Sunday, March 8, 2020

Komi Can't Communicate Volumes 3-5

Hey all! Happy New Year! --I am aware it's March. It's been busy for Sunday and me. So much so that I've had to turn to other talented writers to provide content for the blog. You've had the stylings of Jecka with her Conan review and now I'd like to introduce you to Marion who will take over from your busy blogger to boast a Komi bounty! For more of their writing take a looksee here

Komi Can't Communicate is a charming series. The eponymous Komi herself exudes nothing but the most powerful anxiety known to mankind, yet everyone around her mistakes it for stoicism and coolness. It's that kind of gap moe that incites fans, and our secondary protagonist, Tadano, to continue rooting for her as she inches ever closer to her goal of making 100 friends in high school. Volumes 3 through 5 provide an ample taste of just how her steady efforts translate into a unique charisma that reward her with the fruit of friendship and camaraderie.

The fact that Tadano is Komi's first friend, and through that, has the most experience talking with her, is a simple to accept reason for them having the best chemistry, but it never feels unnatural for them to share a sweet moment together. This is because at the most basic level, Komi Can't Communicate is at its core one of my favorite kinds of stories: a tale about empathy. We know from his introduction back in Volume 1 that Tadano had a "dark" past. His transformation into our "everyman" happened only once he went through his own phase of cringe and growing up like every other kid, and it's because he knows the pain of not being able to share in events or conversations with others that he is able to feel out how Komi's inner turmoil appears in her actions. That said, Volume 3 on the whole focuses on Summer vacation for the kids at Itan High, and even with the more rote and standard fare like the pool episode, Oda manages to squeeze in some genuinely tender moments.

Tadano's sense of empathy and compassion is what leads to him pointing out to Komi how her friends are doing the most to show her they're having fun at the pool, after she feels she may have brought the mood down when she slipped and got injured. Or when they are able to sit down for a breather and even though Tadano laments that they didn't spend as much time with everyone else, Komi remarks to herself that she was happy just to spend time with him. Komi has a very particular kind of self-esteem issue where she consistently blames herself for every bad thing that happens to her or those around her, and Tadano, as someone who also hated himself, knows better than to feed into that. There have been multiple times now when Komi has straight up admitted to Tadano that she hates or dislikes herself, or that she wishes she could be different. It's this willingness to show vulnerability that allows Komi not only to grow, but to gradually accept herself. Tadano, having experienced similar bitterness and solitude, knows that part of getting out of that mindset is putting on that brave face. His "Everyone will be sad if you look gloomy," can easily be misinterpreted to be a form of guilting, but it's also the same kind of attitude that Komi herself takes when observing groups, so it's the line that implicitly tells her what she should be doing, and allows herself to try to have fun again.

Don't dislike yourself, Komi. Your friends care more for your safety than their own fun.

My favorite story in Volume 3 is when Komi goes out for shaved ice with her father. We learn that her father's side is where she gets her lack of communication skills, but where there is a lack of words, we see an abundance of care. Both Komi and her dad are sensitive to the others' actions, and it leads to a very moving scene. Komi jokes about not having a good time at school but quickly teases her dad that she was kidding. He ruffles her hair and takes a bite out of the shaved ice and gets a brainfreeze. There was barely any dialogue but the body language and neat separation of each page into (usually) only 4 panels lead to quick and punchy execution. Later on, at her grandmother's residence, we see a similar beat when it comes to her grandmother asking the same thing. The most important thing to take away from these scenes is that regardless of the fact that Komi is heavily overwhelmed by social anxiety and conventions, she has the foundation to overcome that--a loving and reaffirming environment by grace of her family. She is never berated for being quiet; her whole father's side of the family is similarly stoic and have difficulty expressing emotion. She's allowed to grow at her own pace and that's what will allow her to build the motivation to take steps on her own.

Makes you wonder if Komi and her father can pilot a Jaeger from Pacific Rim together...

