MANGA REVIEW | "Moteki" - Volume One
There's a right way and a wrong way to present an entertaining series about unlikable characters. The good way is to put our leads into scenarios that bring out the jerk in them via hilarious means, which the likes of KonoSuba, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Curb Your Enthusiasm does via brilliant means. However, the wrong way to craft unlikable characters is to shove their terribleness down our throats, with no way to find the sparkle in the eyes that makes them human or relatable. Sadly, this is the route taken by Yuri!!! On Ice co-creator Mitsurou Kubo with her manga series Moteki, a hateful comedy that made me squirm more than chuckle with every page turn.
First published back when MySpace was still a thing, Moteki places its focus on the nearly thirty year-old Yukiyo Fujimoto. He has spent his entire life without a girlfriend, with him losing his virginity to a close friend he has zero love interest in. Out of the blue, his phone and emails go crazy with calls and messages from women who he thought rejected him, giving way for him to think that his season of popularity (or "moteki," as it's called in Japan) has finally arrived. However, once she starts seeing these girls one-on-one, he starts to feel like that really isn't the case.
In the beginning, Kubo does paint a somewhat sympathetic picture of Yukiyo. From time and time again, his life has been nothing but one rejection after another, with the cutest of girls in middle, high school, college, and temp work flashing off mixed signals his way. (It's a nerve-wracking picture being painted, one that made me personally cringe over how often that scenario has happened to me throughout the years.) Unfortunately, it's when his true colors start to bleed through when you realize just how awful of a person he seems to be. What starts as a story about someone deprived of true love becomes a tale of a depraved man lacking good judgment and noble mannerisms.
It also doesn't help that the women who message him out of the blue lack any means of decency either. Itsuka Kobayashi starts off as a good person, only to be filled with her own personal demons and being sans level-headed about her true intentions. (A couple moments involving a bathroom fling between her and Yukiyo's friend Shimada made me question her morals in a very negative light.) Former co-worker Aki Doi legit has feelings for Yukiyo, but with neither person seemingly wanting to initiate something between the two of them, it's painted as a legit ping-pong game that lingers towards a loveless stalemate. Previous love interest Natsuki Komiyama has probably the best heart out of them all, but they both throw away any sort of romantic chance for a terrible summer one-off in a love hotel.
Fortunately, there is a voice of reason to be found within the character of Naoko Hayashida. A former delinquent and now single mother, Naoko is the one that finds a way to slap some sense into Yukiyo whenever he's on the verge of breaking down. Maybe it's because she's lived through the motions & hardships one can face romantically, but Naoko can be considered the saving grace that Moteki desperately needs to be a good manga. (A bonus chapter where Yukiyo aids Naoko's dying grandmother is perhaps the only source of humility and humanity presented thus far in this series.) Unfortunately, Naoko isn't in this volume enough to bring out any sort of greatness that this story is capable of presenting.
At the very least, I'll admit that Kubo's choice in art style is very good. From moments of passion and lively concert scenes to comical appearances of weakness & despair, this manga showcases many scenes and expressions quite vibrantly and with personality. A scene where Yukiyo and Aki visit the workplace of a manga writer is one of the series's biggest visual highlights, with the author living in a trash-filled dump as his drawing assistances seemingly slave away with little sense of direction and guidance. (The sight of disgusting dishes piled up in a sink to an unspeakable level reminded me of living in my college dorm with flatmates that didn't hold as high a standard in kitchen cleanliness as I did.)
Without a doubt, Moteki was one of the most painful series I've ever read, and the fact that it somehow managed to get both a TV and live-action movie adaptation makes me somehow lose a bit of faith in the tastes of the Japanese public. Terrible characters, an unsympathetic plot, and a nasty overall tone make Kubo's attempt at a romantic comedy flounder like a near-dead salmon. If you're looking for a story about someone struggling to find love & compassion, then do yourselves a favor and read Kabi Nagita's My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness instead of this manga. It may be visually well-made, but great drawing doesn't constitute a great read, and Moteki thus far is anything but.
Promotional consideration provided by Tomo Tran of Vertical Comics