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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A weird way to advertise your TCG – Anime Critique: Selector Infected WIXOSS

indexTitle: Selector Infected WIXOSS (AKA selector infected WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: April 3, 2014 – June 19, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

WIXOSS (short for “Wish Across”) is a popular trading card game in which players battle against each other with fighters known as LRIGs (??? Rurigu?) (girl spelled backwards), using cards to support them. Ruko Kominato, who receives a WIXOSS deck from her brother, discovers that her LRIG, which she names Tama, can speak. She soon learns that she has been chosen as a ‘Selector’, girls who must battle against other Selectors. Should they be victorious in battle, they will be able to have any wish granted, but should they lose three times to other Selectors, they will lose that chance and lose all memory of the game. As she and various other Selectors battle it out for the sake of their wish, Ruko finds herself drawn into the dark sinister world of WIXOSS, discovering that win or lose, there is always a cost.


Review:

Mahou Shojo Madoka Magika truly has a lot to answer for, in now making every once light fluffy female demographic target anime into something dark & painful. Now, I don’t mind dark, twisted, violent &/or brutal anime series but it seem a bit of an extreme way to promote a Trading Card Game.

This season just finished had at least 5 anime series (don’t know, didn’t watch them) based around the promotion of new TCG franchises in what is essentially a very crowded marketplace within Japan. Selector Infected WIXOSS was designed as a way to promote awareness of the new Otome (Maiden) Card Game yet this series is so far removed from the practicality, cards & promotion of the series than something like Yu-Gi-Oh is.

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During the course of the 12 episode 1st series (something that I didn’t find out about until the last coda of the last episode, wondering how they were going to wrap it all up), you learn basically nothing about the real card game, how it’s played, the colour/element relationships or even what most of the cards look like. As a way of promoting a TCG series, it’s most odd but the plot of the series pretty much kills any chance to promote the game as something fun to play with friends.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Selector Infected WIXOSS is pretty dark -both visually & in terms of the general narrative. The basic plot resolves around girls who are chosen to be Selectors by being partnered up with LRIG (girl backwards or the mirror of a girl), who are trapped within special WIXOSS cards. The Selectors then use the LRIGs to battle other Selectors (with the LRIGs as their proxies) so that they can have a wish granted. Unfortunately, in order to achieve their wishes, they must first suffer the pain of knowing that they have destroyed the wish of other girls (if you lose 3 times, you lose your memory of the game & your wish) as well as having to suffer the possibility of having the same done to you, losing your bonded LRIG partner in the process. & boy! Do these girls suffer! & suffer! & suffer some more!

This unfortunately is a common trope in Japanese media. The worse things get in society &/or with the economy, the more the figure of the girl (especially in the shojo genre) is subjected to some brutal psychological treatment. It’s a topic that Dr Susan J. Napier has written a lot about in her career, saying at one point that the shojo genre has become geared toward “dark and damaging introspectives” (Napier 2006 p 296), with the female characters “becoming victims as they abandon their personal agency to ‘fate’” (Napier 2006 p 296). Basically, Napier is saying that the worse Japan feels as a nation, the more the media creators feminine objects that people (regardless of gender) feel the need to protect & hide away from harm. Because the feminine objects represent Japan as a whole & promoting the idea that populace needs to protect the nation from the harm caused by outside influence. This is a subject I’m becoming exceptionally well versed in & will write more about it at a later date but for now I will explain how it related to this anime series in particular.

The opening credit animation as well as the general set up makes series seem like will be something like a lighthearted shonen style cross promotional anime; where the girls form bonds of friendship as they struggle to help each other’s wishes come true. Instead what we get is an emotional & socially damaged & isolated girl learning the pain & hardships that come from lacking in personal desire/goals & watching her friends suffer as they come to terms with what it means to have their dangerous desires fulfilled. & it touches on some pretty dark subjects to bring that point across.

