Saturday, December 2, 2017

REVIEW: My Neighbor Seki (manga, vols. 1-6) by Takuma Morishige

I'm finally getting around to writing the first of my vacation "review" posts. If you're unfamiliar with how I do these, be warned that they're mostly intended for the me of about a year in the future. They're absolutely filled with spoilers. I suppose those are unnecessary when I've finished a manga series, but they're incredibly helpful when I'm reading an ongoing series, have to stop at a certain point, and plan to pick it up again during my next vacation. If you're wary of spoilers, I do plan to start each post with general impressions of what I read during my vacation. These should be relatively spoiler-free.

Okay, let's get this ball rolling. I have fourteen series that I'd like to write about before the end of the year...

I can't remember how My Neighbor Seki got on my radar, but I'm relatively sure it was via a review I read online. It sounded intriguing, but not so much that I actually wanted to buy it, so it went on my "vacation manga binge" list.

I started my vacation with six volumes of this series, and I got through all of them, although it took some effort. This is not a series to binge-read. Although it wasn't in 4-koma format, it read like a 4-koma series, and it just got so old. There were occasional new character introductions to spice things up, but not nearly enough to keep things fresh for six volumes read back-to-back. And so a couple volumes sat on a table, partway read, while I read other things for a while. But the damage had already been done, and I kind of dreaded making myself finish the volumes, even though I knew the series technically wasn't bad.

A funny story: at one point, I read most of volume 4, only to look over at my piles of manga and discover that I'd actually started reading the previous volume the night before and hadn't finished. Since almost nothing of importance happens in the individual volumes, I hadn't realized I'd skipped most of a volume.

I might request more of this series during my next vacation, but it occurs to me that it might actually be better to periodically get volumes via interlibrary loan instead. Long waiting periods between each volume would likely improve this series for me.

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 1) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Yoshito Hinton - This series takes place almost entirely at school. Yokoi sits next to Seki, a boy who creates and/or plays with intricate and complex creations at his desk every day rather than paying attention to the teacher or studying. Hardly anyone notices the things he does, even the teacher, but Yokoi can't keep her eyes off it all...even though it interferes with her own ability to pay attention and take notes in class. Some of the many things Seki does in this volume: play with dominoes, stage a fictional political revolution with shogi pieces as the characters, shine his desk until it gleams like a mirror, create an increasingly skinny sand mountain, tell a story with Go pieces, entertain the full-grown cats he snuck into class, create a postal service, and have a robot family act out proper behavior during a safety drill.

This reads like a 4-koma comedy series even though it isn't. I'm already wondering how long Morishige can keep this going and still have it be interesting. So far it seems pretty limited. Seki comes up with some kind of outrageous game or distraction for himself, Yokoi is shocked but intrigued despite herself, and darn, Yokoi was so interested in what Seki was doing that she forgot to keep taking notes in class. Granted, the stuff Seki does is pretty amazing, but is it amazing enough to carry a multi-volume series?

Anyway, if I were Yokoi and had a seat neighbor like Seki, I'd probably be fascinated too. He has some fabulous planning skills, and he puts more time, money, and effort into goofing off during class than a lot of people put into their paying jobs.

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 2) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Yoshito Hinton - Seki's efforts to entertain himself (and Yokoi?) when he should be paying attention in class continue. Again, many of his activities tell stories - like when Seki pretends to be a Titan eating hot dog warriors, or when he creates snapshots of the life of a Lucky Laughter Game man. Yokoi can't help but get caught up in his stories, sometimes even to the point of getting directly involved and trying to rein in Seki's more sadistic tendencies in order to make his stories happier. In this volume, we meet Goto, a girl who secretly admires Yokoi. Goto misunderstands Seki and Yokoi's relationship and thinks they're secretly dating.

It's a one-note series, but it's cute and strangely fascinating. Seki has yet to say a single word, but Yokoi has painted a mental picture of him as an imaginative and detail-oriented boy who takes pride in his work (too bad he doesn't channel that into his schoolwork). When his classmates see his shoddy childhood creations, he gets embarrassed at the thought that they might find out he was the one who made them.

