Chiyo Sakura leads a fairly normal high school life. Her grades aren't spectacular, but she hasn't incurred the wrath of her teachers just yet. She has a handful of friends she enjoys hanging out with. She's a member of the art club and is decent at drawing. But despite her perfectly adequate life, she yearns for something more.
Specifically, she yearns for the attention of one of her male classmates, Umetarou Nozaki. Nozaki is tall, dark-haired, stoic and mysterious. Chiyo, raised on a diet of girls' romance manga and anime, thoroughly believes that if she confesses her feelings to Nozaki, he'll sweep her off her feet and they'll start dating right away. She corners him after school and, blushing furiously, blurts out the first thing she can think of in her panicked mind: "I've always been your fan!"
And ... he doesn't immediately react.
The awkward moment stretches for one excruciating second after another, and Chiyo's heart is pounding so hard it's about to burst out of her chest. While Chiyo is second-guessing her bizarre confession of love, Nozaki shoves a piece of paper into her hands.
He's given her an autograph, but it's not his name on the paper; it's the name of famous girls' manga author Sakiko Yumeno. As Chiyo's pondering the mystery of why Nozaki would sign as a female comic book creator, Nozaki then invites her to his place. Woah, isn't he moving a little too fast? Chiyo's never been to a boy's house before, but she's too embarrassed to refuse. She did just bear her soul to him.
Once they're at Nozaki's apartment, he shows her to an empty spot at a table and gives her some manga pages to ink and color. They're all from a popular romance manga called Let's Fall In Love. He then admits that he suspected Chiyo would figure out his secret eventually, but he's so impressed with the artwork she's done for school events that he thinks she'll make a mighty fine manga assistant to "Sakiko Yumeno."
Thus begins the delightful comedy of errors that Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (also known as Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun) unspools over the course of 12 tight episodes. Chiyo ends up as an artist's assistant and gets tangled up in the daily shenanigans of trying to create a romance manga while being in a situation that wouldn't be out of place in a romance manga.
If you're not yet intrigued and a bit charmed by the initial premise of this anime, here are more reasons why Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is well worth your attention.
It shouldn't exist.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun started out life as a comic strip in an online Japanese magazine called Gangan Online. Gangan Comics is a publishing company that primarily puts out shounen (boys' manga) titles. To give some perspective, Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the most popular shounen stories of all time, was published by Gangan. While the Gangan Online imprint offers a wider variety of manga than its printed-on-paper cousin, the initial impression of any Gangan title is that it should appeal primarily to male readers. Somehow Gekkan, a shoujo manga by female author Izumi Tsubaki, received the go-ahead to get published on a mostly shounen website. It would be like if DC Comics suddenly decided to publish For Better or For Worse on their website. It doesn't quite fit the demographic.
Not only was Gekkan a girls' manga title published through a boys' manga company, but it's also a four-panel (or four koma) comic strip. It doesn't even have the luxury of telling a portion of its story over an average of 30 or so pages, like a regular manga. This makes it even harder for anime production companies to commit to adapting a 4-panel strip into an entire series. What if they run out of story? What if audiences get bored with the lack of plot and character development? Would viewers understand that the anime would still be a romcom even though it skewers the ideas that make romcoms popular? Thankfully anime company Media Factory took a chance on Gekkan's popularity and unique premise.
It's short and ever so sweet.
Honestly, this isn't a show that's going to make you ponder the greater mysteries of the universe or make you feel like a better person just by watching it. It's 12 episodes of teenagers trying to understand the complexities of love and relationships and failing, to comedic effect. The show, true to its comic-strip roots, is episodic, and after the initial set-up, the show mostly covers Nozaki's continuous attempts to find inspiration for his manga from his fellow classmates. It's kind of like Shakespeare in Love, if Shakespeare were a high school student in modern-day Japan and wrote popular manga instead of popular plays.
It does sound like a classic setup for a romcom, but the show leans much more into the comedy side of "romantic comedy" instead of the romance. The characters are all teenagers, and with their hormones raging, they're subject to puberty's whims. They're decidedly overdramatic. After becoming his assistant, Chiyo spends more time with Nozaki than ever before, and she's constantly red-faced and flustered with being so close to her crush. Nozaki, however, is clueless to her feelings and believes that she's just excited about working on one of her favorite manga. Which, she is, but the other reasons fly overtly over Nozaki's head. It's an anime sitcom. After the initial set-up, the show becomes less about the how and more about the ridiculous situations these silly characters get up to.
It's all about subverting expectations.
Starting with Chiyo's initial love confession gone horribly wrong, the show is about taking all the romantic tropes rife in anime and subverting them to show off how silly they really are. Nozaki, despite having a really popular romance manga, isn't the relationship whisperer Chiyo initially believes him to be. He has to muddle through his story by using his real-life friends as characters.
For example, Chiyo is shocked to discover that Let's Fall in Love's plucky yet anxious heroine is based on Nozaki's best friend, Mikoto Mikoshiba. Mikoto, in any other anime show, would be the lead character. He's handsome, charming and kind, and this is why a large portion of the school's female population is head over heels for him. But Mikoto's cool and calm exterior masks an anxious and introverted personality. He has no clue how to speak to a girl. His quiet attitude towards his female classmates reads as "cool," but really he's always just a breath away from a panic attack. He's Nozaki's other assistant, and as Chiyo gets to know Mikoto better, she recognizes lots of similarities between him and Nozaki's manga heroine.
