Happy New Year! (Is it too late to extend that greeting to readers?) For my first column of 2016, I dove into my pile of unread books and chose two that I’d meant to review last year. The first is Arina Tanemura’s Idol Dreams, a body-swap comedy about a thirty-something office lady; the second is Izumi Tsubaki’s Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, a 4-koma series about a hunky high school manga artist who just happens to be the author of a popular girls’ comic.
Idol Dreams, Vol. 1
By Arina Tanemura
Rated T, for readers 13 and up
VIZ Media, $9.99
Chikage Deguchi is at a crossroads: once a pretty, popular high school student, she’s become a sexless, thirty-something office drone who’s mocked by her co-workers. After making a fool of herself at a high school reunion, Chikage’s childhood friend Tokita stages a unique intervention, offering Chikage a drug that transforms her into a 15-year-old girl for a few hours a day. Chikage then does what any self-respecting 31-year-old would do: she pursues a (part-time) career as a teen idol.
Setting aside the question of whether anyone would voluntarily relive their teenage years, Idol Dreams has a bigger problem: tone. Arina Tanemura can’t decide if her story will revel in its absurdity or play things straight, and veers wildly between wacky show-biz hijinks and clumsy office scenes that are meant to establish just how awful Chikage’s adult life is. In the afterword to the story, Tanemura cheerfully vents her frustrations at being asked to do “a magical girl series for adults” without recourse to “too much screentone,” “gags and comedic touches,” or “super-stylish atmosphere.” Oddly enough, I don’t think these restrictions are the true source of the problem; if anything, Tanemura’s artwork is more polished and appealing in Idol Dreams than in Phantom Thief Jeanne or I.O.N. The real issue is the lead character: Tanemura never really explains why temporarily impersonating a 15-year-old would solve any of Chikage’s issues, especially since Chikage’s teenage alter ego is a wet noodle, too. The underlying message seems to be that recapturing youthful beauty is a pathway to empowerment–not a particularly novel or uplifting idea, given the developed world’s obsession with Botox, face lifts, wrinkle cream, and 17-year-old models.
The bottom line: I never thought I’d say this, but Idol Dreams is the rare Tanemura manga that would benefit from more zaniness and sparkly backgrounds.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, Vol. 1
By Izumi Tsubaki
Rated T, for teen readers
Yen Press, $13.00
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is a textbook example of what happens when a great idea bumps up against the limitations of a restrictive format. The set-up is comedy gold: tenth-grader Chiyo Sakura confesses her romantic feelings to hunky classmate Umetarou Nozaki, only to have him casually respond, “Do you want to come to my place right now?” Flustered, Chiyo agrees but is surprised when Nozaki doesn’t put the moves on her; instead, he puts her to work on a chapter of his hit shojo manga Let’s Fall. Chiyo’s attempts to extricate herself from Nozaki’s employ or clarify her feelings for him only make things worse, as Nozaki is both romantically inexperienced and genuinely obtuse.
So far, so good: the concept provides plenty of fodder for jokes and pratfalls. The four-panel format, however, locks each character into a holding pattern in which he or she is doomed to repeat the same behavior over and over again. The supporting cast is big enough to prevent Monthly Girls from reading like a month’s worth of Cathy or Garfield strips, but the rhythm of every gag is virtually the same, whether author Izumi Tsubaki is introducing a new character, poking fun at shojo manga cliches, or demonstrating just how socially inept Nozaki really is; long stretches of Monthly Girls read like a Henny Youngman set, albeit with stranger–and funnier–material. Take my manga… please!
The bottom line: Some of the jokes are genuinely funny, but the series already feels like it’s chasing its tail by the end of chapter three.
Odds and Ends: Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a new look, a new name, and a new URL. You’ll now find Justin Stroman and the gang at http://www.theoasg.com/. Manga vlogger Pluto Burns took a break from reviewing books and conducted a great interview with Carolina Manga Library founder Laura Mehaffey. If you’re not familiar with the good work that Mehaffey and her staff are doing, click here to learn more about this traveling book collection.
Reviews: Sean Gaffney, Anna N. and Michelle Smith post their first Bookshelf Briefs column of 2016. On the agenda: D-Frag!, My Love Story!!, Pandora Hearts, and Saki. Elsewhere on the web, Rebecca Silverman and Kory Cerjak review the first volume of Yowamushi Pedal, my pick for Best New Manga of 2015.
Chris Kirby on vol. 1 of 7 Billion Needles (The Fandom Post)
Karen Maeda on vol. 7 of Assassination Classroom (Sequential Tart)
Matthew Warner on Ayako (The Fandom Post)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 1 of Bloody Mary (Sequential Tart)
Megan R. on CLAMP School Detectives (The Manga Test Drive)
Justin on Confession (The OASG)
Kate O’Neil on vol. 5 of Demon from Afar (The Fandom Post)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 3 of Emma (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Honey So Sweet (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Ash Brown on vol. 3 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood (Experiments in Manga)
Sheena McNeil on vol. 19 of Kamisama Kiss (Sequential Tart)
Ken H on vol. 1 of LD♥K (Sequential Ink)
Rebecca Silverman on vol. 1 of Livingstone (Anime News Network)
Lori Henderson on vol. 1 of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (Manga Xanadu)
Dustin Cabeal on vol. 2 of My Hero Academia (Comic Bastards)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Kane Bugeja on vol. 3 of One-Punch Man (Snap 30)
David Brooke on vol. 4 of One-Punch Man (AiPT!)
Dustin Cabeal on vol. 4 of One-Punch Man (Comic Bastards)
SKJAM! on vol. 18 of Rin-ne (SKJAM! Reviews)
Ken H. on vol. 9 of Say I Love You (Sequential Ink)
Helen on vol. 1 of Student Council’s Discretion (The OASG)
Patrick Moore on vol. 8 of Tiger & Bunny (Bento Byte)
Che Gilson on Tokyo Ghoul (Otaku USA)
Marion Olea on vol. 2 of Tokyo Ghoul (No Flying No Tights)
Frank Inglese on vols. 8-9 of Vagabond: VIZBIG Edition (Snap 30)
Ash Brown on vol. 7 of Vinland Saga (Experiments in Manga)
SKJAM! on vol. 7 of Vinland Saga (SKJAM! Reviews)
Megan Rupe on vols. 1-2 of Yo-Kai Watch (No Flying No Tights)