We have ourselves a new series brought over from Japan by Kodansha Comics called Complex Age. It’s about a young woman and her life in the cosplay scene. Is it good?
Complex Age Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and Drawn by: Yui Sakuma
Translated and Adapted by: Nibley & Athena Nibley
Lettering: Evan Hayden
Meet Nagisa Kataura. She’s 26 years old and a temp-worker still living with her parents. She’s also leads a secret life as a popular cosplayer. With her skill, dedication, and eye for detail, she can completely transform herself into almost any character; in particular, her big favorite being Ururu from an anime called Magical Riding Hood Ururu. However, on the inside, she is susceptible to criticism due to her low self-esteem and issues with her appearance. So when she meets a new girl named Aya Kuihara, who is a much more natural looking Ururu, she starts to crumble.
The Initial Impression
As with mangas such as Genshiken and Comic Party, Complex Age Vol. 1 brought me into a unique world and fan culture that I wasn’t that familiar with. Although I’ve witnessed plenty of cosplay, Genshiken provided me with a dedicated and hardcore fan point of view; I came away with a better look at the complexities of cosplay, new reasons for why people enjoy doing it, and a character I truly could relate to.
Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of cosplay, Complex Age is still a very good, new reader friendly entry into the hobby. The series does an excellent job explaining why people become so passionate about dressing up as their favorite characters, provides a nice glossary of references and terms, and gives one a sense of appreciation for how difficult and time consuming the hobby can be. Of course, such a rewarding hobby isn’t without its frustrations: like how people can be total jerks/snobs or how quickly the costs for costume-crafting can quickly add up.
We see several sides of Nagisa, our main protagonist, throughout the course of the volume, When it comes to cosplay she’s a perfectionist, super meticulous, sometimes bordering on the snobbish side of the spectrum. She spends hours, days, trying to completely bring a character to life in both appearance and personality. It’s impressive, but it also tends to make her arrogant and overly critical of others who didn’t put in the work like she did. However, Nagisa has another side: her reserved and easily fragile nature. She’s not very confident, and is very insecure about her cosplaying hobby/worried people will judge her for it; any little criticism of her appearance is blown up significantly in her own head. While some traits of Nagisa’s are less likeable than others, this is a very human and real character that most of us can relate to.
I know you’re up to something reflection!! I’m watching you!
Then there’s Nagisa’s best friend and partner-in-crime, Kimiko. She’s just as big into cosplay, makes extremely accurate props, and loves taking photos that capture a character’s essence. While she can certainly go overboard when she’s really in the zone (usually when she’s taking pictures), she’s very smart and very perceptive. She can read Nagisa like a book and tell when she’s feeling down or upset. She knows what to say and how to go about situations without having to flat-out explain things to the characters (or to us as readers), like her with her big plan to help Nagisa get out of her funk. Kimiko brings much needed humor to Complex Age and I look forward to seeing more of her in the rest of the series.
The artwork by Yui Sakuma overall looks very good. All of the female characters look different from each other, even in their faces (different eyes, chins, cheekbones, noses), which is something I don’t usually see in manga. The creator does well at capturing and conveying the emotions each character is feeling throughout the drama-filled cosplaying exploits, one of my favorite examples coming in the first chapter where Nagisa is trying to convince herself that she does look like Ururu in her costume no matter what the mean comment she got earlier said. Sakuma’s layouts are well strung together, with good uses of angles to frame scenes and moments. The only odd thing about the art are the eyes, where characters’ pupils constantly change in appearance for seemingly no reason.
There are two big weaknesses to Complex Age Vol. 1 overall that prevent it from having a perfect start. The first is its story. Despite what the back cover of the first volume states, none of what is described happens until the final chapter of the collection. Now this isn’t bad of course, but the whole character arc we get instead feels oddly placed in the series. It feels like we should have dealt with Nasiga’s fear of her secret life being discovered to start things off or at least held off on this plotline of her being insecure until we developed the lead a bit longer. It’s hard to describe, but it just feels like we walk into a story already in progress from the get-go.
I’m impressed. Pupils aren’t known to usually turn into hearts. Is that your secret mutant power?
The other is the lack of character development or characterization in general for Aya and Shiho. Now, there is some depth for Aya, showing how she’s really a newbie at cosplay and how she idolizes Nasiga. However, she didn’t feel nuanced like the other two (though maybe she doesn’t need to at this point on the other hand) and mostly feels as a plot device to push Nasiga into a certain area. As for Shiho, she was just basically Aya’s friend and nothing more. She’s a recurring character that keeps popping up, but she does nothing and has no real character. It really stands out against the rest of the characters in the book and I do hope we get some more from her as well.
The Bonus Content
Taking up almost a fourth of the volume is the bonus content. Contained here is the one-shot version of Complex Age that creator did a year prior. Instead of cosplay, it focused on Goth Lolita culture and was about an older woman in her mid-thirties. It’s an interesting read and you can see some elements that were used in the main series, but it’s a bit quick and too clean of a wrap up for my taste. There’s concept art and information on the fictional series of Magical Riding Hood Ururu, which give you context for what Nagisa’s favorite show is actually about. There’s a bonus comic from Kimiko’s point of view that’s amusing and gives insight into her mind. Also, like I mentioned before, there is a cosplay glossary and translation notes to explain a lot of the cultural points that people may not understand. TL;DR: There’s a lot of good stuff here which improves the overall package.
Is It Good?
Complex Age Vol. 1 is a down-to-earth story with a relatable lead and detailed look at the world of cosplay. While some characters need some more development, it’s a very good series in the vein of other mangas like Comic Party and Genshiken, though with a touch more drama. Overall, I give it a definite recommendation, especially to those who are already fans of cosplay.