The central protagonist is Ruuko, a high school girl who lives with her grandmother in a small apartment after her mother abandoned her as a child because she (the mother) felt terrified by Ruuko’s strangeness. As such, Ruuko doesn’t feel the need to have friends or form relationships outside of her grandma or older brother, Ayumi. In order to cure this, Ayumi gives Ruuko a deck of WIXOSS cards, saying that to play she’ll have to make some friends. As fate would have it, inside Ruuko’s deck is the LRIG Tama, who is -let us say- remarkably simple (pretty much borderline retarded), who can only communicate in simple words at first (begging to battle mainly). Because of the mindlessness of her company, Ruuko (& thus the audience of whom she is the proxy) have no idea about the fantastical nature behind the WIXOSS game, which is why we are introduced quickly to Yuzuki, her fraternal twin brother Kazuki & Yuzuki’s (red) LRIG, Hanayo. Kazuki & Hanayo introduce Ruuko to the Selector Battles, which are in a pocket universe where the LRIGs are given a physical (if diminutive) forms so they can draw upon the power of their respective decks in order to become an Eternal Girl, so their wishes can be granted. With the aforementioned rule of 3 loses means losing all rights to becoming an Eternal Girl as well as all memories related to the Selector Battles.

These wishes are not some random fancy, like wanting to be a princess or other such drivel. They reach to the core of desire & the person darkness/grief that heavy & hidden desires can bring. In Yuzuki’s case it’s her desire to have an incestuous relationship with her twin, Kazuki.

This was something that came out of nowhere early on but also wasn’t taken lightly. Yuzuki is shown as knowing how socially & morally wrong her wish is but it’s that knowledge as well as the possibility of having that wish answered without true consequence or punishment that causes Yuzuki’s personal schism. Struggling for what she wants with all her heart yet knowing how vile such a love & desire is as well as how society will react to learning the truth of her desire. A theme that is played out with other characters yet without much actually development of them or the background to their desires. More so when you are introduced to the other 3 characters & their individual desires.

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The opening credits makes it seems as though these other 3 will somehow be friends with Ruuko, & 2 of them are constantly dropped through the series because they are famous models, but all pretense of them being sweet, kind & normal is swiftly fucking curbed stomped by the big gritty boots of the Dark Narrative Fairy.

You see early mention of Iona & Akira in the first few episodes because they appear on advertisements & in magazines that background characters read but the 1st character you get introduced to is the shy & panicky Hitoe -whose wish is to be able to make true friends. Hiteo is a sweet girl whom Ruuko & Yuzuki quickly take to after battling her but not so much their reactions to meeting Akira & Iona.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - OP - Large 05

Iona is cold, dispassionate & bored with everything, carrying around an air of superiority & longing whilst her LRIG, Ulith, is a psycho who takes pleasure in the weakness of others. In this, Ulith is a mirror for Akira, who appears cute & sweet on the surface -speaking in a trendy-talk mixing in English words (Aki-lucky being her catchphrase)- but, in truth, she’s an opportunistic sadist who takes pleasure in discovering her opponents’ wishes & turning it against them by mocking them over it. She targets girls who have just lost, promising them easy victories so she can destroy them, all for her own wish of knocking Iona off her perch of Top Model, yet is terrified to face her in open battle because of Iona’s superior skill. So she uses tricks & bullying to become an Eternal Girl instead.

    Talking Akira & her sadistic habits brings up the other dark social issue that is the form of bullying known as Ijime -which I’ve previously spoken about in my Witch Craft Works review. Ijime is where groups pick on an individual using both physical & psychological attacks. Ijime is seen in various forms throughout the series but rears its disgusting visage when Akira tricks some of Ruuko’s classmates into bring her along so Akira can battle her. Naturally, Akira promised these girls a tour of the modelling studio, filling their heads with dreams of being discovered as models but as soon as they bring Ruuko to her, after chasing her & Yuzuki all over the school, she abandons them having got what she wanted. Yuzuki is also subjected to a more subtle form of this bullying, when she refuses to set her brother up with one of the girls in her class. This girl later threatens Kozuki by saying she’ll spread rumours of incest if she doesn’t kiss him, causing him to storm off in disgust. Yet these rumours are spread anyway by someone else, causing the twins’ school life to suffer.

& the series just gets darker from there as the nature of the Selector Battles & the truth of the Eternal Girls is revealed.


