CITY VOL. 1 REVIEW BY KEIICHI ARAWI
Plot
Art
Characterization
Humor
Summary
CITY’s humor is joyfully wacky, highlighting the shenanigans of everyday citizens. The story isn’t anything deep and the characters seem a little static at times, but CITY makes up for it in its detailed, stylized art and ridiculous sense of humor.
85 %
Great Potential
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Do you love stories rich with lore that dates back to ancient times? Are you interested in relics of worship, like majestic bird statues? Well, Keiichi Arawi’s CITY is about neither of those things.

CITY, another slapstick manga from the artist of NICHIJOU, takes place in, well, a city. While it certainly draws influence from NICHIJOU, Arawi brings some changes with this new manga. Unlike NICHIJOU, which occasionally uses the four-panel yonkoma style for quick jokes, CITY leans toward a more typical manga format. The first volume of Arawi’s latest comedy begins with the story of an unfortunate bird who fell asleep while flying. The bird turns into a stone statue, worshipped by the locals for dozens of years. Now the narration turns to the present in a “record scratch, freeze-frame” style, revealing that CITY has nothing to do with the bird. The real story follows Midori Nagumo, a broke college student who tries to make her monthly rent by gambling.

Three panels from a colored page in CITY's prologue describe the origin of a bird statue.
That “CITY” statue looks oddly familiar… | Image: Vertical Comics

After Midori loses it all, her landlady demands payment the next day and Midori bolts. She climbs out of the window and runs into her friend, Ayumu Niikura. Midori chases after Ayumu, begging her for a loan so she can make the rent. As they sprint across town, we’re introduced to the numerous characters who are all somehow (and hilariously) connected to each other. Through a series of mishaps, Midori finds herself working at her landlady’s restaurant to pay off the rent debt.

CITY follows the wacky shenanigans of various citizens while Midori struggles to get a paycheck. Each chapter rapidly shifts perspectives and offers ridiculous yet hilarious new circumstances. CITY’s comedy is outrageous, and sometimes a bit too fast for readers who may be unfamiliar with Arawi’s kind of humor. But the insanity of it all is what gives CITY (and most of Arawi’s work) its charm.

The Everyday Lives of Not-So Normal Citizens

A stiff officer, an eccentric photographer, and a klutzy chef bring the city to life alongside Midori’s efforts to scrape together some rent money. This premise doesn’t seem too interesting compared to other manga, and some of the comical elements are a little mundane. But don’t let the simplicity fool you; the broad cast of characters makes CITY a lot more intricate than it looks.

Having an entire city as the cast of a comedy manga is a little ambitious, but Arawi pulls it off. He carefully crafts each citizen in the unnamed city and connects all of them in some way. The manga demonstrates this design when Midori steals an expensive artifact from the restaurant (her future workplace). In a rapid chain of events, she breaks the artifact in front of the owner’s son, who hires her after she vows to do anything to apologize. A mere three panels later, her landlady shows up and each character’s relationship clicks easily into place.

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The colorful array of citizens and its rapid-fire pace allows CITY to find a number of aspects of everyday life to twist into an absurd comedy. The simplicity of the concept leaves room for a slow buildup of hilarity. As the series continues, the odd character relationships will undoubtedly lead to more awkward and strange situations. It’s excellent fodder for a nonsensical comedy like CITY!

A Detailed Masterpiece

If you’ve ever read or watched NICHIJOU, you already know how unique Arawi’s art style is. His characters aren’t complex in design; the hair is generally pretty realistic, and there isn’t a lot of detail in their eyes or clothing. And even though their eyes might not be as dewy, or their hair might not be as wacky as the other manga styles we typically see, the characters of CITY make up for it with their expressions. From mischievous grins and over-exaggerated astonishment to completely deadpan characters, Arawi displays a mastery of humor with the colorful variety of expressions and perfectly-timed transitions.

Ayumu smirks mischievously while holding two 100-yen coins, telling Midori "You can't have 'em."
Ouch, that’s cold. | Image: Vertical Comics

Like the overall plot and concept, the simplicity of the art works well with the manga’s comedic theme. If it were any more detailed or flashy, it would feel entirely out of place in the manga’s whimsical aesthetic. The style, while not especially extravagant, is by no means unprofessional.

