Romance, comedy, misunderstandings, manga.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (月刊少女野崎くん, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun) is a yonkoma shoujo parody series by Tsubaki Izumi (椿いづみ), a woman who has been drawing shoujo manga for quite a while. I chose this series to review since I figured, hey, I’ve been reviewing manga, may as well use that as an excuse to finally actually read this series from the start. See, this is a case where I watched the anime adaptation of the series first and picked it up from where the anime left off (an act I usually admonish). That’s right, Nozaki-kun was animated, and so it should come as no surprise that this is surely the most well-known series I’ve covered so far. But who cares? It’s a good series. With her experience, Tsubaki-sensei has crafted a charming and humorous manga that pokes fun at the very genre she’s always been entrenched in. It isn’t simply good as a parody, however: Nozaki-kun also has a decently sized cast of characters and all of them are fun. Jokes can therefore arise from the characters themselves and the interactions between them, instead of just relying on the lampooning of common features in shoujo romance manga. Furthermore, it’s quite nice to imagine some of them getting together eventually.
The manga begins with the protagonist, Sakura Chiyo, trying to confess her love to title character, Nozaki Umetarou. The two of them and the rest of the core cast are high schoolers. Sakura is a nervous wreck, though, and only manages to blurt out that she is Nozaki’s fan. Nozaki acknowledges this proclamation, and gives her his autograph.
After another confession attempt and misunderstanding, she is brought to Nozaki’s home to act as an assistant in the creation of his manga. We learn that Nozaki is actually a popular shoujo manga artist serialized in a monthly magazine. His pen name is Yumeno Sakiko (a woman’s name), artist behind Let’s Love♡. He doesn’t actually keep this all a secret, though; most people simply don’t believe him. There are quite a few reasons for that.
Nozaki is a rather dull, average-feeling sort of guy. He’s very tall and pretty muscular, but he has a plain face. He has a strange understanding of the world, lacks tact in many situations, and has a habit of being incredibly lame without reservation so long as it’s for the sake of research for his manga. He’s basically a giant (literal) weirdo and he has no experience at all with love, so it’s no wonder nobody thinks it’s possible that he might be a shoujo mangaka well-regarded for knowing girls’ hearts.
He’s not an utterly lost cause, which helps a lot for enjoying him, but I’ll get into how that is later. First, I’d like to go through the core cast. After all, the characters are the most important element of Nozaki-kun, and in my opinion the series’ greatest strength.
Quickly, we learn that Nozaki likes to draw inspiration for his manga from reality. Researching his classmates and testing out fantasies account for many a chapter in the series. He even outright bases characters off of people from his school. These characters are where much of the shoujo parody comes from; mocking the absurdity of certain archetypes and how ridiculous some typical shoujo scenes actually are.
And one of the best characters for parody is the boy pictured above, Mikoshiba Mikoto (Mikorin).
Mikorin is delightful. He’s a huge dork who masquerades as a popular pretty boy due to his looks and others’ expectations of him from his looks. He’s shy, timid, and quite a coward, yet he keeps putting himself in situations with the opposite sex (which he’s particularly bad with) and saying charming things, then feeling horribly embarrassed/filled with regret immediately afterward. Also, despite secretly being an otaku with a love for games, anime, and figures of girls, he comes across as almost stereotypically girlish (even knowing how to draw flowers very well as another of Nozaki’s assistants). Naturally, Nozaki took note of this and based the protagonist of his series, Mamiko, off of Mikorin.
The breaking of traditions makes anything with Mikorin a treat. He’s the only character not “paired” with anyone else, so he can be pretty easily brought into any situation for laughs (though it should be said, other unusual combinations of characters are great as well). Every other character comes with a partner, and since we’re speaking of broken traditions let’s talk about the pair that breaks traditions the hardest.
Kashima Yuu is Mikorin’s friend, a girl who is a “handsome”, “princely”, “playboy” type character, that constantly enchants other girls. She is in the drama club and often plays the lead role, she gets high grades, she’s great with sports — really, she comes across as perfect. And yet she’s something of a doofus. No more is this clearer than when she’s with the boy she gets paired with, Hori Masayuki. Hori is Kashima’s senpai (senior) in the drama club and the oldest member of the core cast. He’s fairly no nonsense, especially around Kashima who is rather flighty due to her playboy ways with girls. She doesn’t take things seriously, he does. When she’s being an idiot, Hori tends to react with violence, throwing something, swinging her, or hitting her over the head. Oddly enough, this comes across as very refreshing. Usually the girl hits the guy for being a goof, but the roles are switched in Nozaki-kun and it actually works out really well. This pairing is regularly considered the most popular. A big factor is that Kashima is enamored by Hori, finding him to be a wonderful senpai and a superb actor she can respect. She rolls with all his actual punches, and takes them with a smile, even appreciating the fact that she is the ONLY one her senpai attacks. Writing it down, it seems really messed up, but executed it’s likely to make you guffaw. It also helps that Hori is fascinated by Kashima, thinking she is a superb actor and wanting to make as many plays as he can featuring her as the lead. To that effect, he draws backgrounds for Nozaki’s manga in exchange for play scripts. Honestly, their relationship is just precious.
