Review: Densha Otoko (CMX version)

Densha Otoko: The Story of the Train Man Who Fell in Love with a Girl
By Wataru Watanabe
Original Story by Hitori Nakano
Rated T for teen (violence, language)
CMX, $9.99

With this train man, getting there is all the fun.

After all, we know how this story is going to end before it even begins. Even if we hadn’t already heard the heartwarming story of a hopeless nerd who courts a lovely miss with help from his online friends, the setup of CMX’s version of this story is so sweet that you know that in this case, faint heart will win fair lady.

So, no spoilers there. But don’t let the lack of suspense put you off. This volume, the first of three, gets the Train Man story off to a good start with plenty of humor and a hero who is enough of an everyman to be plausible and enough of a nerd to be interesting.

CMX’s version paints the story in broad strokes and plays it for plenty of laughs. The book begins by following the nameless hero (he’s known only as “Train”) as he wanders around Tokyo, mulling over his paralyzing shyness and generally getting taken advantage of. Once that’s established, we see his brief moment of heroism, when he shakes off his inhibitions to stop a drunk from harassing a girl on the train. When the girl sends him a set of Hermes (altered to “Hermess” in this version) teacups as a thank-you, he dares to dream: maybe he can talk to a girl after all. Unsure what to do—he has no friends or, apparently, family—he posts his story on an online channel for “poison men,” men who have no girlfriends. The anonymous posters offer advice and moral support, and he quickly becomes a phenomenon on the message board, more addictive than any game.

Turning a story that is told chiefly in text messages into a graphic novel presents some obvious challenges for the illustrator. Watanabe depicts Train’s online friends as cat icons, which allows him to show dramatic relationships between several speakers in a single panel, and he also shows the people behind the screens, who include a hairdresser, a manga-ka, and even a woman.

If Del Rey’s is the shoujo version of this story, CMX’s is the shonen take. Simple acts such a picking up a cell phone or opening the mail are pumped up with speed lines, sound effects, and lots of screaming. When the otaku hit their keyboards, it’s a major event. It’s a wonder they don’t destroy their computers in the process. This is clearly all done tongue in cheek, and sometimes it goes completely over the top, as when Train gets a call from Hermess and is suddenly dancing with a menagerie of stuffed animals.

The art is sketchy and jagged, with lots of background detail, which makes this a visually interesting book. The one exception is Hermess, who is distinguished by her smooth curves. Train’s otaku-ness is mainly in his head —he’s actually kind of cute—and his friends look fairly normal too, which gives the story less of a blind-leading-the-blind aspect.

If I have one complaint about CMX, it’s that their books always seem a bit thin. At 182 pages, this volume is a bit slimmer than most manga at its price point, and the flimsy paper makes it seem even lighter. The thin paper hurts the print quality and allows the images from the other side to bleed through.

Still, you can see that the CMX folks are trying a little harder. This cover is rather plain (it’s basically the cover of the Japanese version, with a bit less empty space) but it’s attractive and the quality is good. Inside is a four-color foldout page and an additional color page. Extras include a note from the artist about the cover design and a note from editor Jim Chadwick explaining the Densha Otoko phenomenon.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher.

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