Review: ‘Romantic Killer,’ Volume 1: An Addicting Twist on the Shojo Formula
4/5 awkward interactions with hot boys
Given my choice at the grand manga buffet the internet has placed at my fingers, I’m not usually the kind of person who gravitates towards stories of romance. Then again, neither does Anzu, the protagonist of Wataru Momose’s shojo romantic comedy manga series, Romantic Killer. This self-aware and parodic stance to make a shojo manga out of a character who is vocally and indignantly anti-shojo is precisely why I enjoyed Romantic Killer so much. I entered Volume 1 lightly curious, and I exited actively upset that Volume 2 is not immediately available.
Volume 1 of Romantic Killer released for English audiences via Viz Media in earlier October, just a few weeks ahead of the anime adaption of the series premiering on Netflix on October 27. The series cuts right to the chase of its premise: Anzu, a high school girl, wants nothing more than to play video games with her cat snuggled on her lap and a supplemental chocolate bar by her side. In other words, Anzu is me. I am Anzu—though adult-me might swap the chocolate bar for a hot toddy, weather-depending.
Anzu’s objectively perfect life is thwarted by an “imp” (i.e. fairy) who cruelly takes away her chocolate, cat, and video games—and fills her life with hot guys instead. Why? Because what with Japan’s declining birth rate, the fairy’s office is under incredible duress. They’re trying out some new strategies to make people fall in love, mainly by turning people’s lives into a giant dating sim by force. And they’re seeking to prove this new concept with a particularly challenging subject. Incidentally, the ridiculous irreverence of all this is an incredibly good taste of Romantic Killer‘s tone overall.
Wait, you might be thinking, if the imp’s goal is to encourage people to make babies as fast as possible, Why did he pick a high school-aged test subject?! Excellent point. This question continually haunted me as I read Romantic Killer. I was also not a fan of the imp’s line of questioning regarding when Anzu last “felt attraction for the opposite sex,” which obviously betrays an outdated assumption about heteronormativity. But, honestly, these were my big two issue-moments, and they’re both in the first chapter. If you can forget and/or forgive those weird logical blips, Romantic Killer is a hilarious, delightful romp.
In order to return to her perfect cat-and-game-filled life, Anzu treats the imp’s plethora of hot men and forced romantic situations like challenging levels in one of her games, which gives her a kind of shounen flair. It’s yet another layer of genre mismatch that makes Romantic Killer so much fun. She even screams in the Netflix trailer, “Romantic Killer ni, watashi wa naru!”—which is a clear nod to One Piece.
A lot of nerdy girls are going to see themselves in Anzu. I already said that she’s basically me, and I meant it. She’s a very funny, empathetic protagonist: an extroverted-seeming introvert who acts very loud and sassy, but just wants to be left to do her own thing at the end of the day. The imp, too, serves as an incredibly fitting foil. It’s a funny exercise in the cute sidekick trope: Instead of a cherished companion, what is this fairy were actively trolling the protagonist?
Romantic Killer makes a lot—a lot—of blatant references to standard shojo situations. That’s its bread and butter, actually: The imp sets up the standard trope, and Anzu does her best to knock it down. This brand of parody would probably hit even harder to someone who reads or watches shojo romance regularly, but the meta nature of the series’ comedic style means that the characters call out the absurdity of the situation often enough that it’s funny for the casual fans like me, too. Hell, there’s a chapter called “Am I The Man in This Scene?” So don’t worry. You won’t miss a comedy beat.
Despite its parodic nature, Romantic Killer is still a romance story. You should come for the irreverence and stay for the classic “will they/won’t they” tension. I easily got sucked into the blossoming potential relationship between Anzu and the first hot boy, Kazuki. For as much as Anzu tries to play against the imp, her defiance only serves to make that “will they/won’t they” tension more engaging. When the imp eventually introduces a second guy (kind of a spoiler?), I felt way stronger about it than I anticipated. I like Kazuki, dammit! The childhood friend?! Phooey! … Except, I have to admit, it’s pretty funny.
It’s interesting to note that Romantic Killer was originally a vertical-scroll series. It’s also always been full color. As Momose notes in his afterword, Romantic Killer began life as an indie comic. It was then picked up by Shounen Jump and began serialization on Shounen Jump+, the online-only platform that’s currently the home of Spy x Family and the second arc of Chainsaw Man. It even won Shounen Jump’s second-ever Vertical Scroll Manga Award. I will forever and always cheer on indie comics, so the arc of Romantic Killer‘s success delights me.
Obviously, you can’t print a book in a vertical format. While it’s easy to imagine Romantic Killer as a vertical comic while looking at it on the page, the publishers did a great job of “translating” it to a “traditional” manga format. I never felt like I was “missing” something by not seeing Romantic Killer in its original form.
Viz’s new printing also marks the first time Romantic Killer has been officially available in English. The series is actually already finished; it began in December 2019 and wrapped up in September 2020. So we know there will be four volumes eventually. Volume 2 comes out on January 3, 2023, which is well beyond the October 27 premiere of the anime. If, like me, you read Volume 1 and become hooked, the immediacy of all these releases is incredibly good news. The anime looks like a solid adaptation, too, with even more wondrously ridiculous facial expressions than the manga.
Just … no one take away my games and cats, please.
(featured image: Viz Media)
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