We’ve all been there, trying to pluck up the courage to ask out our crush and finding our words failing at the crucial moment. That’s where we find Chiyo, desperately trying to work up the nerve to tell the boy she likes how she really feels. Standing in front of Nozaki-kun and skirting around the issue, he misreads the situation and gives her an autograph instead. The irony is that he’s built his fame as a shojo manga artist on understanding the hearts of his his female readers.
Nozaki, under his pseudonym Yumeno Sakiko, has even charmed Chiyo with his work. She’s been a long-time reader without knowing it, though it’s never confirmed whether she feels he understood her on a psychological level too. Creepy as it seems, the fact that Chiyo seems to be the only girl his age he can’t scan and sum up in a single sentence is still very cute. You get the sense that his ability to express so clearly the feelings of a girl in first love is connected with something he wants to see in himself. More than the female characters, it’s his heroes he seems to struggle with most, working out how to get them on a level with reality and still strike that spark of romance.
The conflicts and subtleties of appearance not matching inner feelings is a theme that builds meaning and momentum in this mostly episodic story, and it’s a pleasant surprise in a show that first sets itself up as a fluffy rom-com. Chiyo wavers between wanting to be with Nozaki NOW and wanting to build a friendship with him first, but her shyness belittles whatever confidence she has. She’s a good artist, but shines when she’s creating stories with Nozaki, her imagination and willingness even in weird situations becoming instrumental to his growth as a mangaka. Seeing her be so brave and mature, compartmentalising her feelings so she can help Nozaki as a friend, it’s such a heartache when she tries to confess again, only to be given a second autograph.
It’s a shame that Nozaki crafts the daily dramas between his friends into such gorgeous manga, but seeing the comparisons are such a rare occurrence. When the creative process becomes the focus it gives you deep insight into the characters inspiring it, like looking at an author’s notes and seeing the detail that doesn’t get mentioned. We wonder how much we could learn about Nozaki-kun creator Izumi Tsubaki this way? Mikoshiba is the star that’s born from this aspect of the show, the proof that our given gender, the archetypes we suit, doesn’t really affect the ways we feel. It highlights that love is far from a case of ‘this is how the girl acts, then this is how the boy responds’, and between Yu Kashima, the Prince of the School, and drama troupe leader Hori, there’s a lot of wonderful interplay of this nature. He’s withdrawn and easily hurt, though he hides both well, and while his muse can seduce all the girls, she’s hot-tempered and oblivious to his love for her.
Woven between all these emotional misfires are the sight gags and comedic musical cues that capture the hilarity of how big and important it all seemed at 16. Though characters walking into a situation and missing its context wears thin, and Nozaki loses out on development for the sake of easy humour, there are still plenty of great jokes to carry off the comedic set piece of Nozaki learning how to manga from day-to-day. So it’s easy to forgive the task of representing learning how to adult being left to Chiyo for the most part. In fact, this imbalance comes into force for the climax, the anticipation of a final confession stretched out over the end credits. Seeing how much Chiyo’s grown to recognise having a boyfriend isn’t the be all and end all, Nozaki being his true clueless self is warm and reassuring. It doesn’t matter that all you wanted didn’t happen today. The important things are still here, there’s time for everything else. And after all, part of the joy of those longings is the time spent making them real.
Extras: English dub & clean opening/closing animation