By Izumi Tsubaki. Released in Japan as “Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun” by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the online magazine Gangan Online. Released in North America by Yen Press.
There are certain benefits to doing a series that is entirely devoted to gags. The expectations that you have as an artist are significantly different from, say, a shoujo title like the one Nozaki himself draws. What’s most important is the punchline. As a result, though, you can be free to use other standard manga tropes without worrying too much about what the fan or editorial reaction will be. Thus Nozaki-kun has any number of ‘pairings’ within its pages, which are used and abused for gag purposes and don’t need pesky things like development or depth. That’s for fans to write in their fanworks (and believe me, they do.)
Sakura’s crush on Nozaki is an excellent example of this. Its intensity never wavers, but the focus on it can change. In the first chapter of the volume, when Nozaki takes her out to examine clothing he can work into his series, and asks her bluntly to wear a sailor uniform so he can see how it looks on her, you wonder what she sees in this somewhat dense lunk. But then we get scenes such as the art class, where all the girls draw Mikoshiba in ridiculous fantasy poses they want their boyfriend to be in but Sakura has him posing as Nozaki drawing. Or when Miyako draws Nozaki in a giant tanuki costume in a vain effort to stop her insane editor’s demands, and Sakura is entranced by it, that you realize that no, she is not the sensible one here either.
If there is a sensible one in this manga, it may just be Hori, who also gets a chapter devoted to his bizarre relationship with his drama underclassman Kashima. Even though Nozaki is not particularly keeping his manga a secret, it has become one for most of the characters working on it. As a result, when Kashima catches Hori walking around with Nozaki’s manga, she thinks it’s because he really likes shoujo manga. This, bizarrely, leads to several pages with Kashima as the tsukkomi – as I said before, any of the main characters can be the setup or punchline depending on the joke. There’s also slightly less violence here, as we focus instead on Kashima’s adoration or her sempai contrasted with Hori’s complete inability to deal with her ‘prince’ antics.
And then there’s Wakamatsu and Seo, as the last of our main cast is introduced in this volume. While I love all the main ‘ships’ in Nozaki-kun, I will admit this one is my particular favorite, and it also revolves around secrets. Wakamatsu is a first-year basketball player who gets abused on the court by Seo, still being brought in to show the teams what not to do. Off the court, he’s become entranced by the singing of the school “Lorelei”, which helps him when he has trouble sleeping. The gag is twofold; 1) he doesn’t realize that Seo *is* Lorelei, and 2) he has no idea how to communicate his frustration to her, so resorts – as Kashima does – to reading shoujo manga for advice, which results in the funniest scene of the entire book, his rooftop “confession”, complete with oven mitts.
So misunderstandings galore are the fuel for this comedy. Nozaki doesn’t know Sakura loves him, Wakamatsu doesn’t know that Seo is his rival AND crush, and Kashima and Hori simply have no idea how the other one thinks at all. It works well, and I continue to giggle aloud as I read the series. Always a treat.
Also, there are still tanukis.