, but I kind of would prefer it if Kuranosuke were gay or ‘new half.’  But believe me, the author spends several panels making absolutely clear that there is NO HOMO here. Crossdressing is just a hobby (and, you know, that’s fine–in fact giving straight, cis men a chance to crossdress is cool with me.–but Higashimura-sensei, you told us already… several times.  Put down the ‘no homo’ spray, we get it.)

But that does lessen my enjoyment of this manga.  The only queer characters left are not explicitly so, so…. and given that this manga seems very determined to pair-up and feminize our otaku ladies, I’m not holding my breath for any queer canon couples. Alas.

It’s still fun, though.

Urakata!!/Behind the Scenes!! by Hatori Bisco

Hatori Bisco-sensei is probably best known for Ouran High School Host Club, but I have to admit to bouncing out of that anime when I tried to watch it, dubbed. (Sorry, J. Michael Tatum! I loved you in the dub of Black Butler, though, I promise!)

This is a similar kind of story to Ouran… in that our hero, Ranmaru, ends up accidentally stumbling into a college zombie movie and ruins it. The bombastic art squad president, Ryuji Goda, gang-presses super-negative Ranmaru into helping them as reparations.

Apparently, no one is scanlating this one….

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Urakata!!/Behind the Scenes!! is basically about a lost lamb–or as Goda calls him at one point “the dude majoring in wool-gathering from the pessimist department in the school of listlessness”–who finds his people, his tribe: the “art squad.”

Ranmaru comes from rough, small town fisher folk. He grew-up feeling useless.  Due to this, he’s become an extremely negative person. But, of course, even before the end of the second chapter, Ranmaru discovers that, because of his humble beginnings, he’s particularly well-suited for making the most out of limited supplies–a skill set that that the underfunded “Art Squad” desperately needs.

The rest of the volumes is Ranmaru getting to know the other members of the group and learning how to fit-in in various ways.

I’m surprised that this one is labeled as ‘shoujo,’ while Nozaki-kun is ‘shounen.’  I guess this really is a marketing issue. There’s not even much hint of a strong romance (though there is a mild one between Ranmaru and the costumer, Ruka Enjoji), though I could see how this story, even with its heavily masculine cast, might appeal more to girls than to boys.  Most of the story arcs have a feel-good ending, not unlike Barakamon (though that one is listed as shounen, too.)

Ah, well, a marketing mystery.

I would recommend this, but you’ll have to find it via the library or actually buy it.  I’m not sure if it’s worth the price of a brand-new manga, but if you can pick it up somewhere free, I would.

Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-Kun (vol. 1-4) by Izumi Tsubaki

I loved the anime for this on-going manga Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-Kun/Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. When I saw that the Saint Paul Public Library had several volumes of it, I decided to check it out.

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Apparently, the last time I reviewed this, it was on a podcast.  Rather than making you listen to Mason and I yammering on about Bleach and everything else, I will re-summarize everything for you here.

The story behind Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is a cute one.  Our heroine, Chiyo Sakura is super-attracted to Umetarou Nozaki and works up the courage to make her love confession.  She blurts out, “I’m your number one fan!”  Much to her confusion, he takes this utterly in stride and said, “Oh, okay, here’s my autograph.”  She’s very, “???”  Then, he asks what’s she’s doing because the “others” have cancelled (“eep!” she thinks, “he has a harem!?”) so does she want to come back his place right now?  Poor Sakura is completely confused and a little horrified by all this forwardness, until she gets back to his place…

….and is asked to ink a manga sheet.

Turns out Nozaki is actually “Sakiko Yumeno,” a super-popular shoujo mangaka known for “her” sensitive storylines and gorgeous art style.  When I explain this concept to people less familiar with manga, I say, “It’s like finding out the hot high school football player writes Harlequin romances.”

As you know, gentle reader, humor is often a hard sell for me.  But, since I already fell for this particular story in its anime format, I found a lot to enjoy in this manga.  The one thing that’s very different about this manga than most others that I’ve read is that the story is cut up into short, self-contained single-page, four panel stories. It reads more like a comic strip than a comic book.  But, after a while, you get used to it, and like “Judge Parker” or other soap opera comic strips like that, the stories occasionally follow one after the other.

