Bisco Hatori, a mangaka made famous by the popular Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran Koukou Hosuto Kurabu), returns to work with her newest title: Behind the Scenes!! (Urakata!!). Published Hakusensha’s monthly LaLa magazine, the same publication that Ouran ran in, Hatori’s newest work receives a similar degree of familiar treatment in English with Viz manga publishing under its Shoujo Beat label and John Werry, translator of Hatori’s’ Millennium Snow and several chapters of Ouran, providing the translation.
Kurisu Ranmaru is a college student with a pessimism streak a mile wide. In his eyes, he’s always been teased by his peers, has no luck with the ladies, and even destroys any after school club he comes in contact with. Yet Ranmaru’s self-defeatist attitude is swiftly turned upside down when one day he finds himself in the middle of a shoot for a zombie film on his college campus. After passing out from shock, Ranmaru comes to in the middle of the workshop for Shichikoku Unviersity’s Art Squad: the home of the set builders, costume designers, and special effects artists responsible for supporting the activities of the school’s four extremely active film clubs. Although Ranmaru himself doesn’t think he has anything to offer the Art Squad at first, the squad’s leader, Goda Ryuji, bullies him into helping anyway. But when disaster strikes and a scale model for a sci-fi movie is destroyed, Goda quickly comes to realize that Ranmaru’s low self-esteem is hiding a wealth of crafting talent and skill in observation. At Goda’s behest, Ranmaru agrees to help the Art Squad and slowly begins to realize that maybe he isn’t the hopeless loser he once thought he was.
Behind the Scenes!! presents an interesting challenge in that it’s a manga that’s difficult to classify. Despite being published in a monthly shoujo magazine, it lacks the clearly outlined romantic overtones typical of the genre. Instead, Hatori tells a charming and character-driven story with no clear overarching plot or romantic overtones setting up within the first volume. The story’s pacing has an episodic, day in the life feeling to it. Each set of chapters after the first one provides a simple conflict-resolution pattern as the Art Squad scrambles to meet the demands of the various film clubs on campus. Much like with her previous series, Hatori uses this as a perfect canvas to let her characters shine and create a more organic story. With each new challenge, we see more of Ranmaru’s strengths come to the fore and catch onto the little quirks and foibles of his cohorts like Maasa’s obsession with gory makeup effects and Izumi’s completely unawareness of his appeal with his female classmates. The addition of Hatori’s playful naming conventions of adapting her favorite directors into character names (Enjoji Ruka is George Lucas, Tenba Tomu is Tim Burton, etc.) just serves to add another fun twist in the manga’s homage to the film industry.
Although Hatori’s story and character development remain solid, at times the art on the page doesn’t quite measure up. Though she excels her in character design, giving each member of the cast a unique appearance that reflects their personality, it’s her paneling and backgrounds that wind up lacking. While she does take the time to put detail into the wide shots needed for establishing the setting, the panels occur far more infrequently than they should, sometimes leading to entire pages with no establishing backgrounds. As a result, it’s difficult to establish a sense of space on the page and understand the sequence of events on the page. The lack of action sequences within the manga mean that this isn’t as much of an issue as it could be, but it does make it clear that Hatori’s story is more about the characters on the page than it is about the world around them.
In terms of translation, Werry’s familiarity with Hatori’s work shows through. The dialogue flows well throughout and even Hatori’s frequent side comments and sound effects are translated in a natural way. The details of Werry’s translation notes also provide the reader with just enough context to familiarize themselves with the Japanese cultural references interwoven in the story.
While it may not be the standard shoujo ticket, Behind the Scenes!!, nevertheless, is a manga that’s sure to delight any cinephiles out there. The first volume may be slow to start, but with Hatori at the helm of this fun and lively cast of characters it should prove worthwhile to watch this manga evolve.