City vol. 1 – Keiichi Arawi

3 out of 5

A consistently charming – and occasionally hilarious – sequence of gag strips focusing on several city denizens, though primarily ne’er-do-well Nagumo, who’s pursuit of rent money kicks off events that loosely motivate us through City’s chapters.

Keiichi Arawi’s art is bubbly, but not simplistic: while character models are big-eyed and round heads, there’s a great sense of personality in their designs, and a well-realized sense of space in the titular City. Nagumo’s apartment feels lived in; the cookery where she eventually gets a job feels functional; and, in general, you get a sense of actually living in and traveling from area to area. Given that much of this is a mix of slapstick and banter, timing and visual clarity are certainly key, and Keiichi is very skilled at both – the constant assault of rapid-fire chatter flows, and there are some laugh-out-loud visual gags. Occasionally, the busyness of a panel will disrupt this, though: when we have one extreme focal point, the jokes work, but when multiple characters are acting insane, the timing doesn’t land as well.

Nagumo is fun to follow around, between her antics and scheming. There are other entertaining types mixed in here, but when we step too far away from Nagumo or storylines more directly tied to her, City steps over that fine line between isolated gags and ongoing story, with the former – to me – not as engaging. Oddball stuff centered around a character we’re getting to know is good; oddball stuff happening to randoms is just sort of random. The comedic energy is kept high in both, though, and there’s definitely the sense that we’ll get to know these other cast members – one of City’s biggest strengths being that inclusive vibe, that everyone is actually living in the same area together – but at the outset, the first tankobon moreso feels like it jumps around a bit too much in its latter half.