Like in the anime, a lot is made of gender stereotypes and Tsubaki-sensei loves to flip gender roles.  For instance, Nozaki has modeled his heroine after his best buddy, Mikoshiba (aka “Mikorin”). As I suggested in my earlier rant, the ‘oh, it’s so gay!’ is played up often and always for laughs.

I still love this one.

I almost never laugh out loud reading humor manga, but these first three volumes had a couple of moments where I did.  I especially loved the scene when Sakura tries to use Masayuki Hori (the background artist/theatre manager), whois pulling an all-nighter with Nozaki to finish up the chapter for deadline, to find out what kind of pajamas Nozaki wears.  Hori, of course, gets Sakura’s text and just ask.  Nozaki basically sleeps in sweatpants and a tee-shirt, but once apparently an adoring fan of his female pseudonym sent him a frilly pink camisole.  So, Hori texts back: frilly pink.  Sakura is suitably confused/horrified.

What? It tickled me. What can I say?

The one thing that’s very different from the anime, outside of the fact that its still on-going and the anime only had one season, is that Nozaki has a younger brother, Mayu, who shows up from time to time, who is deeply in love with the mangaka who lives in the same apartment building as Nozaki, Yukari Miyako.  He also doesn’t like to talk…. or do anything strenuous.

Here’s Mayu talking to Mikorin….

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The joke here is that Mayu is so profoundly lazy that he will do whatever is easiest, even if it means doing something he hates.

Ha ha?

But, you can also see how these four panel one-shots work.  They all have sidebar titles, too, which help prepare you for the punchline.

I think the thing I like about Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is how utterly clueless and dorky Nozaki is.  Also, as I’m sure I’ve confessed before, I love stories that give glimpses into the life of mangaka (and of course I love slice-of-life as a genre a LOT).  I liked this about Bakuman, too, despite all it’s faults.  At least with Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun, the women characters are as weird and wonderful as the male ones, and there is a whole cast of side characters if you don’t end up bonding with the main ones.

The anime is equally charming and is only one season, so it’s a quick watch.  You can catch it on Crunchyroll, if you like.

Mother’s Spirit by Enzou

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The set-up for Mother’s Spirit is that university employee, Ryouichirou, is forced to house a foreign exchange student, Qaltaqa who is really, really… foreign.  Like, Qaltaqa is so foreign he’s from some deep-in-the-rainforest-previously-undiscovered-tribe-never-seen-“civilization” kind of foreign.

Is this awkward?

A little… but, at least, Qaltaqa comes from somewhere unreal.  All of the culture he expresses is completely made-up and imaginary.  Also, outside of a few African-style masks, Enzou-sensei mostly keeps Qaltaqa’s people unique enough that they don’t particularly read as culturally appropriated from any specific region or real-life tribe.

Also, I kind of forgive Enzou-sensei a lot because Qaltaqa is beautiful af.

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The struggle is real, Ryouichirou!

I’m often a sucker for ‘fish out of water’ stories and this one hits a lot of those notes/tropes.  Ryouichirou is also charmingly… Japanese.  I ended up finding the whole thing pretty adorable. But, well, you can read for yourself here: https://nhentai.net/g/165755/2/

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I think the thing I ended up loving the most is the fact that  Qaltaqa continually and right from the start invades Ryouichirou’s personal space.  The first night he stays over, this happens:

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And, of course, the chairman, Ryouichirou’s boss, explains that this is just how it is with  Qaltaqa’s people. They sleep communally!  Roll with it!  All of which makes Ryouichirou deeply uncomfortable… and also slowly melts his stand-offish heart.

I also kind of love that we don’t really know if Ryouichirou started off this manga gay or if  Qaltaqa made him gay with all the touching and kissing (which is also set-up as a hilarious cultural misunderstanding.)

