Mangaka: Kokone Nata (@natakokone)
Publisher: Yen Press (@yenpress)
Translator: Amanda Haley
Lettering: Lys Blakeslee
WHAT IS IT?
Play It Cool, Guys is a slice-of-life comedy manga about four guys who try their best to act suave and cool despite their chronic clumsiness.
Think Azumanga Daioh's episodic nature meets the everyday vibes of Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A look into the daily lives of four guys who walk the line between unapproachably cool and undeniably clumsy on a regular basis. Hayate is easily embarrassed, Shun is stoic and a bit of a try-hard, Takayuki is unaware and unbothered, and Souma laughs his way through his problems. These "Cool-Clumsy Files” delve into a typical day of one of the guys, watching as they try to adapt and overcome their awkward attributes and hide their adorkable goofs from the world. (Spoilers: no one's buying it).
After we’re introduced to our quartet of quirky dudes, their crazy, antic-filled days set them on intersecting paths and the guys begin to take notice of each other. Chill vibes and chuckles await in this unique and positive look at a typically frowned-upon trait and how it helps shape their personalities and interactions with the world around them, all while reminding everyone to play it cool.
Nata has found a way to capture the nuances of everyday life that is accessible to everyone in a non-romanticized way. The utter simplicity of the actions and stories are almost painfully relatable, while the take on a negative attribute that usually invokes groans (i.e. the bumbling idiot sidekick trope) being shown in a positive light helps craft a down-to-earth cast that is as charming as it is authentic.
Though the full-color illustrations aren't typical for manga, they are refreshing and fitting for the story. With simplistic shading, a straight-from-the-tablet-and-stylus look, and minimalistic backgrounds, it feels modern, which works well not only with the setting but the time period. Everything has a social media age aesthetic that plays into the cast's personalities and lifestyles.
Along the lines of a social media aesthetic; Blakeslee's lettering choices have a style that would fit with any Instagram post. There’s something utterly real about the conversations, and the fonts/colors used give an almost audible tone to what’s being said.
Haley's translation efforts are well rewarded. Even with how short the volume is, the amount of sound effects and dialogue is akin to a regular-sized manga. Everything is easy to understand and the original tone is still recognizable. Despite being formatted for a western audience, much of the verbiage used would be right at home in your regular group chat.
The sound effects are vibrant and loud, but it plays into the chaotic nature of life in the 21st century and is “overwhelming” in a manner that works for the story. The chatter of people on the train, the thump of music that’s much too loud, and the reverberating beat of an anxious heart are shown in a large, bolded manner (typically surrounding the protagonist of the chapter).
Each chapter has a different border and focal color. It’s a simple design choice that enhances the manga’s chill vibe in multiple ways and influences the backgrounds as well, bleeding over to the buildings and props behind the focused protagonist. It helps differentiate between each story in a fun manner.
It’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on “cool guy” tropes without the characters falling into cliches of toxic masculinity to offset the embarrassment or trouble that comes with their accidental actions. Each character finds wholesome but relatable ways to cover up their goofs that are both comedic and honest without being aggressive.
Opposite of that, the female characters actually take their tropes and run with them. The balance of cutesy Otaku/fangirl-like attitudes and polite patience with the situations come across as accurate and self-aware without feeling mean or offensive.
The four guys are all at differing stages of life, some are taking classes, others are struggling to find a job, some are trying to balance their work/life balance. They all have distinct character traits that are accurate for their ages and translate well through their expressions and vocabulary.
The translation notes at the end of the manga are compact and easy to understand, it helps those who are unfamiliar with some of the more day-to-day items/terms used in Japan and also gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of the choices that helped craft the cast.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The volume is quite short, sitting at just shy of 140 pages. Some readers may be put off by the size/price ratio, but keep in mind, it is entirely printed in color so naturally, it will be pricier.
The first volume feels more like a long introduction to the cast than an initial volume for the longer narrative eluded to at the end (kind of like the obligatory opening episode of an anime). There are a few moments of them crossing paths with an ending that eludes to friendships between them, but the interactions between them are fleeting.
Some of the color schemes make the background/sound effect text a bit hard to read, there are minimal highlights/shadows to help them stand out and many of them are done in colors along the same hues/shades as the predominant background color, which can be a bit straining to read.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
In these stressful times, it can be nice to put away the heavy stories with drama and death for something low-key to delve into. Play It Cool, Guys showcases that classic slice-of-life goodness in a realistic way that pretty much anyone can relate to and get a laugh out of. With a relaxed ambiance, easy-to-read script and light tone, this manga is the perfect way to wind down after a stressful day.
Though at first, it may seem more relatable to a young adult audience, anyone can get a good laugh and be reminded of the simplicities of life while reading it. A nice introduction to this series, it sets the stage for more misadventures as the guys’ paths begin to cross, leaving you with a need to go rush out to buy the next volume just to see what situation they end up in next. With illustrations that are modern and simplistic, off-set by its vibrant color palette, it’s not only a joy to read but also one to look at. It’s a straightforward story that reminds you to take it easy, find time for self care, and to never take yourself too seriously.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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