Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't necessarily be putting so much emphasis on bringing over josei works as we should on lady-friendly seinen works. Between Complex Age and today's subject, it seems to be where some of the most interesting work about women seems to be hiding.
PLEASE TELL ME! GALKO-CHAN (Oshiete! Galko-Chan), by Kenya Suzuki. First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.
Galko is tall, busty, tanned and stylish, but few would suspect from her looks just how sweet and accomplished she is. Otako looks like a stereotypical otaku, but her real interest is in quizzing her friends about all sorts of weird questions about sex, puberty, and such. Ojou is sheltered and spacey, but she's also good at keeping the peace between friends. You wouldn't think that three such girls would ever be friends, but together they tackle some of the grosser, lesser-discussed parts of being a teenaged girl.
Galko-chan is a hard sort of manga to pin down. It's not quite a 4-koma comedy, but neither is it a more traditional shoujo-like narrative. What can I say about it definitively is that it is entertaining, educational, and surprisingly fair.
It's really uncommon to find a manga series that talks (and mostly jokes) so honestly about some of its more woman-relevant subjects. Most manga wouldn't even dare to suggest that things like periods or body hair even exist, much less that the girls within them have to deal with it on a regular basis. The fact that this is coming from a male mangaka makes it all the more surprising. It handles these sorts of subjects honestly, with also with a lot of sympathetic humor. It understands the sort of weird questions and neuroses that young women can have about themselves and their bodies and it has fun with it without doing so at the character's expense. Okay, so maybe that's not entirely true since very often these subjects come up because Otako is amused by Galko getting flustered, but we the audience are meant to laugh with them, not at them. The only downside to this is that the humor is distinctly muted. There aren't a lot of obvious punchlines here, so the comedy (such as it is) can go over some folks' heads.
I'm also impressed with how much information Suzuki conveys about our three leading ladies in such a short format. Some of it is thanks to the mini-bios that appear on the side of every page, but a lot of it is done just through the girls' reactions. We also see them engaging in a lot of different activities all throughout the book. It's not just the obvious things like the girls going to the mall or the water park, but also things like Galko borrowing Il Postino from one of the class nerds and bringing her own homemade meals, Ojou mentioning things like private chefs or showing up to a shopping trip in full formal kimono, or how obvious Otako is projecting her own insecurities through her teasing. For the most part, tidbits like this aren't pointed out by others, but instead simply weave themselves into the larger picture. It shows that these girls truly are more than the stereotypes that their nicknames suggest, a notion that's supported by the final story where we learn how these three became friends. I'm all for any manga that's willing to step past the stereotypes and do something different, so it was almost something of a foregone conclusion that I was going to love Galko-chan.
Well, that and the fact that I had already fallen in love with the anime that had aired earlier this year. That certainly didn't hurt.
First of all, can I say that I love the cover art here? That may surprise you considering how busy it is visually. Then there's the fact that it's literally the first page of the comic with the dialogue taken out. So why do I like it? It gets the joke across with nothing but iconography and one borrowed word. If that's not a testament to the quality of the humor, nothing is.
It also clues the reader in to Galko-chan's most unusual feature: it's drawn in full-color. It's not just that it's colored, but that all of the linework is done in shades of blue and purple and accented with the occasional bit of colored pencil or colored screentone. It's a bold choice on Suzuki's part and it gives a lot of literal color and a certain air of femininity to Galko's otherwise mundane settings. It also highlights all the detail he puts into everything, from hair textures to the wrinkles in Galko's blazer to all the little items in the backgrounds. It also would have looked like garbage had they tried to reproduce it in black-and-white, so I can totally understand why Seven Seas chose to preserve the color.
Despite a lot of talk about boobs and underpants and whatnot, there's not a lot of fanservice to be found. Galko may be very busty, but it's a bustiness that's still possible in the real world especially when you factor in her height and her overall curviness. Indeed, I like that there's a lot of body diversity on display in the cast. It's not just the same old cute anime faces with different hairstyles slapped on them. There are tall girls, short girls, fat girls, skinny girls, busty girls, flat girls, and all sorts of stuff in between. Even the guys in the class benefit from this. Everyone is truly distinct. The only time that you might suspect that this is drawn by a man is when Galko puts on a bikini top. Seriously, can no one in Japan draw a bikini top that actually fits? At least the comic isn't as bad as some of the splash art near the beginning, where Galko's large bust is stretched to hentai-levels of ridiculousness.
The format is also a little unusual. It's kind of like what was done with My Girlfriend is a T-Rex, where each inquiry is covered in a 1-2 page spread. It gives each one the feel of a comedy sketch versus your traditional 4-koma format. This makes sense when you realize that this manga started out as a webcomic that was posted to Twitter. The page composition is also a little funky, as the ever-changing mini-bios on Galko, Otako, and Ojou require a little extra space on the sides to accommodate them. All of these little differences add up to a manga that truly stands out from the crowd.
Please Tell Me! Galko-Chan is a refreshingly frank and light-hearted take on being a teenage girl. It's literally colorful and fun and I'm really glad that Seven Seas gave it a chance.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is ongoing in Japan with 3 volumes available. 1 volume has been released and is currently in print.
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