That’s the other thing that makes Mother’s Spirit stand out. The humor works.  A lot of times I end up scratching my head at attempts at humor (puns just don’t translate, damn it), but because the idea here is so simple: what if  Qaltaqa thinks that kissing is how people express affection and he just randomly starts kissing Ryouichirou!?  What can I say? It’s cute, it’s funny in a sweet way… it totally worked for me.

There is, alas, not a lot of actual sex in this story.

When we do get it, it’s pretty hot, but the entire thrust (pardon the pun) of this manga is towards sweet. We end with a marriage for heaven’s sake!  But, sometimes I actually read Playboy for the articles, I’ll have you know. So, yeah, sometimes sweet, heavy on the story elements is what I’m looking for.  Plus, I really like Enzou-sensei’s art style. I could probably read all their other manga, even if it’s slice-of-life of people literally curtain shopping.

Assassination Classroom 1 – 52 by Ansatsu Kyoushitsu

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I kind of lost my mind and decided to try to find something in MangaPanda’s list of “most popular” manga that I might like to read.  I’ve been seeing Assassination Classroom all over, so I thought, eh, ‘why not?’

It’s complete at 184 chapters, which you can read here: http://www.mangapanda.com/assassination-classroom. I didn’t get that far, and I don’t think I’m going to finish it.

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There wasn’t anything wrong with Assassination Classroom per se.  I read quite a bit of it very easily and enjoyably, but I finally hit a point where I feel the schtick had worn out, for me. I’ll explain more about my reaction in a bit.  First, let me introduce you to Koro-sensei and the folks of Assassination Classroom.

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So, right, okay, here’s the deal.

A mysterious creature attacked us and hollowed out much of the moon, and is now threatening to destroy the Earth in… eleven months. For reasons of plot, this octopus-like creature really, really wants to be a teacher first.  So, he’s set up in Japan at a private school with class “E” for end, because they’re the losers of the losers, with zero future. The government has promised these middle schoolers a chance at a billion yen, if one of them can find a way to assassinate their sensei before graduation.

The premise is so silly, I’m surprised that I got over 50 chapters in.

But, I’m a sucker for stories where delinquents band together and rise up against their oppressors. Like, that’s a type of story that I will pretty much read over and over. Which is good, because Assassination Classroom is basically that story told in different ways over and over and over… and over (with boob jokes).

I guess I finally got tired of it.

Actually, I suspect that if I were reading Assassination Classroom as it came out in JUMP+, I would have followed it to the end. The humor and neat little story arcs work perfectly for something consumed in small, weekly bites.  I think I ran out of steam with Assassination Classroom because I was powering through it. After a while I lost my ability to suspend my disbelief and repetition of the same emotional payoff grew stale.

Because, there were characters I really liked.

Nagisa, the main character, actually, was one of my favorites. He’s not at all my usual type.  Tiny, girlish, and whip-smart, he’s often overlooked because he’s just this nice, little guy, you know? But, he’s the one who keeps a running list of any bit of information about Kuro-sensei that he can gather–from a weakness for big boobs to that effect water has on Kuro-sensei.  You know from the start that there’s going to be a reason this little squirt is the main character, but I was figuring the answer was going to be his notes. Then, we hit the mini-arc that starts with chapter 38: ‘Training Time’ and Nagisa begins to show his true colors.  No spoilers in case you decide to pick this one up, but it’s after that that I was sold on Nagisa completely and he cemented his spot as ‘most intriguing’ for me.

I also really enjoyed that particular mini-arc because I also developed this weird little crush on the ‘gym’ teacher, Karasuma Tadaomi:

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Is he hot? I don’t know. Maybe? Apparently some part of me really thought so.

To be fair, I think that one of the charms of Assassination Classroom is its wide cast of characters, each of whom get their own ‘Very Special Episode’/mini-arc in which they confront something that has been holding them back and overcome it–usually through Koro-sensei’s gentle guidance.

I mean, that’s the other part of this whole thing.  Koro-sensei is actually an amazing teacher. He really cares about his students and takes his work very seriously.  It’s confusing behavior for a creature who seems to want to destroy the world ‘just because.’ I suspect we’re going to find out at the end that this has all been a test and we will have passed it when we refuse to actually kill sensei.