Besides that, I was also a fan of Komi agonizing over inviting Tadano to hang out. Tadano literally predicted exactly how she would be in that exact position with his 200 social IQ but when Komi finally calls, the line is busy and she doesn't get to speak to him. Instead, she gets a call from Najimi shortly afterward and they get to hang out the next day anyway, at the pool. It's incredibly simple storytelling but because it never betrays the characterization established, it makes the progression of events that much more satisfying.

Komi--the world's most relatable character.

In Volume 4, Summer wraps up and we go back to school. This book overall feels slightly more disjointed because of the transition back to the school setting, but it also does a good job of establishing some progress with Komi's rapport between her friends (and fans). Nakanaka is the first girl whose home Komi gets to visit, and we get a cute Smash Brothers reference. Besides that, the next major mini arc we get is the Sports Festival, and as short as it is, we did get a lot of payoff! It turns out that all those people Komi got to hang and play with over the summer were around, and during a relay race in which Komi was her class's anchor, she ends up tripping and dropping the baton. Every one of her friends, and the rest of her class cheer for her, and we get a very palpable sense of drive from Komi. It's already been established that she never really participated in group events, and that she pines for a sense of belonging with others. Having the page where her classmates shout to cheer her on specifically have folks seen in the background like Yamai's popular girls, the three no-named boys who were judging swimsuits, alongside the other named characters like Agari, Nakanaka, and Najimi--it felt like a triumph, that everything Komi did up to this point to change herself in high school has led up to this moment. Seeing her ever-so slightly exasperated countenance with flushed cheeks was the perfect kind of ambiguity that sold the moment as her being frustrated but equally grateful she had her friends behind her back.

Real friends have your back no matter what!
Besides that, I think the most adorable part of this installment was Komi wanting Tadano to call her by her first name, but not being able to dish the same treatment out. We get a heart attack inducing compromise where by the end of the volume, they both trade cat-themed keychains they both won from a crane machine on the way to get purikura photobooth stickers with their group. Another standout is Komi's dream (nightmare?) of everyone at school having a sesame seed stuck to their face, but dealing with the abject terror of not being able to point it out without feeling overly conscious about it. Komi Can't Communicate is actually the world's most relatable comic when it comes to seeing our main character in her natural habitat.

Purikura, not to be confused with Pretty Cure!

As for the most recent Volume 5, this was definitely the strongest installment both storywise and character wise. We got a handful of new folks like Onemine, the big-sister type, and Otori, who is slow and ditzy. Onemine is a great character because, like many great characters, she is emotionally intelligent and a busybody, but not the kind to gossip. I actually really enjoy how she is introduced as someone Komi feels jealous towards, but not only does Komi quell those feelings, Onemine herself becomes aware of it and befriends her so that she can try playing cupid. It's sweet and pleasantly surprising to see a side character invest themselves into others like that while not really doing it for themselves.

The bulk of this book revolves around the upcoming culture festival, which gets much more buildup than the sports festival from Volume 4. Class 1-1 decides on a maid cafe and we get plenty of scenes of Komi trying to level up her communication skills and failing spectacularly. Something slightly personally off-putting for me but perfectly understandable in the context of the story is the deification of Komi as a figure in the class above everyone else. It's something that feels akin to arbitrary obstacles meant to be broken down in battle shonen, but obviously has meaning and purpose when it comes to how the narrative evolves. It made me feel really hard for Komi when she admits to Otori how she wanted very badly to participate and help out even in minor roles for the class, because she wasn't able to do so throughout her school career before this. Seeing everyone else unknowingly shrug off Komi while thinking they're doing a favor to the class idol is something that stings. It paints a clear picture to the reader that even folks who don't suffer from a communication disorder can easily misinterpret and inadvertently harm others with what they assume to be an act of goodwill.

A quick aside, my favorite gag was actually in the buildup to the festival, where Najimi, Tadano, and Komi were handing out fliers and we see the mother and baby from the library who showed up in Volume 3, and Komi cheered the baby up by smiling. She had a crazy dark intimidating aura in the panels before it and visually it was just very succinctly executed.

And here we see the wild Komi taming a mere infant using the mastery of her aura.

