Possibly the Funniest Thing All Year – Anime Critique: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun

Title: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoijo Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, satire, romance, 4koma adaption
Series Creator: Izumi Tsubaki
Series Director: Mitsue Yamazaki
Studio: Dogakobo
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6 – September 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs

manga cover featuring Nozaki
manga cover featuring Nozaki

Synopsis:

“High school student Chiyo Sakura has a crush on schoolmate Umetaro Nozaki, but when she confesses her love to him, he mistakes her for a fan and gives her an autograph. When she says that she always wants to be with him, he invites her to his house and has her help on some drawings. Chiyo discovers that Nozaki is actually a renowned shojo manga artist named Sakiko Yumeno. She then agrees to be his assistant in order to get closer to him. As they work on his manga Let’s Fall in Love (Koi Shiyo lit Let’s Have a Romance) they encounter other schoolmates who assist them or serve as inspirations for characters in the stories.”


Review:

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun was a manga that I had heard of but hadn’t read because of the sudden, sad demise of mangatraders.com (scumbag hackers!) & unfortunately the anime almost passed me by due to lack of support from more well known fansubber groups (leaving us with groan Horridsubs & one unknown & undersupported subber group who dropped it half way through). But I’m really glad that I gave it a chance because it is one of the funniest anime I’ve seen in the last few seasons.

Battle of the eyes
Battle of the eyes

As I’ve previously written about, I’m a monstrous fan of 4koma/azumanga adaptation because of their punchy, quick-fire jokes & excellent character construction (because they have to build them strongly within such a limited on page space).  Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun really slams hard into the top tier of 4koma adaptations. Not above Acchi Kocchi or Azumanga Daioh but on the same level as the two seasons of Seitokai Yakuindomo & Working!.

What makes this series truly brilliant is the subversion of tropes, genres & roles. Upon the surface many of the characters do seem stock: the male lead ignorant of the female lead’s love, the devoted female lead, the pretty boy, the popular one, et cetera but it plays around with them so sweetly that I was in pain laughing at times.

Nozaki's OP animation frame
Nozaki’s OP animation frame

The male lead is Nozaki Umetaro, who is not only ignorant of Chiyo’s affections but of pretty much everything around him. He has a cold, stoic demeanour. Performing every action in a serious, deadpan fashion so lots of people are unable to understand what he truly means. What makes that so funny & subversive is that Nozaki is actually a shojo mangaka (a creator of romantic manga for girls) who is said by fans to know the true depth of the female heart, in all its anguish, passion & devotion. & the fact that he’s a mangaka isn’t kept a secret for the sake of the plot. He’s very open about but no one believes him because he’s so tall & scary looking, with a bad reputation of fighting (injuries actually caused by rushing to meet deadlines & such). The fact that he’s truly ignorant about all aspects of romance is what drives a lot of the humour around him, as he goes through complicated plans to come up with idea scenarios to illustrate -often at the expensive of the ever devoted Chiyo.

The various moods of Sakura Chiyo
The various moods of Sakura Chiyo

In many ways, Chiyo is very much the same as Nozaki yet fundamentally different. Where he is stoic & impassive, she is overly expressive -almost to make up for his lack of physical displays of emotion. She is at first confused at Nozaki’s strange behaviour but through spending time with him, so comes to be able to read his subtle shifts in mood. Yet she so often over reactions to situations -such as thinking he might finally be reciprocating her feelings or she’s totally oblivious to the negative traits of those around her -especially her close friend Seo. Despite always wanting to be around Nozaki & get him to understand her feelings, she’s far from clingy & annoying as a character. When failing to express what she truly means in her affection to the dense Nozaki, she goes to work for him -helping with the beta (no idea what it’s supposed to be but she does the inking for him mainly) on his manga. This is done so she can learn what he’s like & see if her feelings for him are genuine. She prone to near fetishising many of Nozaki’s traits & habits, such as getting people to pose like his drawing sitting position or praising another shojo mangaka for creating a character who’s exactly like Nozaki. But she does so in the sweetest possible way. She’s also marked by her petite figure (basically half the size of the towering Nozaki) & polka dot bowed ribbons in her hair, yet is never sexualised in any way.

Such a happy Chiyo face!
Such a happy Chiyo face!

Also by working with Nozaki, she becomes a little disillusioned on how he creates his manga & whom he bases his characters on.

Which brings us into the great subversion of the series, which was always the best for laughs.

the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!
the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!

