Behind the Scenes Vol. 1 - Manga Review

Certified pessimist Ranmaru Kurisu has one heck of an inferiority complex, but when he stumbles into a zombie mob attack put on by the Art Squad he finds his university life starting to look up in this new series from the creator of Ouran High School Host Club!

The Lowdown

Ranmaru Kurisu isn’t the most confident dude in the world - actually, that’s an understatement. Ranmaru has almost zero self-confidence, and if his life being the only seasick son in a fishing family has taught him one thing, it’s that without a doubt he is not good around people. Two months into his college career, Ranmaru had settled into a comfortable rut until he walks straight into a zombie mob attack! It turns out that the zombies aren’t the only thing attacking when Ranmaru’s panic sets in, but the zombie attack is actually part of a movie his university’s Art Squad is helping to facilitate. When Ranmaru comes to, he immediately blames himself per his character but instead of being ostracized is quickly swept into the Art Squad by the club’s charismatic and scary leader, Ryuji Goda. With a surprisingly discerning eye for detail, Ranmaru finds his perspective (very) slowly starting to change as he becomes embroiled in the club’s frantic prop creation.

How Was It?

Behind the Scenes’ first volume starts off rather dramatically as our protagonist Ranmaru has his wits strained beyond belief after being caught in the middle of the filming of a zombie movie. As it turns out, Ranmaru’s faint and dour nature is the anchor of this volume, providing the basis for both its comedy as well as the main character arc this series follows as he falls in with the art club. Ranmaru’s defining trait is that he immediately apologizes and takes the blame for absolutely anything and everything when bad things happen, limiting his social abilities to a good degree. While this was well backed-up thanks to time being taken to explore his backstory a little bit, I found his character veering squarely into “annoying” territory very early on in the volume because of the sheer frequency with which we are hit over the head with Ranmaru’s insecurity. It just felt overdone in general, particularly because this seemed to come at the expense of developing him as a character with traits aside from his insecurity, and he becomes a bit of a one-note character especially compared to the rest of the cast. This undermined my investment in his own development, and while I get what author Bisco Hattori was trying to do here, it all felt a little bit on the nose in this volume especially in first couple chapters which focus very heavily on Ranmaru.

Although Ranmaru’s own personal story falls a little bit flat, there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way as we follow the rest of the Art Squad. They turn out to be an extremely likable cast of characters who each have interesting personalities which complement the story nicely. Importantly, the various members of the Art Squad, from the unabashed dope Tomu Tenba to the diligent and kind Ruka Enjoji are well established in this volume, and I was pleasantly surprised that the series spent the time giving them interesting personalities that never feel predictable or tropey. The best example of this is Art Squad president Ryuji Goda, who plays the tough guy act expertly but is also a surprisingly dedicated and meticulous set-designer. This really helped to sell the Art Squad as truly dedicated to their craft, investing me in the later stories in the volume when the focus is on them all as a group instead of on Ranmaru so squarely.

The strength of the surrounding cast in Behind the Scenes makes the second half of the volume a pleasure to read as they work on a variety of different projects. The first involves them working on a project for their adversaries in the Film Studies Club that goes south after it appears that someone is sabotaging the production. This turns out to be a fun story showcasing the Art Squad’s diligence, and I enjoyed watching Ranmaru bounce off all of the characters as the story progressed towards an enjoyable resolution that felt quite fitting. The humour was also improved here because it came more from contrasting Ranmaru’s exaggerated reactions to specific things in a funny way rather than relying solely on a reaction out of context to drive the humour. This addressed one of my annoyances with the first couple chapters, and the humour generally improved as the volume went on.

The second main story followed Ranmaru as he helped costume designer Ruka Enjoji work to satisfy the increasingly unrealistic demands of an overzealous director, and this was an enjoyable story for the way it delved deeper into Ruka’s personality. One thing that I liked in general about these two stories is that they put Ranmaru’s own story in more subtle context due to the emphasis on the other characters, letting the humour play out in his exaggerated reactions to their work. It felt like less was more in this case, and the rounding out of the cast in the second half had me enjoying this volume much more than I did in the first couple chapters. Ranmaru’s own personal development was also handled with a little more deftness because it felt squarely earned in line with his experiences with the squad members rather than coming as more of an epiphany as it did early on.

Bisco Hattori’s art work does a great job complementing the dynamic personalities of the members of the Art Squad, and I definitely enjoyed the art overall in this volume. I was pleased that even though such a large number of characters were introduced in this volume I was able to consistently keep track of each one thanks to her excellent character designs. I enjoyed the way that the design of a character like Goda played with my expectations by setting helping sell him as a gruff and slightly sadistic leader to accentuate the contrast brought about by some of his more unexpected qualities. This extended to the rest of the members of the Art Squad as well as their various adversaries, and I never felt bored looking at any of the designs involved here. The art is a pleasantly clean style, and the panel layouts never feel cluttered, making for a smooth and pleasant read.

Final Thoughts

Behind the Scenes is a fun comedy series which really hits its stride after the first couple chapters once it has the chance to establish its cast more fully. Ranmaru feels like a one-note protagonist early on and is probably the weakest part of the series, but the rest of the cast made up for that in a big way in terms of their interesting personalities which made the Art Squad’s shenanigans most fun and meaningful to watch. Although there isn’t an urgent plot-line at hand, Behind the Scenes got stronger as it went along with its selection of interesting new situations for the Art Squad to tackle, and I’m looking forward to see what’s next for them in the future.


Behind the Scenes Vol. 1 was translated by John Werry and published by Viz Media on February 2nd, 2016. Authored by Bisco Hatori, the series currently runs in Hakusensha’s LaLa magazine. Volume 2 will be published in English on July 5th, 2016.

Verdict:

B

Date of Publication: February 2nd, 2016

Translator: John Werry

Author: Bisco Hatori

Publisher: Viz Media



Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka