by Rebecca Silverman,

Complex Age

GN 3 & 4

Complex Age GN 3 & 4
Now that her parents have admitted that they know about Nagisa's cosplay, she's trying to adjust to being a little more open about it. Despite that, when she goes to a high school reunion and unexpected gets romantically involved with a former classmate, she can't quite bring herself to tell him about her hobby. Even though he's a fan of MagiRuru, could he really accept her life as a layer? Later on the uglier side of cosplay (and internet) culture rears its head when one of Nagisa's layer friends becomes the target of online harassment. Just because you put yourself out there, does that mean that people have the right to criticize your skills and body? Is it really just the “tax” cosplayers pay?

Yui Sakuma's Complex Age has been a difficult story from the start. Following the life of Nagisa, a twenty-six-year-old office worker and cosplayer, the first two volumes dealt with questions of whether or not it was enough to love your hobby when it appeared to be something “too young” for you. Although these themes are still present in the story – and look like they'll be back in force in volume five – the main focus of books three and four of the series is the idea of putting yourself “out there” while being female. It's not a subject that is strictly limited to cosplaying, but it does work particularly well with the hobby, allowing Sakuma to make points about other activities that make people feel that they have to right to publicly judge others.

The main catalyst for this next step in Nagisa's story is her acquisition of a boyfriend. She seems to almost fall into the relationship – she and Kimiko attend their high school reunion where Nagisa meets Kota Senda, a classmate she hasn't seen since graduation. Senda, it turns out, is also a fan of MagiRuRu the in-world anime that Nagisa cosplays from most frequently, and he works as an app programmer on a MagiRuRu game. Despite this, Nagisa is afraid to mention her own love of the show, so Senda simply thinks she's receptive to his “childish” love of it, and the two end up dating – without Nagisa ever telling him about her cosplaying. She's afraid that he'll reject her for it, despite the fact that this is a man who has a special alarm set on his phone so that he can catch the new episode of MagiRuRu each week – and his ringtone is the show's theme song. If anyone seems like they'll accept Nagisa's hobby, it's this guy.

That, of course, is without factoring in Nagisa's own insecurities. Her cosplay is something that she thought she had hidden from her parents since she started doing it, so logic says that she's not going to be comfortable telling a boyfriend she's had for only a month. While honesty is important in a relationship, that also requires Nagisa to be honest with herself, which, given the amount of internal conflict she seems to feel with each person who tells her or implies that she's too old, she's predisposed to believe that any new person she informs will judge her. To Nagisa's credit, she does tell Senda, but she then turns right around and judges him, almost as if she's using his perceived reaction as an excuse to dump him. While Senda isn't precisely thrilled about her cosplaying, he's also not openly dismissive or upset about it; more like confused and jealous that there are pictures of her on the internet. But Nagisa assumes the worst and doesn't give him time to really adjust to her admission, taking everything he says and does as proof that he can't accept Nagi the Layer as part of Nagisa the woman.

To be fair, his comment about an overweight cosplayer isn't kind or sensitive, but Nagisa hasn't always been the most accepting person of imperfect layers herself. That informs the second major storyline in these two volumes, when a young woman Nagisa criticized before, Riu, returns and can't understand why Nagisa would put up with Aya, whose cosplay skills are lacking. Riu tries to get Aya out of Nagisa's orbit by harassing her online and encouraging others to do so, even coming close to doxing her. Nagisa, if you recall, once told Aya that online harassment and inappropriate photos were the tax women paid for their hobby, but after her experience with Senda, she seems to be rethinking that. Riu's actions are unmistakably cruel, and they do wound Aya and put her in danger; Nagisa is unquestionably right to take Riu to task for it. But there's also a question of whether Nagisa is painting Senda and Riu with the same brush.

More importantly, both storylines discuss the judgement that the cosplayers face because their hobby involves going out in public. Riu defends her actions by saying that if you're a layer, you want people to look at you, and harsh criticism is an inevitable result; if Aya can't handle it, she shouldn't be a cosplayer in the first place. But this argument implies that public attention is the only reason for dressing up like a character, when many people, Nagisa included, get something emotional and self-soothing from it as well. That's what she fears losing if Senda can't accept her, and she'd rather assume that he's judging her than risk losing the emotional benefits she gets from cosplay. That's what's at stake for her every time it's suggested that she's too old or too tall to be dressing up as Ururu. Dressing as the character allows her to take on the character's traits, and quitting means (in her mind) having to give those up forever.

Many people would be happy if the world never changed, if preconceived notions of growing up didn't mean giving up hobbies or if friends stayed just the same. But that's not how things work. The wrapping doesn't always reflect what's underneath and people grow and change in reaction to their lives. These two volumes begin to deal with Nagisa's unwillingness to accept these things, her craving for her life to go on just as it always has. Nothing says that she ever has to give up cosplay or get a boyfriend or anything else deemed “age appropriate” by society, but she is going to have to understand that what's true for her is not true for others, including her friends. Cosplay isn't the real heart of the issue, as these books begin to reveal – it's just Nagisa's way of understanding her place in the world around her, even if that's not something that she's able to see.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B

+ Uses cosplay as a metaphor for Nagisa's emotional insecurities, story begins to tackle the darker parts of the hobby, still feels very honest
No further repercussions to Riu's actions, a few panels are too crowded for easy reading

Story & Art: Yui Sakuma

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Complex Age (manga)

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Complex Age (GN 3)

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