Nobuko Tanaka is a side character in her own life. A first-year college student, she’s quiet, reserved, and painfully shy, and is perfectly happy to spend her life as a wallflower. There’s just one problem: she has a crush on her co-worker, a feeling that eventually forces her to take ever-so-small, but ultimately liberating, steps out of her bubble. A Side Character’s Love Story volume 1 comes to us from North Stars Pictures and is currently only available digitally. Let’s find out if it’s worth a read?
A Side Character’s… characters
A second-year college student and supermarket clerk. She’s incredibly shy and introverted and has trouble reaching out to people. Her nickname in the side panels is “Mobuko”, a play on the word “mobu”. “Mobu” is the Japanese version of the English slang word “mob”, which refers to minor characters in a video game.
Irie is a second-year student at Nobuko’s college. He has worked with her at the supermarket for over a year. Irie-kun seems formal and unapproachable, but he also seems to pop up whenever Nobuko needs help.
Abe is a new hire at the supermarket. Friendly and outgoing, she is the polar opposite of Nobuko and Irie and becomes the catalyst that gets the two shy people moving towards each other.
A Side Character’s Love Story… story
Nobuko arrives early to work one day, to be greeted by one of her biggest fears: someone she doesn’t know has gotten to the break room before her, and now she has to have a conversation with a stranger.
Very quickly, we see a bunch of Nobuko’s quirks on display. She doesn’t like physical contact, even from girls; she doesn’t want people invading her personal space; she’s afraid to be around people. Abe-san, the stranger in question, sets off every one of Nobuko’s alarm bells. A few moments later, however, Irie walks in, setting off a whole different kind of alarm within Nobuko’s mind.
After a hard day of work and training Abe how to manage a cash register, the three of them wind up outside after closing time. Nobuko and Irie have been working together for a year, but Nobuko still hasn’t worked up the courage to ask him for his contact info. She’s understandably shocked by the ease with which Abe gets it from both of them.
Abe takes off, leaving the two of them alone. They share a quiet moment, and then Irie goes to leave. Usually, Nabuko would just let him walk away without saying anything, but maybe this time will be different. Perhaps, emboldened by Abe’s openness, she will finally ask Irie for his info. Will our heroine take action?
A Side Character's Love Story volume 1 spoilers
As it turns out, Nabuko’s stomach takes action for her. Nobuko’s growling stomach creates an unexpected opening, as Irie invites her to eat with him at the local udon shop. It’s there that she successfully gets Irie’s info. It’s a small act on the outside, but a significant accomplishment for the deeply introverted girl.
Little by little, she continues to make progress. She goes out for a group dinner with her co-workers and later shares a tiny but intimate moment with Irie in the break room. It’s all baby steps, but here, each step feels like a meaningful accomplishment.
A Side Character’s artwork
The art is above average and on par with many mainstream shojo titles. The lines are clean, and each character is nicely drawn. Some may think they appear a bit bland, but I think that’s by design. These are supposed to be real people, not the supermodels who inexplicably can’t find boyfriends or girlfriends that you see in a lot of manga.
That said, there is one gorgeous drawing in this book, and that is this beautiful two-page insert at the beginning: I would have loved to see more colour pages, just to get more of this kind of painting. Hopefully, there will be more colour pages in volume 2.
Is A Side Character’s Love Story volume 1 worth reading?
Oh yes. This book was a lucky find for me; I stumbled across it after putting “manga” into my Amazon search bar and seeing what came up. It had zero reviews, but it looked interesting enough that I took a chance, and I’m glad I did, as this is currently my favourite new series of 2020. I made sure to leave a review afterwards, and I hope you do as well if you like the book, so that more people can find it.
Shy, introverted guys are a dime a dozen in manga, but it’s rare to see a lead female character with the same characteristics, even though there are plenty of such women in the real world. It’s refreshing to see a woman in a manga who isn’t a beauty queen or a perfect princess, but a flawed, three-dimensional human being who is doing her best to fight her own demons. This book is both funny and touching and makes small steps feel like the significant accomplishments that they sometimes are.
It’s only February, but this title is now in the driver’s seat as my favourite new series of 2020. Currently, this manga is only available digitally. Volume 1 can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookwalker; all three also have volume 2 available for pre-order.