As Chiyo spends more time with Nozaki, she gets to see how he comes up with his ideas & characters. Naturally, she thinks that he has some innate understand of romance & women but that becomes apparent that it’s far from the truth when he asks her to help out in enacting possibly scenarios for his manga. The best example is the romantic bike scene & how he tries to depict it in a romantic yet entirely legal fashion (you’ll get it once you see it). He drags Chiyo into it at first but then she comes to accept it as perfectly normal, wanting to continue it with him because she finds it fun after a fashion (even though it’s totally embarrassing). Similar with the situation with him making half a dozen bento to gauge people’s reactions to getting them, with Chiyo initially thinks makes her special until he sees him sharing them out with their other friends.

The friends are what make up the rest of the humour as well as some of the inspiration of Nozaki’s manga characters.

Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.
Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.

& surprisingly enough, he doesn’t try to model any of them on Chiyo.

In fact, all of Nozaki’s female characters are based upon his male friends for their strangely feminine traits.

Chiyo's reaction to Mokirin's self-inflicted embarrassment.
Chiyo’s reaction to Mikorin’s self-inflicted embarrassment.

This is especially true for Mimiko’s (Nozaki’s ordinary yet wilful heroine), who is modelled after the charming yet easily embarrassed pretty boy, Mikoto AKA Mikorin. Who is popular because he’s handsome & saying the right things to make girls lose their minds but he gets so embarrassed about saying them because most of his experience dealing with women comes from playing dating sims & his is incredibly shy by nature -using brashness to hide it. His embarrassed state serves as the basis for Mimiko’s flustered nature as well as his constant need for praise & attention.

The other character who serves as inspiration for Nozaki’s manga is Chiyo’s close friend, Seo, who is, frankly, a bit of a bitch. She’s not intentionally mean but she’s entirely tactless, oblivious to others, slovenly, greedy, ignorant of her emotional & physical surroundings & a bit of a bully. When Nozaki asks why Chiyo admires Seo so much, she reveals Seo’s amazing singing voice, which has earnt her the nickname ‘the Lorelei of the Glee Club”. Despite her amazing vocal talents, Nozaki finds her fairly insufferable to be around but finds inspiration in her taunting of his former basketball kohai Wakamatsu, whom Seo calls Waka after a basic misunderstanding of him trying to challenge her to stop traumatising him (which is her childish way of showing an interest in her). For his part, Wakamatsu, becomes inspiration for another female character because of his over worked nature & gentle temperament yet Nozaki hates himself for putting his kohai in situations with Seo just so he can get inspiration for his manga. Seo is also the cause of Wakamatsu’s insomnia as well as he’s cure, which makes more great comedy & inspiration for Nozaki, much to his personal regret.

How harems begin.
How harems begin.

The other great characters in the series are Hori and Kashima from the drama club. Hori illustrated the scenery & backgrounds for Nozaki because he lacks the talent to do so, in exchange for Nozaki writing original scripts for the club. Kashima is the mega-popular prince-like figure of the drama club, who is always surrounded in adoring female fans despite being a woman herself. No one really seems to care about her masculine appearance & attitude, except it she costs them the chance to get female attention for themselves. Kashima also often vies for Hori’s attention, admiring his amazing acting skill (while he stays off stage because of his short height), but everything that she does just serves to piss him off -so he usually hits her for it. I don’t like the physical violence against a female character aspect much but it’s not done out of vicious anger, just old slapstick style comedy. Kashima & Mikoto are also close friends, with Kashima calling him her fated rival, despite the fact that she smashes him in every aspect of their school & personal lives.

What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.
What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.

The other great thing about the series is the incredibly beauty animation. Rich, colourful & smooth designs -even for the most mundane background details are sweetly rendered. The character animations are also top notch. Great use of expression, cartoon conceits & action -reminding me of a lot of older style fast paced cartoons that I watched as a kid (Merry Melodies mainly). Great little visual gags & reaction shots -especially Chiyo’s confused & love struck faces.

The other sweet thing about it is that you feel the genuine affection that Chiyo has for Nozaki -especially in the last episode. The reveal as to how she came to love him & why she made her confession to him is left until the end. Which serves the story really well, because it’s hinted at but not dwelled upon. Love & affection is the core of this series, something which I felt more then in the genuine shojo romantic series Ao Haru Ride that’s also been screening this season (& will be reviewed later, once I finish watching it).

In the end, this is a series that I enjoyed immensely & will probably watch over & over again (though not as much as I have Acchi Kocchi -which EVERYONE must watch). The lack of sexualisation, the great characters & fast paced jokes has put it at the top of my list for the season’s selection. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh, like a good satire or just want something unexpected & clever.

Plus it feels good to write a review that it’s 5 paragraphs bitching about hypersexualisation for bloody once (although will be doing that with another upcoming review, so having put that stick away yet).

Also keep an eye out for the running tanuki gag.

