My Neighbor Seki, Vol. 1

By Takuma Morishige. Released in Japan by Media Factory, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Vertical Comics.

By all rights, I shouldn’t really love this title as much as I do. At heart, it’s a variation on a standard Japanese comedic trope: a) person does funny thing; b) Other person says “WAIT ARE THEY DOING FUNNY THING?”; c) person seemingly has explanation for funny thing; d) Ah, OK, so it’s ____; e) Person does even funnier thing; f) Other person says “WAIT ARE THEY DOING EVEN FUNNIER THING?” Rinse and repeat. And yet My Neighbor Seki is a wonderful series, because the things are genuinely funny and strange, the chapters are short enough so that each one is just about the right amount of time devoted to one situation; and there’s a surprising amount of character development given that this is, at its heart, a series about two people at adjoining desks.


Basically, Yokoi is a “normal” middle-school student attempting each day to pay attention and study what the teacher’s saying, but can’t because the boy next door, Seki, keeps distracting her by doing… odd things. Elaborate domino setups, shogi with trapdoors, knitting cactuses… Seki’s imagination is topped only by the impossible nature of some of the tasks he performs. Seki himself is silent (and honestly Yokoi is much of the time as well)… we only get how elaborate Seki’s imagination is by Yokoi narrating everything he does and filling it in with her own interpretations. Which of course should clue us in that Yokoi is not really all that normal a girl after all.

The majority of this manga consists of Seki’s setups and Yokoi’s reactions, but it’s fun seeing how it occasionally dips its toe outside the box. The rest of the class apparently are fully aware of what Seki is doing; when he sets up his note-passing post office in one chapter, Yokoi is really the only one surprised by it; the rest of the class merely thinks “Cool!”. Of course, they’re not sitting near him, so he’s not the annoyance he can be to Yokoi. During a fire drill, we see (but don’t hear) Seki being normal and outgoing with other male students, and realize how much of his life we have filtered through Yokoi’s perceptions. And when another, clueless, classmates interrupted his Ouija board shenanigans, we see why he HAS to be filtered through her.

The art is fairly simple (just look at that cover), but highly expressive, and the main reason to read this in the end may be Seki and Yokoi’s facial expressions. They’re both so immature, in ways that only teenagers can pull off, even as they show amazing flights of fancy. You wonder at times if this is some demented form of courtship (Yokoi leaving notes in Seki’s locker after school really isn’t helping deny that), but this isn’t a romance. Yokoi gets punished several times through the series – for being distracted, for getting caught doing something Seki was doing, etc. – but it’s always her own fault for getting too involved, so she’s not really a total victim. Seki avoids getting discovered by anyone but Yokoi, but this means she’s the one who punishes him. They’re becoming rather codependent.

Basically, I enjoyed this as a funny comedy, but was surprised at how much depth it had. Of course, like Yokoi, I could be reading too much depth into it. But I’m absolutely buying more to see if I’m right, and you should as well.

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