Manga Review: Complex Age, Vol 1

Complex Age 1Author: Yui Sakuma
Genre: Seinen, Drama
Publisher: Kodansha (US) / Kodansha (JP)
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Original Magazine: Weekly Morning
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A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Like many of us, mid-twenties temp office worker Nagisa Kataura post-work hobbies are what maintain her sanity. In Nagisa’s case cosplay is what makes her tick — dressing as the popular magical girl anime character, Ururu in particular. Well-liked in online communities and popular at cosplay gatherings, in costume Nagisa is fan-made, hand-made perfection, but can she keep her favorite hobby a secret — as well as her insecurities — forever?

Story

To me, Complex Age felt like a sort of quiet release from Kodansha, one that I barely recall the license announcement or fanfare for. In some ways that makes this first volume even more surprisingly wonderful and noteworthy for anyone that has even debated their place in a fandom.

Nagisa in particular struggles with being seen as “older” female fan — especially when the character she passionately cosplays is so young — as well as how she fits in with the “new blood” cosplayers. The introduction of young cosplayer Aya — who of course is a dead ringer for Nagisa’s beloved Ururu cosplayer character — is perfectly timed at the beginning of the volume. Throughout the remainder author Sakuma uses the relationship between Aya and Nagisa to ask uncomfortable questions and reflect fandom realities and insecurities, particularly for women. How old is “too old” for fandom? Where do the “oldies” stand when newer fans bring their enthusiasm and dedication to an established fandom? What responsibility, if any, do older fans hold to “educate” new fans, and at what cost?

One of the best scenes from this first volume involve a frantic Aya calling Nagisa to alert her to an inappropriately angled (to put it lightly) photo of her online; Nagisa laughs and brushes the incident off as “the ‘tax’ we pay” as cosplayers. And really, it’s Nagisa that carries this first volume from surprising, to great, to potentially one of my top reads of the year. She’s a female character that I can personally relate to — passionate about her hobbies, a good friend and daughter, and also a poorly hidden, tightly wound bundle of tangled insecurities just waiting desperately to be unwound. When so much of the adult women-focused manga released in the US seemed to feature career women or smutty romances up until what feels like just a few years ago, Complex Age feels like an intimate look at women in fandom, despite being a seinen series. If that’s not enough, volume one takes these ideas one step further with the inclusion of the original one-shot the series is based on about a married woman who at 34 begins to question her love of lolita fashion.

Art

The art is Complex Age is terrific, even moreso since this a manga heavily focused on cosplay, and I can’t say enough about it. The cosplays themselves all vary from one another and are fairly detailed, but even when the characters aren’t in cosplay (which is the majority of the volume) the panel flow works well and the women are fairly distinct. Sakuma also really knows how to make use of two page spread for dramatic or emotional moments, and the art really is some of the best I’ve seen in awhile.

Overall

Even if you’ve never donned the outfit of your favorite fictional character or stayed up late scrambling to finish all the loose threads, it’s easy to find yourself in Complex Age. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the series, but at the end of this first volume I can’t recommend it enough. It’s especially perfect for fans of Kodansha’s other female focused release, Princess Jellyfish, and if you like that one I’d strongly recommend this one.

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