There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?, Vol. 1

By Sekaiichi and Tomari. Released in Japan as “Yujinchara no Ore ga Motemakuru Wakenaidaro?” by Overlap. Released in North America by Tentai Books. Translated by Alejandro de Vicente Suárez.

One thing that needs to be made clear about this book’s basic premise is that it only works if our protagonist is using anime/manga terms to talk about real life. Tomoki goes on about the fact that he is a ‘side character’, the best friend to the real protagonist Ike (two syllables, I believe). Ike is handsome, popular, does well in school, etc. Tomoki, on the other hand, has the classic “resting bitch face” that makes everyone terrified of him, rumors of a violent past, and has trouble making friends. Um… Tomoki, I hate to break it to you, but Ike’s type is never, EVER the main character. You are. I therefore assume that he means the ‘main character’ of real life, sort of what the Japanese term ‘reajuu’ – someone who has it together. I will admit that between this, the artist ignoring all Tomoki’s descriptions in the text and drawing him as darkly handsome, and Tomoki’s obliviousness, this didn’t start well for me. That said, it was intriguing, so I read on, and it ended up being pretty decent.

The plot starts when Ike’s younger sister, Touka, a first-year, comes up to Tomoki and asks him to be her boyfriend. She has similar issues to her brother – popular, pretty, good in school – and has a desire to get rid of potential suitors, so needs Tomoki to fake date her. Or at least, so she says. In reality, she’s a lot brattier (and more interesting) than she lets on, and is doing this to try to divide Ike and Tomoki’s friendship. She runs into the brick wall that is Tomoki’s ability to read the room, however, so it doesn’t work, and his essential decency and ability to see her as a real person rather than as “Ike’s sister” lead her to gradually develop real feelings for him. This is upsetting to others, notably Kana, a girl who Tomoki sees as “constantly terrified of him” who, to the reader, clearly has a massive crush on him instead; Kai, Touka’s classmate who has a crush on HER and sees Tomoki as a thug; and Chiaki, their teacher, who… well, we dunno.

As I said, there are some things wrong with this book. It doesn’t start strongly, so bored readers might drop it. More importantly, it can’t decide if it’s a stand-alone or an ongoing series. We get little hints of backstory in regards to Tomoki, particularly from his teacher, who seems sad about something, and Kai, who at some point saw Tomoki beating up a bunch of folks (we see that as well on one of his dates with Touka – the guys are assholes trying to pick her up who go after him first). In other words, Tomoki clearly has a backstory desperately trying to be told. What is it? We don’t really find out here, sadly. On the bright side, Touka is great, striking just the right amount of “I am a brat but also cute” and showing greater depth than I anticipated. And, while initially aggravated at Tomoki’s cluelessness, I really liked that it’s explicitly supposed to be a function of his lack of social skills from ostracization, rather than a comedy “the girls are in love with me and I don’t get it because I am a protagonist” bullet – though it’s partly that as well, of course.

This is a debut from Tentai Books, and the translation seemed decent enough – if a bit over-colloquial at times. (That could simply be me disliking the phrase “smell you later”. On the other hand, “we live in a society, bro”? *chef’s kiss*) I’ll be interested in their other title as well, now. As for the book itself, good and bad, but in the end I did enjoy it, and want to read more, if only to find out what’s been going on before this story began. (That said, the 2nd volume has Kana on the cover, making me worry this will be a “save one heroine per book” series.)

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