So frequently, we read comics that totally blow past character introductions and histories, giving it to us in captions or in bits and pieces while the plot moves forward. There’s always this race for time, lest the reader become bored with the book if there’s too much focus on the characters, and not enough on getting “to the point.” A little exposition here and quick dialogue there, and you’re good to go!
I had a look at Bisco Hatori’s new manga series Behind the Scenes!!, the first volume of which was just released in February, and found it super refreshing. Plot-wise, all that happens in those first few chapters is a dude called Ranmaru starts college and wants to stay out of the way, but accidentally ends up in the middle of a zombie movie, which leads to his meeting the school’s “art squad” who create sets for student-led film groups. Really, that’s all that happens. And that’s totally all right, because the rest of the book is all about the characters.
If you’ve read or watched Ouran High School Host Club, you know Hatori’s great at presenting a wide range of characters, even if their face-value personalities rely heavily on the tropes they’re meant to parody. In Scenes!!, we meet the Art Squad, a crew of students in varying stages of their degrees who all contribute their skills and whose personalities are well balanced, all bringing out the best in each other. It’s what all college clubs aspire to: fierce leader, horror and gore-loving girl, wise and mysterious pretty boy, cheerful, carefree seamstress, and enthusiastic/goofball rookie make up the group’s dynamic.
As for Ranmaru, he’s this pessimistic misfit who is super observant and has a knack for arts and crafts. He’s bitter and jaded after a lifetime of good intentions gone awry, like that one time he made a friend a scarf to give to her boyfriend as a gift, and then said boyfriend dumped her for not having made it herself. He figures everyone’s just going to hate him or blame him for things that go wrong, so he initially doesn’t want to get involved with anything or anyone in college. And suddenly there’s this crew who recognizes his worth (read: puts him in situations where his skills save everyone’s bacon) and makes him realize that he can actually belong somewhere and have real friends.
This manga is billed as shoujo as it’s primarily (or at least, for now it seems to be) about the relationships and development of the main characters. What makes this story stand out a little more though is its main character being male (shoujo tends to have wide appeal and female leads). It also has this slice-of-life feel that I really love in storytelling. If you want to read a bit more about shoujo and what makes it awesome, Panelteer Kory wrote some excellent words about it. And finally, I just have to mention it somewhere: it has all these awesome little asides, like how the various characters’ names are all based on names of directors and such (like George Lucas and Tim Burton). It’s super cute if you’re into film.
This probably speaks to my own preferences than manga or comics storytelling as a whole, but I do so like when I come across a new book that takes it slow and lets us really get acquainted with the characters. Something I also noticed is, while the main art crew seems rather eccentric and wild to Ranmaru, he gets to meet the film club leaders throughout the first few chapters and we, as readers, are made to view those characters as eccentric and wild by comparison. By far, the most “normal” people Ranmaru meets are the Art Squad members. Near the end there’s this super cute scavenger hunt-turned wild goose chase they send Ran on leading up to a welcome party for him. And then he decides that yes, he would like to officially become a member himself.
It’s super cute, it’s funny, and volume 1 is a solid introduction to this new series. Give it a read.