Catchup Manga Chibis: Strobe Edge 10, Midnight Secretary 5, Genshiken 4, Otomen 18, No Matter… Popular 3

No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! Book 3

by Nico Tanigawa
Yen Press, $11.99 US

As Tomoko continues to wish for popularity, author Tanigawa takes her (and us) to that bastion of school manga, the culture festival. Tomoko, the essential loner, knows she should help out — she doesn’t want to be accused of shirking — but she doesn’t have anything to do, and she’s too shy to approach others.

Her extreme isolation and inadvertent self-sabotage is amusing, in the style of cringe comedy. I like the way her dialogue is lettered, in shaky, lightweight text that “sounds” like someone not used to talking or socializing much. It’s even more of a contrast when her adorable friend Yuu-chan comes to visit.

There’s also Tomoko’s attempt at working a photo booth (nicely cartooned in exaggeration of expressions) and a chapter of some short strips. My favorite was the demented but understandable chapter where Tomoko feels undesirable because she’s never been groped on a crowded train. It’s not something to be wished for, but for her, it’s another sign that no one wants her.

I wouldn’t have thought I liked reading No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! as much as I do, but Tomoko’s desires are so normal and her reactions so extreme that I am entertained by the discrepancy.

Genshiken: Second Season Book 4

by Shimoku Kio
Kodansha Comics, $10.99 US

I sometimes find it confusing, keeping up with both the new characters and club alumni in this series about anime and manga fans. Thus, it’s a help to me that so much focus is put on Hato, the crossdresser and BL artist. He’s so distinctive a character that he’s easy to follow. Aspiring creators may also particularly enjoy the discussions of developing an art style and learning by copying.

There’s also a school festival in this volume, which provides a terrific excuse for all the characters to mingle naturally, as well as for Kio to draw cosplay. Some of Hato’s former classmates are visiting, making things dangerous for his secret. They have particularly odd eyes, making their look distinctive — one has all-black buttons, appearing alien, and the other’s are like eggs with pupils, making her always seem suspicious and peering.

Much attention is paid to Hato’s past, explaining both his artistic influences — an older female student in his previous school — and his shyness — another student spreading rumors about him. Later, he tries to help set Madarame up, but things take unexpected turns. It’s a shame that the release schedule of Genshiken: Second Season is only twice a year, because it makes it difficult to keep up with the subtle details of the many interpersonal relationships among the club members.

Strobe Edge Book 10

by Io Sakisaka
Viz, $9.99 US

The charming high school love story comes to a close in this volume, as Ren corners Ninako to tell him why she turned him down. I’m glad he did, as that particular choice didn’t make much sense to me either. It felt like authorial intervention, so I’m glad Sakisaka tackles it fairly quickly to wrap up her story.

Sakisaka relies on realistic interior monologue, as Ninako honestly acknowledges what she feels to herself. That’s a characteristic of the series I enjoy. The final chapter, she finally turns that outward, leading to the ending. It’s not gimmicky or melodramatic, but there’s plenty of drama just based on the emotions.

Artistically, the panel that struck me most was one of Ninako’s classmates, lined up, big-eyed, and smiling. They reminded me, since I was reading about historical women’s comics, of Kewpies, so cute and similar.

The second half of the book consists of two bonus stories. The first focuses on Manabu, the goofy but determined friend of Ren and Ando. He’s not good-looking, tall, or rich, so when he sets his sights on an older girl with high standards, everyone’s convinced he’s bound to fail. He has more faith in himself.

The last chapter gives us Ren and Ninako’s first official date, plus a bonus flashback to everyone entering high school. It’s a cute farewell to Strobe Edge.

Midnight Secretary Book 5

by Tomu Ohmi
Viz, $9.99 US

Kaya is now working full-time for her vampire boss, but she’s jealous of an old friend spending more time with him, since the friend is also a vampire, and she’s an attractive one. Things get more complicated when the boss’ human brother and vampire mother come for a visit.

More background on Kyohei, the boss, fleshes out his character and makes the emotional revelations of this installment more powerful. It’s gripping supernatural soap opera with a sensual overlay. The revelations aren’t surprising — readers have been waiting for certain checkpoints to be reached — but emotionally satisfying.

Note: Midnight Secretary is aimed at older readers, given some of the explicit content, so I wish they’d take older eyes into account. The “story so far” page is printed in black-outlined white type on a grey-with-white background, making it very difficult to read.

Otomen Book 18

by Aya Kanno
Viz, $9.99 US

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on Otomen, the series about a boy who loves girly things and his tomboy girlfriend, but I thought I’d come back for the final volume.

At the end of Book 16, Asuka’s mother began plotting to ruin her son’s life. She hates his interests and wants him to be “properly” masculine and “normal”. So she starts driving away his friends through various schemes.

In Book 17, she even goes so far as to buy a controlling stake in a manga publisher just so she can cancel Love Chick, Asuka’s friend Juta’s shojo manga. She keeps Ryo, his girlfriend, away from him with fake job planning meetings. She finally guilts him into pretending he’s perfectly masculine through blackmail.

By this volume, Book 18, Asuka has become the ideal Japanese male, remote and unfeeling. He’s being held up as an example in a television show, stage-managed by his mother. It all culminates in his graduation speech as valedictorian — perfect timing, since that’s one marker of when a child becomes an adult. The ceremony becomes a paean to honesty and happiness, as his friends try to intervene.

Although based around arguments over traditional gender roles, this series is very modern in its portrayal of close friends taking the place of loving family and the validation of being one’s true self. Of course, then it goes traditional again, as it wraps up with a rush to the wedding.

(The publishers provided review copies.)

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