Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 8

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.

For the most part, the Nozaki-kun manga has tried to stick to a relatively small cast, which pairs up into convenient couples (romantically or otherwise). Nozaki and Chiyo, Hori and Kashima, Seo and Wakamatsu. Mokoshiba used to be the odd one out, but lately he’s been paired with Nozaki’s brother Mayu. That said, there are a lot of other people in the story who’ve had impact, and this volume of Nozaki shows Tsubaki expanding the world a bit more to get them involved. So we see more of Seo’s brother, who gets a whole arc to himself, and we see Wakamatsu’s basketball team, struggling to deal with Seo focusing on all of them rather than Wakamatsu. That said, the core of the book is still our heroes – especially this late in the series, as everyone is starting to realize they’re in love, but never quite realize it in the right way.

A lot of this book takes place in the cafe where Seo’s brother works as a waiter – they need to take on more help, and due to a series of wacky misunderstandings (in Nozaki-kun? SHOCK!) think that his sister is a fragile flower. So they end up hiring Kashima instead, who I will admit makes the perfect waiter, but is also trying to do a part-time job when she should be rehearsing. As a result, the job becomes the rehearsal, and Seo’s brother is somewhat horrified to find that the customers are all fellow drama club members – and that one of them is punching his waiter in the face. He also meets Wakamatsu, which leads to even more hilarious misunderstandings as they both get a completely wrong first impression, then make it worse with everything else they say. Also, Waka is now the only person in the entire universe who doesn’t know Seo is Lorelai. (And by the way, Kashima’s impression of Seo was possibly the funniest thing in the volume.)

Elsewhere, Sakura is still obsessed with Nozaki to the point of ridiculousness. It’s odd to recall back at the start of the series where, aside from lovesickness, she was the sane one. Now she’s just another exaggerated joke gone mad, seeing beta work and Nozaki in her every waking moment. Which, let me assure you, is a good thing – she’s hilarious when she goes over the top. Seo, meanwhile, seems to have come to terms internally with her feelings for Wakamatsu, but is expressing them the best way she knows how – by being amazingly irritating. And then there’s Nozaki’s manga, which continues to make you wonder how it ever comes out and doesn’t get cancelled – his attempts at a unique and original plot are thwarted by a box filled with ridiculous suggestions, and his attempts to draw ‘extra stories’ in the 2-3 pages left for the volume just lead to Mamiko straight up eating a bird. Or at least that’s what it looks like. And then there’s Nozaki’s little sister, who seems to be an odd cross between him and Sakura.

Summing up: Nozaki-kun is still flat out funny, and I love it to bits. I will have to hold onto the love for a while, though; we’ve caught up with Japan, so the next volume may be some time. Get this one immediately, though.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 7

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.

The danger of most comedy titles is that they aren’t funny all the time. Not every joke can land, and sometimes you find yourself merely smiling and them moving on to the next page. That’s why it’s satisfying when you come across a volume that has an even greater number of hits than misses. I won’t say every page is fall-down funny, but the seventh volume of Nozaki-kun has an even higher ratio of laughing out loud than its previous volumes, which says something given that this is one of two manga where I can’t read it on public transit as I do laugh out loud too much. (The other is Oresama Teacher, by the same author.) By now we know the characters so well that we can anticipate what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t make the jokes any less funny. And, as always with this title, everyone plays the straight man or funny man depending on the situation.

The first chapter is a good example, dealing with cell phones and how manga that runs for a long time finds technology moving beyond it. We get gags about the fickleness of shoujo heroines and Nozaki and Sakura’s general ignorance of modern tech themselves (they still have flip phones, and react to smartphone discussion with what can only be called “dull surprise”). You’d think the punchline to the chapter would be Nozaki’s deranged idea of having him and Sakura communicate using cans on a string, the ultimate in low tech. But then Sakura’s general adoration of Nozaki adds to the gags, as does the class reacting to her doing this while having her normal phone sitting on her desk. The capper is two random students jokingly testing the can-and-string phone… and falling in love. Amping up the ridiculous is one of Tsubaki’s strengths.

