Manzai Comics 1

May 3, 2009

Atsuko Asano / Hizuru Imai – Aurora – 2009 – 5 volumes

I reviewed the first volume of this series for the Manga Recon, so you can check it out over there.

I’ve been a bit doubtful about picking up Aurora’s series after being disappointed with Nephilim and Flock of Angels, so I was really, really surprised when I found myself liking this volume so much.  It’s a little bit funny, a little bit sad, and mostly about a boy making friends with a lot of nice kids at school and picking himself up after a tragedy.  Stories like this are very much my thing.  You may have been able to guess this based on the fact I’ve posted two others with similar appeal tonight (Narration of Love at 17 and Honey and Clover).  The Manzai Comics isn’t quite like either of those, and lacks a lot of the subtlety those series have, but it’s still really good, and it’s sort of a different approach to the same type of story.

Manga Recon bit the dust in 2012, so here’s the review for posterity…

Ayumu tries hard to fit in. He just moved to a new school, and he’s keeping a low profile so he can blend in and be as “normal” as possible. But all that changes when he begins to be hounded by Takashi, a loud and persistent classmate that insists on Ayumu partnering with him to become a two-man manzai comedy team. Ayumu wants no part of this (especially since it sounds like Takashi is asking him out), but Ayumu’s need to recover from a recent tragedy, combined with Takashi’s persistence, may mean he’s along for the ride.

One of the problems with a series like this is that the theme is something that a western reader has no knowledge of. In this case, it’s the manzai comedy routine. A lack of knowledge about the way these routines work becomes a problem right away, since the first thing that happens is Takashi asking Ayumu to “go out” and “be his partner,” which confused Ayumu until he mentions it’s a routine, and confused me when the conversation kept moving in that direction. All of Takashi’s conversations are like this, and I think they are all supposed to be manzai routines, but it can be hard to determine sometimes, especially when he’s being serious.

Aside from that, there’s actually a lot to like about this book. It is equal parts comedy, drama, romance, and Ayumu’s struggle to recover from a horrible family tragedy and decide how he wants others to perceive him. Despite Takashi’s outbursts, he’s a good friend to Ayumu, and it’s nice to see him support Ayumu, who clearly lacks self-confidence. The pair also has a lot of friends in their class at school, and these characters have their own individual personalities, problems, and parts to play in the story. I was surprised the ensemble cast sprung up so quickly and was developed so well in just the first volume.

It’s actually kind of surprising to see a book like this that’s so good at combining the number of genres it touches on. The humor fell a little flat for me, but it was still cute to see Takashi trying so hard to make everyone laugh. The romantic parts are a little tacked on, and I’m not sure if Takashi and Ayumu are supposed to be a couple, or if that really can be passed off as manzai comedy. They do get more and more serious about each other as the volume goes on, though, and there’s even a bit of a triangle since Ayumu likes Takashi’s friend, Megumu, who in return likes Takashi and hates Ayumu for getting between the two of them. The serious bits are pretty depressing, and surprisingly, the gloom surrounding Ayumu and his mother was revealed in this volume when normally that would be left for later.

About the only thing I didn’t like about it, other than not being sure about whether conversations were supposed to be manzai routines, was the fact that the plot relies on the cliché of the class play. To be fair, it’s used quite well here. The four friends I mentioned earlier are the ones that are on the committee with Ayumu and Takashi, and the class’s rendition of Romeo and Juliet is turned into a manzai-style Romeo and Juliet that helps to show just how far Ayumu has come with his new friends. Maybe it’s just because I’ve read class play storylines too many times, I just found myself wishing that the pair had found some other venue.

It’s a great start to a feel-good kind of story. Although I complained about the manzai theme, it is pretty unique. There’s nothing remarkable about the story or characters as of yet, but it’s doing a lot of things well, and the series could shape up to be a satisfying read.