Densha Otoko Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Sakura Eries
Review Date: Monday, November 06, 2006
Release Date: Sunday, October 01, 2006



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Hidenori Hara
Translated by:Cindy Yamauchi
Adapted by:

What They Say
A hopeless geek, a beautiful woman, and a fast connection - could the internet be his ticket onto the express train to romance?

A real-life thread on an internet forum sparked a nationwide phenomenon! A nerdy otaku meets a girl on a train and posts an urgent query on the web: how the heck do you talk to girls? What should he wear on their date? Where should they go?

The forum's response was amazing, and the thread continued to grow along with their relationship. Eventually published in book format, the thread spawned a movie and TV series as well as this manga adaptation of an entire internet community rooting for love and romance.

The Review
Packaging:
Considering the content of this book, the cover design is very cute in a clever sort of way. The backdrop, which is used on both the front and back, is comprised of Japanese emoticons and the diagram of a train route in light blue overlain against a white background. At the top of the front cover is a slick black title logo. Authors' credits are to the lower left, and a train shaped volume number icon to the lower right. Towards the center, framed by one of the "train routes," is a picture of Hermess and Train_Man riding on the train. Hermess is checking messages on her cell phone while Train_Man, decked out in full otaku gear, looks at her nervously. Only Hermess and Train_Man are in full color; everyone and everything else in the train are shaded in yellow.

On the back cover, we have the title logo and train-shaped volume icon at the top, followed by the story summary. Below the synopsis is a plug for the Densha Otoko movie (also to be released by Viz) including an image from the movie at the lower right of the cover. Both the story summary and the picture are encircled by "train routes." At the very bottom are orientation, publisher's, and age icons and the ISBN code.

No noticeable problems with materials. The print job is pretty crisp although the cut was too close on some pages. Extras include table of contents, a page of cultural notes, and ads for other Viz releases.

Artwork:
Character design is definitely not Hara's strong point. Hermess' and Train_Man's foreheads are so elongated that I find them somewhat disturbing. Expressions tend to be comical; eyes are narrow, close set, and on the small side (for manga drawings); and their mouths tend to be overly large. Definitely not cute. I suppose that Train_Man fits the image of an otaku, but Hermess comes off as more goofy than gorgeous.

Character design aside, Hara's artwork is quite pleasing. He puts a lot of detail into his drawings of Tokyo's nightlife and the interiors of the forum members' rooms as well as all the electronic gadgets that everyone is using to communicate. The tonework is good, and the panels and spacing are orchestrated in a manner that really does convey the crazy ups and downs and awkwardness of Train_Man's foray into a relationship with Hermess.

Text/Translation:
Viz Media has done a very nice job with this translation. All the original Japanese sound effects have been removed and replaced with English effects in a nice variation of lettering styles. Signs are left untranslated, but text message screens have been overlain with translations in a comparable styled text.

As much of the dialogue is online, Viz has translated the text into English Internet-speak. It really does capture the flavor of these interactions; however, if you, like me, are not familiar with this lingo, it might take a little getting used to. On-screen dialogue, which look like quotes from the actual thread that this story is based on, are assigned their own panels (Train_Man's entries are bordered with a double line and posts from other forum members have panels underlain with a shadow) in the manga layout. Viz keeps the Japanese emoticons as in the original, which might be a little confusing, especially since many symbols used are not found on a QWERTY keyboard. The cultural notes explain some of these emoticons but not all of them.

Japanese honorifics are kept but they are hardly used because no names (with the exception of online aliases and Train_Man's coworker) are used in the story. Unlike other versions of the Densha tale, Hara does not create any family, friends, or coworkers for Train_Man (with the exception of coworker Yamada), and in doing so, keeps his story centered as much as possible on the online interchanges. So in the parts of the dialogue where Train_Man and Hermess call one another by name, their aliases in brackets (for example, [Train_Man]) are used in lieu of actual names. One thing that I did find a bit odd about this translation was that the brand name for the cups is spelled "Hermes," but the online nickname for Train_Man's sophisticated lady ends up being "Hermess." I keep wondering where the extra "s" came from.

