After digging into Vertical Comics’ hilarious My Neighbor Seki, 10, I’ve been on the hunt for more comedy manga. Funnily enough, the first one I nabbed is also from Vertical Comics. Truth be told, I wasn’t sold by the description but by the colorful and intricate cover. With CITY Vol. 1 set in a town filled with surreal-slapstick comedy, I knew I was in for a treat.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
From the creator of nichijou, this surreal-slapstick series revolves around a penniless college student, Midori Nagumo, who lives in an ordinary city filled with not-quite-ordinary people. And as this reckless girl runs about, she sets the city in motion. Midori is in a bit of a bind. She is in debt, and her landlady is trying to shake her down for unpaid rent. Her best friend refuses to loan her cash since she’s wised up to her tricks. Maybe some bullying would help. Or a bit of petty theft? Neither is sustainable. Maybe getting a job would settle things… But working means less time for fun adventures in the big city…
Why does this matter?
Keiichi Arawi’s art style has a good mix of detailed backgrounds and animated, funny facial expressions, creating a world that you can take seriously while also allowing the over-the-top jokes to land. It houses a cast of characters who are directly and loosely connected, making for a story that builds, which you don’t always see in episodic manga storytelling.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This manga is flat-out funny. Arawi has a great handle on dialogue, giving each character a specific voice be it bratty, overly serious, or cranky. It’s easy to fall in love with the characters and laugh at them because they are so extreme. Midori is the main character, more or less, and opens the manga in debt and in need of some cash. She’s a bit of a jerk, but clumsy and way over-the-top. Her friend Nii-kura is good-natured and puts up with her, even giving her money. They do a bit of cat and mouse back and forth when it comes to cash, which builds as the story goes on. By the end Midori ends up getting a job, but at a great cost to her ability to have fun. One can relate to her (who wants to work?), but she’s also ready to grow a bit and learn to take care of herself.
Meanwhile, the characters around Midori, who are really on their own journeys, are delightful. The small town atmosphere is infectious, be it the chapter following the police officer whose head is in the clouds, or Modori’s granny landlord who is a master martial artist (and will kick your ass!). As the story progresses you get a good deal of character work for each of these city folk.
The biggest takeaway, outside of the great visual gags and humor, is how the story builds from beginning to end. There are side stories to be sure, but they develop characters. By the end of the manga there is growth between characters as well as of their roles in the story. You get the sense that Arawi’s humor stems from changing, and that helps the story.
Arawi’s art is fabulous. The characters’ emotions are understandable and there are some clever artistic chances Arawi takes throughout. Take for instance the scene with the granny who kicks everyone’s butt. There are extreme close-ups on her face enhancing the almost demonic nature of her being. It forces you to laugh because it’s so over-the-top. In another scene, Modori hears her friend speak of a fancy camera–an ordinary one to be sure–and Modori’s hair fly back in astonishment to embellish the ordinary as extraordinary. It’s fabulous through and through.
It can’t be perfect can it?
With any comedy, there are going to be jokes that fall flat. One that didn’t work for me was a chapter involving Modori making duck faces. Arawi is making fun of girls who take selfies doing the duck face, a comedy goldmine to be sure, but it runs on too long and grows a bit tiresome.
Is It Good?
City is laugh-out-loud funny. It’ll make you laugh, but also fall in love with the endearing characters. City may be about ordinary people, but it’s extraordinary in quality.