The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Tomo-chan Is A Girl
What's It About?Tomo and Jun have been best friends since they were little. They do everything together – play, train at Tomo's family dojo, you name it.
Over the years, Tomo's fallen in love with Jun, and she's ready to take their relationship to the next level. There's only one problem – not only did Jun not realize she was a girl until middle school, he's insistent on continuing to see her as his best guy friend! Is there any hope for Tomo's love, or is she doomed to remain Jun's bestie till the end?
Is It Worth Reading?
Miscommunication is rife with potential for humor, and Fumita Yanagida has many more hits than misses with the first volume of Tomo-chan is a Girl!. Originally serialized on Twitter, the story of Tomo and her crush on her childhood best friend Jun is a stunning sequence of mutual misunderstanding…some of which feel very deliberate on Jun's part. As far as Tomo can see, her love for him is unrequited as he has zero real idea that she's a girl. She's come to this conclusion mostly because he seems to rebuff all of her efforts at appealing to him and insists on putting “best friends forever” stickers on their photo booth shots. For her, trying to get Jun to see her as the girl she is is simply an exercise in frustration, but one she's willing to keep trying.
What she's missing, however, is that Jun almost certainly does know that she's a girl, and one he's attracted to as well. He's just fighting it really, really hard. Given the reveal at the end of this volume, there's a good chance that he's afraid that if they date and it doesn't work out, he'll lose her completely, and that honestly feels like a valid fear. It would mark a total change in the way they physically interact (he's very touchy, although not handsy in a sexual sense) and bring a different level of awareness to their day-to-day lives. It's hard to blame Jun for worrying about that.
Fortunately Yanagida has a light hand with those more serious moments, and it's all in the implications rather than in anything Jun actually says. Mostly we're in Tomo's point of view, and she's completely in the dark about the whole thing. This makes the book funny rather than yet another tortured teen romance, and the four-koma style works well for this. There's sort of a hurried feel to Yanagida's art, but it's still attractive and really works for emphasizing both the comedy and the pathos of the situations the characters find themselves in. Whether they're trying to navigate sharing an umbrella or discussing karate, the characters interact with another naturalness to sell the humor of the situations. Tomo's friend Misuzu feels a bit stereotypical in terms of “cold and practical best friend” characters, but the rest of the book is enough fun to make this work as the kind of rom-com that can cheer you up after a long day.
Tomo and Jun's friendship is the core around which most of these four panels revolve, and at first, it seems like their individual brands of cluelessness are going to get old fast. Jun just won't see Tomo as a girl, and things like other boys admiring her and girls being jealous of the attention she gets go over Tomo's head. However, by volume's end, there's some slight progress made at least on Jun's side, as there are moments where he does realize his “one of the guys” best friend is a voluptuous girl who gets other guys' attention. Misuzu, as their mutual friend (of sorts), does more than just observe and clue Tomo and Jun in on things they don't seem to realize. She has a slightly sadistic streak, as she loves watching them squirm, though she is protective of them when it comes to threats from other corners. She's overly meddlesome, but she's a much-needed addition to the dynamic. Toward the end of the volume, though, airheaded Carol is introduced, and she deflates some of the momentum the first volume had going. She's jealous of Tomo because her crush has a crush on her, but even once she realizes Tomo only has eyes for Jun, she still interjects herself into their relationship with exaggerated doe-eyed “innocence” that's often more grating than endearing. She might have been better saved for volume 2.
As a four-panel comic set almost entirely at school, Tomo-chan is a Girl! doesn't have much to offer in background art, but Yanagida's character designs are distinctive and help craft each person's personality. Tomo's messy hair coupled with her too-small clothes on her voluptuous body give the perfect impression of her rough-and-tumble naiveté, for example.
Tomo-chan is a Girl! volume 1 is entertaining, despite its singular focus. Even so, this early on, there may be too many attempts to shake up the formula even before it's established, such as introducing Carol. However, as a whole, it's a mildly funny comic with plenty of romantic tension that's sure to satisfy fans of comedic high school love stories.
Considering its comedic rom-com tone, I shouldn't dislike Tomo-chan is a Girl! as much as I do. But I find its particular sort of gender essentialism and toxic tropes about what romance is anathema to enjoying it on any level. Its supposedly light tonality only makes it more offensive to me, as it passes off a lot of its awful philosophy as benign.
Tomo-chan is a Girl! is a manga about a girl constantly hitting a guy and a guy constantly doing things that make a girl really, really uncomfortable. But it's ok, because guys are just like that and abuse is funny when it happens to men. And if Tomo wants Jun to stop treating her like a ‘guy’, she just needs to act more like how girls should act. Never mind the fact that she is genuinely passionate about martial arts and is just being true to herself, this is the only way men and woman can be attracted to one another. It's honestly draining. It's an entire volume of the worst, most toxic thoughts about romance being repeated ad nauseum.
The jokes aren't all that remarkable either. They follow a simple formula of Jun misunderstands one of Tomo's flirty queues and does something dumb, or he sees her boobs and gets bashful or something. It's tedious. You'd think the introduction of new characters like the head of the Karate Club or his flighty and strange British cousin would help with that, but no. They only add more love-triangle hijinks and padding.
Like most people, I grew up in an environment where gender rules were rigidly enforced. Any dissent from how you were supposed to present yourself would be punished or result in social ostracization. It took me years to start undoing that damage. To become the girl I wanted to be. So seeing something like this, where all the jokes are dependent on men and women only being able to relate to each other in a certain way, ‘women acting like women’ and ‘men acting like men’, is not only painful, it's opposed to everything I believe. I wasn't expecting a four-panel gag comic to be the thing that really offended me, but Tomo-chan is a Girl! is what it is.
Finally, being one of the boys has gotten old for first year high schooler, Tomo Aizawa. Admitting her crush on her childhood best friend, Junichirou Kubota, Tomo is rejected and reminded that he sees her as a boy! In fact, he didn't even know Tomo was a girl until middle school. Now, Tomo is desperately trying to turn her best friend into her boyfriend.
Tomo-chan is a Girl! includes all of the usual slice of life shoujo romance schemes and antics that most manga in the genre hold. Tomo, a tomboy, of course has two incredibly feminine friends that actively help her out in her quest to get the boy, while Jun is trying to keep his budding crush on Tomo under wraps. Both male and female classmates alike think Tomo is incredibly cute, but she only has eyes for her best friend. Both sides have to deal with their meddlesome but well meaning friends trying to get in their business.
Though most yonkoma manga don't follow a set plot, Tomo-chan does to some degree. It moves through the cast's first year of high school, and each page builds off the last, like a typical sequential manga, however, each page can be read as a solo strip. Once in a while, three pages in a row will follow a short miniplot or conversation, but for the most part the pages can be read as standalones.
Like most romance manga, Tomo-chan is a Girl! is more about the characters and the journey than the actual plot itself. With laugh out loud humor, readers grow to love each character, even the ones that were originally viewed as mean spirited or obnoxious.
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