Title: Square One Author: Mohamad Shafiek Publisher: VIC’s Lab Distribution Language: English Format: Digital Pages: 187 Genre: Slice of Life Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Akari Ise fails to become a mangaka after his one-shot “Echo” is rejected by BanBan Comics. They enroll him in the assistant’s program where he is assigned to work with Roman Kohaku, the creator of the widely popular One Percent series. There, Akari meets an eclectic cast of characters as he begins a journey of redemption.
The story isn’t anything more than that. It is a very simple and straight-forward premise, but what makes the story so good is the journey itself. Every event that Akari goes through, every step that he takes is all meaningful. You see Akari grow not only as a mangaka, but as a person. Akari doesn’t do it alone; however, as the cast of characters are written magnificently to the point where their individual stories offer support for Akari and pushes him forward. They become his pillars in which he can use to support himself on because they know they can do the same with Akari.
While the story may be simple: the journey of someone who failed in becoming a mangaka to one who eventually makes it, the characters is where this volume truly shines.
I will start off by saying that every character jumps right off the page in this series. Every character has a unique personality and none of them feel duplicated. From the moment you start reading their dialogue, you get a sharp sense of who they are and it makes it very easy to envision them in your head.
Akari starts off as someone who feels like he wants to kick the world to the curb for rejecting his manga, but he begins to realize that he really needs this opportunity to grow. You see him go through phases of questioning his own abilities after he experiences failure after failure. Then you see that confidence begin to build, but suddenly, that confidence temporarily disappears when he enters into autopilot mode. He has an epiphany where he realizes that he has surpassed his own mental limits and has truly become someone who has a great shot at becoming serialized. You get to see the external influences for all of his second-guessing stemming from his father, who is a famous mangaka in his own right. The immense pressure that he felt from having to, eventually, take over his father’s series or having to live in his shadow played a huge role in his confidence issues. To see him overcome all of it shows how well he was written as a main character. His progression and development were brilliantly executed while the timing of his development was spot on. Nothing felt rushed or out of place with it!
Roman Kohaku played the role of the sarcastic mentor. He was tough when he needed to be, but he was also a bit out there when things didn’t need to be as serious. He was a well-balanced character that seemed like he would be a lazy slouch, but then you realize that he really is a professional mangaka with a work ethic only possibly matched by Akari. Roman played the father figure more than Akari’s own father and really shows the difference between a mangaka that is married to their work like Akari’s father and a mangaka who is married to the love of making manga like Roman.
Mai was a very fun character to read! She always spoke in third person and had a very bubbly personality. She was the kind of character who seemed like she didn’t understand the way the world is supposed to work, but wanted to try anyway, but deep down, she was well aware of everything. Her personality is what throws you off as she comes off as a big child and a bit immature-ish at times, but that’s what made her so much fun. It was that naivety that made her so innocent and lovable! Even when she ran away from home over an argument with her parents, it showed just how much of a child she still was, but at the same time, she did it because she was just following her passion and standing up for what she believed in. She’s the kind of character that you just wanted to hug and slap at the same time.
Speaking of violence, let’s talk about the firecracker of the series, Suzuko. She has a very short temper and is very skilled with a G-Pen… in more than one way. She uses it both as a tool for doing background art and as a weapon whenever she feels that you need to be put in your place. Despite her brashness, she has a lovable side to her and she does care about the team. She cares even more about the friendship she has made with everyone, even though she doesn’t show it all the time. It’s almost like she wants to be a tsundere, but she just can’t pull the trigger on it. At times, I thought that she had an interest in Akari, but the author makes it pretty apparent that there is another pairing planned…
That brings us to Midori, Roman’s daughter. She mainly deals with handling the screen tones for each page. She, typically, sits by herself and is very quiet; however, she has a bit of a fondness with Akari. Akari is, typically, the only one she speaks to. When Akari was going through a development phase and became quiet, he accidentally neglects Midori and that caused her to become depressed. These little nuances like that built an obvious relationship without throwing it in the reader’s face. It felt very natural and I even cheered when Akari stormed back into Roman’s apartment and asked her out for a cup of coffee. The interesting aspect of Midori’s character is that she seems to be struggling with some sort of illness. We’re never really told the extent of how sick Midori is, but we’re told enough to actually feel concerned about her. There were many subtle hints dropped throughout the volume, but nothing really concrete was stated about what is wrong with her. I have a bad feeling we’re in for a moment in volume two.
