I don’t read a lot of stuff that makes me laugh out loud. I’m not sure why this is because I do, in fact, like to laugh. But I tend to pick up things that are more thoughtful or serious in some way, which may have their humorous moments, but tend to focus more on the drama or the theme. So it’s pretty strange that I have in recent days read not one, but two series that completely crack me up. And although they’re very different in some ways, they do have a surprising amount in common, so I figured what better way to talk about them than with a little compare and contrast.
I’ve been meaning to read Ishikawa’s work ever since I had dinner with her last year and had to confess that I had never read her stuff. And not only had I not read her work, I had actually seen it on the shelves and decided not to bother with it. (I didn’t tell her that part. Please don’t be reading this, Chika.) Koban (her other series) and Metro both have a cartoon-y style, with thick lines and comically exaggerated expressions, and it just didn’t grab me. But after hanging out with her and seeing how completely hilarious she is, I figured that had to show up in her work, so when I came across Metro the other day, I picked it up.
And it is just as hilarious as Ishikawa herself, with special art action, telling the tale of two new station attendants at a tiny metro station, Shiomi and Tsukishima, and their boss, Tsukuda. I was way off in my initial assessment of her cartoon-y style. It’s true that it’s not the kind of thing I usually go for, but she can make a lot of the gags happen precisely because of these solid lines, gags that would just look out of place in any other style. Like the running gag of Tsukuda’s eyes popping right through the lenses of his glasses and sending shards of glass flying at whatever insanity his subordinates are currently up to.
And his subordinates are often up to some kind of insanity. Tsukishima is basically turned on by everything, mentioning how he is really excited about some aspect of something and then invariably following that up with, “Sexually”. And Shiomi has a serious mother complex and is obsessed with water leaks. He builds elaborate structures out of plastic and tape, rather than just putting a bucket under the leak. Later, we also meet the station master, a small, 7-year-old dog named Keiko, who is the jealous type and so, so funny. The cutesy, slightly flat and exaggerated art makes everything funnier, allowing characters to really ham it up and play up every possible moment for maximum laughs.
Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun (thanks to Love Love Hill collective member Kim for recommending this one!) is also completely hilarious, a four-panel comic starring Nozaki, a third-year high school student who has a secret life as a famous shojo manga artist. His secret is found out by Sakura when she goes to confess her love to him, in classic shojo style. But she is too nervous and rather than “I like you”, she blurts out “I’m a fan!”, which Nozaki takes to mean she likes his manga and so he gives her his signature. She then ends up doing his inks for him, and only after she spends a day at his house inking pages does she finally realize that he is the person who draws her favourite manga. Of course, Nozaki is the polar opposite of who you’d expect to be drawing shojo manga, lacking any kind of tact or guile, creating a ridiculous dissonance between the comics he draws and the comic he is in.
Later on, we meet would-be ladies man, Mikoshiba, who acts the part of the playboy from shojo manga but who is completely unable to follow through on that (hilarity ensues, naturally); Kashima, the dreamy prince of shojo manga, good at everything and treating the girls like princesses, except that this prince is a girl; and Hori, the all-around good guy theatre club president who actually draws the backgrounds for Nozaki; along with many other silly characters, each of which being a lovely twist on a stereotypical shojo character starring in storylines that also take shots at the usual shojo stuff.
Although both series consistently crack me up, that is not the only thing they have in common. Both have a sort of meta style to them, talking in the manga about being in a manga, what it means to be in manga, and how manga works. Ishikawa flat out breaks the fourth wall constantly in Metro, like when Shiomi tells Tsukuda at the end of the first chapter that Tsukishima “should be back in time for the next chapter.” Or when Shiomi remarks on the size of the panel Tsukuda appears in, wondering if he gets such a big panel because of his long absence from the comic (he doesn’t show up in the previous two chapters). But she also is a bit more subtle, inserting little references to how hard writing is and having characters wonder at the Germanic nature of sound effects.
Gekkan Shojo is more subtle in its talking about manga, but a lot of the humour in the series comes from the way it plays off of shojo manga and the sort of backstage look at manga that it presents at times. Seeing Nozaki, a straight-laced handsome high school guy with seemingly no interest in girls or romance, drawing wide-eyed girls confessing their love to dreamy princes, surrounded by sparkling flowers, is just such a great contrast. The four-panel format is great here too, keeping things from getting bogged down in complicated storylines, which would take away from the punch of the rather simple premise. So many of the jokes comes from a shojo-like set up in the first three panels that gets the rug yanked out from underneath it in the last panel.
But whatever meta-ness these series might have, the fact is they are just straight up funny. Nozaki and Mikoshiba playing a dating game and ending up staying up all night to write what is essentially BL fanfic about the best friend/guide character in the game, Tsukishima drunkenly hitting on Keiko at an izakaya when he gets drunk for this first time, and the many other ridiculous moments both series have to offer shocked snorts of laughter from me, often in public where I would rather not be snort-laughing. So be warned, you might want to keep these for reading at home where you can noisily ugly-laugh to your heart’s content.
UPDATE: This article is referring to the anime, but basically everything said in it applies to the manga and is well worth reading.
FURTHER UPDATE: Nozaki-kun is out in English, so there is absolutely nothing stopping you from reading it. Go forth and ugly laugh.