Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Please Tell Me! Galko-chan
Galko, Otako, and Ojou are three high school classmates who form an unlikely trio of friends. Otako, despite her otaku tendencies (or perhaps because of them), enjoys asking Galko questions that range from mildly weird to totally embarrassing, partially because she enjoys the disconnect between her friend's appearance and her personality. Whether it's boob hair, cooking, or pads versus tampons, conversations are never dull in this classroom.
There's a myth that has somehow endured about how girls are less "gross," less preoccupied with bodily functions than boys. Please Tell Me! Galko-chan is here to help deconstruct that misconception. Not that this is any sort of deliberately informative work; Kenya Suzuki's short-form manga, the basis for a series of anime shorts in 2016, is strictly comedic. It does, however, base a lot of its comedy on the main girls' frank and raunchy conversations, giving it a more down-to-earth feel than a lot of other contemporary series about high school girls.
The story in this first volume has six main characters: girls Galko, Otako, and Ojou and boys Charao, Otao, and Supoo. All of them are in the same high school class and go by nicknames that indicate their appearances or hobbies – Galko looks like a “gal” (a Japanese subculture associated with tan skin, bleached hair, and lots of make-up), Otako is an otaku, and Ojou is from a wealthy family. Despite their diverse interests and appearances, the three girls have become good friends, particularly Otako and Galko. The manga chronicles their daily conversations, while also covering how they became friends in the first place, often bringing in the interested eavesdropping of the three boys when discussions turn to the female body. Despite its genre classification as a comedy, this setup feels much truer to how high schoolers actually talk and act, and that relatability gives the book some edge over its competition.
Of course, part of that edge also comes from the fact that this is in no way a G or even PG rated book, especially if you're squeamish about things like periods. The girls have frank discussions about pads versus tampons (and if only virgins use the former and sexually active girls the latter), the terrors of putting in a tampon, whether you can tell what someone's vulva looks like by picturing their mouth turned sideways, and if someone's eyebrows are indicative of how much pubic hair they have. At one point, we do learn that Otako deliberately thinks up off-color topics to discuss with Galko because she thinks it's funny to make her friend embarrassed or uncomfortable, and I'm sure a lot of us had that one friend in high school as well (or maybe were that friend). That said, even if the topics of conversation don't bother you, there is an uncomfortable element to Otako's delight in discomfiting her friend, which can occasionally make the book feel mean-spirited. Not that Galko herself seems to mind – we do see her telling people who are bothering her to stop, even as she makes it clear that she's a nice person who will go out of her way for others.
That's part of the joke as well. As a subculture, gals are not considered “nice” by any definition of the word, so Galko's innocence and kindness are both in direct contrast to her appearance. Likewise, Otako's tendency to wear sweatpants under her uniform skirt can be seen as humorous in contrast to her delight in discussing sexual matters, while Ojou's humor mainly comes from the fact that she is such a stereotypical rich girl: she even has private seamstresses create all her underwear, which she doesn't realize is unusual. The comedy's combination of defying character expectations, the boys' humorous reactions to the girls' conversations, and the weird teenage theories about the human body may not always be laugh-out-loud, but they do often produce a chuckle.
The art, on the other hand, can be a bit much. Printed in partial color with no use of black (purple generally substitutes), the manga can be visually overwhelming with no place to rest your eyes. The chapters, although not written in four-koma format, feel like a four-panel manga in terms of length and writing structure, which does work for the jokes. More distracting are the little character portraits and introductions that appear in the margins of the work. You need to turn the book sideways to really read them (unless you excel at sideways reading), and since the final line of each one is different and relates to the chapter, skipping them doesn't really make sense. This really affects the overall flow of reading negatively, likely due to the way English is written versus Japanese.
Please Tell Me! Galko-chan's first volume continues Seven Seas' willingness to take risks on titles with content that may be too off-color for a lot of readers, and if you like your humor that way, this is worth checking out. The visuals are much more of a deterrent than the content if you aren't squeamish about body talk, and while the humor isn't hysterical, it is definitely entertaining. There are no prissy girls in this classroom, even if Galko isn't keen to discuss her nipples while boys are listening, making this a trip down high school memory lane that feels a little more off the beaten path.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C
+ Unashamedly frank, generally entertaining, sets itself apart from other short-form stories about girls in high school
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