By Nami Sano. Released in Japan as “Sakamoto Desu Ga?” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine hertz. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
I’ve been waiting for this series for a long time, and it’s been worth the wait. This may be surprising, given that on the surface, the title seems like a simple gag manga. But the execution of its one gag is what matters, and, like its eponymous character, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto does it with coolness, flair and style. This is not a manga to be read ironically – if you go into this waiting to see the jokes getting undercut, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a straight up look at one of the coolest kids ever, and how not even his enemies can possibly stand up against his sheer force of personality. The humor comes from what Sakamoto does and how he does it – and the realization that he’s not only incredibly cool, but also incredibly strange.
Of course, Sakamoto on his own is only half of the joke. Because of his very nature, he inspires frustration, jealousy and desire in those around him. We see the school bullies, angry as all the girls have totally fallen for him, trying to teach Sakamoto to know his place. We also see one of the bullied ones, who gets training on how to develop self-respect and fight back from Sakamoto (who also makes the most amazing McDonald’s clerk you’ll ever see). Another classmate wants desperately to stand out, be it via trendy fashions or just being the class clown. And though all the girls may swoon over Sakamoto, they’re not any better off – his total obliviousness to subtle love overtures leads to frustration and jealousy among the female classmates.
It’s interesting to think about how much of Sakamoto’s straightforward cluelessless is just an act. Clearly some of it is – he seems to get that the girls are fighting over him and tries to resolve it in his usual eccentric way, and early on has reactions to the attempted bullying that almost seem like a sneer. But as the book goes on we begin to realize that Sakamoto is not merely the coolest man alive, but also incredibly bizarre and sometimes incredibly obtuse. Keeping the balance is important – you’re never quite sure in the final chapter whether he’s driving another bully into fending for himself by being over-solicitous, or is genuinely, terrifyingly unaware of how creepy he’s getting.
Nami Sano’s art is also excellent, and fits the type of humor she’s trying to tell – this wouldn’t work if the art were more cartoonlike. Sakamoto’s poses, seen throughout, are drawn to look as amazing as possible, and he can make even the most trivial task seem easy – though he’s at his best when the tasks are almost impossible, such as skewering a hornet by its stinger with only his compass point. There’s not really any character development or plot to speak of here, but this isn’t that type of manga. Instead we are here to be amazed at Sakamoto, watch his antics along with the rest of his class, and wonder if he really is human after all – and if so, how can we be more like him? Even if you aren’t normally a fan of gag manga, give this a try – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once during the volume.