Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

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Today, some confessions are in order. I’ve always known that I don’t deserve to call myself a diehard anime fan, not because I don’t love anime deeply, but because I simply can’t afford the time to watch as many classics as I’d like, or follow as many new shows as I’d like. College life is stimulating but heavy-going; much of it is to do with the nature of my course, but it’s more to do with my (note: entirely personal) belief that my academics take priority. The result is that I’m ill-disciplined about finishing must-watch series which I’m simply not in the mood for, and that also means that I usually miss the hype-train long after I actually get around to finishing something amazing. So thankfully, the stress of reading too much has recently spurned an insatiable craving for comedy anime. “I just finished Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun!” I proudly told my fellow anime-fan friend a month or so ago. “Oh my gosh, you’re SLOW!” she replied immediately. (Shrugs) I don’t deny it, but hey, better late than never, right?

Nozaki-kun aired in 2014 (I know, I know, that was last year, I’m so late to the party), and follows the merry misadventures of a group of high school students at Roman High. More specifically, it’s the story of how second-year Chiyo Sakura decides to take the brave step in confessing to her long-time crush Umetarou Nozaki, and winds up discovering that he’s got an alter ego as a popular female shoujo mangaka. Nozaki mistakes her infatuation for fangirling, and ropes her in as his newest assistant, tasked with inking in the beta portions for his work. As the series progresses, Chiyo encounters more of Nozaki’s guy-friend assistants, all of whom are also students at Roman High; and all of whom have their own problems, which usually relate to girls in one way or another. Nozaki himself, who has no real experience with affairs of the heart (despite the ironic nature of his work), pounces at every chance to observe the workings of real-life relationship mishaps, and incorporate them into his newest plots.

Nozaki-kun is a comedy – to be exact, it’s a parody of the shoujo genre. For that reason, I’m not certain it’s readily accessible to everyone and anyone unless they’re at least familiar with standard tropes. I watched it with my sister, who’s more used to watching shounen with me, and I had to explain things like how riding bikes and sharing umbrellas are standard facets of shoujo romance, and especially how the different backgrounds in manga contribute to different atmospheres (for example, the black and white swirls denoting fear, intimidation or gloom). But at the end of the day, we both enjoyed it thoroughly – so I think it’s a safe bet that most people can still catch a good portion of the jokes, even if the best of the “inside jokes” are inevitably lost on the completely uninitiated.

Humour is, of course, entirely subjective – but that said, the good thing about comedy shows is that out shows from all other genres, I can gauge a comedy’s appeal based on the sheer number of times I’m willing to re-watch it. When it comes to Nozaki-kun, don’t ask me how many times I’ve re-watched some episodes. It’s a downright hilarious show; I’ve split my sides laughing at every turn. So what’s so funny about Nozaki-kun, you ask?

Well, explaining that requires a little background. See, Nozaki-kun is a parody of shoujo plotlines and elements, but in the wider scheme of things, it’s a show about the reversal of stereotypical gender roles. There’s already an excellent article on how Nozaki-kun does this, so please go check it out. The upshot of it all is, Nozaki-kun is funny because you’re laughing at characters who seem to “get their roles all wrong,” but what makes it so easy to laugh is the fact that all of them are so comfortable being who they are, you ultimately realise that you’re just laughing at your own subverted expectations of gender archetypes. Take for example, Kashima, who can’t seem to understand why her beloved Hori-senpai is completely unimpressed by her heroism and princely charisma. Her frustrations are the most adorable thing I have ever seen – but no way would I ever want Kashima to give in to playing the damsel-in-distress. She’s absolutely confident the way she is, and that’s how she’s should stay.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between Nozaki-kun and Ouran High School Host Club, another comedy which is known for its gender-bending premise. Flame me if you will, I can’t help but love Nozaki-kun’s approach so much more than Ouran’s. A lot of the “aww” factor in Ouran is seeing Haruhi give in to traditional “girliness” by having her wear a dress, or freak out over a thunderstorm – a guilty pleasure, no doubt, but one that reinforces gender stereotypes more than it addresses them, no?

