The Owl In The Rafters – Catching Up With Komi Naoshi

Posted on Jun 01 2011

Welcome to a very special one-shot review with the Owl in the Rafters! A while back I did a certain review on the various one-shots and one short-lived serial title of manga author and artist Komi Naoshi. In that article I praises Naoshi as a solid artist with a firm grasp on dynamic action scenes as well as a supremely talented author capable of playing heart strings and producing some truly uplifting and awe inspiring situations. Well, not too long along, in January of this year, Komi Naoshi saw yet another of his one-shots, titled , published in Shueisha’s Weekly Jump, and while it certainly stayed true to his usual sense of style I feel it fell a bit short when compared with his previous work.

I’ll point out now that Komi Naoshi has a few noticeable themes and trends in his writing style; the most central of course being his constant focus on the relationships between two different characters, rather than centering around a single main character character alone. Another major trend in Komi Naoshi’s work is that he very often opens with a narrative that introduces a key situation before rewinding to the origin and having said flashback fill the entire work. He defines his characters very clearly through exposition dialogue and consistently manages to pump out genuinely endearing characters in every work. He is also both gifted and cursed with a writing style that favors playing heavily toward emotional impact and very innocent romance that makes his work both unique within and yet notably ill suited for publication in a shounen magazine like the Weekly Jump.

With his debut one-shot island published in 2007 when he was just 21 years old, and two more one-shots with a six month serialized title during 2008, we’ve seen and heard nothing of Komi Naoshi in the past three years until now. So, after a three year hiatus, Komi Naoshi opened up the year 2011 with his most recent one-shot Niseikoi, which certainly does not fail to deliver on all of Naoshi’s usual trends, but plays with them in strange ways.

The one-shot begins by introducing us to a young boy and girl, quite clearly at ends with one another but apparently locked into upholding a farcical relationship together. As the trend goes, we are taken back in time to explain just how the situation came to be as it is. We’re introduced to the male protagonist, Ichijou Raku, as being a perfect student and an infamously coldhearted and single minded student. His reasoning? He is the son of a yakuza boss and in defiance of his father’s wishes to have Ichijou succeed him in the “family business” Ichijou has struggled to be a flawless 100% student so that he might get a respectable job one day as a high ranking government official.

I said Komi Naoshi always focuses on two characters however, so naturally Ichijou’s bitter and violent girlfriend, Kirisaki Chitoge, is the secondary focus of the story. A childhood friend of Ichijou’s and engaged in a bitter academic rivalry with him, Kirisaki is always there to one-up Ichijou, if only to get his attention and tick him off. Considered by Ichijou to be his polar opposite, the one thing the two share in common is that, like Ichijou, Kirisaki is the daughter of a local mafia boss in direct competition with Ichijou’s yakuza family. The problem for the two of them begins when their fathers decide that in order to stave off the potentially fatal rivalry between crime families, Ichijou and Kirisaki will become lovers as the lynchpin to a peace pact between the two gangs.

Naturally the two struggle to get along, but with yakuza and mafia goons watching from the shadows and around every corner, the two agree to try and uphold the illusion of a happy, lovey-dovey teen romance. An adorably goofy montage takes us through a series of failed date activities until the two begin to discuss their childhood together and the events that led to their current bitter rivalry. A misunderstanding brings Kirisaki to tears and with the date seemingly ruined the two gangs are back at each other’s throats almost immediately.

Forced to think quickly to find a way to resolve the issue with Kirisaki and convince the two gangs that they’re dating again and thereby enforcing the peace treaty once again, Ichijou searches his childhood memories to figure out just what caused he and Kirisaki to hate one another. In a sudden hotblooded change of character Ichijou and his yakuza thugs march on the clock tower where Kirisaki is waiting and where urban legend says a couple can fall in true love. The mafia meets Ichijou and company head on in an attempt to keep the peace treaty from being put back in place and Ichijou himself, despite normally being a total wimp engages the mafia’s #2 man in a one-on-one fist fight.

In the end the two reestablish the supposed relationship and bring the violence to a halt between the two gangs. The whole thing ends on a comical note that leaves the one-shot open to a potential serial adaptation, where of course the two lovers are still at each others’ throats.

All in all it was a very cute and highly entertaining one-shot, as Komi Naoshi’s works have proven to be so far, but there are a number of quirks and shortcomings that I can’t help but point out. The first and most obvious one for me is that the initial set up of both Ichijou and Kirisaki being perfect students. It really didn’t lend much to the characters themselves, and it had no real consequence as to the plot, unlike a lot of the other random little details early on, and overall the only impression it did manage to give was the characters were a little bit mary-sue-ish. (Not to any real ill effect mind you, the characters were endearingly exaggerated in the first place, so them both being perfect students was hardly damaging to the sense of “realism”.)

There are other little issues with the plot and how it progresses that feel clunky and superfluous, as well as the issue of the whole thing seeming, while certainly not totally soulless, at least a bit less inspired than his previous work, but I think most of these problems stem from the same basic cause. This one-shot may suffer from a slightly lack luster premise and plot, but it does a stellar job of showcasing nearly every aspect of Komi Naoshi’s artistic talents, and as the first piece of work in three years from a man who has yet to have a successful serialized title, trying to show off everything he can do is a good way to start a comeback. The standard high school setting is at first a tad droll and generic, but it does show that he can manage to keep up with trends. He has already shown that he has a firm grasp of fantasy and even sci-fi, so touching back on a high school setting as a solid staple of the shounen genre was a safe move.

The inclusion of the yakuza and mafia gives Naoshi a chance to show off a wide variety of character designs, even if they all go unnamed and are left to the background. The story itself gives ample opportunity for Naoshi to show off both his sense of humor and a little bit of his sense of style with romance and drama. Most discouraging of all may have been the seemingly random change of pace in the final segment of the story from goofy romantic comedy to hotblooded action. While initially seeming like a bit out of place, it was a great way to spotlight Naoshi’s ability to draw and choreograph action scenes in a way that appeals to young male readers, but without compromising his own art style’s particular look and feel.

In case I hadn’t made it clear before, all this is not to say I disliked this one-shot in the slightest. It was cute, charming, and fun to read, but if I had to rank all of Naoshi’s work this would easily be the bottom of the list. Komi Naoshi is a fantastic artist and writer with tons of potential –I still maintain that Double Arts was one of the most enjoyable and unique spins on the shounen genre to have graced the pages of the Weekly Jump in the past decade– so while I encourage you to read Nisekoi, and even more strongly urge you to read the rest of Komi Naoshi’s work, I hope above all else that you will remember his name and look out for his work in the future!

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