The Spring 2022 Manga Guide
High School Family: Kokosei Kazoku
What's It About?Spring is in the air, and Kotaro is about to begin his first year of high school. He's full of hope and anticipation of a wonderful life at his new school, only to have his dreams crushed by...his family.
High School Family: Kokosei Kazoku has story and art by Ryō Nakama and English translation by Amanda Haley. Viz has released its first volume digitally for $6.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
We all know parents can be cringe-inducing, especially when you're ready to make your big high school debut. Now imagine that your parents are also starting high school, along with your eight-year-old sister and your cat, and to make matters worse, they're all in your class. That's the situation Kotaro finds himself in when his entire family announces that they're fulfilling their long-held educational ambitions, skipping grades, or…being a cat in a school uniform…
So if you have an aversion to second-hand embarrassment, this may not be the manga for you. The cringe is real here, and very strong, as poor Kotaro discovers that his middle school-graduate parents have decided to join him in his education. It gets worse when his little sister not only joins them, but manages to score the highest on the entrance exam. Why Gomez the cat is attending high school is anyone's guess, but it does make for a decently funny chapter about the kitty using the principal's office as a litterbox. Mostly, though, the family's misadventures focus on how uncomfortable Kotaro is, how weirded out his classmates are, and how utterly out of place his parents in particular are.
The chapters are short, which does work well, because it doesn't allow for any of the jokes to drag on for too long. The art is…let's go with serviceable. It doesn't always do a great job of making Kotaro's mom look like a grown woman, and the less said about movement and perspective, the better. But it works for the most part because this is a gag manga, and it really lives and dies on how funny you find Kotaro's discomfort. It doesn't work particularly well for me, but I could easily see it tickling a lot of funny bones, and if it sounds at all entertaining to you, it's worth checking out.
One-joke gag manga are an institution that have proven perfectly capable of working throughout the history of the medium. The trick is to start with a bit that has enough legs to carry something as long as you can possibly intend to, and then to put your entire ass into it as hard as you can. Unfortunately, High School Family hasn't engaged in either of those exercises. Its concept mostly comes off as dimly disparate, stuck between "What if instead of sucking, high school was so aspirational your whole family wanted to do it?" and "We know high school sucks, but how much worse would it be if your whole family was there?" And that's kind of it.
The issue is that High School Family never seems sure how far it actually wants to take itself as a joke. It's unclear whether we're supposed to take this purely as a face-value farce predicated on that sight gag of a stereotypical sitcom nuclear family sharing the same class- space, or if we're supposed to view its setup through any lens of plausible realism. The book tries to have it both ways: The titular family doesn't feel particularly familiar with each other beyond the sort of interactions you expect to codify characters as 'The Mom' or 'The Dad', but it also gestures at personal motivations for why all of Kotaro's family members might really want to attend high school at this time, in this manner, and has Kotaro and the other students remark on the situation seemingly aware of the absurdity. But beyond the initial excuses for the premise and an occasional acknowledgement (like a chapter featuring the mom reconnecting with one of her middle-school friends, which itself doesn't really go anywhere), the series seems uninterested in any broader themes of recapturing lost youth, or viewing the education system through the eyes of late-game dropouts.
Instead things devolve into the kind of self-aware shitpost humor that could potentially work for a chapter or two, but seems ill-suited to carrying an ongoing affair. A few times it manages to veer into proper Cromartie High School-styled absurdity, particularly in a couple chapters involving the little sister and her delinquent-looking new friend. But most of the time it can't even make situations that should feel like laugh-out-loud slam dunks, such as needing to teach your mom to ride a bike, rise past provoking a partially-pitying snort-laugh. And that's ignoring an entire chapter agonizingly arranged around cat shit leading up to an "I am Sharticus" moment that I assure you sounds funnier than it actually is. And on that note, why would you even include a cat in this comic if you can barely draw a cat? High School Family's artistic presentation is another thing that might've worked for a one-off bit, but is, in my opinion, definitely not ready for prime- time. Things like the gag of the dad constantly being drawn like an old-timey newspaper strip character who can barely master one expression come off like a crutch when it has to carry across an entire volume of content, while other characters range from inconsistent to downright unpleasant, as in the case of that horrid little man-creature of a cat. High School Family is hardly the worst comedy I've ever read, but if you're simply looking for sensible chuckles, there are way more dependable options out there.
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