One of the unforeseen complications of remembering your past life: the people you loved not remembering their own past lives, and... your wife coming back as a man?
Writer/Artist: Mizuho Kusanagi
Translation: Nan Rymer
Adaptation: Sarah Tangney
What They Say
A high school boy is the reincarnation of a citizen of Pompei, and his friends around him are all also reincarnated (although they don't remember it the way he does). His wife from the past is now a middle school boy, and his best friend is now a cute girl! Lots of comedy and gender confusion ensue!
Let me first say that I really like the cover design for this release. Sure, the three main shades of blue (light, semi-aquamarine, and slate) that dominate the front and back covers are a little bit of overkill, and the attempt at a “classic” font for the title logo isn’t all that great, but it’s nice. The cover image of the three main characters in modern clothes, holding dolls of their Pompeii-era selves (in chibi form, of course) in front of a period building is very cute, and gives a good sense of the interior art. However, that’s where the praise for the packaging comes to an end. Clocking in at a large-ish 224 pages, mostly due to the traditional TokyoPop advertisements, this book should look a little bit chunky on the shelf compared to the usual 200 page release--but it looks thin, and will feel floppy in your hand. The culprit is the paper quality, which is noticeably several steps lower than what I’m used to from TokyoPop. Not only is it duller, but it feels much easier to rip than usual. And, worst of all, any time that there is significant white space on the page, you can clearly see the printing not only of the backside of that page, but also of the next page over. Considering that TokyoPop has this series tagged at eleven dollars, a price increase that we should start expecting for most of their releases, this book feels and looks cheap, especially when compared to the solid to very good packaging that other companies using this same price point are producing.
For all that NG Life’s art is typical shoujo, it clearly has its own personality. Sure, the girls (and feminine boys) have large, sparkly eyes, and there are more fluffy screentones than you could shake a stick at, but the faces are a little wider, the SDs tend more towards freakish than cute, and every character has a distinct design. The characters are presented in their Pompeii-era versions several times, and the differences, sometimes subtle and sometimes drastic, are just fun to examine. Panel layouts are the usual asymmetrical shoujo style, but the artist has a good sense of how to draw out the dramatic scenes in larger panels. The art also improves noticeably during the dramatic scenes; Kusanagi has nicely varied line thicknesses in most scenes, but they are much thinner in the “pretty” scenes and make the mundane frames less impressive by comparison.
The translation of the text is, as usual for a TokyoPop release, not bad at all--it flows smoothly with minimal typos, and honorifics have been retained in their original Japanese form. Unfortunately, also in the tradition of TokyoPop releases, SFX have been left mostly untranslated, although those that might be considered crucial to the understanding of a scene are reprinted alongside the original in a variety of stylized fonts. Some of the smaller SFX on blank backgrounds have been replaced, while others have not, although I couldn’t quite determine the reasoning behind that decision. Another small irksome point is Tokyopop’s habit of occasionally typesetting vertically instead of horizontally. This can be forgiven in some cases, such as when the text would not fit horizontally in long, narrow text boxes, but it is an unnecessary distraction in several speech bubbles when the text could’ve been placed horizontally just as easily.
Keidai’s high school life, perhaps a normal one from the outside, is anything but--he remembers his past life as a Pompeian citizen. Even worse, the people closest to him are also reincarnations of his friends and family members in Pompeii, but they don’t remember anything about it. This includes Keidai’s best friend (the male Loleus in Pompeii, but the female Serizawa in Japan), and his new next-door-neighbor Yuuma… Who was once Keidai’s wife, Serena!
If this sounds like the plot to a gender-bending romantic comedy… Well, it is. And yes, there are all the cheap comedic angles that you would expect, involving several scenes where Keidai drools over “Serena,” only to be reminded, usually via a punch from Yuuma, that things have changed. Of course, you also get the hints of a possible future romance between Keidai and Serizawa, but the author has the sense to not shove it in your face. It’s not what is important in this series, which might be why TokyoPop has it tagged as a comedy instead of a romance.
Even so, the real meat of the first volume isn’t the wacky humor or the hints at romance. It’s about Keidai and the issues that arise from, well, being surrounded by people who don’t remember the things that he does. The plot devices that are used to explore some of these concepts (the girl who likes Keidai, or the play in later chapters) aren’t original by any means, but there’s so much earnestness behind them that it’s hard to get upset. Through all of these various situations, all that our endearingly clueless hero wants is to be with the people that he loves--and it’s hard to argue with that.
The first volume of NG Life, although nothing mind-blowing, is definitely enjoyable. The struggles of Keidai’s present life are so inextricably tied to his past life that I never felt like one was dominating the other--and, even more remarkably, I actually cared about what he’s going through now and what he went through in Pompeii. I found the comedic aspects of the story to be genuinely funny, although I could see Keidai’s stupidity getting on the nerves of some readers, while the (serious) romance is kept at a refreshing minimum. And whether Keidai’s stupidity is annoying or endearing, the fact that a male is the main character is enough to differentiate this from much of the shoujo on the market today. The selling point for me, though, is the character relationships, particularly how Yuuma’s arrival is forcing Keidai to reexamine how he views his current life. This first installment shows a lot of promise, so I only hope that the rest of the series won’t disappoint.