Anyway, back to Nozaki-kun. Nozaki-kun marks the first time that I am madly in love with every single character in the main cast. Usually it’s the main characters who are outstanding and supported by their peripheral friends, or it’s a hugely compelling villain that steals the show, or some side character like Hatake Kakashi/Captain Levi will ooze coolness and sell merchandise by the millions. But Nozaki-kun doesn’t exhibit this phenomenon; every single one of the seven leads are downright entertaining to watch. Whether it’s the bashful Mikoshiba, or the soft-hearted athelete Wakamatsu, or the crass Seo – they’re all wonderful. Again, a lot of their likeability is to do with the fact that none of them are afraid to break gender norms. The boys are often vulnerable, or put into humiliating situations; the girls are far from coy and subservient…and it’s all great fun to watch. For the sake of maintaining my commonly poised and mature image, I shall reserve fangirling over my favourite character for the postscript.

A lot of the comedy is pulled off through the artwork and style. Shoujo manga is typically overflowing with flowers, sparkles, and other shimmery effects – but while these are used to evoke the reader’s normal reactions for a romance, Nozaki-kun pretty much desecrates all that by using them to comedic effect. The hilarious juxtapositions are also well-supported by some really simple but effective expressions from the main cast.

Also, the soundtrack is glorious – it switches between serious and light-hearted so as to pull off the punchlines with perfect timings. It helps when you use familiar classics like Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Bach’s Air (my all-time favourite classical piece) to build up the pretence seriousness, before lobbing in some gag music and dropping the ball on the characters and the audience. I would also mention the OP, but there’s just so little to talk about which hasn’t already been mentioned out there (somewhere). Suffice to say that I listen to it in the mornings when I wake up, and at night when I sleep, and whenever I do my work in between, and I’m still not sick of it.

Also, I mentioned in my Saekano write-up, that my own funny bone is set off by funny voices. I think that the voice acting in Nozaki-kun, was the real thing that sealed the deal on all these characters. Many of these characters have double sides to their personality, and this is carried off well by their seiyuus. For example, Kashima has a deep, alluring tone when she’s being romantic, but the moment she’s frustrated or upset, it mellows into a really kawaii voice that makes me just want to hug her. And Nozaki, well – he’s usually calm and stoic, so watching him get the slightest bit worked up or excited over something is just worth its weight in gold.

Now, I admit that I didn’t find everything about Nozaki-kun funny – not all the jokes worked, and none of the non-high-school characters (like Ken, Maeno, and Miyako) were all that entertaining for me. But hey, that’s the nature of humour; not everything works for everyone, so the idea is to have a variety of tricks up your sleeve, so that there’s widespread appeal. But then again. I wonder, though, if that’s really why I’m so taken in by Nozaki-kun. I mean, I was laughing throughout it all…but why was I so happy laughing?

Which brings me back to what I talked about, all the way at the start. Gender roles. Subversion. I’m sharing this as a purely personal experience, but hear me out on it. See, I read a lot of feminist literature at A levels. Enough to last me a lifetime. Feminist poetry, feminist critiques, stories of the “female” experience, books shaming “patriarchy;” I have read a lot of those. But maybe I still haven’t read enough, and I’m sure that’s partly the case. Because after having trawled through so much, I’ve never found myself particularly “entertained” by any of it. Enlightened, sure. Profoundly and deeply affected, definitely. But I’ve never actually read a book, or watched a movie, where I’m laughing myself silly and thinking, this one’s got it nailed. Girls aren’t just X and boys aren’t just Y – people are people, plain and simple!

Well, Nozaki-kun is the first piece of literature which has given me that pleasure. Sure, maybe it’s because of the characters popping into chibi mode, the exaggerated flowers and sparkles which plain text can never replicate – I’m still entertained, all the same. The way it’s handled is just so balanced – Wakamatsu thinks that basketball is cooler than drawing shoujo, Nozaki respectfully thinks otherwise; on another occasion Wakamatsu cries, Nozaki comforts him, and it’s all so natural and likeable, plus we actually get bonus laughs out of these exchanges! There’s just so much to love about the spirit of this whole show. It’s a shining example for all other comedies to follow, and excuse me if I say this unashamedly, but I’d put this on a list of “feminist” works if I could. 9/10 for dorky shoujo parodies, and the purest of all my love…goes to none other than…

 [Warning: Next section may be uncharacteristic of the author]


Hori

P.S. I think Suzaku is in danger of being dethroned, because Hori-senpaaai

His rolled up sleeves his tie in his pocket his gelled-up bangs his hidden acting skills his spatial awareness his random outbursts arghhh too much doki-doki feels for my heart to take. Surely a real-life Hori-senpai is not too much to ask for?

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