Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 11

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. Translated by Leighann Harvey.

As Tsubaki’s other major series, Oresama Teacher, reaches its end soon in Hana to Yume, it does feel odd that Nozaki-kun also looks to be headed towards an endgame. You’d think that she’d want to be able to devote even more attention to it. And yet it’s understandable. First of all, because ‘headed’ towards an endgame is an exaggeration. Slouching towards and endgame, perhaps. Meandering. Secondly, because no matter what happens to all the other couples in the series, Nozaki and Chiyo will always be lagging behind. The first two chapters in this volume deal with Kashima’s little sister, who is nothing like her at all, and also enjoys imagining everyone around her – everyone – in a pairing. Except, of course, Nozaki and Chiyo. She just can’t see it, much to Chiyo’s intense frustration. Then again, she only has herself to blame. She could try being a little more direct. Not that this always helps… look at Seo for a good example.

Seo has pretty much played out having fun with Wakamatsu over the Lorelei thing, and is also coming closer to wanting them to be a real couple, so finally decides to tell him outright. Well, almost outright. She goes to Nozaki and Chiyo for her plan, and they all try to imagine very manga-influenced scenarios that range from quite realistic to the usual completely ludicrous. The payoff comes towards the end, when Seo a) feels nervous talking to Wakamatsu about it, another sign of her growings feelings, and b) didn’t think of the immediate, most obvious result of this: Wakamatsu doesn’t trust her and doesn’t believe her. You’d feel bad for her if it weren’t Seo, but it is. So it’s just funny. (Incidentally, her brother does even worse in his own doomed romance, and we also discover that even the couples who DO get together in this series are giant flaming wreckages.)

As for Hiro and Kashima, it’s always been the most popular pairing in this series by far, and the end of the volume deals with it, as a hypnotism attempt gone wrong leads to Kashima forgetting who Hori is, which naturally upsets him a lot more than he’d like. The endgame of this, after the usual silliness, leads to a rare genuine moment in this manga with Hori saying (with a blush) he prefers the normal Kashima, and her (with a blush) actually understanding what he’s saying. Now, there’s a minimal chance this will actually lead to anything next time, but it’s still nice to have this bone thrown to us in a manga that still enjoys mocking romances more than having them (witness Chapter 103, which cycles through almost every single shoujo manga cliche in one single chapter).

There was a long break between volumes this time, so I’m not sure when we’ll see the next one. (Oresama Teacher is also down to about a volume a year now.) But it was worth the wait, giving the usual mix of hilarious subversion of manga romance while also trying to eat its cake as well.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 10

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. Translated by Leighann Harvey.

As you might gather by the cover, the bulk of this volume of Nozaki-kun deals with the 2nd years going on the class trip, with all the usual gags you would expect from both “class trip” as a riff and these Nozaki-kun characters. We see Chiyo’s obsession with Nozaki get amped up even more than it already was, which I wasn’t aware was even possible. Nozaki, of course, is similarly obsessed – with manga reference pictures, which he will happily do anything to get, including pretend to be a teacher and hide under the covers with Chiyo. As for Seo and Kashima, well, their stories are connected with the not-significant others they left behind – Kashima is texting third-year Hori everything she does along the trip, while first-year Wakamatsu is both enjoying the Seo-less basketball practice and also realizing that not having her harass him bothers him in a way he can’t understand.

As is traditional with this series, each of the three “main pairings” gets some nice tease but also some walking back to make sure nothing happens too quickly. Waka may be happier with Seo gone, but it “opens up his heart” so much he’s now rivaling Kashima for the title of Prince of the School. And while Hori may now be aware that Kashima is what he has in mind when he thinks of the ideal woman, it doesn’t mean that he’s admitting feelings of love or anything, and in fact may be getting things wrong more than ever, as the karaoke chapters shows off, though it also shows that even Kashima at her worst is something he can accept. Of all the main pairings in the series, this is the one I think shows the most promise as an actual relationship – assuming that either Hori or Kashima can get past the comedy of their premise. As for Chiyo and Nozaki… well, maybe he really IS a good mom.

In contrast, the manga chapters in this volume aren’t quite as strong as usual. I’d argue the chapter showing Nozaki struggling to have “manga advice” for a column verges on boring, in fact. Better is the chapter where Ryousuke discovers Miyako in an apartment with a guy! It’s Maeno, of course, but that just makes things much worse for everyone involved, especially since Nozaki and Ken also end up involved in what is now becoming a five-way romance with BL elements. (It also allows the author to work in the tanukis, which are otherwise absent from this volume). And we can’t forget surprise manga creator Mayu, although we may want to when we realize that Mikoshiba’s influence means that these drawings are more suitable for Young Magazine and Nakayoshi.

All this and some actual character development for the other girls in Chiyo’s class, though not enough that I actually remember their names. Still, overall this volume made me laugh quite a bit, which is what I ask it to do every time.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 9

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. Translated by Leighann Harvey.

It’s been a long nine months since we last saw Nozaki-kun here, the curse of having caught up with Japan. I’m relieved to say, though, that the wait is worth it, as this series’ one and only job is stillo being done incredibly well: I laugh a whole lot when reading this. In fact, one joke made me laugh so much I had to put the book down for a few minutes. (It involves the art club and their “perfect guys”.) Characterization remains strong but static: apart from Hori maybe realizing that Kashima is attractive as a woman (though that doesn’t necessarily translate to any love epiphanies), no one here grows or changes, but remains the same lovably exaggerated idiots we want and expect. Chiyo’s Nozaki-love is up to eleven, Seo continues to be the best troll, and Nozaki’s people watching is as entertaingly wrong as ever.

If there’s a straight man left in the series, it’s probably Mikoshiba, whose attempts at getting Mayu and Wakamatsu interested in visual novels is a hilarious disaster, given that they’re not really playing the game for the same goals. Mikoshiba continues to be Chiyo’s BFF (yes, even though he’s a guy), trying in vain to help her and Nozaki get closer. This culminates in the guys and girls having (separate) sleepovers, which predictably involves Mikoshiba an company staying up late and gossiping about the romance game they played, while the three girls (who have no idea how an actual slumber party works) just talk about what male underwear looks sexiest.

I’ve been reviewing this series with full reviews since it began, and I admit it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge given that there’s not much to say here beyond “this is what I thought was the funniest”. But it is funny, and I can admire the craft that Tsubaki brings to the title in developing each gag. This series is not really much at all like Oresama Teacher beyond the love of “tsukkomi” style punchlines. Nozaki-kun has to be punchier, faster, and not wait for the gag to land. It can also be hard to think up material every week – you might see some of that in Nozaki’s watching the drama club improv, where they all talk about how easy it is to end a scene by having everyone drop dead or be murdered.

I’m not sure when Nozaki will end – I suspect when Tsubaki and Square Enix decides it’s run its course. We’ve already had an anime,. and a 2nd season is not on the horizon. That said, I’m not sure I’d expect much resolution in any ending – much as the fans might want the three “main couples” to get together – or even Mikoshiba and Mayu – I’m inclined to agree with the drama club. Ending with a romantic kiss is cheap and easy. Especially for a series like this. Making us laugh, though? That’s guaranteed.

As for tanukis, well, just look at the cover.