By NISIOISIN and Mitsuru Hattori. Released in Japan as “Shōjo Fujūbun” by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Young Magazine. Released in North America by Vertical Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.
I first got to know the work of NISIOISIN through his series for Weekly Shonen Jump, Medaka Box, which I’ve commented on at length elsewhere, and is unlikely to ever be licensed over here. That said, I’d argue he’s better known over here for his novels, particularly the Zaregoto and Monogatari series, both of which are currently being released by Vertical’s novel side, Vertical Inc. Surprisingly, though, neither one of those very popular series ever got a manga adaptation. Zaregoto’s spinoff Zerozaki series was tipped for one instead, and both series have wildly successful (Monogatari) or noble failure (Zaregoto) anime series which are highly stylized and artistic. A straight-up manga adaptation of either series would get lost in the crushing verbiage, which was something that Medaka Box (also very verbose and metatextual) struggled with its entire run. This, however, is a quick, three-volume series based on a single novel, and the think that struck me the most is how reserved the hero is.
The narrator is a college-aged author who isn’t named, and seems to be looking back on this period of his life from the future as he writes about it. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a self-insert of NISIOISIN, but certainly he can probably identify with the struggles of an author who knows how to write but not necessarily how to write something that will sell. Out one day, he sees a traffic accident where a young girl is brutally killed by a truck. What strikes him, though, is the girl’s “best friend”, who sees the accident, carefully saves her game she was playing, puts it away… then reacts in horror and despair. She also spots our hero, though, and before he knows it he’s kidnapped by her at knifepoint and brought to her house… where she proceeds to lock him in the closet and leave him. Most of the book is his internal dialogue and analysis of U’s behavior, U being the girl.
The art may seem familiar to manga fans, as the artist has been out over here with his Sankarea zombie series. He does a good job at showing the creepy horror of several of the scenes, as well as the heavy-lidded brokenness of the titular Imperfect Girl. Our nameless hero is less successful, and may have worked better in prose – there are several points in this volume where he is forced to do something totally stupid to serve the plot, and he goes right along with each one. Worse, he lacks personality – Araragi may be intensely irritating at times, but you can never say he’s boring, and Ii-chan’s lack of personality is a mask that he wears to obscure. This guy simply seems dull, and you get the sense that “the author” telling us this story in the future wants to show how the incident forced him to stop being so nebbish. I hope it takes.
All in all, this first volume was OK, and I’ll read the other two because they’re short and I’m a NISIOISIN fan. I do wonder if it might have worked better as one omnibus, though.