I can’t help but feel that if I was to revise my top 5 manga list of all time, Wotakoi would fall at number two on the list. I’ve talked at length before in my previous Manga vs Anime post about my love of this series, and I figured I should start where I (and the anime) left off, with volume three of the North American version which includes volumes five and six of the manga. I honestly can’t not talk about it at this point, it’s just too much of a comfy and feel-good series to not gush about. Fujita’s art is fantastic and the story is a great mix of short comedic chapters and longer, split up serious narratives. I found myself enjoying this volume just as much, if not more than the other two. Partly because we get to see some great love stories this time around and also partly for the great character development.
The back copy of this volume describes its story as “summer romance for nerds.” In this volume we see Hirotaka and Narumi battling the rumor mill to keep their relationship a secret from their coworkers, but of course it gets a little out of hand. We see Naoya’s continuing story of his grave misunderstanding about Ko and how he tries to save their relationship. But summer romance is not complete without a hotspring and festival chapter, and you definitely won’t be disappointed on that front with this volume. In terms of otaku goodness though, we also get to see Narumi’s first try at cosplaying.
One of the things I love about Fujita’s art in this manga is just how clean the line-work is. Each character design is consistent across the volume, but Fujita still manages a really expressive style without resorting to a sketchy style or use of too many chibified characters. Any chibi designs she does use are relegated to the chapters where they are playing in the MMO, so its use makes sense as a way to show a distinct separation between real world and video game world. I absolutely love how expressions are captured on the characters faces and through their body movements. It has got to be hard to express Hirotaka’s deadpan humor in comics form, but Fujita really pulls it off.
Panel design is quickly becoming a really interesting facet of comics that I’ve been slowly delving deeper into, and I’m trying to make it a point to talk about it more because it is so important to the telling of a story. Wotakoi’s panel design is fairly uncomplicated, but there are certain pages I can pull out of this volume as evidence that Fujita really does think about how to best utilize her pages and panels to tell the story in the best possible way. Page 26 has a really nice set-up as all four characters walk through the summer festival together, staring at all the different stalls. The four main characters are centered on the page, with a montage of panels behind them showing them enjoying the festival. It’s a nice way to set up a montage while also showing a bit of each character’s personality in the background.
Fujita’s ability to switch from comedy and drama through the use of panel design shows in pages 38 and 39. There’s something about diagonal panels that really adds a certain amount of punch to a scene, perhaps it’s an added boost of dynamism or the change in layout draws our eyes more quickly from one panel to the next. On page 38 we see Narumi’s scared face in a diagonal panel after being grabbed by a creepy guy. It jumps quickly to Hirotaka saving her by grabbing the guy’s arm in a panel that takes up ⅔ of the page, really showing off his heroism and the drama around the scene. Page 39 leads off with another diagonal panel surrounding a close-up of Narumi’s eye as she focuses in on Hirotaka standing up for her and the heated exchange that follows. The close-up and diagonal panel work well together to bring out Narumi’s surprise and overflowing emotions in that moment. We see further down the page that Fujita combines the diagonal panels and smaller size panels to create a feeling of quick cuts between scenes that give a boost of energy to both of them running away from the group of creepy guys.
I love Wotakoi’s story for its ability to be at times hilarious, heart-warming, and comfy and I think the characters Fujita has developed are really relatable for their personalities and their faults. I think the biggest overarching theme of this volume is seeing Hirotaka step out of his comfort zone and interact with other people. Narumi makes it a point to encourage him to talk to coworkers more and we begin to see him enjoy himself outside his insular world of Narumi and video games. The hotspring and festival chapters were a great look at how much Hirotaka has grown as a person since he started going out with Narumi and hanging out with Kabakura and Koyanagi. He’s much more open and willing to talk to people now, and he makes a point in saying that it’s because people like Kabakura gave him that chance to step out of his shell just a little bit.
But Hirotaka wasn’t the only one stepping out of his shell. In the resolution to Naoya’s misunderstanding of Ko’s gender, we see Ko taking a huge step in the way of self-confidence as Naoya refuses to let a rift develop in their relationship. Ko started off as a shy, video game absorbed college kid who couldn’t understand why Naoya hung out with her. But we see her take steps out of her shell when she’s with Naoya, like going to the arcade with him and his friends or even with Hirotaka and Narumi. And in tandem we see Naoya learning from her as well, as she teaches him how to play and appreciate video games in a new light. It’s a really sweet and mutually beneficial relationship and I love seeing them together.
There are a lot of other really cute or silly moments throughout the volume, with small chapters popping up here or there as well as a whole bunch of short comics dedicated to reader suggestions. That particular section was pretty hilarious, especially with Narumi’s absolute rejection of any comic suggestion to give her bigger boobs. We also see some super cute moments between Narumi and Koyanagi as they begin to plan their cosplay together that really captures Koyanagi’s softer and less confident side. It’s a great heartwarming scene from her especially because we don’t see enough of her self-conscious side.
If you haven’t already checked this volume out, I absolutely recommend you check it out. If you have read it already, let me know in the comments what your favorite part was.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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