Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 8th 2007
With her good looks and slender figure, Naka clearly has the traits of an ideal teen model. Unfortunately, whenever she smiles, her face contorts into a horrifying mess! In hopes of improving her technique, she signs up at a high-profile agency best known for the charismatic young model Umi. However, when Naka accidentally discovers that Umi is actually a boy, the two of them soon become shady co-conspirators: Naka will keep Umi's secret, and Umi will help to boost Naka's career. Their clashing personalities might make it tougher than expected, however. Fighting their way through a dual photoshoot, a hairstyling contest, and a "training camp" audition for a music producer, will these two learn to get along or inadvertently wreck each other's careers?
Between Nosatsu Junkie and other similarly themed titles, one starts to wonder just how many Japanese female celebrities are actually guys in disguise. Does this kind of thing happen often? Are we supposed to check out the latest photoshoot of some up-and-coming girl group and try to guess which one is packing the Y chromosome? Nosatsu Junkie offers a lighthearted take on the idea, focusing on the emotional whirlwind and endlessly bizarre situations that might come from two models who are in on a gender-switch secret. Naka's smile of death and forceful personality are sure to entertain, as is Umi's androgynous moodiness. But with a lackluster story that barely even makes sense at times, it looks like this fun setup could be going to waste.
The first two chapters of this series work like trial runs for the plot, putting Naka and Umi into situations that show the series' potential. Although they create a photogenic image when paired together, their off-camera camaraderie is anything but smooth. Not only is it a matter of boy-girl tension, but their personal goals are clearly out of sync: Naka wants to prove to another boy that she can be just as charming as Umi, while Umi—well, he just wants to keep his true gender a secret. That's good, volatile chemistry right there, and Naka's brash attitude provides the necessary spark—thank goodness for strong-willed shoujo heroines. A touch of humor helps as well: Naka's contorted smile is delightfully creepy, and the reactions of others around her are priceless. ("Isn't that the serial killer we saw in the news?")
Then comes the training-camp audition that fills the rest of the volume, and things really start to fall apart, if they weren't already creaky in the first place. Not only is there a plot hole in Chapter 2 where Naka gives Umi's gender away (possibly a side effect of translation), but the training camp itself practically reveals Umi's secret on hidden camera, yet the staff conveniently misses it. It's reasonable to expect a bit of "selective blindness," but the logic gaps being jumped here are just too big to ignore. That's not the only place where the storytelling gets sloppy, though; Umi and Naka's relationship keeps getting forced into incongruous moments of tenderness. There are some touching scenes where Umi and Naka bond with each other, but it seems shallow and out of place compared to the comedic hijinks elsewhere. Meanwhile, gimmicks like the much-overused fall-on-top-of-each-other kiss aren't convincing at all.
In the fashion world, style is the substance, and the same might be said of the artwork in this series. Large, expressive eyes and wispy hair confer instant attractiveness on just about any character, which does make sense since we're talking about showbiz types here. Were it not for Naka's playful sneer, however, it'd be too easy to confuse her face with Umi's, and things just get worse when a similar-looking photographer enters the storyline. Note to Ryoko Fukuyama: there is more than one face shape in manga, even shoujo manga! Try it sometime. The background work is similarly generic, relying mostly on patterns, screentones, and the barest of visual cues to set the stage. Layouts are dynamic but somewhat messy; they do show promise during serious displays of emotion, however, and the full-body poses in the fashion shoots are a fun showcase for Fukuyama's personal tastes.
If the relationship development in this story seems shallow, the unexciting dialogue might be one underlying cause. Although the translation is easy enough to follow and hits the right level of colloquialism, it does little to bring out the characters' personalities. Everyone talks almost exactly alike, as if the adaptation itself hadn't fully adapted to the English language. The lack of sound effect translations also takes away another element of the series, since many actions and emotions are expressed only through a forceful "pa" or "doki" that Japanese-impaired readers will miss. At least the print job is done well, with sharp reproductions across all the pages, a highly readable text font, and industry-standard paper stock.
Although Nosatsu Junkie opens with a pair of unique characters a potentially funny premise, it gets lost in its own mess trying to move the story forward. Naka's strong personality and her special connection with Umi aren't enough to support a morass of plot holes, emotional outbursts and contrived situations. Sure, Japan's actual entertainment industry has its fair share of underdog success stories—but even those make sense. This first dose of Nosatsu Junkie, unfortunately, does not.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B-
+ A slick visual style and strong, outspoken personalities in the lead roles.
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