[SPOILER WARNING]

    What the girls painfully learn is that when one of them lose 3 battles, not only do they lose their memories of the Selector Battles but their wishes are reversed. So a girl with a serious disease wishing to live dies straight away, Hitoe -wishing for friends- lose all chance to ever made friends again, wracked with pain if Ruuko or Yuzuki touch her. Akira too loses her 3rd battle against Iona & gets a scar across her face, driving her even more insane (if that were possible). What makes it harder is that the LRIGs know about this but are forbidden to reveal this knowledge in case it stops the Selectors from battling.

selector-infected-WIXOSS-Episode-1-02

    Which leads into why the LRIGs are so eager to see the battles continue.

    It’s revealed when Yuzuki finally clears the preconditions for her wish that she is not granted her wish but rather her LRIG Hanayo is. Hanayo takes over Yuzuki’s body whilst Yuzuki is transformed into a LRIG (who, as fate would have it, is paired up with the near catatonic Hitoe) & forced to continue to battle so she’ll be released from her card but placed in the body of another girl. Thus perpetuating the cycle.

    This drives Ruuko to chose to use Tama’s unique power to free all of the Eternal Girls & LRIGs but this plan is broken by Maya -the ruler of the LRIG realm- who manipulates Tama into breaking the Eternal Girl Oath, thus causing Ruuko to lose to Iona, who then becomes Ruuko’s LRIG (her wish being to battle forever because she’s hollow inside & only feels alive during combat). Which is a bit of a downer ending for the series but turns out there is a follow up -Selector Spread WIXOSS due out later this year (Northern Hemisphere Autumn according to the coda).

[SPOILER ENDS]


In all honesty, this might be a very rough series for a lot of people to watch. It deals with some heavy issues -those mentioned above but also issues of physical & emotional abuse from parents & the inability to connect with others.

I think it might have had a touch more impact if you got more development from Ruuko & Tama, since they are the central partnership.

Tama is pretty annoying, because she talks in such a childish way with a bit of a grating voice -always demanding that Ruuko finds other Selectors to battle & repeating things said to her like a mentally damaged parrot. It is hand-waved away that Tama is both special & empty, symbolised by her white colour & ability to level up more quickly than other LRIGs. Yet Tama knows nothing about being a LRIG or the rules of the Selector Battles, so it’s left to Hanayo to explain everything for Tama, Ruuko & the audience.

HorribleSubs-selector-infected-WIXOSS-01-720p.mkv_snapshot_14.10_2014.04.03_18.33.04

Unfortunately, like the series as a whole, Ruuko’s development is also terse.

She speaks in an immature manner (calling herself Ruu in the 3rd person, an affectation that Tama also does) & you are told that she has had past trauma with her mother abandoning her but you don’t get a full sense of why & how in this series. Ruuko is also shown to be obsessed with battle, coming alive much in a fashion like Iona does, but she’s always chastising herself for lacking a wish to have -believing that she has no right to battle since its pointless if she wins because it will achieve nothing. She also falls quickly to despair upon learning all the truths of the Selector Battles yet, like an addict, keeps coming back to them, willing to sacrifice herself to save her friends.

She isn’t a bad character over all; just too thinly render. Which is common across all of the cast, unfortunately. You get more time with Yuzuki’s backstory than any other but I really wanted to know why Akira was so insane, driven to destroy Iona, & why Iona herself is willing to destroy her own life just to be able to find the perfect Selector to use her in battle (which is Ruuko since she believes Ruuko is the perfect embodiment of battle).

Still, even with all the darkness & heaviness, this is a series that I would recommend to those looking for something that goes against many current media trends (unfortunately not the ones about abusing &/or torturing young female characters). I really want to see the 2nd series because I genuinely want to see what happens to the characters as well as the truths behind the Selectors & LRIGs.

Also, there is a lack of hypersexualisation within the series. There is still sexualisation (mainly around the designs of the LRIGs) but not to an offensive or grating level. I would still have preferred to have seen more explanation of the game itself (since it is a marketing tool after all) but the story does honestly hold up on itself own without being tied to an existing merchandising product. It might be stronger if it wasn’t a branded entity but if you can look past the product tie-ins & narrative terseness, you might be intrigued by what you see.

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