Creating a visual novel is hard work, but fortunately Tomoya Aki just happens to know the perfect girls for the job. There’s just one problem: how can he convince them to do it?

Tomoya Aki is obsessed with anime, manga, light novels, visual novels, and just about anything and everything otaku. One day, he has a classic “fateful encounter” with a beautiful woman that inspires him to create the greatest visual novel of all time. However, he has a hard time getting illustrator Eriri Spencer Sawamura or writer Utaha Kasumigaoka on board with his project and soon discovers that the beautiful girl he met is actually an incredibly bland and “under-developed” character. How can he possibly create the perfect dating sim under these conditions?!

Fans of romantic comedy looking for a bit of meta-humor mixed in will find great appeal in How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, but even if you aren’t sure about the meta-humor it is likely that you will be able to find many of the jokes and character interactions to be quite amusing.

How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend’s title seems like a strange name for a series, but the title is more than justified (and for good reasons) by the actual book itself. The basic concept of taking a supposedly “boring” girl and turning her into the heroine of a dating sim should give you a decent hint about the direction of the story: meta humor mixed in with a decidedly character-driven narrative. This volume is definitely one of the first of its kind to make its way stateside, and has quite a bit going for it even if it doesn’t perfectly hit every note.

Fortunately (since there is so much riding on them), the characters of How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend have a distinct appeal to them due to their deliberately stereotypical/non-stereotypical personalities and interactions with each other. Girlfriend’s story and comedy depend quite a bit on the ways the characters play off each other’s behaviors. Eriri Sawamura, for example, is set up as a traditional tsundere childhood friend and her behaviors generally follow the pattern you would expect from such an archetype. Others, such as Megumi Katou, deliberately do not follow traditional tropes. In Katou’s case, the plot is theoretically making her into a trope-filled heroine because according to Tomoya her character isn’t “fleshed-out enough”.

The purpose of mixing in characters blatantly filled with tropes and characters that are deliberately set up against classic tropes is to create a distinct feeling of comedy. Obviously, Sawamura and Utaha Kasumigaoka never seem to get along, and individual moments such as the frequent fights they have with each other can be quite entertaining. However, the best humor in How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend is really the meta-humor. The series loves to break the fourth wall in more ways than one and does so frequently. Scenes such as Tomoya sticking his hand out and dragging the frame of the manga panel to the side are obvious examples, but it’s the blend of character interactions that really are the most common example of this. Oftentimes characters will literally speak out about how blatantly stereotypical the behaviors of different members of the cast are. In other situations, Katou will often be used to point out how ridiculous it is that manga series often expect characters to follow certain stereotypes as Katou herself seems to make the most logical sense behaviorally yet displeases Tomoya for this very reason. In trying to create a dating sim filled with trope-y characters, Tomoya’s attempt to project these ideas into his reality serves as an effective lampshading of those very tropes.

As I mentioned before, the narrative seems to be very character-driven, and the primary reason for this is because at this point in the game the story is very minimal. While the idea of creating the perfect dating sim exists, its primary function thus far has been to serve as Tomoya’s motivation, and very little in the way of solid plot advancements have occurred. Although on a personal level I have enjoyed the character interaction-driven narrative, it should still be mentioned that if you are looking for a legitimate story, there is very little available in this first volume outside of minor explorations of how Tomoya got to know Utaha and Eriri.

The illustrations in the manga of How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend are generally excellent. The characters’ mannerisms and expressions are usually very effective and are detailed enough to sell their behaviors. However, there are a few notable exceptions to this. Occasionally, minor details such as portions of the characters’ limbs feel slightly out of place in their positioning or in relative detail to the rest of the models. Additionally, some of the shading such as the sheen on Eriri’s hair doesn’t translate quite as well into the black and white form of manga as I would like. Outside of these relatively minor details, the character designs are quite appealing and do generally work well though, so it shouldn’t be too big of an issue if the rest of the series appeals to you.

How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend was a very interesting read for me. Although the lack of significant story might make the series a bit of a difficult sell to some of its potential audience, there is great appeal in the characters and their humorous interactions. I particularly enjoyed the meta humor and lampshading of many classic romantic comedy tropes. I wouldn’t call the lampshading a full deconstruction of the genre, but it achieves the desired comedic effect admirably. If you think the premise of the series sounds interesting and don’t mind a narrative focus on characters over plot, then I recommend giving this a read.

What do our scores mean?

How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Vol. 1 was translated into English by Kumar Sivasubramanian and published by Yen Press on January 26, 2016. The series is an adaptation of the light novel series of the same name by Maruto Fumiaki, and is illustrated by Takeshi Moriki with character designs by Kurehito Misaki. The series received an anime adaptation by A-1 Pictures in the Winter 2015 season, with a second anime project announced to be in the works. How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend began serializing in January of 2013 in Fujimi Shobo’s Monthly Dragon Age imprint. The second volume will come out in English on April 26, 2016.

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