Once the festival gets rolling, however, it's back to antics and generally feel good stuff. A highlight is Tadano crossdressing and Komi totally being a fan about it. Najimi scheming to profit the most out of every other class is amusing, and I was also impressed at the fact that Komi even went along with Najimi's plan to advertise the class's cafe at the rooftop. The sheer idea of facing the entire student body and strangers visiting the venue to give them a message is something I could have never pictured Komi doing back in Volume 1. But her motivation has shot up immensely and she's already made more friends than she can count on one hand. Overall I think it was mostly good stuff all around. Tadano crossdressing was good because after the obligatory jokes pointing out that yes, this is happening, he really just spends the rest of the festival like that and it's normal. The book ends with Komi wanting to dance with him at the afterparty and they end up doing so, even if Najimi's meddling turned it into a throuple's affair.

Turns out the real Communication was the friends we made along the way.

Komi Can't Communicate was a very easy and enjoyable read, and much of that credit goes to Tomohito Oda's clearly defined paneling. John Werry's translation provided some very exemplary dialogue between modern teens, while maintaining the grace of being able to fit into both speech bubbles and Komi's notebook. Elizabeth Grandt's lettering was able to take Werry's script and frame it perfectly with the right fonts and sizes, which lead to leisurely reading. Seriously, the amount of fonts used are incredible. From Komi's handwriting, to sound effects, to the narrative text, to different character voices--it's close to impossible to get lost with who is saying what and that's something I cannot say for every single comic I've read out there. Komi Can't Communicate volumes 3-5 are available now thanks to Viz Media and their Shonen Sunday imprint both physically and on various digital retailers.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Sunday Retrospective (2019)

Greetings all! It's the end of the year and I didn't want to leave the blog without looking back at 2019 in memorandum. Sunday went through some interesting changes throughout to bring us where we are here with the magazine in 2020. It's nothing formal but let's look back at it, shall we?

The chart above indicates the rankings Sunday series had in the magazine's TOC and the color pages they received. (Thanks to Aipom626!) In all 10 new series began in Weekly Shounen Sunday in 2019. One was an irregular serialization, two have ended and one transferred out and concluded elsewhere. Overall 12 series ended in Sunday in 2019 including RYOKO, Yuugami, and Silver Spoon. These are the biggest names that ended in the magazine however we did lose very many smaller series with Undine, Memesis, Ano Natsu and Marry Grave all biting the dust. Saike also technically ended in the magazine very early in the year, though with Ponkotsu-chan almost immediately taking it's place it's almost as if Fukuchi never left, heh. We also had some short series like Ippei Aoki's Perfect Girl, and Mogi Yomogi's Mata Minu field de. It does seem as if Ichihara and the rest of the Shougakukan editorial department are trying to find new ways to introduce us to new series quickly and give rookies time to shine and further develop their storytelling and artistic skills. Not surprisingly some of the bigger hits this year came from established veterans --Takahashi with MAO and KOTOYAMA with Yofukashi no uta  but yet Shougakukan persists in giving the rookies spotlight despite it being advantageous to bring back established acts. 

So what happened to some of the more promising series like Undine wa kyou mo koi wo suru ka? Why did they seem to fizzle out? In the case of this particular series at least, it feels like the premise lent itself to ostensibly being a short serial. This is tempered by it also not selling that well, but this leads to an interesting phenomenon that's been more frequent in Sunday series in recent years --cancellation has been much faster than ever before. Where as series might at least make it to a fifth volume (so a little less than a year), we've been seeing more of them end with only three or four. I personally think a work should be given more time to grow, but this method has worked well for Sunday's rivals/contemporaries Jump and Magazine, so my personal feelings aside I can't deny that moving something out quickly has it's advantages. It'll be seen if they'll keep this up with the short serials they've been running lately, though. 