When it comes to art style, there’s a huge difference between poor craftsmanship and a simple design. To the untrained eye, a simplistic piece of artwork may look lazy or mediocre. While this can sometimes be the case for an artist that uses the uniqueness of their art style as a crutch, CITY does not fall into this category. Arawi really knows what he’s doing with his artwork. There’s no shortage of detail in CITY; everything looks carefully planned for a well-rounded comedic experience. The backgrounds are especially noteworthy; they’re as detailed and intricate as the character relationships.

The Citizens of CITY

CITY is full of wacky run-ins and situations, like the police officer who gets sucked into a dozen weird situations when he’s just trying to do his job. The poor guy even gets framed for robbery because he’s suckered into helping out the wrong old lady. Relationships aside, the characters of CITY are somewhat typical.

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The first volume introduces us to Midori and her friend Ayumu, the landlady and her family, the police officer, a photographer, a manga artist (who may or may not be Arawi himself), and a handful of reoccurring background characters who remain nameless. Because it’s a comedy, many of the characters, unfortunately, fall flat. Midori, Ayumu, the landlady, and the photographer all have colorful personalities that solidify their characters. However, the rest of the cast is a little bland. They’re not exactly forgettable, given some of the predicaments they fall into (it’s hard to erase Tatewaku’s hilarious miniskirt horoscope from memory easily), but their personalities tend to blend together and become lost in the comedy.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to have deep characters with detailed histories in order for the manga to do its job. CITY’s humor works in its favor in this regard. Some of the cast might fall flat, but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the manga. CITY actually seems to be a little self-aware regarding its side characters, since it does name some of them:

Two characters appear for the first time in these panels, both labeled "minor character".
The aptly-named minor characters. | Image: Vertical Comics

Though it doesn’t need to go overboard, CITY does leave some room for development. Arawi has plenty of material to develop his characters and tie them together for even more hilarious scenarios.

Odd, but Amusing

CITY’s comedy is a bit rough in spots, and it’s not always easy to understand. It isn’t for everyone, but if you like comedy that’s just plain weird, then it’s definitely your cup of tea. Insanity is the base of CITY’s humor. You wouldn’t think that four pages of two characters crying in silence would be funny, but CITY makes it work. Its weirdness hooks you in at the first page and leaves you hungry for more by the end.

Like NICHIJOU (Arawi’s other work), CITY relies on character relationships and random run-ins for its wacky sense of humor. However, character relationships aren’t the only thing that makes up CITY’s comedy. It’s also the timing of certain facial expressions, like Ayumu’s smug look after telling Midori she can’t have her money. Or the pawn shop owner, whose face contains so much emotion in every panel, despite his expression never actually changing.

The landlady has the best of expressions in CITY. She might seem like a harmless old lady, but don’t be fooled. When dealing with Midori’s shenanigans, Arawi breaks away from his smooth, cartoonish style to give the landlady the glare of a true shonen manga character. She embodies the spirit of a WWE fighter — she can (and will) throw a person to the ground for skipping on rent faster than the speed of light.

The landlady's face wrinkles with anger when she finally finds the delinquent Midori.
You definitely don’t want to mess with this landlady. | Image: Vertical Comics

CITY also shows an appreciation for the little things. If you look hard enough, you’ll see a number of small details, like writing on signs, or the words “Officer for one, one for officer” on the cop’s hat. It’s the intricate little details like this that are really the icing on the cake for CITY.

A Growing City

The first volume of CITY shows promise. The characters and story might fall a bit flat at times, but it still succeeds in making you laugh. The comedy is genuine enough that character depth and a complicated plot isn’t needed to make CITY worth the read.

With so many different characters, Arawi has plenty of opportunities to take their relationships to even more hilarious levels. Given that NICHIJOU also relied on this brand of comedy and was successfully hilarious, I have high hopes for CITY. CITY shows the potential to be the kind of comedy manga that starts off interesting, then slowly builds until it’s so insanely hilarious that you can’t stop laughing.

Featured image courtesy of Vertical Comics.

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