You’ve seen the same romantic scene a thousand times in a thousand different movies and, yet, every time it still gets you right in the heart. But what exactly makes it romantic and what would happen if you changed one little detail? In Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun, the answer is hilarity.

Good – Shakespeare in Love

Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun is the story of Sakura who, while trying to confess her love to the titular Nozaki, accidentally leads him to believe she has discovered his secret—that he is actually the writer of several popular shoujo manga. Furthermore, she stumbles her way into being one of his several assistants and is suddenly helping to create one of her favorite series alongside the boy she is crushing on. Unfortunately for Sakura, though, Nozaki suffers from a complete lack of first-hand romantic knowledge and is therefore completely oblivious to her feelings.

Yet, how can he be so clueless and yet write such romantic tales? The answer is that he is forced to look elsewhere for inspiration. Similar to the premise of the film Shakespeare in Love, Nozaki’s fellow students serve as the models for his characters. Mikorin, another of Nozaki’s assistants, serves as the proxy for the lead heroine in Nazoki’s current manga. While he (yes, he) appears cool and popular on the outside, on the inside he is desperately insecure and is constantly giving in to peer pressure to live up to others’ expectations—even though doing so makes him feel more than a little embarrassed. So, basically, his behavior is the epitome of every stereotypical female shoujo protagonist ever.

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Other characters modeled after those who attend school with Nozaki include the typical passive-aggressive boy—who is in reality just a girl who is too blunt and oblivious for her own good—and the prince-like pretty boy, who is actually a girl who looks more like a pretty boy than the school’s pretty boys.

With each new character introduced Noazaki-kun gains two layers of potential comedy. We see not only how the students interact in real life but also how their manga proxies interact in Nozaki’s manga. It makes for an often hilarious dichotomy.

Good – What Makes Romance

Even though Nozaki uses the people around him as characters in his manga, that is not the only source of his inspiration. One of the best reoccurring comical setups is Nozaki himself as, in an attempt to break free of the same old tired girl’s manga clichés, he tries to puzzle out new romantic situations. He does this by first taking a well-known trope—like a girl riding on the back of a boy’s bike (and thus hugging him to keep her balance)—and then attempting to extrapolate what makes it romantic. In the case of bicycles, he becomes fixated on trying to discover if a bike for two can be romantic—dragging the lovelorn Sakura along as his guinea pig. Most episodes have one of these extended gag scenes—be that the one about the most romantic way to deal with two people having only one umbrella or what romantic places to go on a date are—and they are always a lot of fun.

Good – How Manga Are Made

Since Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun is ostensibly about a boy writing a monthly girls manga, it’s not surprising that you see a fair bit about how a manga is made. Sakura becomes the inker of the manga. Mikorin, on the other hand, handles all the sparkles and flowers so common in romance manga. There is also an assistant who handles the backgrounds and another who handles the screen tones. If you have no idea what any of the jobs are I just listed, Nozaki-kun will likely be able to teach you a bit about the world of manga production.

Mixed – A Lot Of In-Jokes

As Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun is an anime all about playing with shoujo romance manga and anime clichés, you will get far more out of the show’s comedy if you are familiar with said clichés. While the series is usually good about giving a brief explanation about the trope it is about to play with, it’s one thing to see a short summary and quite another to have seen the trope done countless times in countless works you’ve read or seen yourself. That is not to say that the show is unwatchable or the comedy obtuse; rather, it’s just that the comedy will hit far closer to home if you know these tropes going in.

Bad – Resolution

[Skip this section to avoid spoilers.] Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun sets up several potential romances in its plot and none of them receive anything you can call a resolution—not even Sakura and Nozaki. And given the episodic nature of the series, there is no resolution to any kind of overarching plot either. Moreover, while the characters are almost always funny, they are rarely developed beyond that: They remain exactly who they were when they were introduced. Thus, this is an anime that lives or dies on its comedy—and while that comedy is far more than enough to carry the show, I couldn’t help but want more for the characters I had come to care about.

Final Thoughts

Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun is one of—if not the—funniest series of this past anime season. If you are a fan of romance stories or are one of those people who enjoys watching clichés and tropes torn apart to see how they work, this is most certainly the show for you. Readers of romance shoujo manga will no doubt get the most out of this anime; but even if you have never read one in your life, there is still a lot of fun to be had with this show.

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Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun aired on Tokyo TV in Japan. It can be watched for free and with English subtitles in the US on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

For a second opinion, check out the review over on TAY, our user run blog.

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To contact the author of this post, write to BiggestinJapan@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @BiggestinJapan.