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Sunday November 26, 2006

Dating tips on board

Story: Hitori Nakano
Art: Hidenori Hara
Publisher: VIZ Media; 200 pages
(ISBN: 1-421-50848-6)
For ages 13+ 

By now the modern fairy-tale romance of Densha Otoko is well-known. The story based on the real otaku who called himself Densha Otoko (or Train_Man) in one of Japan’s largest online message boards, 2chan, is a phenomenon in Japan that has sparked various adaptations – a drama series, a movie, novels, and a few manga versions.  

The tale begins with Densha travelling home from Akihabara (the holy land of otaku) in a train. When a drunk starts harassing several women passengers, Densha fights him off. One of the women, impressed by his courage, asks for his contact. Densha duly obliges. Thinking nothing of it, he returns to his daily life until one day when he receives a package containing a Hermes tea set (very expensive stuff, I assure you) from the woman. 

Shocked with the gift and having no experience with girls, the gauche otaku turns to his fellow 2chan netizens for help. 

The series of posts by numerous people in response to Densha’s plea forms the story of Densha Otoko

After giving their “advice”, the 2chan posters will wait in anticipation for his “reports” about his courting of Hermes (the woman who gave him the teacups). And so, members of the board are informed of how and when he finally gathers the courage to ask Hermes out for dinner, to the subsequent blossoming of their relationship. 

This manga adaptation remains fairly loyal to the original source material. The author, Hitori Nakano, is actually a pseudonym of the person(s) who collected the original message threads; so many people participated in the Densha Otoko thread that it is impossible to credit them all. In Japanese, Nakano Hitori means “one among many”, which clearly defines its origins. 

Although the story is largely presented from Densha Otoko’s perspective, Hidenori-sensei does use a bit of poetic licence to add in Hermes’ perspective at certain times, which makes the build-up of their relationship more engaging to read. 

Hidenori’s art style is simplistic and casual, and done in a seinen style, though it’s more shojo-ish but with fewer details (which is still acceptable). The character designs are so-so. Densha Otoko’s look changes drastically halfway in the volume; I almost didn’t recognise him after that! 

The print quality is okay, but there aren’t any colour pages. VIZ does include one page at the back to explain a few things in the manga like the culture of the 2chan message board.  

The quality of the translation is pretty okay; the translators even keep the style of the 2chan posts intact, emoticons and all. 

Overall, this manga adaptation is a good read. Hidenori-sensei paints a very real picture of Densha Otoko’s pursuits, without much complication and fuss. Readers are then left to fully enjoy the unfolding of a modern-day fairy-tale romance that also gives you an insight into current otaku culture.  

(Rating: 3.5)  


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