Behind the Scenes!!
Shoujo – Comedy
7 Volumes (complete)
College student and pessimist Ranmaru is scared out of his wits when he runs into zombies attacking. In actuality, he wandered into a college club’s movie shoot. Ranmaru is ordered to help with the set after passing out, but can the no-good Ranmaru really be of assistance?
Hatori would have been better off making Ouran College Host Club than this series.
Ranmaru is an overthinker and a worrier. Between avoiding his sharp-eyed cousin at home and the eyes of all his schoolmates at college, Ranmaru wants to avoid others. But his freak out over a supposed zombie apocalypse causes some chaos since it was for a movie. It’s then he’s introduced to the Art Squad, a small group responsible for the props and clothes for the various campus filmmaking groups. Although he runs away, he finds the passion of the club’s members something to admire — even though they’re all eccentrics. Ranmaru’s unlucky and country boy life, as it turns out, has caused him to have his own secret craft skills that are perfect for the Art Squad.
Thus begins Ranmaru’s crazy college life.
Behind the Scenes!! is fairly unusual right off the top for its college setting. Most manga set in modern times are either set in high school (the overwhelming majority) or at the workplace. So it’s nice to see a story starring young adults who are on the path to the future but are still young and silly enough to need some emotional growth and development. Behind the Scenes!! also covers a club or potential career you don’t see tackled a lot. The Art Squad is hired for activities like finding a location to film, gathering all the props, preparing (non-computerized) special effects), and designing the clothes and hair/makeup. They do all of this on a budget I still can’t quite figure out… Even though they mainly seem to be hired for one or two sets as if this were a theater production, and the group makes plenty of deals and scavenges/reuses stuff, it seems like the budgets the four clubs give them would be used up quickly.
I also say this because the club president, Ryuji, is a perfectionist. And a tyrant. And always demanding people to “strive” and “evolve”. Ryuji has many amazing talents and is very creative, but he’s not good with those who irritate him. Kids? People who don’t understand how much work something is? People with vague ideas? Those who think something is “good enough”? He’ll gladly go all Phoenix Wright on them. That’s why Ranmaru is scared of Ryuji while also admiring him.
While in the club Ryuji is the planner and does a lot of the designing and building, the others all have their specialties. Sweet and kind Ruka does most of the costumes and makeup. She also loves right angles, something that doesn’t come up a lot. Maasa desperately wants a boyfriend, but guys are put off by her strong love for horror films. Spacey and calm Izumi is popular and is good at a lot of things. Tomu the former thug does a lot of physical labor and gofering — mostly as Maasa’s dog.
Much of the early manga is finding ways for Ranmaru to shadow the other Art Club members. This allows readers (and Ranmaru) to get to know everyone a little more, as when everyone’s together, their personalities tend to focus on their individual craziness and group workload. There’s also the four film groups, who each have their own vibes, although only one or two are shown regularly. The leader of the film studies group, for instance, is Ryuji’s haughty rival and is an important supporting character. We see the sci-fi club’s leader with a weather vane on his head to represent his mood, but that group is mostly limited to a couple of bonus comics. So the Art Squad gets a commission, and some or all of the Art Squad has to finish the job, usually within the chapter or by the next.
The manga is at its best when it’s dealing with the visual arts. You see picky directors, really low budgets, and accidents that cause a setback. It all gives readers a sense of how these designers often have to think out of the box and have access to a wide selection of materials to handle anything. In addition, the manga includes some how-to tutorials to get readers interested and give them a springboard for their own crafts and moviemaking, but there will be a few cases of, “Uh, haven’t you ever heard of a dollar store?? Or Amazon??” Still, the work they do is very impressive.
