A new romantic comedy manga is making its English print debut this week courtesy of Viz Media: Nene Yukimori’s Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible! The series stars Shiraishi, a high school boy with remarkably little social presence. Like, a Kuroko from Kuroko’s Basketball level of social presence. Up until now he’s largely been content not to be noticed, even if that comes with drawbacks. Recently however his classmate, the titular Kubo, has taken an interest in him and started forcing him to assert himself more, often with dramatic results. But does the comedy land, and does this debut volume make a strong first impression?
The manga kicks off with an example of Shiraishi’s social invisibility: the yearbook photo edited him into his class portrait because they had failed to notice he was actually present. More examples quickly pile up in the form of classmates being shocked to learn he isn’t absent, teachers calling out for him when he’s right beside them, etc. It’s a solid start that wastes no time in establishing his core conceit as a character.
Of course, the extremity of invisibility here could be a hard sell. Yukimori manages to pull it off largely through Shiraishi’s character design: he’s one of the least distinct-looking manga protagonists I’ve ever seen. With black hair of average length, blank eyes (but not so cold as to look robotic), and no unique flair in the way he wears his uniform, he would be perfectly at home in the background of any slice-of-life high school manga. Notably he’s always drawn with no or a minimal nose and just a teeny line of a mouth, so his face is virtually devoid of features.
With that said, he still receives a good amount of characterization throughout this volume. Blank though his face may be, he still displays a nice range of subtle emotions. Yukimori’s line-work is consistently low-detail where he’s concerned, but even the slight tilted angles of his mouth and wide eyes can be quite telling with regards to his emotions and general exasperation regarding Kubo’s meddling.
Unfortunately, Kubo just isn’t an interesting co-lead for Shiraishi. There is no convincing opposites attract element to their relationship, largely because she lacks any sort of depth. There’s no indication of what she values or is interested in besides forcing Shiraishi into uncomfortable situations, and her romantic feelings for him read as being plot mandated rather than organically grown and developed.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that neither character brings out the unexpected in the other. While this is an ongoing series and the pair will presumably develop beyond this point, there’s an alarming lack of character development (or even the set-up to it) in volume one. Kubo exists to push Shiraishi out of his comfort zone, but few discoveries are made in the process. Precious little is learned about either lead by the volume’s end except for that they both have siblings. Siblings who, I might add, manage to upstage the protagonists despite not being particularly dynamic characters either.
It also doesn’t help that the humor just doesn’t land very well. It’s not that any aspect of it is offensive, poorly timed, or ill-thought-out. If anything, it’s that there’s not enough thought put in. The limits of Shiraishi’s invisibility, though extreme, are seldom made wacky or creative enough to pack the punch one expects from a good gag manga. There are a couple of exceptions (even automatic doors not registering Shiraishi’s presence, for example) but these are few and far between in a volume full of bland scenarios.
All in all this volume isn’t bad, it’s just disappointing. Nothing in the writing or art’s presentation is offensive to behold, and Yukimori clearly has some comedic chops. Shiraishi’s subtle expressions are nicely rendered, and there are a few solid jokes. Nonetheless, this volume just lacks the sort of creativity or uniqueness that’s needed to help gag series stand out. The characters don’t bring out hidden sides of one other, and the main development throughout (the pair’s mutual crushes on one another) isn’t made interesting enough to build hype for a second volume. Hopefully later installments will shake things up a bit, otherwise this series will remain a pass for me.
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