My expression when I realised that there wouldn't be any more episodes to watch.
My expression when I realised that there wouldn’t be any more episodes to watch.
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Twists, Turns & Curves but not Confusing – Anime Review: ⌈K⌋

k-anime_oTitle: ⌈K⌋ (K Project, King Project, Kings)
Format: anime series
Genre: supernatural, fantasy, action, comedy
Series Creator: GoRa
Series Director: Shingo Suzuki
Studio: GoHands
Series length: 13 eps
Original Airing dates: October 5, 2012 – December 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray
Distributer: Madman


Synopsis:

Yashiro Isana has lived a relatively ordinary, simple life. He lives in the technologically-advanced Shizume City and attends Ashinaka High School, a notable high school that is located on an island just outside the areas. Yashiro is friendly with everyone. Nothing ever seems wrong about him, except perhaps his habit of forgetting where his school-issued PDA is. However, nothing normal has been happening since the recent murder of Tatara Totsuka, prominent member of the infamous HOMRA. No one knows who exactly killed him but the man responsible bears an uncanny, identical appearance to Yashiro. Seeking vengeance, the Red Clansmen of HOMRA set out to get Yashiro and kill him. Everyone suspects that Yashiro is the murderer. Isana Yashiro was not the person who killed Tatara Totsuka but yet another mysterious character is pulling the strings behind the curtains, a person who is quite dangerous and powerful.


Review:

Two years ago I came to this mysterious series through nothing but an action based trailer but ⌈K⌋ quickly became one of my favourite anime series of the past decade.

The primary reason for this is because it mentally challenged me & kept me guessing as to what happened before we entered the narrative & what actually is going on. To me, this is a rarity because I’m so well versed in narratives that I often guess what will happen from gleaming tiny bits of information & whilst I figured out a lot of what was meant to be happening, it still cleverly kept me engaged & wanting to know more & more until the true unfurling of the background of things. This series is by no means perfect -which will be addressed later- but narratively speaking it is exceptionally clever & fairly original in many ways.

One reason as to why is because you are drip feed information & clues that are more easily picked up in later viewings. Nothing is deliberately obscured or confusing, there is a strong internal logic within the series, even if it is not always apparent at first glance. There rules & exceptions are set forth along with the draw backs of power & what lies outside of the defined Clans & Domains (& that which isn’t explained in the series is later explained in the various manga & Light Novel spinoffs).

The story literally begins in two parts.
Anime-Koi-K-01-9A4B19FF.mkv_snapshot_04.12_2012.10.06_15.28.19
The first is of two superpowered & warring Clans, who serve under the Red King & the Blue King respectively. You are given absolutely no context as to their powers & why the Red Clan (who call themselves Homra or HMR) are on a rampage in a American mafia office or why the Blues (also referred to as Scepter 4) wish to stop them. You are only given clues to their natures in how they are depicted. The Reds are dressed in Street Punk & Hip Hop Gangsta clothing, using street weapons as well as the power of flames & fire, whilst the Blues are all in matching uniforms, based loosely around 18th century European military style, completely with sabres & rapiers for combat, wielding blue energy slashes & shields.
SCEPTER4_Clan
After this confrontation between the wild Reds & the ordered Blues, we jump to the other part of the story.

Which is based around the cliched, idyllic futurists mega-school built upon an artificial island that does so seem to dominated so much sci-fi anime. Yet it is a cliche & a set up that serves the story well & so much better than other recent series who used the same trope (looking at you again Valvrave the Liberator!). It is meant to be a juxtaposition to the (yet) unexplained supernatural nature of the early confrontation between the Clans by presenting the viewer with something familiar and relatable as well as introducing us to the central protagonist, Isana Yashiro, or simple Shiro (White) to his friends. He is seen as a carefree trickster, getting free food from his schoolmates as his classmate Kukuri tries to both control his behaviour & get him to eat healthily, yet she is completely unable to explain her need to care for him.
k-anime-9
It is only when Kukuri sends Shiro on an errand for the school council that the two halved narratives collide & the idea of sides, powers & the various Clans are begun to be woven together.

This is because Homra believe that Shiro, claiming to be the 7th & Colourless King, murdered their clansman (& the cohesion of their group) Tatara. So they chase Shiro until the Black Hound, vassal to the former Colourless King, Yatogami Kuroh (or Kuro [Black]) rescues Shiro, only to vow to execute him on the spot for his crimes.

& this is all within the 1st episode!

The plot moves at a fairly fast pace, with little wastage -even in the slightly stupid chase scene between Shiro & Kuroh in the 2nd episode where the strange character Neko (who switches between being a cat & a naked girl [will address that in a moment]) uses her powers to confound Kuroh in his pursuit.