But I’ll never know.

There do seems to be continuation spin-off out there, so I’m guessing everyone survives, including sensei.

Ultimately, however, one of the reasons I stopped reading this manga is because the tension collapsed for me somewhere around chapter 47.

Previously, I’d been willing to believe that the students, even though they’d obviously grown attached to sensei, were still willing to kill him to save the Earth from destruction. In fact, after my favorite little mini-arc that I talked about above, I felt things were actually getting thrilling because it seemed like the tension increased once Nagisa revealed his abilities.  Like, we had a chance.  Like, the question was really going to come down to the necessity of taking out someone we’ve learned to care for. I never thought we’d do it, but I expected that tension to remain heavily in the background.

But it completely evaporated in the very next mini-arc, which revolved around the idea that Kuro-sensei was weak to water.  The class finally discovered an actual advantage.  They even seemed to be formulating a real plan, but then everything, including any remaining tension, is derailed by Terasaka-kun’s ‘Very Special Episode.’

Terasaka is a bully.  He’s never really gotten into all the team-building of Class E under Kuro-sensei’s tutelage.  So, he allows himself to be taken in by the mysterious Shiro, the minder of “transfer student” Itona, who is actually an artificial human created with the specific purpose of defeating Kuro-sensei.  Itona is referred to Kuro-sensei’s “brother,” because Itona was splice-cloned with some of Kuro-sensei’s DNA which the military procured somehow–so they have the same abilities… and weaknesses.

So, Shiro, Itona, and Terasaka conspire to really f*ck Kuro-sensei up. They use an aerosol spray, disguised as one of Terasaka’s pranks, to mess up Kuro-sensei’s superpowers. Then they devise a clever plan that puts the students in danger (Kuro-sensei has, for reasons of plot, agreed to never harm any of his charges) and water-logs Kuro-sensei in a way that makes it impossible for him to use his super-sonic abilities.

 

And…. here’s where everything falls apart for me.

Kuro-sensei is down. All that Class E has to do, to end this whole thing, is let him die. No one who loves him would even have to strike the killing blow.

Instead, they save him. The excuse for this behavior is one that they’ve used before, though to better effect, which is basically: why would we let some outsider take our prize? If anyone is going to kill Kuro-sensei, it will be one of us.

Like I said, the first time that excuse for not pressing an advantage came out, I totally rolled with it.  This time… I thought: No.  No, this time they could have used their clever plan in a different way–to save their classmate themselves and also send someone in to deliver the killing blow.

And it bothered me that they didn’t even try.  I could have bought the idea that it failed in some way. But they all teamed-up and saved sensei when they had him on his knees in a way they will never have again.

I just… it didn’t work for me.

Part of what I’d been enjoying was how twisted Class E was. They were a bunch of little assassins, legit.  There was something wonderful about the way they continued to try to kill sensei even after he helped them win a baseball game which had part of an unfairly rigged field-and-track day event.

I kept reading a bit after the moment Class E chose to save sensei, assuming that I would just get swept away in whatever new problem everyone faced.  But, the next mini-arc literally recycled the exam crisis from midterms, and, even though it had a slight new twist, I completely lost interest.

Like, I say, if I were reading this weekly, I doubt I would have hit this point.  The time in-between chapters would have given me time to forget how quickly some of these same emotional notes were being repeated in almost identical ways.  I probably would have, like I said, just gotten swept along into the next challenge and not been so bothered by this sudden deflation of tension after the swimming mini-arc.

I get why people enjoyed this manga, though.  It’s sweet and heartwarming and very shounen in the way the delinquents come together to face a common enemy.  I loved those parts of Assassination Classroom as much as the next guy.  Humor, which this manga depends on, is always hard to translate, but, if you read the MangaPanda version they’ve also reprinted the translator’s notes attempting to explain various puns, cultural notes, etc.–all of which I found very fascinating.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely.

But, I also don’t feel compelled to force my way through to the end of it, either.