by Aya Nakahara; adapted by Pookie Rolf
published by Viz; $8.99 US
I hate getting behind on series. Books start stacking up, and then, instead of looking forward to reading them, I glance their way and see little piles of guilt. I’d much rather anticipate spending some time getting lost in the adventures of the friends inside. On the positive side, having several in a row to catch up on means a much longer voyage into a different world. And I do so enjoy the teen romantic comedy of Lovely Complex.
We left off in Book 5 with tall Risa finally telling short Otani she’d fallen in love with him, although he declined to return her feelings. He had the painful-to-her but sensible reaction that you can’t suddenly start viewing a friend as a lover when you’d never considered the idea before. You need some time to grow into that idea… or you may never come around.
In Book 6, Risa and her friends are once again discussing the strategies and problems of young love. This time, it’s physical. Risa isn’t sure she wants to think about kissing, let alone anything more. She’s more grown up, at least in height, than her friends, but she’s still very young when it comes to relationships. (You know, those kinds of paragraphs when talking about manga are why my website shows dating site ads.)
The bizarre, cartoony emotions Nakahara puts on Risa’s face as she goes through embarrassment, shock, unpleasant realization, dismay, petty anger — all in one meal conversation — are hilarious. Although the features are simplified then into just lines, her face is so real, I can feel myself mimicking her. (And then laughing even more at myself.)
Otani has given Risa tickets for a concert they both like. This is the kind of thing that keeps her interested. Whether they’re dating or just friends, he’s still a pretty nice, thoughtful guy. In contrast to her visuals, he creates humor through his unrestrained declarations. He’ll say anything he’s thinking, because Risa told him not to hold back. So even though their relationship is weird, he’ll ask her things like when she fell in love with him, things most people would pussyfoot around. Yet he’s remarkably clueless about himself, why he does what he does or how he feels.
Like many teens, the two define love very differently. She wants to spend time with him all the time. He wants to be attracted to her. When a new school year starts, the point might be moot, because Risa’s distracted by the new teacher. He’s tall, attractive, and he reminds her of the hero of the dating sim computer game she plays.
The comedy of everyone (except Otani) having a crush on the hip young teacher is balanced by the emotions of Risa being inadvertently hurt by Otani. But it’s definitely the comedy that takes center stage once she forms a fan club for the teacher and the competition between him and Otani ramps up on the basketball court.
In Book 7, the jealousy continues, which leads to surprising revelations. The quiet moments are my favorites, in between plots and confusion and kids wrapped up in misunderstanding their feelings and yelling at each other. Otani rides Risa home on his bike, and she leans on him. She doesn’t know what they are to each other, but for the moment, they’re together, and that’s enough.
There’s lots of back and forth in this volume. She likes him but he doesn’t know how he feels. Then he gets jealous but she’s trying to move on. In lesser hands, it would be tiring, but here, it’s silly but fun. And energetic, so it keeps moving. It all comes to a head on her birthday, when her friends give her fireworks in more ways than one.
Book 8 marks a whole new phase in the two’s relationship, as they decide to try officially dating. (You knew it was coming eventually, right?) That brings a whole new level of pressure and expectation, and the innocence of the two shines through their attempts to make each other happy.
There’s also a new obstacle: Otani’s psycho neighbor Mimi. Mimi’s tall and gorgeous, a teen model. She thought the only thing keeping the two of them from dating was her height, so when same-size Risa shows up… watch out! The two are complete opposites who oddly have several important things in common beyond their feelings for Otani. Mimi is just the kind of challenge the two need to clarify their feelings, and with her determination, she fits in well with the rest of the cast. She’s a great addition to spice up the long-running series.