Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
月刊少女野崎くん (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun)
Shounen – 4-koma, comedy, romance, slice-of-life
5 Volumes (ongoing) of 8 Volumes (ongoing)
Chiyo tries to confess to her crush, but he mistakes her for a fan of his shoujo manga! While Nozaki is good at writing about romance, he is not good understanding relationships in real life. Chiyo ends up as Nozaki’s assistant, but the only thing crazier than working for a guy who doesn’t notice you is dealing with the people around them.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun takes two relatively common slice-of-life stories (work life and school life) and blends them to create a crazy but fun manga.
They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that seems to be the case in shoujo mangaka Nozaki’s life. His manga stars an ordinary girl who falls in love with the prince of the school. Well, in Nozaki’s real life, “Mamiko” is a guy who wants to die from embarrassment at the corny lines he’s learned from gal games, and the prince of their school is a girl convinced her club president wants to be a cross-dresser.
Well, maybe truth really is stranger than fiction!
Despite Nozaki being the titular character, the story is more from his assistant / schoolmate Chiyo’s perspective. Because Nozaki is always looking for inspiration and helpers, the two (and thus the readers) are introduced to each other’s oddball friends and acquaintances. Because they’re all strange, the characters either get into strange situations or walk in on conversations that just don’t sound right.
What makes the comedy work is that the humor is approached from two angles. First is that the manga laughs at the genre, especially poking fun at shoujo manga. I mean, is riding a bike with someone really that romantic — or even romantic at all? What about those best friend characters in romance games? Don’t they get any love? And don’t all female friendships start from a dramatic event with a rival? Author Tsubaki also pokes fun at aspects like artists constantly drawing everyone with the same face and the absurdity of flowers and sparkles in scenes. Some of the jokes are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of the fun. Most romantic comedies are ridiculous, no matter how good they are.
The second part of the humor lies in the actual characters. As I mentioned earlier, everyone has a screw loose in one way or another. Nozaki writes emotional love stories but is oblivious to Chiyo’s feelings. Chiyo is Nozaki-obsessed. Seemingly cool guy Mikoshiba fishes for comments and has difficulty with girls, but his close friend, a female, says these lines to other girls on a daily basis. Now throw in a short but easily angered club president, a naturally unaware and insensitive girl, and Nozaki’s editor who has to deal with an annoying editor who drives both him and a fellow mangaka crazy. If Nozaki himself had submitted his life as a manuscript, it probably would have been rejected for being too bizarre.
So when too-crazy-for-shoujo-manga people cross with discussions about shoujo manga itself, we get a lot of laughs from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. The two parts just feed off each other so well. One of Nozaki’s assistants develops a crush on the school’s mysterious singer, but he has no idea that his Lorelei is actually the bossy Yuzuki. Nozaki, meanwhile, encourages Wakamatsu to hang out with Yuzuki so that Nozaki can come up with new storylines, even though he knows this odd love triangle is a setup for disaster. Chiyo recognizes drama club Hori’s underwear mark on Nozaki’s drafts and asks him about it; this causes Kashima to overhear and think it’s okay to ask Hori about his taste in underwear.
As a 4-koma, of course some strips are funnier than others. (Let’s just say it’s unfair that one of the editors still has a job.) The humor is fast-paced, so even the few misses don’t bring down the overall quality. This is the kind of series where you may go, “Just one more!” and suddenly find yourself at the end of the book. Like many other 4-koma, this manga features a lot of recurring storylines like Chiyo’s crush and the Lorelei mystery. Even though technically not a lot happens in each volume (people get to know each other while funny situations stem from Nozaki’s manga production), you want to see how (or if) Chiyo is getting closer to Nozaki. Or maybe you just care about what outfit Kashima is going to pick out for Hori next. Either way, this makes you want to buy every volume instead of just picking up random ones like you can usually do with Western comic strips. However, if you like more random, absurd comedy, then Nozaki-kun is probably a little too realistic for you. You will laugh, but it won’t be the but-gusting laugh of Nichijou‘s Yuuko getting hit with salmon or My Neighbor Seki‘s titular character hoisting a bear up a classmate’s back. In addition, while the plot is progressing, I haven’t noticed time really moving ahead so far. That’s fine with me; I would hate to have to see Hori graduate.
