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Comfy manga Insomniacs After School showcases burgeoning friendships and slice-of-life antics

Sean on Anime
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Posted at 12:28 AM, Feb 26, 2023

Insomniacs After School Vol 1.
By Makoto Ojiro
Release: March 21, 2023

Japanese high school is an enigma to me. On one hand a steady diet of anime has made me believe it to be a perpetual well of excitement brimming with romance, exciting clubs and parent-free activities. The occasional supernatural happening or mysterious transfer student who happens to be an assassin helps create this outside-looking-in veneer of Japan’s high schools being something more than a full day commitment to a grind that, having graduated the American education system, I can’t say I envy. Waking up as the sun barely peeks above the horizon, walking to school, spending ten plus hours there, even cleaning the school as a sign of pride. It’s like a teenagers worst nightmare in America. But in Japan, the three years of high school and the perpetual grind it encapsulates seems perfectly suited to a country where soon enough, many of these individuals will be suited salarymen.

Of course manga and anime portrays high school in a number of ways. Generally high school becomes the centerpiece of wish fulfilling romance, the corridors the scenes of unhinged combat. The anime or manga act as a kind of virtual reality offering a chance to step into the shoes of a character in a world that doesn’t have to ensure every cog is in the machine. Anime and manga are constantly using an insignificant setting, the high school, as a place to break away from mundanity and normalcy.

Which sometimes is confounding because what western audiences see as mundanity can sometimes be fantastical in a Japanese high school.

Take the topic of this article, a soon-to-be released manga from Viz called Insomniacs After School (just in time for the anime adaptation to drop). It is the completely normal story of a teen insomniac meeting a fellow insomniac of the opposite sex and the two creating a friendship through their shared inability to get proper sleep. Utilizing the vacant observatory at the apex of the school building, the two are eventually forced to form an astronomy club to ensure they have free reign over the disused area.

Our hero is Ganta Nakami and he’s not well-liked. It’s understandable because his lack of sleep has made him cranky. Meeting the sleepy but pleasant Isaki Magari offers him a friend in a way he’s never had before. Now he explores the city at night and gets to take naps with someone who genuinely seems to enjoy his presence.

This first volume offers the opening glimpses of a burgeoning romance…and that’s about it.

What makes the manga pop is the art. As anyone who has a passing acquaintance with this medium knows – bug eyes are ubiquitous and that singular feature has become perhaps the defining aspect of character design in manga and anime. Makoto Ojiro’s art manages to capture more human expressions and faces. Her character designs, rather than being curvaceous or sexualized, are much more typical of what people actually look like. I found myself enjoying the character’s expressions and movements – and especially when that is paired with the lush scenery of totally normal places in the podunk setting.

But at the same time, the art felt vacuous. You can read volume one of Insomniacs After School in fifteen minutes and there is a lack of much dialogue, giving the characters more time to express themselves physically than through their words. I appreciate the style, but I will admit I don't think it was for me.

My biggest problem with Insomniacs After School is one I often find with manga and anime of its ilk. The initial idea could be interesting in a confined context like a movie…such as Weathering with You or A Silent Voice. And I got vibes of those movies from this manga. The story is told in a sweeping, homey, and down-to-Earth way that is especially prevalent in the art. But it loses its luster at a certain point.

Returning to the beginning of this article I will extend that as a near 30-year-old curmudgeonly man (I have accepted the moniker Weeaboo Andy Rooney begrudgingly) most of these vaguely romantic stories of high schoolers coming-of-age have lost their meaning and appeal. Ten years ago, living in Ganta’s sleep deprived schoolscape myself, I would have found a lot more of a connection to Insomniacs After School. But now, the enigma of Japanese high school as portrayed in manga isn’t geared toward my yearning for human connection. Now I just want to see teenagers with giant swords trying to kill each
other.

That’s to say that while Insomniacs After School isn't to my usual taste, I can see that this certainly will offer the kind of sweet, comfy vibes a manga reader of certain discerning taste might love. I actually look forward to seeing how the anime will translate this and if the addition of a soundtrack and animation will endear this story to me more than the manga did.

BONUS QUICK REVIEW
The Girl Who Can’t Get a Girlfriend
By: Mieri Hiranishi
Out Now

This autobiographical manga by a Japanese artist who has lived in America for much of their life, offers a self-deprecating yet wholesome look at a young lesbian with a thing for androgynous women trying to find their muse. With art that manages to capture the shojo style when portraying their romantic interests and a sloppier style when dealing with themself, Hiranishi’s work is a delightful look at the LGBTQ+ community through the eyes of a participant who isn't afraid to make themself the butt of the joke. And regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, many of the situations Hiranishi goes through and portrays are universal and showcased in a way that anyone can empathize with. It's not my usual reading material, but the candid story and great sense of humor had me entertained start to finish.

Publisher provided copies for review

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Sean Newgent has been with KGUN9 since January of 2020 and is Good Morning Tucson's executive producer. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. He is a critic and cultural commentator. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing sean.newgent@kgun9.com.