Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (Cert 12)
2 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 275 minutes approx.
The path to true love is never smooth, they say and if you want to impress the person you’ve been crushing on, you’d better get it right first time as second chances rarely occur. Then again, if you do stuff up you may just find another way to being a part of their lives, even if it is purely accidental.
For Chiyo Sakura this is exactly how things ended up for her, as if it were like something out of a romantic manga. Chiyo has a huge crush on the tall but distant Umetarō Nozaki and finally plucks up the courage to confess to him after school one day. But when crunch time comes, Chiyo loses her nerve and blurts out “I’m your fan!” instead of “I like you”.
Curiously, Nozaki smiles, writes something on a piece of card and thanks Chiyo for her support. When she gets home, Chiyo notices the card is signed “Sakiko Yumeno”, the same name as the author of a popular shoujo romance manga Let’s Fall In Love. Yes, Nozaki is Sakiko Yumeno! The problem is that despite touching girls hearts with his realistic depictions of love, Nozaki has no experience with girls of his own.
And so the hilarity ensues in this affectionate satire on the shoujo manga business, which began life as a four panel strip by Izumi Tsubaki. Unlike other shows which fail to sustain its appeal and story momentum in the extended format of a 23-minute anime episode, director Mitsue Yamazaki and writer Yoshiko Nakamura have successfully crafted a coherent and continuing story across that runs across the 12 chapters in this set.
The format is two mini-adventures in one episode but an overarching theme charting the growth of the various relationships of the characters – and what a bunch they are – holds everything together, creating a continuity that even spills over to the six shorts found in the DVD extras, that are closer to the show’s four panel origins.
So, how can someone so clueless about girls create a successful shoujo manga? As it happens Nozaki takes inspiration from the world around him, i.e. at school. Only a few people know Nozaki secret, so if they spot a girl about to confess or a couple enjoying a secret tryst, Nozaki is notified and on the scene with his notebook.
Nozaki also draws on some less obvious and more unusual sources for his story ideas too. One of his assistants, Mikoto Mikoshiba, aka Mikorin, is a handsome guy who flirts with the girls in the typical shoujo style, yet has little success himself. Ironically, Mikorin is the mode for the female protagonist in Let’s Fall In Love, a fact he remains blissfully unaware of.
While Mikorin is skilled at providing flowery backgrounds for Nozaki, drama club president Masayuki Hori provides the detailed backgrounds for the manga, in return for Nozaki creating ideas for future plays. Hori has a peculiar relationship with Mikorin’s friend Yū Kashima, a tall girl with short hair whose androgynous features make her the “Prince” of the school, and towards whom he acts rather aggressively.
Rounding off the cadre of Nozaki’s assistants and associates are the utterly deluded Yuzuki Seo, a brute of a girl who thinks she is a goddess, but doesn’t realise every one is scared of her, yet she has the singing voice of an angel; and Hirotaka Wakamatsu, a basketball player who is traumatised by Seo’s physicality on the court yet can sleep when he hears her singing voice, unaware that it is Seo singing.
Superficially the show seems to be about people who are totally oblivious to the world around them yet somehow make a success in it. The only way they can communicate with each other is indirectly which is tragic and in some cases ironic, and of course prime material for a shoujo manga, which provides this series with its meta credentials.
In keeping with this, the seemingly one-sided romance between Nozaki and Chiyo is subject to every shoujo manga set-up in an attempt to bring them together. Instead Nozaki uses them as a means of determining a way for them to play out and use it in his next work. For example, the cliché of the forgotten umbrella on a rainy day is Chiyo’s chance to get closer to Nozaki but for him this is practical research.
Elsewhere we are treated to a look inside the world of a manga artist, perhaps not as in depth as the excellent Bakuman but some precious insight is on offer. One character, Nozaki’s former editor, must be a dig at someone in the industry; his penchant for claiming good ideas as his own, changing titles to something irrelevant and insisting there must a tanuki in the script is too silly not to be a rib.
The subtle comedy of Nozaki’s deadpan reaction to everything is offset by the wackiness of his companions explosive and excitable responses, usually aghast at his or someone else’s ignorance. It is a familiar anime gimmick but a successful one that never fails to raise a laugh, especially when the cast are chibified. Yet the final chapter ends on a rather sweet and conventional note to bring the whole meta experience full circle.
Handling the production duties are the curiously named Doga Kobo (who gave us another recent release 11 Eyes), delivering a wonderful vibrant and breezy show with astutely observed artwork, replicating the manga panels and the art equipment with total accuracy. The characters are well defined and stand out individually, the eclectic personalities all blending in well with other to create a cosy and personable group.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun works so well because it shows that despite the anime/manga industry’s habit of recycling the same material and often being too po-faced for its own good, it can laugh at itself. This much needed injection of self-awareness therefore creates fresh and hugely enjoyable shows like this, so it’s win-win all round.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Nozaki-Kun Shorts 1-6
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ****
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