What kind of manga can be a high school comedy and yet have hardly any scenes in the classroom? Ask Yukie Nasu, because that's exactly what she accomplishes with Here Is Greenwood. Throwing a new spin on the Japanese school experience by focusing on dorm life, Here Is Greenwood walks the line between cute and bizarre with mixed results. Be prepared to laugh... but be prepared for some flat, confusing moments too.
Like many successful comedies, Here Is Greenwood relies on its quirky characters for humor. Perennial loser Kazuya, with his "why me?" attitude, may in fact be the most normal person in this story. His brother Kazuhiro is a male nurse at the same school, which is a source of never-ending embarrassment for Kazuya, while his sister-in-law Sumire is hilariously clueless about his crush on her and keeps inviting him back home. The core of Greenwood's offbeat sense of humor, though, comes from the head of residents, Mitsuru. All too aware of his bishounen features, Mitsuru happily takes the role of the dominant male and selfishly uses his influence to play pranks on Kazuya and take little presents from each of his residents' care packages. Things only get funnier when the equally good-looking class president,
Shinobu, teams up with Mitsuru to cause even more trouble. (Sorry girls, the two of them don't get busy or anything--but Shinobu does throw in a subtle hint!)
After the initial premise kicks things off, Here Is Greenwood falls into a well-worn formula with isolated chapters that cover specific moments in the Japanese school year, carrying only a trace of continuity and no genuine, overarching plotline. Readers who feel overburdened by ongoing soap opera plots can finally give their brains a rest, but without a driving force behind the story, it could be easy to lose interest in Greenwood if the first few chapters aren't instantly appealing. Although the first volume does end on a cliffhanger, a general storyline--something involving Kazuya's troubles back home, perhaps--would add some dramatic weight to balance out this lighthearted manga.
The mid-80's style of artwork in Here Is Greenwood will remind most readers of Maison Ikkoku or Kimagure Orange Road, albeit with a cleaner look. Nasu's linework appears as if it ought to be accented with dreamy bubbles and flower petals (the manga itself was originally serialized in the Hana To Yume shoujo anthology), but instead she keeps the backgrounds free of clutter and focuses on straightforward visuals. Because of this, even the densely packed panels don't interfere with the enjoyment of the story. However, that lack of clutter goes too far at times, reducing backgrounds to a point where the reader loses any sense of location. This sparse approach almost ruins one of the best jokes in the entire manga: when Kazuya walks into a bathroom on page 25, the fact that he's in the bathroom is pivotal to that scene, but it may take several re-reads before noticing the urinals that are shoehorned into a corner of one panel. In the chapter where Greenwood gets hit by a blackout, it's hard to tell whether Mitsuru and Shinobu are inside or outside the rooms as they patrol the halls. Despite shortcomings like that, Here Is Greenwood has a visual style that will appeal to old-school fans and those looking for an antidote to the overly slick, sharp designs of the present day.
Nasu's real strength as a comedy manga-ka comes from her sense of timing and spacing out panels to set up a punchline. Employing a technique more commonly seen in American comic strips, Nasu uses silent, repeated panels to achieve an awkward pause or a couple of beats right before the joke. This works splendidly in situations like the moment when Kazuya realizes the truth about Shun, or when he laments his fate over the lunch table and everyone suddenly makes a dive for his food. It's easy to crack a manga joke based on awkward male-female relationships or a goofy personality, but to do it using just the pacing of a scene is a rare talent among artists.
The dialog of Here Is Greenwood is in a standard conversational style; Viz's translation could use more character but is nonetheless a solid effort. Like most of their recent releases, the sound effects are replaced directly with English translations but nothing looks particularly jarring or awkward. The primary text font works well both inside and outside the speech bubbles, and even small asides are easily readable -- an admirable feat considering the dense packing of the panels on each page. Although no extras are provided in the back of the book, the pastel green cover captures the quirky mood of Greenwood by showing the main characters wearing flowers on their heads.
Well-timed jokes and boarding school antics could describe any manga title among the dozens out there, but mixed in with the right dose of weirdness, it makes for a unique and amusing blend in Here Is Greenwood. With a strong core of oddball characters and a visual style that strips away flowery excesses, this manga will provide a good hour's worth of amusement. It could use some polishing and perfecting--more backgrounds would be nice, and it's going to get flat really quickly without a main storyline--but for those among us who seek a style of comedy that isn't quite like anything else, it's time to pack your bags, head to Ryokuto High, and move into Greenwood.