Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #198
By Miki Yoshikawa
Yamada-kun has done two school trip arcs before, both providing plot and character development. In both cases, the objective of said trips were made pretty clear before the characters left. The set-up presented in this chapter, however, makes the potential storyline to come difficult to predict. This chapter is a gag-focused affair, but unlike the past couple of chapters, doesn’t particularly offer much in the way of character development. The premise of the chapter is all there is to it, so what you can get out of it exclusively depends on how funny you find it.
If one were to connect the chapter with pre-existing characterization, this chapter is motivated by the relationship between Yamada and Shiraishi as explored last week. For those hoping for more interactions between the two as a couple, this chapter finds the two playfully chatting about spending time together on the school trip, which drives Yamada’s attempts to change his class’ vacation schedule so that they can both go to the beach. Yamada and Shiraishi’s conversations in this chapter effortlessly reflect their intimacy and they feel like a believable high-school couple, such as worrying about tangible albeit frivolous concerns. Even Yamada’s bit about wanting to see Shiraishi in her swimsuit feels like believable flirting, even if Yamada is so distressed and over the top about it that he’s tearing up at the prospect. Shiraishi’s nonchalant response to this interest shows that they are so comfortable around each other by now that they aren’t embarrassed to openly show or reciprocate interest in each others bodies. The fact that Shiraishi and Yamada go to buy her a swimsuit together at the end of the chapter is a casual detail, but one that reinforces their status as a couple that’s been together for a while. This chapter provides fans of the paring a sort of fan-service by doing something we don’t often see in shonen romance manga: showing a couple addressing and dealing with an ordinary, down to earth problem, without some unnecessary drama to cause a misunderstanding between them or some other complication.
While this portrayal of Yamada and Shiraishi’s relationship is refreshing to see after having it spend so much time out of the limelight, and being distracted by subplots involving other characters romantically interested in one of the two, it’s not really the focus of the chapter. The conflict is Yamada’s attempts to convince the chairperson to have their class visit the ocean in spite of her lack of interest in the idea, reinforced by comedic arguments against it by other committee members. The chairperson is basically a gatekeeper-esque character: she’s an obstacle to Yamada’s goal and he has to outwit her to get what he desires. Her entire character, and consequently all jokes involving her, is defined by her appearance. I expect it was intentional to give the impression she was male at the beginning of the chapter to set up the joke that she’s the last female committee member. The one detail that gives her gender away is her bow-tie: male characters in Yamada-kun are typically shown wearing straight ties as part of their uniform. It’s such a negligible detail that it’s easy to overlook, which serves the joke well. But aside from her gender, the filled-in spiral-eyes glasses, short hair, undefined bust, and the fact she is never given an actual name also adds to her androgynous look, making it easy to assume that she’s male, and even easier to typecast her as your average bookworm.
She turns down Yamada’s proposal to go to the beach because she’s more interested in historical sites and finds going to the ocean too troublesome and not productive enough for a school event, only changing her mind after Miyamura lies to her about there being a legend associated with the beach. Exactly what you’d expect from a stereotypical nerdy character in a manga. The series doesn’t do anything particularly new with her archetype, milking all the expected jokes you’d expect from her responses. The same is true of another character introduced in the chapter, Nakamura, a nondescript looking character with an odd fascination with American military bases. He’s a one-note, one-joke character if there ever was one, and while the comedic timing makes his moments funny, there’s not much substance to his character and these exchanges. While the fast-paced banter and comedic turns in the chapter are amusing enough, the fact that so much of the comedy is reliant on characters defined by just one joke ends up feeling repetitive after a while.
Literally, in the case of two specific pages. Pages 13 and 15 are almost panel for panel copies of one another, with only the top row of panels and minute changes in the character’s expressions differing from one another. It’s hard to say whether this is an intentional stylistic choice or Yoshikawa simply copying and pasting her artwork, as outside of the character expressions, the artwork looks exactly the same, and the panel with the two unnamed female committee members talking is unchanged in any way whatsoever. Whatever the intention was, it’s effective, because while gimmicky it visualizes how Yamada’s proposal is going nowhere in a humorously meta way. The changes in the characters’ expressions between the two pages, while small, really capture Yamada and Miyamura’s increasing desperation as time goes on. The way Miyamura’s expression in the bottom left panels of both pages is perhaps the most blatant and telling example. On page 13, he’s drawn it one sweat drop and a frown, making him look concerned, but not not too worried yet. On page 15, however, he’s drawn with three sweat drops, bags under his eyes, and is gritting his teeth, showing that he has become not just frustrated, but beginning to freak out. Compared to Yamada, who has over the top reactions to everything, Miyamura is much more calm and subdued, so his subtle changes in expression between these two panels is extremely effective in illustrating how their situation has worsened as time’s gone on and how exasperated they’ve become.
If I have one complaint about these pages, it’s that the text on the fat girl’s “I knooow!” word bubble is smaller and centered differently between them. I’m not sure if that’s how it was in the original Japanese, but the fact the girl says the same thing on both pages with the exact same expression reflects the idea that Yamada’s proposal is going in circles. The most effective depiction of that is her response being exactly the same both times. But because the words are centered and sized differently between the two pages, that effect is slightly diminished, because while the fat girl is still responding the same way, the different renderings of the text imply that she’s enunciating it differently each time. It’s a subtle thing, and it’s hard to tell whether this was a mistake on Kodansha’s part unless one compares the typesetting with the original Japanese version, but it’s something that struck me as incongruous and was worth noting.
Ultimately, the way Yoshikawa maximized duplicated panels and based the events of the chapter in Yamada and Shiraishi’s relationship reflects well of her creative ingenuity and resourceful character writing. Unfortunately, the fact that the chapter is reliant upon stock one-note characters and a predictable resolution hurts it a bit. The chapter could have gone further and stranger with it’s premise, but the execution here felt more retrained and safe. While there are many amusing moments, comedy is rooted in surprised expectations, and the lack of that here meant that there were few genuinely funny moments to be found. Of course, that’s all subjective, but regardless this is not the best the series is capable of.
That said, the introduction of the chairman and Nakamura is curious, as Yamada-kun rarely features one-shot characters. As such, they might potentially play significant roles in a future arc. Who knows, perhaps Nakamura will turn out to be the next witch and his obsession with American military bases is based in some pathological proclivity. Whatever the case, this upcoming school trip may prove significant yet. After all, not only have integral plot developments occurred during such trips in the past, but the series’ 200th chapter is only two weeks away. Not every series does something big with their milestone chapters, but with the recent emphasis on neglected secondary characters and Yamada and Shiraishi’s relationship, the series just might have something special in store, and I’m curious to see what that entails.