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 3) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Maki Morimoto - Seki continues to goof off, and Yokoi continues to watch in fascination and occasionally try to thwart his crueler games. This time around, Goto actually witnesses Seki's goofing off...and thinks it's a sign of depression due to a fight with Yokoi. Yokoi almost reports Seki to a teacher because his distractions are really hurting her grades, but she refrains because she thinks he'll get in trouble on his own (except he doesn't).

I've now read enough volumes to get a feel for the role the series' few characters play. Uzawa is Seki's nemesis, the guy who messes with Seki's meticulous creations because he thinks Seki is just goofing off in class in a more normal way and he wants to join in. Goto is the girl who continually misunderstands Seki and Yokoi's relationship, even though she actually sees Seki in action this time. The robots aren't exactly characters, but it's now clear that Morishige plans to have them be series regulars, since they've shown up in every volume. This time around they escaped being found during an inspection.

Seki still hasn't said a word, and I suspect this will continue for the rest of the series. I do wonder what he thinks of Yokoi. Does he see her as a friend? Or at least something close? They have little fights over his meaner games, like his efforts to sink the snow bunny he made, but he doesn't seem to dislike her involvement the way he does Uzawa's.

The premise is starting to wear thin. I accidentally started volume 4 and didn't even realize I'd skipped most of this volume. This series is essentially the same sort of thing happening over and over - just one elaborate game/diversion after another, with Yokoi either enjoying it or getting mad (or both).

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 4) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Mari Morimoto - Yokoi continues to watch (and sometimes thwart) Seki's goofing off, and Goto continues to misunderstand Seki and Yokoi's relationship. Seki tries to create a beetle superhero, goofs off during a three-person drawing assignment, and paints himself so that it looks like he put so much effort into school sports that he bled. Yokoi ends up stealing the robot family after Seki has them fly kites for him. She later guiltily gives them back to him via his little sister.

Okay, the premise is now seriously wearing thin. The only reason I'm still reading is because I have a pile of these via the library. They're not bad, but it all feels so same-y, even though Seki's games are always changing.

I like Seki's ingenuity, but it just isn't enough to carry a multi-volume series. Also, sometimes Yokoi frustrates me. Seki's weirdness should be normal to you by now, just ignore him and pay attention during class like you keep saying you want to do!

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 5) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Mari Morimoto - Seki continues to goof off, and Yokoi continues to be fascinated/charmed despite herself. Or she tries to thwart him, especially when his games showcase his sadistic streak. In this volume, Seki tries (and fails) to outwit Uzawa. Also, Yokoi teams up with Seki's mom during parent visiting day in an effort to defeat his games. Goto continues to think Yokoi is passionately attracted to Seki. And the robot family is back again. Yokoi tries and fails to get pictures of them vacationing. Other happenings in this volume: Seki builds a subway system inside his desk, tells a superhero story with billiards, and distresses a pair of jeans.

This volume renewed my flagging interest in this series, at least a little. It was nice to see Seki's mom, who turns out to be an expert rubber band shooter. Yokoi continues to be self-deceiving, telling herself that she can ignore Seki anytime she wishes when what she really wants to do is watch and see what his latest game will be.

I'm running out of new things to say about this series...

My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 6) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Mari Morimoto - Seki continues to goof off, and Yokoi continues to watch him and occasionally try to thwart him. In this volume, Yokoi has to borrow Seki's Social Studies textbook and learns that he edited it to tell the story of a master thief. Also, Seki mends stuffed animals (by cannibalizing a less-cute one), creates a foosball table out of his desk, sets up an ant farm in his bag, creates an airstrip for paper airplanes in the corner of the classroom, practises good table manners, and brings his sister to class. Oh, and there's a fake bomb and an Earth made out of eraser shavings.

There are zero new developments as far as characters and character relationships go. Goto still thinks Yokoi is under Seki's thrall, and Seki's sister still desperately wants to play with him while he resists and ignores her.

My favorite thing in this volume was the edited textbook. It was really cleverly done and something that I could imagine a bored kid doing in real life.

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