Story by Hitori Nakano, Art by Hidenori Hara
Originally published in Shogukukan (2005)
Length: 3 Volumes (27 Chapters)
In early 2004, an anonymous Japanese user posted on 2channel, an online forum, recounting the extraordinary events of his day. Posting in a thread for single men to talk about their issues, he explained how he had been sitting next to a pretty young lady on a train when a drunken man began to harass her and other women in the vicinity. He explains that he took a risk, and told the man to stop bothering the passengers, and in doing so started an altercation. Thankfully, other passengers alerted the conductor, who took control of the situation. The young woman, in an act of gratitude, requested for the young man’s address, telling him she wanted to send something as a gesture of appreciation. After receiving an expensive gift a few days later, the man, inexperienced with women, begins asking the message board to help him ask this girl on a date, and for advice in the future. Regulars on the thread eventually named him “Densha Otoko” (Train Man), and this incredible story of luck, confidence and passion has been adapted into the manga series we are talking about today.
Irrelevant the story’s truthfulness (the authenticity of the story has not been proven yet), Densha Otoko is a endearing series about the blossoming relationship of two young adults meeting under unorthodox circumstances. Our flustered protagonist’s constant misreading, or over-analysing of situations is both comical and relatable. A nostalgic art direction also led to my fond experience with this piece, though its over-dramatisation bordered on tedium at times.
When you’re first getting to know your crush, it can be a mental battlefield. Every little action or remark has a hundred different implications, leading to hours of over-analysing possibilities. This manga feels like it romanticises a period of time in a relationship, but really it’s just exploring the stage of pure idealism. Nothing else matters to these characters but what happens between themselves, and the furthering of their mutual obsession for each other. The two people involved have been completely disconnected from reality, and no matter how many shards of reality try to pop their balloon, it still drifts contentedly.
I would have enjoyed learning a bit more about not only the protagonist, but all the characters in this piece. While it did encapsulate the all-consuming feeling of love, that’s all we really know about him; he is a man who is shy and inexperienced. And our leading love interest is essentially created around how this man perceives her actions. Learning more about his life before the events would have given us a better idea of how important these series of events truly were for him. As a fan of Hidenori Nara, his presence in this project was welcomed, and as expected the art was excellent. His ability to create simple character designs that can still convey deep emotions was impressive, and a testament his success with romance manga (such as The Town the Stars Fell Upon ).
The main issue I had with this manga came from its drama. Densha Otoko enjoys delving into the minds of characters as they mull over their feelings for each other, but sometimes these segments are too dramatic or too long to be engaging. For example, we don’t need an entire chapter dedicated to the protagonist psyching himself up to call his love interest. His reasoning is repeated over and over again, and the reader knows he would eventually call her, so the second half of the chapter didn’t develop any more stakes then when the issue was introduced. Then, when he finally does call her, the next chapter is entirely dedicated to him mustering up the courage to ask her out! Based on the duration of this manga, there weren’t enough of these to put me off, but they did almost turn the protagonist from inexperienced to infuriating.
Train Man’s journey was also explored in the dialogues he would have with other characters online. The advice needed/given was endearing, and gave the reader a backlog of characters, but his reliance on them quickly became unappealing. It’s a really cute love story, but the creators went too hard in emphasising his inabilities. However, it was a source of endearment watching the people online wait for live action updates while he’s asking her out, deciding where to take her on their dates, ect. The idea that the online forum expanded and more people were tuning in and giving advice was a really nice touch, and added extra elements to the forum part of the manga, though I can’t say I found his actions (and how long they took to be executed) as captivating as they did.
Densha Otoko holds in it a character that everyone will root for; a loveably earnest guy trying to win over a girl he really has no shot of wooing. He does his best with the resources he has, and goes to great lengths to challenge himself in order to fight for his true love. This manga doesn’t try to inflate events, making our protagonist come across a authentic. However, this does result in simpler moments being drawn out for no apparent reason, to the point where some scenes are repetitive. In the end, this whole manga was based around the mind of our protagonist, when in reality getting a smaller taste of his mentality would have been enough to create sympathetic readers.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Writing – 7
Overall – 7.5/10
Train Man (Densha Otoko)