Teasing Master Takagi-san, Vol. 1

By Soichiro Yamamoto. Released in Japan as “Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Gessan. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It’s a cliche, and a controversial one these days: “Boys just tease the girls because they like them”. And so naturally some enterprising young manga artist wondered, “what would happen if the genders were reversed?”. Well, as it turns out, it’s adorable. The premise here is that Nishikata is a desperately over-earnest young man with a propensity for blushing at anything who is trying desperately to prank his classmate Takagi-san, who sits next to him in class. The trouble is, he’s pretty easy to read. Also, he can’t keep his emotions in check. He’s also far too nice to seriously prank anyone. But mostly he fails because Takagi-san is simply too good at it. In a contest of who can make the over blush first, she wins every single time. Fortunately, all she asks for (mostly) is that he react the way he does. What we have here is My Neighbor Seki if there actually was any romantic tension between the two leads.

There is a certain risk here, which I think the author knows. Takagi-san’s teasing has to go so far and no farther, i.e. she can’t just be mean. You can argue she gets Nishikata in trouble with the teacher, but honestly that’s mostly his own inability to keep himself grounded. We also see her lay off when she thinks that he’s genuinely sick – something which actually seems to bother him. The reason that this sort of thing is all acceptable is that it’s clear that Takagi-san is over the moon for Nishikata. Indeed, her teasing in the final chapter of this volume relies on her being able to lie when she tells him “secretly” that she likes him – because the lie is that’s it’s secret. Others in the classroom wonder if they’re a couple already, and were this a traditional romance manga I bet the guys would be jealous of the “lucky bastard”. We’re meant to see this as courtship – and yes, it does work mostly because the genders are reserved.

The manga ran for about three years in “Gessan Mini” before moving to the main magazine, and the first volume’s chapters do seem to be the sort that can be enjoyed in any order and whether you know the characters or not. The teasing ranges from typical middle-school stuff (making funny faces, tossing aluminum cans) to more personal things (why Takagi-san isn’t swimming in PE today, sharing an umbrella in the rain). Throughout it all, Nishikata remains 100% oblivious to any affection that Takagi-san may have for him, and the one time that he does seem to get it when she tells him directly, she backs off. You get the sense she wants him to figure his feelings out first. You also get the sense there’s no real rush. They’re only middle-schoolers, so she has all the time in the world to watch his face.

The series had a recent anime (which is likely why it moved to the main magazine), so readers may go in knowing what’s going to happen to a degree. Don’t let that stop you from getting this. The pacing is excellent, and the characters are cute. Nishikata is the hero, but you get the sense that if he ever won the manga would end, so you’re rooting for Takagi-san. Mostly as those faces ARE pretty adorable.

The Magic in This Other World Is Too Far Behind!, Vol. 4

By Gamei Hitsuji and himesuz. Released in Japan by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hikoki.

You get the sense that this is the book where the author and publisher realized that it was enough of a success to start planning larger plots in the future. This isn’t as easy to assume these days since most of the light novels put out lately tend to be based on webnovels that are already 7-8 volumes ahead of publication, but it does have that feel. Suimei finally reunites with Reiji and Mizuki here, if only temporarily. We resolve the plots from the previous book, and gain a new “harem” member. And we get introduced to a whole buttload of villains at the end of the book, including one who had seemingly been an ally before. Yes, if Suimei is able to take care of villains with ease, and if Reiji’s party is hiding a secret master swordsman, then you also need to step up on the villain game. In the meantime, though, this gives the reader what they want: Suimei being cool, lots of fighting, and Lefille not being a loli anymore. Well, at least *I* wanted that.

The book can be fairly simply divided into its good and bad points. As usual, I like to start with the bad and work towards the good. So it has to be said, Liliana really loses out here. On the run, getting the crap beaten out of her by mooks, and finally rescued by Suimei, she’s not allowed to help out in clearing her name because of the nature of dark magic and how she’s essentially been brainwashed by the villain into using it. Understandable, but it does make her an absolute damsel in distress. Also, unless you’re a hardcore gamer or fantasy buff, the endless lectures on magic theory are going to numb your mind fast. They may be coached in different terms, but this is absolutely the equivalent of those isekai books where the heroes talk about leveling up their XP in morbid detail. So I’m a Magician, So What?