Elsewhere, we see Miyako going out with her friends drinking for once rather than working on her manga, which actually rebounds on her later when she comes close to missing a deadline. (It’s hilarious but also personally terrifying for her, as she worries that she’ll be given back to Maeno for editing as a punishment.) Seo/Waka shippers get a chapter that is a gift from God, as Wakamatsu, at the advice of his team (who are trying to defuse her in some way), tries confessing to Seo, only to find her reaction to be very un-Seo like. This is the one chapter that defies our expectations a bit, as we expect some sort of ‘non-romance’ reason for Seo running off and getting embarrassed by the whole thing, but no: it’s just that she apparently has difficulty with directness. It’s really, really adorable. Though not as adorable as Sakura “bullying” Nozaki so he can get manga ideas, and getting a bit too much into her role.

Humor is subjective, and I’m sure some people won’t even giggle at any of these. But I found this to be one of the most rewarding volumes of Nozaki-kun to date, and it’s always one of the first things I read when it comes out. Great stuff.

Not many tanukis this time, but they are well-deployed and caught me by surprise.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 6

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.

In terms of the Nozaki-kun fandom, one of the fortunate things about it is that there really aren’t very many ship wars. For the most part, this is because the main pairings in the manga, even though none of them are actually romantically paired, are so blindingly obvious – Nozaki and Sakura, Hori and Kashima, and Seo and Wakamatsu. The one wild card has always been Mikoshiba, and it’s therefore no surprise that fan writers love him. I’ve seen him used as an alternate pairing with Sakura, just in case she ever tires of Nozaki (doubt it will ever happen, but hope springs eternal), and I’ve also seen quite a few Nozaki/Sakura/Mokoshiba OT3 fics. But the addition of Nozaki’s brother Mayu gave BL fans someone new to focus on, and this volume must have delighted them, because not only are Mikoshiba and Mayu comedy gold but they’re also very, very shippable.

A lot of the humor in Nozaki-kun relies on building from previous gags and characterizations, as you’d expect. Mikoshiba is the inspiration for the heroine in Nozaki’s manga, so when Nozkai discovers he’s getting cute texts from someone else, and that he’s responding as “Mamiko”, he gets fired up in the best Nozaki way. Meanwhile Kashima is having trouble dealing with her new role, which requires “wistfulness”, and when given the choice between Sakura’s practical advice and Nozaki’s romantic, thinking like a writer advice, she knows exactly who to turn to. Nozaki has the brilliant idea (no, really, it is this time) of having her avoid and not speak to Hori for three days. Sure enough, this nearly kills her just by the end of one day – and, even better, Hori is somewhat poleaxed by it as well.

Elsewhere, we get Wakamatsu’s amazingly inept acting, the dangers of playing a visual novel and not using the default names, and Miyako’s fellow mangaka relationship with Nozaki continuing to be misunderstood by the guy who’s crushing on her… who, because this manga is very close-knit, turns out to be Seo’s big brother. We also meet several other author’s in the magazine that Nozaki’s published in, and they all seem to have their own eccentricities, though they can all agree on one thing – Nozaki’s manga is generic and dull. Honestly, it’s something of a surprise it hasn’t been cancelld by now, but I think that the ‘Nozaki tries to find the idea for a new series’ plot is being saved for a rainy day – that and the tie-ins to real life are too much fun to drop. Possibly best of all, Mikoshiba needs to have someone pretend to be his girlfriend, and each of the three main options are hilarious.

Nozaki-kun remains hilarious, and the hilarity is because of its character-based humor. Unless you can’t stand anything to do with 4-koma or tsukkomi-0style humor, you should be reading this every time it comes out.

Very few tanukis this time around – we are running a tanuki defecit.