I had fairly high hopes for Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun heading into the season. There was some material reason to be optimistic – a very good cast, a decent staff, a pretty well thought-of source material that’s a manga and not a LN. Above and beyond that, though, this one simply looked interesting. It’s very rare to see a non-shoujo or josei school manga with a female lead – this one is published in the nominally shounen Gangan Online, a veritable treasure trove of good manga that blur demographic lines in a most appealing way.
Based on the first episode, it seems as if that optimism was mostly warranted. While the premiere wasn’t side-splittingly funny or anything, it was quite artfully done on every level. The art and animation from Dogakobo are sneaky good, that aforementioned cast (including a newbie as the lead) excellent, and the music from the under-appreciated Hashimoto Yukari is unusually effective. The comic timing is good as well. Even if there’s nothing that I love here yet, there’s a lot to like.
The conceit of the story is that Sakura Chiyo (a winning performance by newcomer Ozawa Ari) is in-love with fellow student Nozaki Umetarou (Nakamura Yuuichi) – the twist being that Nozaki-kun is also famous shouju mangaka Sakuko Yumeno. When she finally works up the nerve to confess Sakura – unaware of that fact – does so by saying “I’ve always been your fan!” (which sounds strange to my American ears as a confession, but apparently isn’t an unusual way for schoolgirls to “pop the question” in Japan). The rather dense Nozaki-kun misunderstands and takes her literally, offering Sakura an autograph as a token. One thing leads to another and Art Club member Sakura ends up going to Nozaki’s apartment to do beta (the manga equivalent of code monkey) work on his manga, “Let’s Fall in Love”.
That’s one of those silly premises that isn’t so silly that you can’t buy it in a comedy, and it works well here. The deadpan Nozaki and the genki and neurotic Sakura make an excellent couple by nature of their utter contrast, and Nozaki himself is an interesting study in contrasts – he looks and sounds like an adult but his behavior drops many hints that his maturity level is very much that of a 16 year-old boy. Nozaki immediately sees the value in having a member of his target demographic – indeed, a reader of his own manga – as a sounding board, and much of the humor springs from that premise.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is a 4-koma manga and that’s evident in the humor, which plays more as a series of vignettes than a traditional full-length episode. There are very funny bits involving bikes (and their manga tropes) and cats, and regular cut-ins from “Let’s Fall in Love“, whose leads are voiced by Mamoru Miyano and Miyake Marie. We also meet another character destined to be Nozaki’s assistant, Mikoshiba Mikoto (Okamoto Nobuhiko). There’s a lot of potential humor to be mined from the crossover of school life and romance and a manga about school life and romance, and the overall quality of the production is a very good sign of things to come. This is a very solid start, and I see potential for even better things from this series going forward.