Content:
One day a message is posted on a popular Japanese Internet forum by an awkward young otaku. He writes how an old drunkard stumbled into his train on his ride home and began harassing some passengers. According to his message, the trouble escalated until finally he did something completely out of character: he spoke up, telling the old man to stop. An embarrassing scuffle ensued, but in the end, the old man was subdued. Unfortunately, he and the other passengers had to go to file a police report afterwards. He apologized to everyone for inconveniencing them, but the other passengers weren't upset at all. Quite the opposite, they were grateful for his actions! In fact, a few of the women requested his contact information in order to send thank yous -- including one particularly attractive young woman.

His posting receives a few responses. While the forum members think what he did was admirable, they doubt anything will come of it. Neither does the otaku. Until... he receives something unusual in the mail. A pair of teacups -- a thank you gift from the young lady!

Baffled as to what teacups could possibly mean, the otaku runs back to the forum for help. The forum members debate heatedly about this latest development. Some think that there's an underlying message to the gift; others think that they're reading too much into it. Finally, someone asks what kind of teacups they are, and the answer stuns everyone.

The teacups are Hermes! Expensive designer-brand teacups! This is really big! Suddenly everyone on the forum is bombarding him with e-mails to call her. The problem is, Train_Man, as he has now been dubbed by the forum members, is a complete coward and novice when it comes to women. He's too nervous even to dial her number! However, the forum members recognize this as a huge opportunity and will not let him throw it away that easily. With their persistent encouragement, Train_Man summons the courage to call her up! This is a huge step for the shy otaku, but where will this take him? Not to worry, the forum will be there for him as he embarks into uncharted territory where no Akiba otaku has ever been before!

Comments
Densha Otoko (literally "Train Man") is coming to the U.S.! For those of you unfamiliar with this story of "Beauty Meets the Geek," Densha Otoko stemmed from the postings on an otaku on a popular chat room for single men. There's some question as to whether or not the events described actually happened, but in any case, Densha's postings became a hugely popular cultural phenomenon in Japan. The postings were eventually collected and published under the fictitious name Nakano Hitori (which is a homonym for a phrase that means "one among many"), and to my knowledge, there are now four manga, a wildly successful TV series, and a movie based on this story. Viz is handling the release of the Densha Otoko movie in the United States as well as one of the Densha Otoko manga.

I'm a big fan of the Densha Otoko tale. The story is funny, touching, and one that otaku (Japanese and non-Japanese) can relate to. Of the stories I have been exposed to, I love the television version the most. However, in terms of the manga that I have read thus far, Hara's storyline is my favorite, and my reasons for liking it are entirely different from the TV series. The TV series takes huge liberties with the basic story, and its extremes somehow manage to make you laugh out loud and cry in every episode. Hara's manga, on the other hand, seems to stick much, much closer to canon (i.e., the original online posts). Although the result is more low-key, you end up with the sense that he is trying to create a story as close as possible to what really happened, which I appreciate as I am a canon freak (I am really really hoping the Nakano Hitori book will be translated into English). In the other two manga that I've checked out (Wataru Watanabe /CMX and Machiko Ocha /Del Rey), the mangakas provide introductory material for their Train_Men (interactions with family, flashbacks, etc.) before the train incident. Hara does not even invent Train_Man a name to go by and begins where the forum thread begins -- with the incident on the train. From there he unfolds his story with quotes from the thread acting as narrative.

As I mentioned previously, Hara shies from the hyperbole of the TV series. He also does not get overly sappy with the romance aspect with Hermess, keeps the humor to what can be reasonably construed from the actual posts, and treats the plot mainly as a coming-of-age story. Interestingly enough, this is the first version of the story that I have seen where it is not Hermess that Train_Man rescues from the drunk. In this version of the Densha tale, it is a matronly woman whom Train_Man tries to help. For me, this detail makes him more appealing as a character. In the versions where Train_Man comes to Hermess' rescue, there is a nagging sense that he only acted because Hermess is beautiful. The fact that Hara's Train_Man stands up for a woman old enough to be his mother eliminates any sense that his motivations are less than noble.

This title is rated "teen," for a little bit of innuendo.



Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 192
ISBN: 1-4215-0848-6
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left