Lastly, rounding out the team is Kaede. Kaede was a very unique character in the fact that he “lives in his own manga”. He would always address everyone as General, Lieutenant, etc. He spoke like a military commander, but while he was goofy in that aspect, he ended up becoming the voice of reason for the entire team. Despite his oddball behavior, he was as wise as a prophet. He would also offer advice or words of encouragement to get people through their darkest times. He was a true friend that cared deeply about everyone that worked on the team. He also had a great knack for understanding people and their plights only because he went through those same plights himself. Kaede ended up becoming my favorite character in the series because he was just written so perfectly. He took the role of support character to all new heights!
The team at BanBan Comics also had their own personalities. Yuichi, an editor who was Editor-In-Chief Matsuda’s right-hand man, came off exactly the way he should be for someone in that position. He saw the manga industry as a business and nothing more. He is the kind that would only do things for the company if it was guaranteed to make them money.
Yuxuki, on the other hand, cared deeply about the people he worked with. He wanted to treat his clients as though they were family. He was against the corporate way of thinking and perhaps it is this mentality that has relegated him to working downstairs, overseeing new submissions rather than working directly with the editing department.
Toru, on the other hand, was a rookie editor who seemed like he would do anything to try and please the higher ups… even if it meant working his clients to the bone in order to stockpile chapters for smooth releases. He was even appointed to the serialization board way ahead of his time, causing Yuxuki to be removed from it. While he did play the part of the nervous rookie editor, his tactics and his lack of remorse for his actions made him a loathsome character.
We also have other side characters such as King and his assistant/significant other Soraya. King was very brash and often talked down to Soraya, making her question why she remained with him. He was also Roman’s biggest rival and the two would often be at each other’s throats. Soraya came off as a very timid and nervous character who was very sweet right down to her core. You felt bad for her being in the kind of relationship that she was. For characters that made sporadic appearances, they sure carried with them a tremendous weight to the story!
Finally, we have Wendy… the genius mangaka who doesn’t even want to be one! She only submitted her work to the Arakawa Competition so that she could have a shot at being serialized in the same magazine as One Percent. She admired them that much! She is also captivated by Araki’s one-shot as well and uses that as motivation to continue drawing in hopes that she can be serialized alongside him as well!
Simply put, Square One is a tremendous light novel from beginning to end. The characters are written brilliantly and they each drive the story forward. Every character has a unique personality, a backstory, and an event throughout the novel that makes you feel a deep connection to them. Every little bit of their development only aids the main, overarching story and helps flesh it out in an interesting way. While the main story’s premise isn’t really in-depth, it’s not meant to be. The whole point of the novel is to take the reader on a journey. The journey has a clearly defined beginning and end point, but it’s all the events in between that get you hooked.
That journey was compelling enough for me to keep wanting to turn each page to see what happened next. It also wasn’t a linear journey either as the story hopped around from character to character in order to remind us that there is an entire world out there. None of the jumps felt out of place and each one seemed to be placed perfectly. These jumps not only helped tell smaller side stories, but served as missing pieces to the overall puzzle. They were written in a way where if they had been left out, there would have been some gaps in the story that would have made it an awkward read.
Everything had a purpose and everything tied together. I can’t say enough good things about this novel as it is, hands down, one of the best stories I’ve read this year! Saying that I give this my recommendation is an understatement. I feel that this is a story that anyone should read and experience for themselves! My hat is off to Mr. Shafiek for a job well done on Square One!