And for Chiyo, it's a bit of a letdown. She loved the manga because of its truthfulness. She related to the main character, and now the main character is right in front of her. And it's some goofy boy who can barely talk to her.
It teaches that not all princes are boys.
Yuu Kashima is considered the prince of the school. With short, dark hair and handsome features, Yuu attracts attention from the part of the female student population who isn't already crushing hard for Mikoto. While Mikoto has no idea what to do with all this attention except to run away, Yuu gladly and gratefully wallows in it. Yuu's a member of the drama club and is almost always cast as the male lead.
And Yuu is female.
Gekkan relishes in the ridiculousness of gender roles. Yuu's the prince of the school because she's got all the girls crushing on her, and she does nothing to discourage this. Yuu's gender has nothing to do with her popularity or her talent. She knows she's handsome and she flaunts it, much to the delight of her schoolmates. Of course, these girls are aware that they'll never get a chance with Yuu, but Yuu can't help but perform for everyone. She's an actor, and it's in her nature to entertain an audience. Yuu's relationship with her adoring fans is a kind of shared performance.
Yuu constantly raises the ire of drama club president Masayuki Hori. He hates that Yuu always gets cast in all the juicy male parts (heh, juicy male parts) because she's the tallest member of the club. She literally towers over Hori, who gets to feel inadequate next to a girl who can play a guy more convincingly than he can. What makes matters worse is that Hori harbors a slight crush on Yuu.
Chiyo, being the straight man surrounded by goofs, quickly catches on that Hori's got a crush on Yuu, but Chiyo thinks it's not her place to point this out to either person. So they all sort of live on in clueless perpetuity. Hori is jealous and angry but still a little turned on. Yuu is completely unaware of Hori's feelings because all she sees is an angry club president. But when Hori and Yuu's feelings for each other all spill out, the real winners will be the high school girls who will finally get their wish of watching their prince kiss a boy.
It's about the creative process and where inspiration really comes from.
Nozaki is ultimately clueless about teen relationships, so he has to take inspiration from other sources. Since Chiyo's his first female assistant, he continuously ropes her in for help with all sorts of tropey romantic scenarios, not knowing that Chiyo's blushing face comes from her massive crush on him, not because she's doing in all these cheesy romantic scenarios.
Chiyo discovers that things which seem to always work in manga never do in real life. Sharing an umbrella in the rain is a huge pain in the butt for a couple with height differences. A romantic bike ride takes a turn for the absurd after Nozaki insists that a tandem bike would be safer than a single-seater. Always mindful of his younger, more impressionable readers, he can't in good conscience depict two people on a bike without showing the dangerous consequences. And that would be the opposite of romantic.
Chiyo gets an inside look at how a manga gets made, and while this completely spoils her enjoyment of one of her favorite romance titles, she gains insight into how creative types work. Nozaki's work ethic is admirable, and he's able to juggle his comics and his schoolwork with relative ease. Chiyo's ultimately inspired by how earnest Nozaki is in his attempts to understand relationships, even if he constantly has to ask his friends for help. He's definitely not the stoic, mysterious guy she crushed on from afar, but the real Nozaki is still worthy of her affection. He's just a little weirder than the guy she thought he was.
Gekkan is ultimately about trying to write the perfect romance manga while showing how messy and complicated real life relationships are. Nozaki gets a lot of fodder for his manga just by watching his fellow classmates falter with their own relationships. There's also Chiyo's unrequited love just under his nose. He's just too dense to see it, and Chiyo is way too embarrassed to bring it up.
Love is damned complicated and that's okay.
Gekkan began life as a comic strip, and at its root, the story might never garner the sort of resolution people might expect from a normal romance story. The humor, ultimately, comes from the initial scenario and the way the characters respond to it. Charlie Brown might never actually kick Lucy's football, and that's okay. Chiyo might never confess her true feelings for Nozaki. And, at this moment, that's okay. Chiyo is more than happy with just being Nozaki's manga assistant and with helping inspire it.
The other main relationships in the series are just as unconventional and just as messy as Chiyo and Nozaki's. Hori might never even realize how much he likes Yuu because his deep rivalry with her is clouding his judgment. Mikoto might never find the right girl for him because, despite his cool exterior, he's way too awkward around girls to even attempt a relationship. And, like Chiyo's feelings for Nozaki, it seems way too late for Mikoto to figure out how to ask a girl out on a date. The utter embarrassment for the "cool" guy of the school to be completely incompetent when it comes to relationships would ruin him, and, more importantly, his reputation. So Mikoto remains aloof, much to the delight of his female fan club. Little do they know that he is slowly dying inside.
The sitcom-ish nature of the story might never reach the logical conclusion. Granted, viewers eventually saw the "mother" of How I Met Your Mother, but it took eight seasons for Ted to finally find "the one." In that timeframe, we might never see a resolution for any of these teens' flawed relationships, but it sure is fun to watch them try.