Behind the Scenes!! isn’t all about designing sets though. There’s a story — a usually comedic story — but a lot of the plot parts don’t fit well with the club’s purpose. The Art Squad helps a girl try to get her ex to back-off, for instance. I guess you could make the argument she was really interested in Ryuji, but still. In another case, they have to find a missing director who was upset an idol had a boyfriend. Another example is Soh, Ranmaru’s cousin whom he lives with because he’s staying with his aunt. For several chapters, we have seen Soh glare at Ranmaru and hide the fact she likes cute things from her friends. So it’s weird that after upon her first meeting with Ranmaru’s friends, she blurts out that she’s been putting up a front at school. The point of this chapter is, of course, to make her respect Ranmaru more, but Hatori does this in such a forced way. At least let Soh sit down for a while and watch them work in order to be inspired or something.
But this was to make Soh into Ranmaru #2. While she is in a different situation (she’s a school idol while Ranmaru was generally an outcast), she ends up panicking and freaking out a lot with him at home and when she hangs around his club members. One of the things they talk about? Their crushes on Art Squad members. Ranmaru quickly finds himself enchanted by Ruka’s kindness, and Soh is drawn to Izumi and his encouragement. But Ranmaru knows Ruka’s eyes keep drifting to Ryuji, and Izumi just doesn’t think he can fall in love. So both Ranmaru and Soh don’t want to put pressure on the ones they like, but they also don’t want to go back to their cowardly selves.
So, in case wasn’t clear, finding your place and doing what makes you happy are the key themes of this manga, which is important for themselves and to get closer to the ones they like. The problem for me is that the best connection is between Ranmaru and Ryuji, especially when Ranmaru’s switch is flipped. Ranmaru admires all the Art Squad members, but the ease in which Ryuji can lead, assist, and also create keeps amazing him. Ryuji has a lot of the grumpy mentor characteristics found in stories, and the way Ranmaru platonically falls for Ryuji’s talents and even having scouted him in the first place is a stronger narrative than the various one-way and requited feelings in the manga. Yet with how passionate Ranmaru is about Ryuji’s talents, the manga doesn’t feel like some mere manga version of a buddy flick either, partly because of all the crushes (Ranmaru, Soh, Ruka, even Maasa wanting to find someone).
The manga does end up with one confirmed couple and two likely couples, and because of the time crunch, they will probably seem a little weak. Hatori mentions she had trouble trying to fit all she wanted to cover. Even before that, there’s a bit of a time skip going from Christmas all the way to the next semester. I wouldn’t say Behind the Scenes!! is rushed, but it doesn’t have a natural buildup to its conclusion.
Also, the best characters never return despite Hatori’s plan to do so. Bring back, mom, dad, and sis! Now that’s a manga I’d like to read!
Hatori’s pages can be cluttered as she tries to pack in as many characters as possible to share their own reactions and quirks in response to things. This is one of those series where any detailed pictures of the cast are almost certainly supposed to be accompanied by dramatic and/or moving music; someone’s either learning about someone else or even themselves. The real delight in the art is showing all of the models and designs they come up with. You can see how much effort and research she put into this series. It’s clear this was a passion project of hers. Otherwise, while Ranmaru often looks like a crybaby version of Tamaki, everyone else is unique enough to not look like a clone. Plus, despite Ryuji’s bossy nature and Ranmaru’s worried nature, the manga has a very positive and upbeat message, to take pride in your skills and what you like. The pages are always bright to match the tone. So despite the cramped pages at time, it’s a nicely drawn work..
No honorifics are used. The kanji are kept in the mini character introduction asides with, when needed, a more clearer explanation of their name origins. It was a bit confusing to know if Soh was actually Ranmaru’s cousin or not, as he refers to his aunt several times as his landlady. So it could have been aunt/oba-san in a general sense rather than a biological one, and it wasn’t clear. But Soh is his cousin. Soh is also introduced in volume 1 as she’s a second year, but Hatori later retcons this to her being a third year. Surprise this wasn’t updated in the Japanese version.
Behind the Scenes!! would have been better in my opinion with less club members and maybe serialized in a BL magazine. I enjoyed it here and there, but not nearly enough to recommend it, especially with how time is managed in the manga.
VIZ Media has licensed Hatori’s Ouran High School Host Club and Millennium Snow.
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