Due to serendipitous circumstances, I ended up getting the first volume of Behind the Scenes!!…but heck, my wallet is probably crying from the manga I’ve bought this year, even though I don’t spend much on manga in the first place…
Behind the Scenes!!, Urakata!! in Japanese, is in my eyes somewhat flawed. In some ways it suggests signs of author maturation, but in other ways it panders to its cliches. (Actually, there is author maturation, since the Bisco Hatori timeline roughly goes Ouran -> Millennium Snow -> Behind the Scenes!!.)
Sidebar: As much as I’d like to talk about Ouran, I didn’t get too far into the manga (Hatori’s artstyle in that has huge lips which annoy me) and as I type this, I haven’t started watching the anime yet. Haven’t read Millennium Snow either, although I have seen it on bookstore shelves and know it’s about vampires from back-of-book ads.
Let’s start with some praise – the covers and some pages have a gorgeous steampunk aesthetic I wish would appear in more anime and manga, complete with exquisitely-drawn details and Ben-Day dots. The aesthetic is a consequence of Goda’s accessories and the look of all the tools, but it doesn’t appear in the story proper much.
Goda himself is pretty gorgeous if you’re into that kind of stuff, with a hairstyle that doesn’t seem to be too common in anime or manga if it’s natural (at least, that’s what I got from “Is it [Ranmaru’s] fault…the sky is blue and my hair is wavy?”). Hatori calls him the “clear-headed type” and to me he felt like a really fun character who did most of the narrative “lifting”, but as boss of the Art Club he’s…well, bossy. He’s also played up as a forceful nagging type and he might even be a bit sadistic, which is a bit of a problem when you’re playing him off a serial apologiser.
Furthermore, said apologiser Ranmaru’s gimmick involves 1) not fitting in and 2) being a crybaby who pulls through when the going gets tough. I find the two aspects work when the first is a natural consequence of the second by way of backstory, which does happen, but he apologises a lot and pairing that with 2) means he might come off as slightly obnoxious. The story starts by painting him as an introvert and this would’ve been fine on its own, because it’s relatable and because it allows an author to show characterisation through nuance, but his inferiority complex, combined with the exact combo and degree of personality traits he has, means he switches according to the plot’s whims rather than through natural consequence.
The other characters are briefly introduced this volume but don’t quite feel complete. One character in particular, Riichi, is mentioned as “wanting to be girlfriends” with Ruka as a half-petty-motivation-for-being-evil, half-punchline, which seems somewhat demeaning since it reminds me of gay stereotypes.
Then again, Hana-Kimi plays into “gay = problematic” to a much bigger degree, in my opinion…
Even still, there’s a certain amount of charm which manages to override those niggles. The fact it’s set in a uni is refreshing, because that means you can have adults and school clubs, which is a compromise people don’t think of making all that often in anime and manga, alongside the fact it’s a natural consequence after a manga at a high school. Art Squad students range from 1st to 3rd years, which lends itself to “No beer for you!” jokes for younger members, and there are a smattering of other jokes. Not to mention the name puns, which are only pretty obvious once you find out the characters are named after Western movie directors and you try sounding things out once or twice. (Hatori doesn’t think of them as creative, but I beg to differ.)
However, one big plot point at the end of the first volume – involving an Oita accent – comes out of the blue, even when there are cultural notes at the back of the book. You can surmise from the plotline that people from Oita have an accent, but it’s written in a way that suggests it’s trying to be Detective Conan (“guess how a certain conclusion was made!”) and so it has the same problem – assumed knowledge in the English-speaking world is not the same in Japan and vice versa. There is also a reference to a “666 birthmark” which is a bit of an easier deal (or may have been swapped with something less culturally relevant), but I have almost no experience with horror movies and so had to Google to find out it came from The Omen.
Sidebar 2: It took me a lot of Googling in Japanese to find out that Viz is not lying when it translates Ranmaru’s major to “humanities and sciences”. I didn’t even know that was a possible major! (Well, I thought it was just “humanities”…that was probably from the fact “humanities” can be 人文科学, where the last 2 characters can be translated into “science” when on their lonesome.)
…I think this is the first time I’ve had 2 sidebars in a post, but it was bugging me a bunch when I first read the volume.
So there you have it – Behind the Scenes!! has fun going for it, but like Ranmaru, it still has a ways to go after the first volume finishes. Thank goodness there are 6 volumes to finish the story and flesh out the Art Squad…
So did I make anyone interested in the manga? Are there any other manga set in universities I should check out?