Monday, July 23, 2018

ANIME REVIEW: Monthly-Girls Nozaki-Kun is a fun satire of phone-it-in shoujo manga

I will start by admitting that I misinterpreted the name of this series for a while, even after reading high praise for it, thinking it some sort of harem or reverse harem show. Thankfully, Monthly-Girls Nozaki-kun is anything but. Instead it is a laugh-out-loud dry-humor send-up of weakly written, lowest-common-denominator shoujo manga and does it within the outline of a shoujo anime! Well done, well done!

The basic premise is that Chiyo has fallen for handsome Nozaki-kun. When she tries to confess, it comes out wrong and he gives her an autograph. This is how we learn that he is actually a shoujo mangaka writing and drawing under a pseudonym, and it's a highly successful series as well (hence the title, he's publishing in "Monthly Girls" or some such fake magazine). Chiyo, a fell art student, finds herself helping with the betas (filling in the black areas in the art) and realizes it's a fun way to get closer to Nozaki. Along the way, she meets his other assistants, all other high-school students, all doing their best to cover for the nearly inept Nozaki (who can draw characters, but can't plot, write dialogue, or do much of anything else).

Each episode ends up picking apart a crappy shoujo trope or corner-cutting approach to the trash shoujo that is all too prevalent. It does this through a male lead, Nozaki, who is as tone deaf about relationships as a human can be, and can't seem to write dialogue other than "I'll protect you" followed by "Oh Suzuki-kun" over and over again between his two protagonists in the most meaningless series possible, that unfortunately looks and reads like too much shoujo out there.

What we come to find out that our heroine Chiyo, who at first seems like a traditional shoujo heroine (one whose sole mission in life is to find the perfect boyfriend), in fact might be the only person in the series with her head on straight. She ends up playing the straight man to the rest of the characters' quirks and complete lack of sense. So while she continues to pine for Nozaki, she ends up being a more intelligent character than anyone else in the show.

I also really liked that the other two female characters, both of whom couldn't give a damn about guys. One was gender-fluid (in wonderful "Princely" type looks and dress including boy tops with a long skirt), and although she liked a male character, she went about it all wrong, in the most unfeminine ways while being amazingly flirtatious with other girls in ways she never could be with the guy she liked. The other was a rough, uncouth young woman who was violent in sports but sings like an angel and completely unfiltered when telling people what she thinks. They felt more real than the endless stream of guy-crazy girls that typically fill shoujo (which by the way, I'm a huge fan of, so I'm not dissing shoujo, only crappy shoujo).

The guys too were fairly complex. Other than the air-head Nozaki whose lack of any sense of other people's emotions made the fact that his characters "speak for the girls" in his manga all the funnier, we have a third-year actor who is too short and turns to directing and a hopeless flirt who embarrasses himself with his flirtatious words. We also get Nozaki's editor and the crap he has to put up with from his completely clueless client whose garbage manga none-the-less keeps selling. Not one of the males was the brooding, troubled, bad-boy trope, thank god!

This is largely a gag or dry-humor type show, so there isn't any depth or real character development, so I was glad it was only 12 episodes, because although they were all funny (I regularly laughed out loud), it was getting a bit boring. Also in the show's favor, was a complete lack of fan service. This was a show meant and designed for fans of great shoujo to knowingly wink at and make fun of the weak trash that gives shoujo a bad rap.

Overall, it felt like a "light" version of something like the satire from Ouran High School Host club. It didn't have that depth, but it certainly hit all the right notes in skewering the genre through Nozaki's hopelessly awful manga. Chiyo is winning and the voice acting is great throughout. I loved the gender-non-conforming young woman on many levels (as well as the guy she likes), they were a refreshing comedy duo. The opening theme is a nice funk-inspired song that sets up the complete lack of seriousness of the show well. The art is satisfactory, if not exceptional. The only real downside was that without any real character depth or development it was a bit boring by the end (but never un-funny). With that in mind it earns a solid 7/10 "recommended" - particularly if you're a fan of shoujo manga.

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