Next we have these two, the pair that’s my personal favorite due to the antagonistic dynamic. Seo Yuzuki is Sakura’s friend and a…unique character. Tomboyish and sporty to a fault, and certainly fun loving, but her terms for “fun” are a bit strange. She’s pretty much a girl who’s huge in personality and low on capacity to give a shit about things. She’s been described as oblivious: completely unable to grasp a hold on a situation and caring not at all about any of the consequences. Personally, I think she’s great. I am always a fan of extremely confident characters, and I think it’s hilarious how confident she can be about the wrong things. She’s got a secret talent of having a beautiful, soothing singing voice, which she displays for choir club and which brings us to the other guy.
Wakamatsu Hirotaka (Waka) is Nozaki’s kouhai (junior) from when he used to play basketball and the youngest member of the core cast. The simplest way to describe him is “innocent”. He’s a cute kid, desiring to meet a girl with a pure heart, and taking to screentone application for Nozaki’s manga with joy and zeal. He’s also a bit of an idiot, looking to shoujo manga for advice. Unfortunately(?), he is the target of Seo’s…something. Call it affection or bullying, either way Seo has taken some kind of shine to Waka. She likes targeting him for violence, treats him as something like a lackey (requesting drinks and massages), and hangs out with him extremely frequently. Waka insists that he despises her, but he continues to comply with her demands and spend time with her, often looking closely to see if there might be any part of her that’s charming. Ironically, he claims to be in love with “Lorelei” of the choir club, a girl he believes must be a perfect, wonderful person judging by her voice alone. That person is Seo.
Nozaki finds this relationship fascinating, so he put it in his manga.
And since we’re on him, let’s elaborate on this big oaf and his love interest.
It’s hard to confidently say because I like so many of them, but I think Nozaki might be my favorite character in Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. When we first meet him, he really comes across as “that weird guy”, but it isn’t long before it becomes clear that any weirdness stems from his love of manga. Manga nearly overwhelms his being, and thusly he often tries to rope people in to help him with it, be it in a practical sense through assistance, or as research subjects for scenarios. That said, he still actually has a proper head on his shoulders. He recognizes weird things happening with his classmates, openly mocks how his own manga develops, and will admit when his research is getting out of hand. He’s also a good house keeper and cook, and when necessary he plays a great straight man against the other characters. This normalcy makes his oddities hit harder, and his oddities make his normalcy funnier. All in all, if he’s on panel, I’ll probably end up laughing.
And last but not least: Sakura. Sakura is the biggest reason it’s hard to call Nozaki my favorite character because, damn it, I really love Sakura. There’s just…so much to love. She’s an adorable character first and foremost: distinct design, a cute blush, is all doki doki around the object of her affections. But hey, let’s talk about that behavior! Sakura is actually pretty creepy! She kind of has stalker-ish tendencies — thankfully not full blown because that would be outright scary — but she does cherish things Nozaki has once possessed. She’s also obsessed with him, and most subjects of conversation with her will quickly if not immediately fall into “so, today, Nozaki-kun…” This aside, she unconsciously collects ribbons, like the ones in her hair, and that’s just plain amusing. She can play the straight man extremely well to almost any character, as she has a very good pissed off/fed up face and a low capacity for bullshit. Oddly enough, her misinterpretations of romantic advancement (or subverted, her anticipation of no romantic advancement) with Nozaki surprisingly never gets old. Plus, she can play the part of a “mean” girl incredibly well. I would describe Sakura Chiyo as “a mess”, but the cutest mess I’ve ever seen. The pair of her and Nozaki is definitely the weakest of them in the series, but it is by no means bad. It’s simply harder to get invested when one of the two is so blunt and deadpan.
There are quite a number of other characters in the series but that covers the most important ones. They’re all great in their own ways, including characters that never even get named! Classmates are a big source of laughs in Nozaki-kun. The only bad character is Maeno. Maeno is human trash. Go to Hell, Maeno.
To finish up let’s talk about something good instead. The art in this series is really damn good. Most yonkoma are very simply drawn and that works for simple comics, but the characters and backgrounds in Nozaki-kun are top notch. I think it helps a great deal that the panels in the series are wider than is typical for yonkoma, allowing for more detail. This also allows for more dialogue or narration on the page, so while chapters are short and full of four-panel strips, it still always feels like plenty is happening. My hat is off to Tsubaki-sensei for making another yonkoma that I can say I genuinely like.
I mentioned at the start of this review that Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was animated. I highly recommend checking it out. Honestly, on reading through the series I found the first volume or so to be generally the weakest, but I didn’t have any issues with how the anime began. The manga really shines once all the characters have been introduced and you know how they all act. Without the whole cast, having vibrant color and good voices to hold you over does well. Nozaki-kun has a great anime adaptation in any case, so treat yourself to something pleasant. This is a good series for people who know about shoujo tropes, or people who just want a reliable laugh. It brings a smile to my face every chapter.
Next time: comfy manga. I’m trying to clean the site of the blast that was Jigokuren. Happy trails!