by Rebecca Silverman,

My Neighbor Seki

GN 1

My Neighbor Seki GN 1
Rumi Yokoi is an ordinary student in an ordinary classroom. Unfortunately for her, the boy at the neighboring desk, Seki, is anything but. He spends his school hours constructing elaborate scenarios out of go pieces, scrubbing his desk to a mirror-like shine, and creating massive chess games, just to name a few. How could Yokoi possibly pay attention in class with a neighbor like Seki?

We've probably all had a classmate like Seki – the kid who somehow or other manages to goof off the entire class except when the teacher is looking, the demon of distraction who keeps us from doing our own work because he's just so weird. Rumi Yokoi has the misfortune to sit next to him at the back of their classroom, and his constant antics both alarm and amuse her...and of course get her in trouble with the teacher as she tries to tell him to knock it off. There's a definite familiarity to the set-up, and some of the stories are very funny, but there's also an odd sort of sameness to this book as it goes on that makes me think that it must have been a lot more fun to read in a monthly magazine than all at once in a compiled graphic novel.

Each chapter of My Neighbor Seki is roughly ten pages and follows the same basic format: Yokoi is sitting in class, listening to the teacher, when she notices that Seki, the boy who sits next to her, is doing something weird. At first she's aghast that he's not paying attention in class, but then she becomes fascinated by whatever it is that he's doing. She tries to warn him to cut it out, he misunderstands or flat-out ignores her, and then the joke reaches its climax. This does differ from chapter to chapter – in some cases gets involved in his game (such as when she steals his robot family) while in others she gets in trouble with the teacher for his pranks. It's the little details of her reaction and the final gag that keep things from getting too stale, along with the fact that we never hear Seki speak. As the book goes on we do see him talking with other classmates, but he never gets any words attributed to him, which is an interesting twist. He and Yokoi, on the other hand, appear to be able to communicate soundlessly, and I admit to wondering if at the series' end we'll find out that he liked her all along and was just doing everything to mess with her. There are small indications that he is actively playing with her – his arbitrary post office rules, for example, which don't appear to have been widely distributed, or the game he plays with her during gym involving drawing cat faces. When he's folding paper cranes and she begins to help, he seems genuinely delighted, so there does seem to be room to interpret what he's up to.

It is too bad that the book doesn't feel like its English adaptation is up to Vertical's usual standards. There are some awkward, clunky phrases that don't read smoothly and some of the more obscure references aren't explained. We can guess from context what the crane folding means even if you didn't have to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in elementary school. Japanese chess and the “ouija” board (many readers will recognize it as “kokkuri-san”), however, could use a little more explanation. While actually understanding the way both games are played, or their cultural differences, isn't hugely important, not having any information still feels mildly annoying.

Morishige's art is very expressive, as it needs to be since Yokoi has 90% of the dialogue in the book. Faces are deceptively simple, but he gets a lot of emotion out of them as the Seki gets lost in his own world or Yokoi gets caught up in his craziness. Little details are especially well-drawn, with the eraser-dominoes being believably set up, the robots looking like the actual toys instead of poorly-drawn knock-offs, and the monster chess piece being especially impressive. We don't see much of the characters not behind their desks, but when we do, there is a natural feel to the body language that makes it work just as well as the (for lack of a better word) set pieces.

My Neighbor Seki's first volume is probably a lot more fun if you ration your reading of it to a chapter a day, like a newspaper comic strip. Each chapter itself is entertaining, but read close together it begins to feel repetitive and overdone. Add to that some stilted-sounding translations (“It's amazing that he can play around so boldly in this serious environment” doesn't sound like a high school girl) and a few oddly sexist comments about Seki's masculinity and you have a book that, while good enough, doesn't quite make it all the way to “good.”

Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B

+ Each scenario is unique and bizarre, nice expression in the artwork. Extra about Morishige discovering a smart board is actually really funny.
Gets repetitive after a while, translation sounds stilted in places. Yokoi's comments about Seki being a boy feel out of place.

Story & Art: Takuma Morishige

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Tonari no Seki-kun (manga)

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My Neighbor Seki (GN 1)

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