There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?, Vol. 3

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.

When the first novel in this series first got translated into English, the romcom was still very much a rarity in the market. When the second one was published, the genre was starting to be licensed here, if not yet seen. But it’s been a good 15 months since the 2nd volume came out over here, and since then we’ve had absolutely PILES of cute high school romantic comedies. Indeed, My Friend’s Little Sister Has It In For Me! manages to hit a lot of the exact same plot points as There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?, down to the character types. Unfortunately, that also means that I’m a lot less forgiving of said types when they hit on things I don’t like. And this one absolutely does that, as it adds a third romantic love interest to our “side character”, his teacher Makiri-sensei. Should be fine, should be fine, we know how well teacher-student romances go over here. Buckle up, folks.

After the events of the second book, Yuuji now has a fake girlfriend, Touka (who is genuinely in love with him but he doesn’t get it) and a rejected childhood friend Kana (whose love he DOES get, but he rejects her because of what’s going on with Touka). The two of them unfortunately spend the majority of the book sniping at each other in a classic romantic comedy “jealous girls fighting over their boy” way that irritates Yuuji’s friends almost as much as it does the reader. While this is going on, though, he makes a discovery about his teacher, Makiri-sensei. We already know that she’s much kinder than her seeming cold exterior – now we find that she’s an awful drunk, thjat’s she’s very upset about still being a virgin, and that her father is setting her up for an arranged marriage. It feels like a pulled a slot machine and got three lemons. But I really don’t want to make this lemonade.

The book does have some interesting moments, usually when it tries to push against its romcom cliches. Yuuji’s got the face of a thug, but also has had violent incidents in his past, and in this book we get to see his relationship with his father, which is… really, really uncomfortable and also far more interesting than anything else with his teacher. He and his dad are alike in far more ways than either of them are willing to admit, and seeing Yuuji snap and finally air his grievances – so to speak – in that flashback was chilling. It’s then followed up wtih his father also being a secret manga otaku who reads We Never Learn adn is therefore OK with his son banging his teacher, and I’m ready to hit my head against the table again.

I like the dynamic between the two leads in this series. Touka is fine here, and I can feel her frustration. But it was going to take a miracle to get me to like this plot, and the book didn’t even turn water into Sprite, much less wine. Skip this and see if the fourth book gets back to entertaining romcom stuff.

There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?, Vol. 2

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.

Once again I am tempted to just copy and paste my review of the first volume here, as it has most of the same strengths and weaknesses. It starts slow and builds to a big finish, does a great job of having our lead character be oblivious to love for a reason other than “because he is a potato” like most harem manga, and is very, very bad at justifying why everyone screams in terror when this tall, dark and handsome man comes anywhere near them. As you might imagine, this second volume focuses on Kana, who spent most of the last book clearly in love with Yuuji but having it come off as fear and hatred to him. But fear not, Touka also has a big role to play as well. And of course, possibly the best reason to read it; it’s a normal teenage romcom with no supernatural powers and a decided lack of deep cynicism. Pre-isekai, this was the big thing.

The plot of this second volume involves Kana’s feeling for Yuuji. She knows he’s dating Touka, so is conflicted. (We know, of course, that he’s in a “fake relationship” with Touka, one she wants to be real but can’t work up the courage to tell him that.) She also has a past friendship with Touka that broke off, so the two aren’t on good terms anymore. And she’s also feeling guilty about something else from her past, something that might explain why she’s fallen for Yuuji so hard, and perhaps how he got the scar that makes his face so “scary”. (Please note scary is used the same way “side character” should be, i.e. in air quotes.) It all comes to a head at a tennis tournament that she invites Yuuji, Touka and Ike (remember Ike?) to. Will she work up the nerve to tell Yuuji that he’s manages to get EVERYTHING wrong about their past and present?

As I noted, I enjoy the interactions between the main cast here. Though I will admit that I am not all that fond of the teacher who has an obvious crush on Yuuji, which does not bode well for a theoretical third volume. Kana and Touka’s fractured friendship makes a lot of sense given both of their characters, and I enjoy how no one is “fixed” but that they’re all still working through their own issues. This includes Yuuji, who has a pathological inability to see anyone having romantic feelings for him at all – indeed, even friendship strikes him as unlikely. I will admit that I’d like to get more inside the head of Ike, who for a supposed “main character” is rather bland and unassuming. Of course, that’s part of the gag – Yuuji continuing to see himself as a side character and not the lead in his own life is why he cannot imagine himself in a relationship, despite, by the end of this book, two girls blatantly throwing themselves at him.

The third book came out in Japan this August, and as predicted, it looks to feature the teacher, so I’m wary. That said, this is a very decent romcom that should appeal to anyone who is a fan of that genre.

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.)