I've always been a fan of manga that focuses on fans - from Genshiken to Comic Party, reading about fellow fans geeking out over the same things as the rest of us is both affirming and heartwarming, and a vein that even US TV shows like The Big Bang Theory tapped into. Most of us have our quirks, and we're certainly a little off-key from the norm, so naturally people like us make for interesting characters.
Enter Complex age, a story about 26 year-old Nagisa Kataura - unremarkable temporary office worker by day, gifted costume designer and dedicated cosplay enthusiast every other available minute. The blurb on the back of the book promises a conflict between real-life and fantasy pursuits, but honestly in this one volume we're very much focused on the latter.
Nagisa's latest obsession is Magical Riding Hood Ururu (or Magi-Ruru for short), which is exactly as you'd expect from the genre. However Nagisa is unusually tall, and despite her incredible costume designs, her confidence is shaken when a younger, smaller girl is lauded for looking more like Nagisa's hero than she does - and subsequently the first arc begins.
This is a pretty gentle series - the artwork is beautiful and strikes just the right amount of realism to differentiate the cast from the cartoon characters they are dressing up as. This is no mean feat, and I for one was very impressed by the care and attention taken to convey this core facet of the story. In addition, page layouts are dynamic and imaginative - one particular stand-out from this book was a 2 page spread of photographs of bursting from the page, each one beautifully rendered. Another full page depicts Nagisa in cosplay against a gorgeous sunset - though the characters are perfectly grounded, the artwork is majestic when it needs to be.
The book is also quite detailed when it comes to the practicalities of cosplay - everything from obtaining materials, the details of each costume and the time taken to make each creation is core to the story, and I was fascinated by other elements of the hobby such as organising shoots and even the industry of pre-prepared venues for dedicated cosplayers to use as background locations for their characters. I love being educated on hobbies while the story is being told, and Complex Age does a fine job here.
Character interactions also feel genuine, and this is where I hope the interplay between Nagisa's working life and her hobby are brought to the fore. The drama promised on the back of the book hasn't really materialised yet, but I have high hopes that it will work well when the groundwork finally pays off.
One particular item of note is the inclusion of the original manga that inspired the series, a one-shot that won the 63rd Tetsuya Chiba Award. This is a terrific extra and an enjoyable slice of manga in its own right, so top marks to the book/publisher for adding this.
Finally, the book ends with a glossary that not only includes translation notes, but also a section dedicated to cosplay (cutely titled "Cospedia"). This was tremendously helpful and adds another dimension of enjoyment to an already terrific book.