About a month ago I asked, via tumblr, what people thought was the best shojō manga they had ever read to get some ideas for good older shojō to read for the shojō marathon I find myself currently going through. I, sadly, only received one response; which tells you how popular I am on tumblr. Anyway, the response I got was Lovely Complex, or Love Con, by Nakahara Aya. After I finished reading Kōkō Debut, which was also wonderful, I started reading Love Con, watched the anime, and then I reread it. I can't get enough of this story!
I've heard and read other readers say that both manga titles are what they would title "classics" in the shojō genre, so I decided that I would read both and see if I agreed or disagreed.
Well, here's what I thought. This won't be a long post, but I just wanted to throw my 2 cents in with the rest of the community.
On that note, I thought both manga were rather empowering, if not a complete fantasy. Back in high school or some time in our lives, most of us have tried hard to get someone to notice us. We tried to be attractive, dress nice, be witty, devise ways to be in their space and get their attention. Both heroines pursue who and what they want without completely changing or just taking what they can get, though in Love Con that could be debatable. Following a main character that tried hard, got their feelings hurt, but ended up on top in the end is wonderful and in a culture that pushes women into the back that message can mean something.
Out of the two, Lovely Complex is hands down the better manga. As cute and funny as I found Kōkō Debut I wasn't and haven't been compelled to reread it right after I read it the first time. I laughed a lot and the main heroine said a lot of hilarious things, but I didn't love her enough to reread about her. Yet Love Con I inhaled and then reread to get a clearer picture and still laughed at all the same places and then in places I hadn't noticed in the first read though.
Koizumi and Otani are rather hilarious, but the real reason I loved this manga was the drawing and facial expressions. They were so unique and different from other manga that I have to give all the credit to Nakahara. When Otani would say something arrogant his nose would grow and Koizumi was constantly having her whole face pointing downwards when she was pouting. I just loved the use of the face as a lot of the comedy over just the dialogue and the clique shojō situations.
Their relationship is one of extremes. One chapter Koizumi would be so happy and then the next she would be depressed and all it took was a word from Otani to change that. I could totally buy this because they were both high school students and one of them had never been in a relationship before. A first relationship is never really stable since you are still learning how to be in one, so I wasn't completely put off by this. I read on Baka Updates that one reviewer was surprised that not many readers picked up on the slight emotional abuse that Otani would throw at Koizumi. I will admit that I noticed how "mean" Otani could be, but I was more concerned with the fact that he was supposed to have been in a relationship for 2 years but didn't know how to tell his current girlfriend that he liked her or knew how to treat her like his girlfriend. Obviously Japan and the West have very different opinions on how a relationship would progress, but I felt that his prior experience should have been apparent in some way, but I never got their impression throughout the manga. The biggest concern I had was that Otani was happy to tell other people how much he cared about Koizumi but would never actually tell her that information.
Reading this manga in English was really easy, but I didn't notice until I watched the anime that the whole manga is "written" in Osaka-ben, or Osaka accented Japanese. As a Japanese reader or audience would automatically pick up on that information just from reading since Osaka-ben is much beloved and infamous in Japan. I don't think it was until the Hokkaido trip that the English reader would actually know that information. Since I didn't read the official translations, I'm curious to see how it was translated and if the VIZ manga translators actually tried to work in some kind of Japanese to inform the reader. I'll have to find a official copy when I can.
All in all, I would say that Lovely Complex is actually a classic and a must read for any romantic comedy lover or reader. While Kōkō Debut was really cute and is worth the read, Lovely Complex engaged me and it was difficult for me to put down. I good fun read that had development and likable characters without them being too much.