Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 16th 2006
Koromo is a girl who loves cosplay, and when her high school suddenly abolishes the dress code, she goes all out! Maid outfits, miko robes, and cat ears are all part of Koromo's fashion repertoire. Her buddies include best friend Haoru, who loves to sew; rival Mikoto, who works at a shrine and wears miko robes for real; Rumi, a grade-school cosplayer who's more into full-body animal suits; Kameko, a slow-witted photography nut; and a mysterious school rebel who isn't very rebellious at all. With a crazy hobby and even crazier friends, can Koromo make it all the way to high school graduation?
To many, the world of cosplay seems like a parallel universe, guarded by an impenetrable fog of sewing techniques and obscure fabric terminology. Luckily, Cosplay Koromo-chan isn't really about that. Instead, it tells little anecdotes about kids who take their interests way too seriously, and the silliness that ensues. Confined to the exacting structure of 4-panel gag manga, this one-volume effort is hit-and-miss with its humor, but its boundless enthusiasm and simple, dynamic style is charming in its own way. Don't expect much substance, but do expect a lot of fun.
Sometimes, all it takes to make a gag strip work is a good set of characters. On the surface, it looks like Koromo, Haoru and Kameko simply have interests that complement each other—one girl cosplays, the other makes costumes, and other takes the photos. But their personalities make a well-balanced triangle, too: Koromo's ditzy energy is offset by Haoru's cool pragmatism, which in turn is quite different from Kameko's spaced-out attitude. Appealing characters are a good start, but it's the way they interact that really livens up the story—feisty arguments and snappy comebacks are a way of life for these girls. Even serious-minded Mikoto, with her shrine maiden garb, sets up one of the best jokes in the book: "It's her job." "What!? She's a professional cosplayer?"
Most of the punchlines rely on such wacky outbursts and reactions—moments when characters completely misunderstand each other. In large doses, however, this does get pretty tiring, with everyone trying to top each other's absurdity. The strips involving holidays—Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's—are the most boring, recycling the same old setups from every other school comedy manga. However, when the right kind of inspiration comes along, it can be a true gem. The Hokkaido chapter is especially effective—there's just so much humor potential for a wild bear that wears a teddy bear "cosplay cap" on his head. Towards the end, the story even reaches a genuine ending with Koromo's graduation, and her exam jitters lead to some of the most inspired jokes in the book. (Ever notice the similarity between filling in bubbles on lottery tickets and multiple-choice forms?)
The cutesy art style shows an understanding of how to work within the confines of a comic strip—small, simple, and highly expressive. Super-deformed character designs fit well into the rectangular panels, and the bold, uncluttered linework makes it easy to see what's going on. In addition, everyone has an identifying feature: Koromo with her fancy headgear (a riff on Di Gi Charat?), Haoru's gigantic glasses, Mikoto's lone strand of gravity-defying hair. The artwork within each panel stays fairly simple, with only one or two main characters appearing most of the time, and backgrounds are kept to a minimum. Facial expressions are simplified too; sometimes a gag face is nothing more than bulbous eyes and an open mouth, and it works. Such visual shortcuts are essential in a format where ease of reading and a quick pace take top priority.
As is inevitable with translated dialogue, some humor does get lost in translation. Punchlines that might have been funny in Japanese lose their sharpness in English, although other aspects of the dialogue—a rapid back-and-forth rhythm, and the characters' strong reactions—survive past the language barrier. Sound effects are left alone, with English equivalents added next to them (or in some unfortunate cases, on top of them), but the text is sometimes so small as to be nearly useless. However, sharp print quality and fairly bright paper make it possible to read the small text if you really try. Also, don't miss out on the little bonus gags in the lower margins, which feature added silliness like the characters dressed up as common plants or housepets, pop quizzes about the series, or a miniature board game.
For a quick comedy fix without the hassle of keeping up with an ongoing series, Cosplay Koromo-chan is a decent choice, with its straightforward style, high energy and likeable cast of characters. It falls into the trap of trying to make the same joke all the time, but given the right situation and the right punchline, it does reach some comedic heights. You don't even have to be familiar with cosplay to understand it—just know that when someone's a little bit too crazy about playing dress-up, and surrounds herself with other crazy folks, well, insanity happens.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B
+ Great chemistry among characters and a simple, dynamic style.
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