If you ever watched Genshiken, then Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun might have felt familiar. I say they both teach lessons about accepting others despite big differences. That they’re both centered around manga creation is important to that lesson: people come together to make something in both cases, and in both cases they learn to live with and love one another.
That sounds a little extreme — and obvious. The show (this is about the show, not the comic), obviously does those things. So what? Well, it also shows us how to do those things, too. It doesn’t just depict it happening, it leads us to work differently with people, too.
Chiyo, the protagonist, has a crush on Nozaki, who is secretly (sort of) a manga artist. He tried to tell people he drew a comic, but no one believed him. That’s because his comic is a popular shoujo manga — a romance story meant for girls. The magazine keeps it a secret that the author is male; he’s remarkably good at giving the stereotypically female answers to interview questions and has a reputation for truly understanding the hearts of young girls.
So when Chiyo gets nervous and confesses by saying she’s his fan, Nozaki drafts Chiyo to help ink his manuscript pages. This sounds like a funny sitcom sort of thing (the comic is 4 koma, so that makes sense), but it surprised me by being about a really differing group of people.
So there are a bunch of main characters. Mikoshiba is the model for Nozaki’s shoujo protagonist — he’s a boy, not a girl, but he gets embarrassed easily even though he gets excited and says audaciously flirty things. There’s Kashima, the school “prince” who’s a girl who plays exclusively male characters in the theater club. Hori is the president of hte theater club, a great actor who’s embarrassed at how short he is, so he just directs and does set design. Seo is a blunt, oblivious girl who eventually becomes the model for a side character in Nozaki’s manga (a boy, though — see a pattern here?) Seo is also an excellent singer, which ends up being important because Wakamatsu, a boy who dislikes her because of how mean she is on the basketball court, falls in love with the mysterious singer he hears in the glee club. He never figures out it’s her.
Chio, Mikoshiba, Hori, and Wakamatsu all help create the manga at one time or another. Mikoshiba, Seo, and Wakamatsu end up in it. So naturally they all meet one another in surprisingly organic ways — the show never puts them all in a room together because “you’re friends now” or they’re all in a “club” devoted to Nozaki’s manga. It’s surprising to me, anyway, because of the trendiness of club narratives — it makes getting people in a room really easy, so why not?
It’s important they’re not all in a club because it’s important they all come together only because they want to, and not because they’re just used to it. The standard club narrative has people come together because of a single shared interest (music, for instance), and come to befriend one another. Often some of the narrative pathos will be about how people will graduate from the club and leave, and they were fixtures. Here they all hang out beyond the scope of the school, even though lots of the show is set within the school. The final episode actually takes care to do something different with the summer festival narrative. They don’t all go together. They go in little groups, or even alone, and run into one another as they wander around, looking for things to do. Hori sees Kashima because he’s lying on the ground taking pictures (for background references, naturally) and she spots, well, the weirdo lying on his stomach on the sidewalk.
So that’s all we see happening, but what about my claim that the show tells us how to do something similar? Well, first, *do* things together. We’re talking about an anime here, we’re database people of some sort, right? We create friendships by talking. Still, personally, I pretty much either talk to or play games with my friends. But the handful of friends I *did* things with, like play music together, or write with, are closer, or at least less likely to just disappear. We are not our ideas first, we are our actions. Actions reinforce ideas in our heads; it’s like people who use physical reminders. Carrying a locket reminds one person of her mother; spinning a coin reminds another of his daughter. Wedding rings are basically all idea, but in a physical package. But it’s not enough to say it’s a marker of marriage — you have to go through the motion of the wedding, of having the ring put on you (if that’s your ritual, anyway).
Friends you do things with aren’t just people who share interests. They’re “teammates.” The thesis is basically that the “disparate people come together to accomplish something” narrative isn’t solely for competitions (Sound Euphonium?) or military units (any Gundam?), but for any sort of project. As the characters of Nozaki-kun come together and a page of manga results, so too does their coming together add up to something else — a friendship, not just an acquaintance. If you’ve seen the show, think of how quickly characters start coming to other characters with their problems, with their concerns. It’s comedy, so no one ever gets a straight answer — or understands it if they do — but they keep coming back. They have those conversations we think of when we think of friendship — but they can do that because they do things together.
I was and am that person who wants to know what your favorite movie or band is when I meet you. I stopped asking immediately, but it’s still in there (Yes, I used to be the person who just basically asked within an hour of meeting you). So, you know. Do something, dammit. Start a workshop, or a blog together, or a stupid podcast, or whatever. My partner and I are trying to do a youtube show, and honestly part of the reason is that it’s something we can produce together. But it doesn’t have to be “productive,” though obviously the show leans that way. Play a game, a sport. I used to go grocery shopping with friends, who thought it was really weird, but I liked it.
I don’t have a pat ending here. Grab a friend and do something together. Do something with an acquaintance and see if you like them a little better.