Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun Volumes 1-2
It’s a tad self-referential, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun by Izumi Tsubaki is surprisingly playful and funny.
Chiyo confessed to a classmate that she had feelings from him, but since he’s a manga artist, he gave her back an autograph, thinking she was a fan. He’s behind on deadlines (when is a manga artist not in comics?) so he takes her to his home to help ink backgrounds.
It turns out he (under a pseudonym, of course) draws flowery shoujo stories about girls in love, but he’s really bad at understanding real-life feelings. The book is made up of a series of 4-koma manga (four-panel comic strips, arranged top to bottom on the page). Sometimes that format can be limited, consisting only of gags, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much sense I got of the cast here, on top of plenty of humor.
Sure, many punchlines revolve around Nozaki-kun being clueless, but I also felt for Chiyo. She’s the typical good-hearted, hard-working everyday type, but I found her efforts and concerns charming, particularly as she learns more about the manga industry. I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories. One short sequence, for example, has Nozaki-kun explaining how none of his characters can do anything illegal, which extends to having a boy give a girl a ride on his bike. The humor comes in trying to come up with alternatives.
As the first volume continues, we meet Mikorin, another assistant, who’s a goofball except when it comes to drawing exquisite backgrounds; Seo, an outspoken, aggressive girl who’s clueless about the disruptions she causes; and the school prince, who turns out to be a flirtatious girl. Although set up as a romance, most of the jokes revolve around when Nozaki-kun messes up, which I found more amusing anyway. I loved the section on annoying, self-centered editors, those who want credit for obvious ideas or demand their favorites be included.
Volume 2 starts by emphasizing a key risk of the manga-ka, that of having no life beyond making comics. Chiyo tries to take Nozaki-kun out to do something else, but everything somehow comes back to work. We also get a lot more with Nozaki-kun’s editor and a new, star-crossed romance. Come to think of it, all the potential pairings here are mixed up, the better to entertain the reader. The expanding cast allows for greater variety.
Most enlightening is the section where Nozaki-kun tries to understand the thoughts and feelings of his heroine. Another time, favorite cliches of the genre, such as walking home in the rain, are given a sarcastic, more realistic twist. The concepts, styles of humor, and gags vary greatly across the series, and that makes it all the more fun. (The publisher provided review copies.)