I can't say I'm an expert on serializations for this magazine much less any other, but it seems Sunday is the one most frequently left in the distasteful position of bringing a series back from hiatus just for it to end. RYOKO being one of my favorites was unfortunately in this position when it returned in issue #8 just to end several weeks later. It feels like much more frequently that a series is brought back to great fanfare and continues until it naturally ends --though at least in RYOKO's case it seems it's fate was something both Mitsuhashi and Shougakukan decided on. I sadly think about what heights this series could have had if it only hadn't gone on hiatus, but alas that is the name of the game --out of sight, out of mind. Not to mention the unfortunate situation that left Fujiko Dosei to take a hiatus from manga completely before she "grew to hate it." after her Chrono Magia adaption was suddenly cut short for reasons unknown.  She's been tweeting about a doujinshi sequel of one of her series that ran in Sunday some time ago so she appears to be doing better but I hope this hasn't kept her from considering returning to Sunday. At least Mitsuhashi along with several other artists have been implied to return, like the aforementioned Undine author Shinya Misu, and even Silver Spoon's artist the well known Hiromu Arakawa has been implied to be back soon. Some authors like Hidenori Yamaji (Marry Grave) haven't directly said they'd be back but his appearance (with another author) in Sunday Super implies he hasn't left Shougakukan completely which is always a good sign. 

On that note there is a very promising future coming up in Sunday. Many authors who have already debuted with short series or oneshots are preparing more work, and more still who have yet to be in any magazine much less this one are also gearing up for their debut. (For the curious red info boxes are for artists who have debuted a work already, blue are for those who have yet to have anything serialized or featured, while grey are those currently in webry.) Again the heavy focus seems to be on developing new talent. Which considering the business from a longevity's point of view makes sense. One can only depend on an established artist for so long without fostering the talent of new and upcoming sensations. Admittedly Sunday is taking a gamble by having a new set of serials made up of nothing but rookies, but nothing ventured nothing gained. It's strange to say this but perhaps it's their position of being third in the (fan created) shounen trinity of magazines that allows them a bit more leverage in running what the others would not while maintaining their sense of identity.

So what do we have to look forward to in 2020? Several things! Major 2nd and Maoujo de oyasumi/Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle both picking up the Sunday anime slack with adaptions both airing this year, a classic Sunday manga by Hiroshi Takashige and illustrated by Ryouji Minagawa named "Spriggan"has also been green lit for an adaption, it has been recently stated that Yellow Tanabe's Birdmen will be wrapping up in issue #10 being the last of the monthly serials in the monthly magazine thus leaving us open for more manga (Monthly? Weekly? Who knows?) and of course three new newcomers who's serials only recently started. From left to right we have Sennou Shitsuji from Wakabi Asayama, PINGKONG by Comic Jackson and Usotsuki by MINAMI. These authors all come from great pedigrees as Asayama has done several oneshots in the magazine already, Comic Jackson was once an assistant for Nekoguchi (Amano Megumi Suki Darake!!) and MINAMI has had one serialization on Sunday Webry. I've been talking about their series on the twitter so if you're interested in learning more by all means check it out. Of course old favorites like Souboutei Kowasubeshi, Sheriff Evans, and Detective Conan are still around but I'm more interested in seeing what the landscape will offer for the rookies in Sunday. I personally believe it's good of them to try harder and develop new talent if only because it brings new experiences, viewpoints and of course stories to the table. In the end, however it comes down to whether the audience in Japan receive these series, but in a strange way that's part of the fun. 

So as 2019 wraps up Sunday finds itself in a position of admitted unease and change as it's flagship series ends, and it's other, other flagship series continues to be on hiatus for longer periods of time. Try to guess which series I'm talking about. Rather than hunker down and stay the same however, the editorial department is striking out to illicit change and I'm all for it. From having more contests and sit downs with newbie authors --including a story where they were very supportive of a 14 year old artist who didn't have the means to purchase materials and made do with what they could which you can read more about here I can tell what Shougakukan is doing is taking a bet on the future. As for me, well I'll keep right on doing what I'm doing. I do hope to have more guest writers on the blog and reviews of domestic releases like Komi Can't Communicate, the upcoming release of Maison Ikkoku, and more from Viz Media to keep things interesting, but most of all I want to continue providing the service of Sunday that people outside of Japan wouldn't get otherwise. I'm glad for anyone who wants to accompany me and am grateful for those who already have. Let's make 2020 another great year to be a Shounen Sunday fan. Until we meet again, take care.