Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Nagisa Kataura is a twenty-six-year-old office worker, outwardly unremarkable. But in her free time, she's a champion cosplayer, spending hours constructing painstakingly accurate costumes and attending events in perfect character. Her cosplay life is more rewarding to her than her “real” one could ever be, but she feels she has to hide it from the rest of the world. How will she react when her status as her favorite character is threatened or when she's spotted in costume by a co-worker? Can hobbies really not coexist with real life?
Most of us maintain a separation between our work lives and our home lives. Many times that's because we simply need the emotional rest, but sometimes it's because our home lives involve hobbies that we'd just as soon not have outsiders know about. How quiet you feel the need to keep your outside interests may influence how much you relate to Yui Sakuma's story of a young businesswoman hiding her cosplay habit, but regardless of whether you proudly proclaim your love for your nerd life, Complex Age's first volume introduces an interesting story about what we feel we need to do to fit in with society at large.
The heroine of the story is twenty-six-year-old Nagisa. She's single, lives with her parents (which has less stigma in Japan than in some other countries, making “single” the bigger deal), and is a dedicated cosplayer. She and her high school friend Kimiko collaborate on exquisitely detailed outfits and props, with their favorite show to cosplay being the in-world magical girl series Magical Riding Hood Ururu. Nagisa, who cosplays under the name “Nagi,” prides herself on her portrayal of the main heroine Ururu, and when she puts on the costume, she adjusts her body language and speech to fit so that she is, in her own words, the closest thing to 2D. She doesn't just do this because she's a perfectionist – she genuinely appears to feel freer and, in some ways, more like herself when she's playing a part. This is where she finds satisfaction and pride in life, even as she keeps it a secret from her parents and her coworkers. While the story is technically about cosplaying – and there's a fairly comprehensive glossary about it in the back of the book, along with the usual cultural notes – that's really just the dressing Sakuma is using to tell the story of someone with a hobby she's “supposed” to have outgrown. Like many otaku, or other animation enthusiasts, Nagisa is a fan of a show that's targeted at small children. She's a grown woman dressing up as a little girl and taking on that girl's mannerisms, none of which is deemed acceptable by society at large. While what she's doing isn't illegal, or even all that creepy by internet standards, it is enough to isolate her socially from her work peers and could possibly cause her parents something akin to shame or embarrassment. Therefore, she is required to hide her hobby, even within her own home: in her bedroom she has refitted her closet so that it is a mini-atelier, divided so that she can work on the top shelf, where she also keeps her computer. This ensures a double-layer of privacy – even if her mother comes into her room, she won't see anything unusual.
While it is clear that volume two will deal with what happens to Nagisa when one of her co-workers learns she's a cosplayer, this book is concerned with what cosplay, and being the best Ururu cosplayer, means to Nagisa. She's fanatical in her approach to putting on Ururu's skin – when a new opening theme reveals a heretofore unknown symbol on her dress, Nagisa stays up all night to fix her outfit so that it reflects the most accurate version possible. When another cosplayer dressed as a different Magical Riding Hood character isn't standing just right, Nagi takes her to task harshly and doesn't really see the problem in doing so. This confidence is shaken, however, when Kimiko introduces her to two younger women who want to form an Ururu group with them – and one of the girls looks physically much more like Ururu than Nagisa does. Suddenly her world is shaken to the core with the possibility that she might not be the best, the most perfect. All of her insecurities come out with simply the possibility that she is not the ultimate Ururu: she's too tall, too buxom…maybe too old. While she never voices that last, it is an underlying insecurity that helps to define Nagisa, that at twenty-six she's too old to be playing the equivalent of dress-up and that she ought to give it up and become a Real Adult.
This is explored less subtly in the original Complex Age one-shot included at the end of this volume, about a thirty-four-year-old woman who has been wearing Goth Loli outfits since high school. Her otaku husband doesn't mind, but she does eventually bow to social pressure after being called “old” at a tea, and gives up the lifestyle. It's a bittersweet story and one that won't sit well with everyone, but it does reflect a certain mindset that being “adult” means that you have to give up things you love as being no longer appropriate, even if your disposable income is yours to do with as you wish. I admit that I will be disappointed if that is the outcome of Complex Age's six volumes, but at this point the exploration of Nagisa's insecurities even as she revels in cosplay are interesting enough that Sakuma might be able to make such an ending work.
The art in the book is very attractive, and the larger trim size makes it easy to see the details even when Sakuma goes a bit overboard with the gray spaces. One of the most interesting artistic tricks is how she draws bodies in and out of costume, with much more realistic proportions for the latter and the implication that the former is a deliberate illusion crafted by a skilled cosplayer. There are more notes than usual in both the translation section and the cosplay glossary, although they don't all feel needed as many are defined in the panel gutters during the story. While I appreciate the effort, it feels redundant to have them in both places; personally I prefer the less distracting endnotes.
Complex Age's first volume is thoughtful and familiar at the same time. Nagisa might not be someone you can relate to in her need to hide her hobbies or her insecurities, but she is recognizable as a human rather than a flat character. The stage has been set for a good exploration of how we balance our lives, and after the mini-cliffhanger that ends this book, there's a lot to look forward to when the next volume is released.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Nagisa is a sympathetic character while still feeling very human, nice detail between cosplay world and real world. Very thoughtful, lots of notes about both cosplay and culture.
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