Author and artist Tomohito Oda takes social anxiety to a new level with a brand-new manga from Viz surrounding the trials of freshman Hitohito Tadano and the titular Shoko Komi.
Although she's perceived to be the class Princess for her cool demeanour and gorgeous looks, Komi is in fact incredibly shy and can't speak to her classmates. It seems only Tadano has noticed her condition, and he takes on a personal mission to make Komi one hundred friends.
It's a very sweet premise, and overall the manga is a solid read, but there are some peculiarities to this particular tale that are worth noting.
Firstly, the chapters are only a few pages long - it almost feels like a 4-coma manga such is the brevity of each act in the book, and honestly they all pretty much follow on directly from the previous chapter, so you could have just had longer chapters and nobody would notice. It's not necessarily a bad thing per-se, it's just... odd.
Secondly, the art is quite unusual too. You can't tell from the front or rear covers, but the characters in the book all have prominent noses and sloping foreheads that lend them a slightly odd look when in profile. Again, it doesn't break the title but it is mildly distracting and put me in mind of Leiji Matsumoto's character design, and that's certainly no bad influence.
These minor nitpicks aside, the story is very sweet. and the expressive art does a good job at conveying the awkward interactions between the two main characters. It hits two of my main quality checks for manga too - plenty of tone for depth, and plenty of backgrounds to elicit a sense of place throughout the book.
The book also has a non-gender-binary character in Najimi Osana who is the first person Tadano approaches due to their ability to communicate effortlessly and maintain friendships. He's shocked when they turn down the opportunity based on past experiences with Komi, but eventually he gets them to agree to walk Komi home. Although at one stage Najimi claims to be a boy, they dress and act as a girl. It's confusing but certainly tips the hat to representing that side of the LGBT spectrum.
Overall then, the book is a great representation of multiple facets of the youthful experience not often examined in high school manga. I've seen messages to the author expressing gratitude from those similarly impaired socially, and it's nice to see something like this that doesn't rely on trauma or cruelty to foster a message of inclusiveness and patience.
It's a sweet tale so far and well worth a look if you enjoy quirky and unusual leads fumbling through difficulties together. It may even inspire you to reach out to someone you know who has similar issues.