From Square Enix’s Gangan Online publication, the seasoned shoujo pro Tsubaki Izumi–mangaka of Ore-sama Teacher and The Magic Touch (Oyakubi kara Romance)–brings a new perspective on shoujo manga to live with Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun). A nominee for prestigious Manga Taisho award, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is published in English by Yen Press with a translation provided by newcomer to the field, Leighann Harvey.
As in all shoujo manga, love is in the air from the very start with Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Our heroine, the second-year Sakura Chiyo, confesses her love to Nozaki Umetarou, your typical tall dark and handsome sort of guy. But what follows is anything but typical. In response to her confession, Nozaki hands Sakura an autograph and quickly harangues her into coming to his apartment for what else? Helping him ink out pages on the shoujo manga that he’s publishing. We quickly come to find that while holding down his life as a student, Nozaki is also a successful mangaka who often enlists the help of his classmates to help him meet strict publishing deadlines. While Sakura’s infatuation for Nozaki never wavers, she finds herself tossed from one ridiculous situation to the next as Nozaki tries to draw inspiration for his manga from the lives of his friends and classmates.
Presented in 4-koma format, a popular paneling style used in comedy manga that’s somewhat reminiscent of Sunday morning newspaper comics for Americans, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun keeps its pacing upbeat and driving with punchlines on almost every page. The meta commentary on not only the manga production industry but also the tropes of shoujo manga as a whole are also nothing short of delightful. From Nozaki drawing inspiration for his heroine from the flashy yet cripplingly shy Mikoshiba Mikoto (dubbed Mikorin), to his storied history with his narcissistic braggart of a former manager, Maeno Mitsuya, Tsubaki perhaps puts her own experiences to the page in a way that makes it easy to laugh at the sort of twists and turns we’re used to seeing from Japanese romances.
But just because the manga presents itself primarily as parody doesn’t mean the characters lack any depth of motivation. In this regard, Tsubaki manages a delicate balance between the exaggerated nature of the circumstances encountered on every page with the relatability of each character brought forth on the page. There may not be a prince like Kashima Yuu dazzling the stage and brazenly flirting with every girl she sees in everyone’s life. Yet still, it’s easy to relate to her upperclassman Hori Masayuki’s conflicting desires to witness her impressive acting talent and to smack her upside the head for her lackadaisical attitude towards rehearsals. Part of the delight in Tsubaki’s comedy comes from wondering just how her characters are going to find themselves flustered, shocked, irritated or infatuated by each other with each turn of the page.
Though the character driven aspect of the story keeps it energetic and accessible for those who might not be genre-savvy, the adaptation from Yen Press does at times leave something to be desired. Harvey’s translation serves the story well, save for a few bumps like calling a tandem bicycle a “four wheeler” on multiple occasions. However, it’s the editorial choices that bring the volume down. Sound effects on the page are only translated once per page, which makes for a somewhat confusing read when the same sound is used over and over again in a short visual space. Additionally, unlike the industry standard of putting translator’s notes at the end of a volume, Yen Press has elected to slot them into the middle of the book instead. Not only does this make it difficult to refer back to the notes when they’re needed, but also reads as somewhat confusing as the notes on page 60 reference story pages all the way out to page 116.
Despite these disappointments in Yen Press’s adaptation, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun still holds strong in the story and characters it puts to the page. For die hard shoujo fans, it’s a must read for a bit of levity and parody at the popular stories in the genre for any other manga or comic fans, it’s a fun and ridiculous look at just what it takes to put stories to the page.