Manga Review – Love★Com

Love★Com
ラブ★コン
NAKAHARA Aya
Shoujo – Romance, comedy
17 Volumes (complete)
Viz Media

Summary:

Risa is the tallest girl in class, and Ôtani is the shortest guy. The whole school sees them as nothing but a comedy duo. But despite their complexes about their height, they just want to fall in love. When they both develop crushes in summer school, they agree help each other. Will things work out for the two of them?

Review:

One of the best romcoms that focus equally on both romance and comedy.

This is exactly the kind of manga that not only needs to been seen more in the US but in Japan as well. It is just plain refreshing in so many ways. Firstly, the series takes place in Osaka, a nice change from all the Tokyo-based manga. Secondly, the hero and heroine are not the usual “nice, naive girl falls in love with the school prince”. And this is also a series that doesn’t end when the main couple falls in love, but — amazingly — it doesn’t feel like it was forced to continue.

While some people think of Risa or Ôtani (or both) as a tsundere, I hesitate to give either of them that label. Yes, they both fight a lot and are prone to comedic violence, I just view them as hot-blooded. Between the two, Ôtani is closer to being a typical tsundere, but neither of them become boring and lose their penchant for insults. Because they are so much alike (and because of their comedy routines), they act much like a sitcom married couple that trades barbs at every opportunity. Risa is a nice girl without falling into the “everybody loves her because she’s so wonderful” trope. Ôtani is a hard worker, and at least we learn he has a reason to be initially hostile toward Risa in the beginning.

The series is, of course, mainly the story of Risa and Ôtani, but they regularly hang out with two other girls and two other guys. Nobu and Nakao are one of my favorite bakappuru. They act as the primary best friends and matchmakers. Nobu in particular encourages Risa by delivering some strange pep-talks and also delivering some well-placed kicks when Risa isn’t being romantic.Romantic rivals — of which the serious ones don’t appear until later — also make recurring appearances. Of note is Seiko, who, without spoiling too much, is a character not often seen outside the role of series punching bag. Seiko’s secret is shocking to the cast at first, but after talking to her, most of the characters treat her as a regular friend without making jabs at her. She is treated rather respectfully.

Nakahara has a unique art style. Unfortunately, her faces are extremely similar. Risa and Ôtani are basically gender swapped versions of each other, and even Ôtani’s childhood friend is eerily similar. The characters’ expressions match exactly: they raise their eyebrows in the same way and smile in the same manner. I know part of this is to reflect how similar the two leads are, but basically the only visual difference between the duo’s face is eyelashes. Nakahara makes up for this by having great visuals for SD expressions and comedy. Risa, when she is upset and trying to hide her anger, has a hilarious long nose and chin, a single tooth, and dead fish eyes. The characters’ happy expressions are so full of joy (and literal stars in their eyes) that you can’t help but smile in return. The jokes and punch lines extend to the art, such as portraying Ôtani as a space alien or the crossdressing boys. Characters also dress quite stylishly. Despite much of the story taking place in school, this is one series where we hardly see the characters in uniform. This makes up for the rather repetitive expressions. There is a little variation on Ôtani’s height, but nothing major. The art is clear, and the story is easy to follow. The art uses screentones to represent emotions, but otherwise inking is limited. There’s not a lot of whitespace, but it still feels vibrant. It fits the upbeat mood of the manga very well.

Translation:

One of the most unique aspects of this manga is the characters speaking in Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) This is usually adapted as a US Southern accent. However, English dialects are typically limited to the speakers’ tone with some vocabulary differences. Dialects in Japanese can change a whole verb’s congregation. While an anime dub could approximate this, in text form, it is a linguistic nightmare. The translator (who also doubles as the adaptor in this series) pretty much eliminates the characters’ speech patterns. Instead, the speech is more slangy. Plenty of jokes are added, and some of the dialogue is just plain rewritten.

Japanese: “I’m looking forward to see how tall you get.”
English: “Yeah, you’re special. Bet you’ll reach six foot at least.”

Japanese: “That kind of disgusting woman will never be cute no matter what!”
English: “What if I keep growing until the day I die, as big as King Kong?!”

It’s a pretty good substitute that works in this series because of all the comedy. However, if you like a more “pure” translation, then Love Com is likely to your dissatisfaction. On the bright side, toward the end of the series, the translator changes. The more wild and exaggerated speech disappears. It’s a bit jarring, as you get used to one style but then it stops. Fortunately, this is right around a shift in the story, so you might not notice it as much as you normally would. A lot of readers will probably just chalk up the dialogue shift as a result of to the changing relationships.

However, for the same person working on the whole series, the translation is a bit inconsistent. Honorifics drop in and out randomly. While Risa and Ôtani call each other by their last names, the Nobu and Suzuki refer to Risa by her first name in this version; of course, they do no such thing in the original Japanese. Nobu calls Nakao “darling” in Japanese, and this is kept in Viz Media’s adaptation for the few volumes before permanently switching to “baby”. Ironically, “darling” or “darlin'” really works when spoken in a US Southern aspect. I guess this was changed to be more hip or something? In another scene, Nakao and Nobu write out Ôtani’s (fake) inner thoughts, and the latter asks why a part is in cursive. In Japanese, this was to replace a comment about part of it being written in katakana, but the letterer forgot to actually make a part of the text in cursive.

All in all, it’s pretty good considering the difficulty in adapting the source material, but I think it could have been even stronger with a few touch-ups and less punch-ups. The same translator throughout would have also helped, I imagine.

Final Comments:

If you haven’t read Love★Com yet, track it down. It’s well-worth the read. While the whole series is available digitally, volume 13 of the physical manga is already out of print. If you prefer physical volumes, don’t keep waiting.

Nakahara won the 2004 Shogakukan Manga Award for shoujo for this series. She also released a one volume sequel of short stories called Love★Com Two.

Love★Com was made into an anime. The series was released in the US by Discotek Media under the full title Lovely★Complex. Viz Media also released the live action film.

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