Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun Volumes 7-8
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun because volume 6 wasn’t quite as funny as I hoped, but I’m glad to see that these recent installments bring back the balance and comedy I was looking for.
The series is a collection of four-koma (panel) strips, grouped into chapters of 12 or so pages around the same subject. The premise is a high schooler, Nozaki, who is a professional manga-ka, and most of his friends either help him make the comics or inspire characters in his series or both. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun combines teen/school comedy with odd observations on creativity in the art business.
My favorite parts are those that take ridiculous spins on odd or unexpected problems a manga artist might face. For example, the first chapter in volume 7 tackles the problem of drawing cellphones in long-running shojo series, as the characters realize that when they started reading, the comic showed flip phones instead of smart phones. Exaggerating for humor, the artist and his helper start trying out a cup-and-string setup, which surprisingly leads to love.
We also get a chapter with Miyako, my favorite supporting character. She also draws manga, but she’s a college student, and this time, she’s going out drinking. Her classmates think her job’s being a hostess (which may be seen as less disreputable), and her editor forces her to put tanuki (raccoon dogs) into her art, which are both a gag and a shot of cuteness.
My second favorite set of supporting characters are the editors. One’s a good, hard-working guy, and the other is a self-centered idiot who makes the first one crazy. They get a chapter about waiting at the office for work to come in near deadline. Other sections feature the assistants struggling with needing to exercise (as happens with many artists), and various students talk about bullying while trying to help Nozaki with a plotline.
I haven’t talked much about the art because all that matters, in such a constrained format, is that you can tell who the characters are and what they’re doing, and Izumi Tsubaki does a great job with that. Plus, there are some nicely detailed backgrounds to ground the characters in their settings. I’m impressed that the series has stayed funny and light-hearted this long. It still feels fresh, with plenty more possibility.
Which is why I laughed when starting volume 8, which begins with Nozaki needing some fresh ideas and so setting up some random suggestion cards to inspire imagination. You’ve got to have some good ideas on the cards, though, for this idea to work, and the team seems to have the uncanny ability to only come up with unhappy endings in their combinations.
After a bizarre couple of chapters involving a boyish girl getting a job at a cafe, there’s an exploration of that famous manga cliche, a boy and girl checking out each other’s books at the library. The punchline for one of the strips sums up the humorous cluelessness: “Could it be these people have never checked out a book before!?” It’s a paradox, that those making stories about relationships are spending so much time creating manga that they don’t really understand the daily life they’re trying to portray. Thus, comedy.
The editor reappears, in a chapter about whether to include bonus material in the collected manga, where they wind up talking about those sidebars that are often cute little notes about what the creator has done recently or working with assistants. There are some pointed tips about realizing how what’s said might live on that any writer should be aware of. I love the way everything gets turned around, since Nozaki is pretty clueless about his audience and how they might interpret what he includes.
I’m impressed that Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun continues to amuse, and the chapter structure makes it easy to focus on the high points. If I don’t care much for one section, there will be another topic along in a handful of pages. (The publisher provided review copies.)