My Neighbor Seki
となりの関くん (Tonari no Seki-kun)
Seinen – Comedy
3 Volumes (ongoing)
Yokoi wants to be a good student, but the boy who sits next to her in class, Seki, is not quite as studious. Instead, he builds, plays, creates, pets, pretends — there’s no limits to the crazy activities Seki challenges himself to every day! And if Yokoi isn’t trying to bust him, then she’s getting lost in his projects…
The content in My Neighbor Seki is pure fun, although some people will be slightly disappointed in the actual release.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you pick up a volume of this series is how small the volumes are. First, they are about a half-inch shorter than most US manga releases. Secondly, despite coming in at 166 or more pages, the books are thinner than most manga. When you compare it to most other manga releases, the three volumes of My Neighbor Seki look a good 30-40 pages shorter. At MSRP $10.95, this puts My Neighbor Seki below Yen Press’ books, in line with Kodansha USA’s, but above most of Viz Media’s releases. So if you are browsing in a bookstore, the series physically look like a rip-off compared to other series. Fortunately, the adventures of Yokoi and Seki overcome its release shortcomings.
(Note: While I generally refer to characters by their first names, I chose to use their surnames here. It feels more natural in the context of this series.)
Let’s face it: we’ve all known somebody like Seki. He or she screws around in class or at work, but whenever the teacher or boss comes around, he looks hard at work. Worst of all, sometimes you end up getting in trouble on their behalf. From the summary, My Neighbor Seki seems like a series where we witness poor Yokoi’s suffering chapter after chapter, and we as readers are supposed to laugh at her misery. Fortunately, this is far from the case.
Firstly, Seki’s creations and activities are amazing; even Yokoi herself would admit this. The author has Seki do a wide range of projects, and the “games-of-the-day” are so extreme both in realism (ever do an excavation on your desk before?) and Seki’s devotion into his own actions. He can’t give up just because he’s injured. He doesn’t just drive a toy car; he has to pass a driver’s test first. Chess isn’t a game; it’s a full-blown war. Much of My Neighbor Seki‘s appeal comes from this story-within-a-story. Will the princess reunite with her love? Will the king reclaim his throne? Only Seki knows, but Yokoi won’t give up until his characters reach their happily ever after.
Yes, Yokoi gets in trouble many times thanks to Seki, but she causes a lot of her own misery. The poor girl can’t even step on a drawing of a cute cat. Again, while a manga like this could get repetitive very quickly (Seki does something, Yokoi tries to ignore, she gets involve, then she gets in trouble), the author skillfully mixes up the final results of each escapade. Seki’s antics may not be exposed to others (including the teachers), but he does not always “win” either. Yokoi does manage to score some victories and even learn Seki’s weakness. It’s doubly entertaining: not only do we as readers not know what stunt Seki is going to pull, but we don’t know how things will end up. We even get treated to “evil Yokoi” who wants to see Seki exposed, which causes even more hilarious hijinks as her friends wonder what is up with her lately.
In addition, while Yokoi and Seki are the stars, we do get to meet some recurring characters. The most important ones so far are Uzawa the hyper, random classmate and Goto, a girl who believes Yokoi and Seki are a passionate couple. Uzawa adds some randomness to the perfectionist Seki’s life, and Goto is just hilarious as she misconstrues Seki’s activities and Yokoi’s statements. We also meet Seki’s little sister, and I hope she returns. The author has shown activities not only need to take place in school, so I am curious if we will see larger projects or more characters like the hobby shop owner.
The art is clear and crisp, which is extremely important in a series like this. Morishige has a limited number of pages, and he uses them efficiently. He showcases not only Seki’s creations but Yokoi’s imaginings. And although we never get to hear Seki speak, we readers still get a good insight into his character. Screentones and manga effects are frequently implemented to demonstrate Seki’s concentration and add some fun drama to the chapters. (“Oh, no! The teacher called on Seki!”) Morishige adds details like slyly showing a box of jars all packed tightly that seem to be all identical on first glance; however, on closer inspection, they differ in size, and this is a key part in the chapter’s story. In exchange, backgrounds are initially simplistic and full of whitespace, but they become more detailed later on. The objects used in Seki’s activities are drawn very realistically, and it takes skill to design bridges with erasers. Seki would approve of the author’s art.
As per Vertical, Inc.’s standards, no honorifics are used except in one instance. This is probably a huge disappointment to many fans of the series, as it is better known as Tonari no Seki-kun. Crunchyroll used the Japanese title, but they also included the subtitle of The Master of Killing Time. The volumes do include the original title both on the front covers as well as the spines. If you are a fan of honorifics (especially if you have watched the anime), “Seki” just sounds like it’s super short and missing something.
The actual dialogue is somewhat strange. Yokoi’s speech just doesn’t sound natural at times. For example, “He’s looking at me with such a reproachful glare!” or, “Seki, you mustn’t make noise! Please be aware that you’re in a frivolous position!” are grammatically correct (and faithful to the Japanese text), but I just don’t hear a lot of teenagers saying those things, especially teenagers who have no problem using the word “bastard”. The translator changes in the third volume, and the overly formal dialogue is greatly lessened. As for other Japanese terms, they are very limited; most are given English equivalents. “Shogi” is replaced with “Japanese chess” in its first appearance, but the second translator keeps its Japanese name. “Kokkuri-san” is replaced by “Oujia”, “fukuwarai” is “lucky laugher”, etc., but other terms like “yankii” and “ikebana” stay in. Overall, it’s the kind of adaptation catered to a general audience, but those favoring a more Japanese-flavored adaptation are probably slightly disappointed. I hope the second translator stays on board, though.
Despite the mixed feelings readers may have about this release, I had too much fun enjoying the adventures of Yokoi and Seki to grade this harshly. I do admit I couldn’t read this without mentally adding the honorifics. However, the manga has more entertainment in 10 to 20 pages than many series do in entire volumes.
The anime shorts are available on Crunchyroll. A live action series is also being made, although the episodes will only make up half of the half-hour show.