As you might expect, the characters aren’t well-rounded. This is 4-koma after all. Pretty much everyone has a screw loose in their head, and that missing screw is pretty much their defining characteristic. They usually have an interest or weakness to prevent them from being completely one-dimensional. So Nozaki is a shoujo mangaka with no experience in romance but has some housewife-like tendencies (cooking). Yuzuki absolutely is oblivious to the situations around her, but her singing is amazing. Unlike most comedies, there isn’t a defined tsukkomi / boke pairing. The two leads tend to play the straight men most often, but often get their turn at being the idiot. This helps prevent the story from stagnating. Even a few minor characters take their turn in the spotlight, but I do like it better when Nozaki-kun focuses on the main cast (or at least named characters).
There are really only two downsides to Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. First is that while the format is incredibly accessible to new manga fans, the story is not the most newbie-friendly. I think a lot of readers would be missing out on laughs if they don’t get the significance of a couple underneath an umbrella or even understand why club president Hori has so much power. The concept of tsundere is also a big point of discussion. This is a manga about manga, and it’s not as relatable as, say, My Neighbor Seki.
The other negative is that the volumes are on the short side. Each is only about 144 pages, well below the average manga. Each page is really only four panels that don’t even take up the entire space, and the extras for the volumes are minimal. All these aspects make the price a bit hard to swallow. You do get plenty of laughs in each volume, but compare this to, for example, Fruits Basket. That series — from the same company — is 375+ pages a volume, includes more color inserts, and retails for $20. This is only 144 pages for $13. I have issues with the quality of Yen Press’ Fruits Basket release, but when you put the two side-by-side, it just feels like Fruits Basket is a much better value. You could also compare Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun to other publisher’s titles, but from an aesthetic standpoint, this one just seems lackluster. Maybe if Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun had been released in an oversized manga format (a la The Devil is a Part-Timer! High School!), the release would be more physically appealing.
While Tsubaki got her start in shoujo manga, her style doesn’t feel out-of-place in a shounen work. Part of this is, of course, the fact that Nozaki is supposed to be drawing shoujo manga himself, but even Tsubaki’s earlier works were heavy on comedy. She has never been one to focus on love and romance, so her style didn’t need tweaking. As a 4-koma, the art also doesn’t get much focus. An artist really only needs to concentrate on making the text easy to read and add the exaggerated faces in the right spots. The art is clean and consistent, and the dialogue and art support each other. It’s fine, but… am I the only one who think Hori and Wakamatsu look too much alike? I mean, Nozaki looks similar as well, but at least his face looks different. Their hairstyles have the same styled bangs, and I often find myself wondering which one it is when one of them appears. Their hair colors are different (along with their heights), but I wish Tsubaki would have made their designs much easier to tell apart. They’re easier to tell apart when you see them side-by-side, but when a strip starts with one of them up-close or turned to the side, I have a hard time. Have one leave their bangs down while the other styles them.
Honorifics are kept. The manga includes translation notes, usually next to the panels in the whitespace. Terms like “manga-ka” and “tanuki” are kept, but other things (ike “pyon” are replaced. Concepts like White Day are not explained, so you are expected to know some of the basic manga tropes and situations. Puns are rather infrequent, so that always helps in making a smooth adaptation.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a near-perfect example of a lighthearted, fun read. It’s loads better than anything Nozaki himself could come up with. While the releases are a little thin, the entertainment volume makes up for the small pagecount. Buy it!
Viz Media has released Tsubaki’s The Magic Touch and Oresama Teacher.