On the bright side, where Liliana falters Felmenia shines. She too got a bit of a raw deal in the first book, and has mostly been following Suimei out of a bit of lovestruck crushing. But she’s clever and very quick to learn, and is also a magic powerhouse, something that Suimei is well aware of. I didn’t like his endless lectures, but I very much did like his trusting her to hold off the cavalry (Graziella, who reminds me a bit of an evil Olivier Armstrong, and the other hero Elliot, who is much less of a womanizing creep here). And as I indicated, we get the return of regular-sized Lefille, kicking ass and taking names. Not sure if she’s still cursed (I suspect yes), but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I also liked the poignant relationship between Liliana and her adopted father.

There’s more I could get into (the idea that no one bothers to search Suimei’s place for Liliana for several days beggars belief, and I didn’t even mention Little Miss “I’m hiding my super awesome fighting skills so I can seem more girly and attractive”), but you get the idea. I’m less wild about Too Far Behind than I was when it first came out, but it’s still pretty solid, and the books are also fairly lengthy, so you get bang for your buck. Light novel fans will enjoy this.

(Note: the lack of illustrations beyond the color pages was apparently a feature of the Japanese version as well, in case you were wondering.)

Go for It, Nakamura!

By Syundei. Released in Japan as “Ganbare! Nakamura-kun!!” by Akaneshinsha, serialized in the magazine Opera. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

It may come as a surprise that I’m reviewing a title like this – I try not to be one of those “girl on girl is hot, but guys ew!” fans, but it has to be said that BL is not a genre I generally cover. But there was a big buzz about this title and its style, and it’s also done in one. The main reason I likely picked it up to review was that it made me nostalgic for the old days of manga. The art style is right out of the Ranma 1/2 and KOR playbook, and I was pleased to see that once I started reading the book, the humor was as well. Indeed, Ranma fans might find themselves thinking that if you took Gosunkugi from that series and made his obsession a guy rather than Akane, it wouldn’t be too far off from our titular hero here. The main reason to read the book is Nakamura, who is a big introvert, has an otaku-esque obsession with octopuses, and is, overall, a bit of a hot mess.

Nakamura is also gay, which is probably why you’re seeing this series run in the BL magazine Opera rather than, say, Weekly Shonen Sunday. The object of his affection, who you see dotted around the front cover, is Hirose, who is a nice, extroverted, upbeat young man – he’s the sort who’d be the “best friend of the hero” in a typical manga. Nakamura wants to be more than friends, but he can’t even work his way past that first hurdle. As the volume goes on, we see Nakamura work himself into a frenzy trying to get the courage to have a normal conversation with Hirose. There’s drawing him in art class. There’s helping out with the school play. He’s even getting dating advice from a BL manga. Admittedly, it’s a BL manga involving anthropomorphic train bento, so he’s not having much luck there. It takes a class trip and an aquarium to finally get Nakamura and Hirose to communicate properly, and though there’s no relationship at the end, the friendship step has finally been conquered.

As you may have gatehred, the main reason to get this book is the humor. It’s simply very funny in a lot of places – Nakamura’s imagined smooth conversations leading to romance are also fun and relatable, and it’s also great to see him fretting. As the cast expands (I liked the author’s note where they said they were worried about adding girls to a BL manga) we also get new veins of humor that aren’t just Nakamura’s somewhat obsessive personality – poor Kawamura has a crush on Nakamura, but he’s only interested in her sketches of him and Hirose, and the occult club president is scheming and clever – in most other titles she’s the sort who’d be the newspaper club girl. That said, the main reason to read this is Nakamura, and seeing his fumbling attempts to get closer to Hirose, which do finally pay off. The ending is rather sweet.

In the end, I’m glad I picked this up. It was entertaining, and if you want to start off your BL reading on the milder side, it’s a good choice.