I've seen all sorts of manga spinoffs in my day, but today's review has to be beyond a doubt one of the weirdest of them all. It's not a sequel, prequel, or parody of any given series, but the manga adaptation of the anime show that the characters watch within their respective series. It's one of the most meta manga I've come across, but this series proves that sometimes a joke really does need context to make any sort of sense.
KUJIBIKI UNBALANCE (Kujibiki Anbaransu), written by Kio Shimoku & art by Koume Keito. First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2008.
Rikkyoin High School where everything from the student council position to the most mundane things are decided by lotteries. Amongst the incoming class of freshmen is Chihiro a chronically unlucky boy, and his happy-go-lucky friend Tohiko. The two end up getting chosen to fill two positions on the student council along with mad scientist Renko, her perpetual guinea pig Kaoruko, and the shy but powerful Koyuki. Now they have to shadow the current council before they can take over, but what happens when the student council president turns out to be Chihiro and Tohiko's childhood friend?
I don't know why this manga exists. It's not that I don't know how this manga came to be -that's easy to explain. First there was the Genshiken manga, in which Shimoku made up a show for the kids in Genshiken kids to obsess over without worrying over copyright (and having a little fun with anime tropes to boot). Then that manga became a TV show, and they decided to turn that fake show into a funny little OVA. Then someone got the bright idea to turn that OVA into a solo manga, and now not only have things come full circle but it has been entirely removed from its original context. Without that context, though, Kujibiki Unbalance loses everything that made it satirical in the first place. Now it's nothing but a pile of dumb anime tropes cranked to 11 that's played completely straight.
The biggest problem with the audience is never explicitly told that this is meant to be a satire of anime tropes. We're meant to all of these one-note characters and their silly quirks and the whole ridiculous lottery idea as something that's totally unironic, if not in a completely serious manner. Every joke is big, broad and dumb, every plot twist comes out of nowhere, and everything is delivered in the loudest, most obnoxious manner possible. It's not even all that concerned with its own plot, as the whole lottery angle gets dropped midway through and it launches into all the usual high school set-ups. It even manages to work in the equivalent of a beach episode, a hot springs episode, and a school festival episode. The rest of the time it's trying to hype up the cheap emotional drama between Chihiro, Tohiko, and Renko the student council president in the hopes of turning it into an equally lame love triangle (or possibly more of a love pyramid, as Chihiro also has an overly possessive and hands-on sister so that the Imouto tickbox can be checked off as well). All of this is over-the-top enough to potentially work as a joke, but there would have to be a lot more commentary to make it work.
This has to be one of the few manga out there that is completely and utterly unnecessary. It's not funny, it's not entertaining, and were it not for a brief comic at the end where a couple of the Genshiken kids comment on the manga, it's completely disconnected from its far better source material. It's just...there, being weird and dull for no reason at all other than as one big in-joke.
Again, the biggest problem here is that it's hard to tell whether Keito is playing things up as a joke or is being completely serious. The artstyle certainly fits what is meant to be a silly moe romp, as the characters are all round and doll-like . The problem is that they have weirdly flat faces, so when they turn into profile their eyes seem to almost float off their faces. He also plays up the fanservice, as he takes every opportunity possible to show off panties or Tohiko's giant boobs in plenty of low, voyeuristic angles. I will say that Keiko does have a good grasp of perspective and he knows how to fill up a panel with activity and 'jokes' without making it too chaotic. It's certainly quite different from Shimoko's own artstyle, but it's not enough to draw a bunch of moe blobs, ogle their naughty bits, and call it a day.
Kujibiki Unbalance should not exist as a manga. It should have just stayed as a silly little in-joke in a far better manga/show, because without it the whole things falls flat.
This series was published by Del-Ray. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes were published and are currently out of print.
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