Bisco Hatori, the creator behind the widely acclaimed series Ouran High School Host Club and Millennium Snow, has returned to center stage with the highly anticipated first volume of Behind The Scenes!!, a slice-of-life comedy about a madcap team of college students that make up the Art Squad at a Tokyo university. Shichi U has four movie clubs, and the Art Squad is their backbone. Together, the five members create sets, special effects, costumes, and props for each club, and they have developed a sterling reputation for excellence even in the face of disaster.
Ranmaru Kurisu, on the other hand, believes that he is a disaster. Ranmaru is artistic and sensitive, and grew up bullied and ostracized despite (and sometimes because of) his good intentions. He has a keen eye and an incredible talent for handiwork, but is terminally pessimistic and outwardly prefers to remain invisible, though he secretly longs to fit in. One day, however, his plan to remain behind the scenes goes completely awry when he accidentally walks on to the set of the Sci-fi Club’s new zombie flick.
Ryuji Goda, the charismatic and intimidating leader of the Art Squad, recognizes excellence in Ranmaru, and he won’t take no for an answer when it comes to recruiting him. Throughout the course of this volume, the Art Squad encounters natural disasters, saboteurs, and demanding directors, but still the show must go on. Ranmaru not only survives, but he also thrives in this chaotic environment, and he ensures the Art Squad’s success more than once through his unfailing support. Despite the eccentricities of the Art Squad’s bizarre members, Ranmaru may finally have found the place where he belongs.
In vignettes that illustrate “the birth of Behind the Scenes!!,” Hatori tells the reader that she was inspired to create this new series after being on scene at the filming of the Host Club television drama. It is clear that Hatori was delighted to learn about film and art direction on set, and her enchantment with that world shines through in this volume. Not only does Hatori teach the reader something new about film and art direction during every chapter, but she also frequently includes cute and clever references to filmmaking. Every character’s name is a play on words that references film: Ranmaru Kurisu, for instance, comes from Christopher Nolan (Kurisutofa Noran), and the club’s pet dog is named after Don Corleone. Even the frenetic pace of the volume reflects the chaos that occurs behind the scenes of stage and film productions. As a born and bred theater person, I found the characters’ over-the-top dramatics both familiar and charming.
Cinephiles will rejoice in finding a kindred spirit in Hatori, but this volume may not draw as wide an audience as Hatori’s popular Host Club. Reluctant readers may find the pace makes the story difficult to follow, and they may also be turned off by the large cast of characters who are introduced all at once. Ranmaru’s character may also prove off-putting to readers who don’t sympathize with his constant anxiety and feelings of insecurity. Despite its few faults, however, Scenes!! is a fun, unique story with an engaging cast, and it is an easy recommendation to fans of light, character-driven slice-of-life manga.
Hatori’s art in Host Club was delightfully delicate shoujo manga fare, and the art in Scenes!! is even more enjoyable. Her characters are expressive and are a joy in every panel; I especially adored the contrast between Ranmaru’s wide-eyed innocence and Ryuji’s angular and vaguely sinister features. In the time between Host Club and Behind the Scenes!!, Hatori has become a master of character design, and art lovers will appreciate the details that make each character’s personal style unique (like Ryuji’s steampunk jewelry and the cute characters on thuggish Tomu’s tee shirts).
Teens who enjoyed Host Club will not be disappointed with Scenes!!, as Hatori continues her trend of creating lovable characters that parody traditional manga tropes. Cinephiles and strong readers who enjoy light comedies will love this volume and will look forward to more. For readers who devour Scenes!! and want to take a look at the other side of show business with a side of romance, recommend Skip Beat by Yoshiki Nakamura (rated T). On the opposite end of the spectrum, teens that sympathize with Ranmaru’s anxiety can find a similar protagonist in slice-of-life manga No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! By Nico Tanigawa (rated OT).
Behind the Scenes!!, vol. 1
by Bisco Hatori
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)