by Chica Umino; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Missing Genshiken now that it’s ended? Try this series. The characters aren’t as fannish, but they’re all distinctly odd personalities with complicated interactions at school together.
The opening portrait of student life won me over, in which roommates can be bought with free food, griping all the while about the lack of meat in their diet. They’re familiar with each other, sharing living quarters, but they still have their own secrets and histories. Take, for example, freaky Morita. He disappears for days or weeks at a time, returning with lots of money only to fall into a coma-like sleep. It’s a mystery, and not one answered in this volume, although he’s the first character I felt like I had a handle on, due to his distinctive behavior.
With the others, it took a while for me to be able to distinguish them, just like getting to know a new acquaintance. Sophomore Takemoto’s the nice, loyal one, the closest to a regular guy. He’s still figuring out what he wants to do with his life. Mayama’s the third male, involved with two women, and then there’s Hagumi. She’s an 18-year-old prodigy sculptor, but she looks about 8 (that’s her on the cover). Takemoto and Morita promptly fall in love with her, although in Morito’s case, it manifests as taking of pictures of her as a fairy, which creeps her (and me) out.
The chapters are short slice-of-life stories that gradually reveal more about the group and their motivations. Especially Morita, where they conclude that his extreme independence, not knowing or caring what others think of him, make him both attractive and someone you don’t want to get too close to, because his not caring extends to everyone around him.
Not a lot happens, in terms of plot, but the cast is intriguing, with plenty of revelations and a whole range of emotional response. They’re drawn in a sketchy fashion, like the unfinished people they are. They grow on you, as you develop friendships with them. It’s just like college, with sudden realizations about what things mean and how people feel.