There is little exposition from the characters, instead weaving in flashbacks throughout the narrative to establish past relationships & how things got as they are between the various clans. Even the concern between the rival Kings of Red -Mikoto- & Blue -Munakata- & trying to avert a repeat of the never really explained (in the anime) Kagutsu Crater Incident. In fact, the majority of character development is done by flipping between past & present yet you don’t get to know many of the characters outside of their physical appearances & habits during the course of the series.

The characters are a strange dichotomy in so far as the male characters seemed to be designed for or by fujoshi whilst the female characters (the few that there are) seemed to have been designed for & by horny teenage boys.

Yes, now I shall beat my usual hypersexualisation drum!

Outside of Kukuri, there are only three other female characters who appear in the major of episodes. They are Neko, who protects Shiro around, Scepter 4’s 2nd-in-Command Awashima Sera and Homra’s mascot & gothic lolita Anna Kushina.

Out of the 3, only Anna isn’t sexualised in any way. She is only portrayed as an imouto (little sister) style character who is an emotional anchor for the Red King Mikoto so he doesn’t destroy himself through over using his powers.
Screen shot 2012-10-11 at 9.06.25 PM
When we first see Neko, she is totally stark naked -with only her long hair covering her nipples (which you never see during the series). In fact, she totally shuns clothing where she can & is seen during the ending credits starkers as the camera pans up her naked, prone body. Yet Neko plays a central part within the story & can even be seen as a driver of much of the plot. She is loyal to Shiro, claiming that he belongs to her, but she doesn’t try to sexually posses him or dominate him. She acts very much like a cat owning a human, especially in her constant demands for food & attention.

Awashima on the other hand is always in her uniform (or otherwise fully attired) but she might as well not be, since her body is so emphasised in a sexual way. Whenever she uses her special sword slash attack, the camera starts at her barely covered arse & twists around her massive boobs up to her cold face. This happens every time (though more because they want to save money by reusing the same footage) & almost every other shot incorporates her barely covered backside or boobs in some way. She too has narrative drive & is a force to be reckoned with in battle. She is even given the strange quirk of adding Red Beans Paste to almost everything she eats & drinks -much to the disgust of everyone around her.

Even Kukuri isn’t spared the sexualisation & is used for the occasional incidental pantie-shot (which is more disturbing than just focussing on a characters tits in a way).

It is very much unneeded or even undemanded in my view yet is somehow balanced & counteracted (but not enough) by the fujoshi fan service.

Amongst the paired male cast, there always seems to be a weird sexual tension. With Shiro even blushing in Kuroh’s presence & embrace whenever he is being saved. Shiro even jokingly refers to Kuroh as his ‘wife’ after Kuroh makes him & Neko lunch for school. There is a far more brutal sexual tension between Mikoto & Munakata as well as something fairly disturbing between formerly friends & clansmen Yata & Fushimi.

In fact, the entire male cast seems to run the typical gamut of yaoi (Boy’s Love) tropes. From the feminine Shiro to the cold but protective Kuroh, the wild but emotional punk Mikoto to the cool megane Munakata, the insane megane Fushimi to the tough but virginally innocent Yata. There are more than a few “now kiss!’ moments for the female (& homosexual) fans yet it doesn’t really push any boundaries nor becomes blatant in any way -yet that doesn’t distract from the hypersexualisation of the female characters.

One day I’ll stop beating that drum but not today, even though I will now move on.

One thing you must keep in mind when watching it getting a good sub where they keep the honourifics intact because they play strongly with the character relationships.

Primary to this is relationship between Yata -who is young, passionate & almost uncontrollable- & his in the field partner/offsider Rikio, who refers to Yata as ‘Yata-san’ despite being older than him. Where as most other Homra members call Yata ‘Yata-chan’ because of his small size & feminine 1st name of Misaki.

Visually, the series is utterly beautiful & only enhanced in the blu-ray release -where they’ve added more background & incidental details into the backgrounds as well as made the special attacks prettier. There is so much detail packed into the alt-world Tokyo, yet still keeping it visually on par with the city as it stands today. There are many flat-screen holograms showing various forms of information but they don’t clutter the mise-en-scene or distraction from the action.

The fight scenes are frenetic but handled smoothly, so you never lose track of who is the centre of the action. Most of the attacks are done with twisting or circular motions but the characters always stay within focus (apart from the aforementioned emphasis on Awashima’s body) & the different powers -such as Kuroh’s ghost hands- are clear in their intent & destructive capabilities.

I also utterly adore the opening theme KINGS by the talented band Angela, who many know from various other anime openings -such as Valvrave & Coppolion.

In the end, this is a most worthy series because of how it keeps you guessing as to what is going on within the story yet it doesn’t bring anything out of nowhere. The clues are always there, which adds to the enjoyment of watching it again & again. There is a sequel movie due out later this year as well as all the side manga & Light Novels to round out the narrative universe as well as character backgrounds.

Highly recommended.

K