Complex Age Vol. 1 - Manga Review

Nagisa Kataura is a temp-worker by day, and cosplayer by night - but this balance might not be so easy to keep!

The Lowdown

Ever since she first saw the anime Magical Riding Hood Ururu, Nagisa Kataura has been devoted to cosplay, the hobby of transforming into a fictional character. Together with her friend Kimiko, Nagisa is now 26 years old and has gone to numerous conventions as Ururu, earning the respect of her fellow fans because of her perfectionism. Driven by her desire to be as close to the 2D original as possible, Nagisa works as a temp-worker by day to pay the bills and sews her costumes by night. However, her passion is unforgiving - not only does she endure society’s skepticism towards her hobby and the judgment of other fans, but Nagisa is also hardest on herself in her unending pursuit.

How Was It?

I’ve always found fandom to be an intrinsically interesting topic to contemplate for the way that people become emotionally invested in a particular work, or character. This emotion attachment is formed for many different reasons, and the passion that often results is tremendously forceful particularly when the process of being a fan becomes a part of one’s self-identity. At its core, Complex Age concerns itself deeply with engaging with these aspects of fandom through Nagisa’s relationship with cosplay, and I found this to be a strong premise which held my attention throughout this story. I was pleased to see that this wasn’t just a surface level fascination, and the level of care thatComplex Age takes in creating a nuanced portrayal of Nagisa’s character helps give the series an emotional heft throughout.

Part of what makes Complex Age’s depiction of Nagisa’s ongoing process of finding herself through her cosplay is the level of seriousness that the series treats its subject with. Cosplay as a medium is not simply treated as interchangeable window dressing to the main story, but instead is a core piece in the exploration of Nagisa’s psyche throughout the volume. This is established throughout the majority of this volume which methodically lays out the driving passions behind cosplay in general, and I found this helpful as someone who has never engaged with cosplay before in helping explore the sheer dedication inherent in the cosplayers, or “layers” who participate in the hobby. It also laid out the good and bad aspects of participating in the hobby, from the emotional high of putting together the perfect costume to the crushing lows of finding creep shots online, and I felt that this gave the series a strong foundation to begin exploring Nagisa’s story with even if the pacing dragged a touch as a result.

One of the main benefits of the strong foundation created by this methodical introduction to the world of cosplay was that it helped to put the exploration of Nagisa’s passion for it in context. Nagisa’s personality is established very quickly thanks to this, and I liked the emphasis on demonstrating her passion and perfectionism through her preparing for a number of events rather than simply telling us about them. For example, we see Nagisa’s dedication to getting the costume just right even when there are last minute design changes just before an event, and this helped to justify her later anger at other layers not taking the hobby seriously enough. This brought together several of the key themes that the book explores through Nagisa in an interesting way that felt particularly well grounded.

This volume’s portrayal of Nagisa’s insecurities worked well by showing the level of identification she feels for Ururu, and I felt that this was starkly underscored by the emphasis on her cosplay functioning as a conduit for the flaws she feels in her own body-image. This bleeds through to her interactions with others, making for an interesting situation when she realizes that she might not be the most perfect version of Ururu out there. I felt that the art was a strong component of this because of the way it cleanly captured Nagisa’s emotional states. This was most apparent in showing her facial reactions when she would make a sudden and devastating realization, and I felt that this conveyed a lot of this volume’s emotional heft without having to explicate purely through dialogue.

I was a little bit surprised that this volume didn’t engage nearly as much with the conflicting demands of her cosplay life and her office life as I expected, instead consciously establishing Nagisa’s passion for cosplay and all that this entailed as its main focus. I think this was a wise choice it allowed for the serious treatment of cosplay and Nagisa’s emotions to create a strong anchor point for a future examination of her two worlds colliding together. This process begins at the very end of the volume in a bit of a cliffhanger after at a hilarious Danganronpa themed convention which I quite enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to seeing this plot line developed in future volumes.

Also included in this volume is the original one-shot for the series, and this was an interesting and self-contained read which I enjoyed. The story follows an office worker who continues to dress up as a lolita after work, and showed her process of contemplating when she might officially “grow out” of her hobby. This was a satisfying story because of the way that this examination was performed poignantly by showing her inner contemplation. Additionally, this story stood out because of the way it showed her husband supporting and accepting her during her struggle, and I thought this gave the story a more satisfying emotional angle. Overall, I was really pleased that this one-shot was included, and it was really interesting to see how different the main series is compared to its earlier iteration.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Complex Age is about one woman’s story of finding herself through her hobby, and this series is fascinating because of the way it deals with the difficult questions that result from such strong passion. Although it was a wee bit slow at times due to its methodical process of exploring cosplay, I thought that this worked well to illustrate Nagisa’s passion in an impactful way which sets the story up well for future volumes. It was really compelling to see the multi-faceted role that cosplay has within Nagisa’s life with respect to her body image, and I really appreciated that this series took the time to really explore these issues. Overall, these factors make Complex Age a strong recommendation for those looking for a coming-of-age story through the more unconventional lens of cosplay.


Complex Age 1
By Yui Sakuma

Complex Age Vol. 1 was translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley and published by Kodansha Comics USA on June 21st, 2016. Authored by Yui Sakuma, the series began in 2009 in Kodansha’s Morning magazine. Volume 2 will be published in English on September 6th, 2016.

Verdict:

B+

Date of Publication: June 21st, 2016

Translator: Alethea and Athena Nibbley

Author: Yui Sakuma

Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA



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