Otaku USA Magazine
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun [Review]

Manga mayhem at its finest!

You know how they say you should never meet your idols? Chiyo Sakura learned this lesson the hard way, unfortunately. All she wanted to do was confess to the tall and somber Umetaro Nozaki. Unfortunately, she stumbles and ends up saying she’s his “biggest fan.” This flub ends up getting her his autograph and an invitation of recruitment to assist Nozaki with the popular shojo manga he writes. Turns out Nozaki is the popular shojo manga author Sakiko Yumeno. Of course, once she realizes she can be closer to Nozaki as his assistant, she fully embraces being Nozaki’s guinea pig.

This is the scenario that throws us into the 2014 summer anime adaptation of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, with animation done by Dogakobo. Now the thing with most anime comedies, no matter what your opinion, is that they’re stuck in a never-ending debate about whether or not they are funny consistently enough to be considered a funny title. With Nozaki-kun, however, the debate is instead which seat this particular adaptation should take among the all-time comedy classics.

Nozaki-kun is only focused on being an entertaining and well-executed comedy, which it does to a crazy level. It takes what would normally be regular shojo conventions and mutates them into hilarious gags. It knows that a good portion of these formulas and tropes are simply ridiculous (I point to the bicycle skit in the first episode as a glorious example). At the same time, however, the show manages to remain deeply passionate about them. So Nozaki-kun ends up appealing to those who adore shojo romances as much as it appeals to those who loathe them with a passion. The best part is that all of these jokes have an actual purpose—as in, contributing to the production of the manga—and aren’t just there to fill moments where nothing happens.

But Nozaki-kun doesn’t stop there; the other side of this particular coin of comedy is the core cast of eccentric individuals, each having a fresh twist, often in the form of hilariously contrasting characteristics. First, there’s Nozaki himself. You would expect a shojo writer like him to have a keen intellect when it comes to romance. Instead, you have this tall guy who knows literally nothing about falling in love. Next is Nozaki’s friend Mikorin (aka best girl), who puts on a charming and cool exterior when he’s really usually just a breath away from having a panic attack. Meanwhile, Chiyo’s friend Seo is something of a tragedy-loving brute of a schoolgirl, but she has a diva-level singing voice. Elsewhere there’s Kashima, the “prince” of the school who is in fact a tall, boyish-looking girl who can easily charm other girls, often resulting in her being on the receiving end of hilarious slapstick (think Tamaki from Ouran).

It’s these contrasting quirks that form a whole new layer of laughs. Nozaki uses these people as inspiration for his manga characters. But instead of simply writing them as they are, he takes their personalities and implants them into the “expected” shojo stereotypes. So in Nozaki-kun, Mikorin becomes the manga’s heroine, Seo is the boorish male rival, and Kashima is cast as the charming prince. Nozaki is basically taking the people he knows and contorting them so that they conform to the status quo of gender expectations. If that’s not metafictional, then I don’t know what is.

Ironically, the only character that doesn’t have a fresh twist is Chiyo herself, instead fitting the role of the common “shojo heroine” fairly well. But often, despite desperately wanting to be in a shojo romance, she keeps realizing that she simply isn’t, which ultimately causes her to give off a lot of “straight man” vibes. She’s kind of like Frank Grimes from The Simpsons—someone who puts in a lot of effort to succeed but simply can’t keep up with the insanity of the rest of the show (minus the electrocution at the end, of course). You can even see this in the art (which, for the record, is sharp, clean, and full of rich coloring); Chiyo is the only character that doesn’t look someone who popped directly out of a shonen anime.

Ultimately, the key to the success of Nozaki-kun as a comedy is that it manages to focus on its strengths and play them up to the highest degree. For all of the characters it contains, not once does this anime give off any sign of difficulty when it comes to juggling all of them and ensuring that they’re all well rounded and necessary. As far as comedies go, this one has the most outside-the-box attributes to give it a spot in the history books, complete with all the full-of-rose-petals cheese that we normally associate with falling in love.

Studio/company: Sentai Filmworks
Available: Now
Rating: Not Rated

This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Otaku USA Magazine. Click here to get a print copy.