D-Frag!, Vol. 1

By Tomoya Haruno. Released in Japan by Media Factory, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

An action manga can get away with a chapter or two with no fighting. A romance manga relies on there being little to no resolution for volumes at a time. But a gag manga has to have gags, or else it runs the risk of failure even after only a chapter. Being funny, on a long-term basis, can be quite difficult. Most writers therefore try to balance out their humorous manga with other elements, such as the aforementioned fighting or romance. When you do see an author that tries to pull off straight-up gag manga, then, it’s an impressive thing. Particularly if it’s been licensed in North America, whose gag manga litter the shores of the river Styx. D-Frag! is not quite PURE gag manga, such as Bobobo-bo Bo-Bobo or Cromartie High School, but it comes pretty damn close.

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I’m not exactly sure what the title is supposed to signify, as the manga has nothing to do with defragmenting your hard drive. Instead it’s a variation on ‘straight man guy joins a really weird club’, only without the strong personality of a Haruhi or Kyon. Kazama wants to be a delinquent, but is honestly too nice and well-meaning. He’s tricked into joining the “Game Development Club”, whose members include a thug (who’s also student council president), a jock, a space cadet, and the teaching advisor, who is usually mistaken for one of the students. The plot, such as it is, starts when he finds out there’s already a Game Development Club – the ‘real” one, so to speak – and that the club he’s now joined is a fake offshoot.

If this doesn’t sound like much to hang a plot on, well, you’re right there. The only member of the real club who matters is Takao, who fell out with one of the fake club members and is trying to make up with her by being stubborn and screaming a lot, in the traditional manga way. She also has a large chest which is frequently commented on, lest you worry that Comic Alive had suddenly turned into some other magazine. Seeing her interaction with Roku is nevertheless a highlight of the volume, and leads to the only (very brief) serious moments. Much of the rest of it is the eccentric personalities of everyone involved, and Kazama’s tsukkomi reaction to their antics.

Another impressive aspect of this first volume: there’s little to no romance suggested. Now, this may change, but I greatly enjoyed that this manga is not a harem manga with gag elements, but devoted entirely to being weird and silly. Kazama is far too busy trying to figure out how to deal with anyone to find them attractive (his preferences are apparently towards big breasts, but even this is used as gag fodder), and girls such as Roku seem more content to simply have him around then have an unrequited crush.

This sort of series is dangerous to read, because if it loses its humor and pacing, it could crash very fast. But Vol. 1 is a solid start, and I laughed out loud several times. I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

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