Between this new series and Tachibana Higuchi’s Portrait of M & N, the neophyte manga explorer might start wondering whether today’s shojo romancers have begun looking to the DSM for story ideas. Like the masochist and narcissist leads in M & N, the hero of Touya Tobina’s teen-rated comedy Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped (Tokyopop) is definitely diagnosable. An obsessive-compulsive germ-o-phobe, Sata Senda descends into hyper-neurosis as a third grader on a trip to the amusement park. Touching all the poles leading to a roller coaster, he’s horrified to discover that a kid ahead of him has picked his nose and robbed his snot on a pole. “It was a formative moment of horror in my life,” Sata tells us, though we suspect that if it hadn’t been that particular incident, it would’ve been something else.
Cut to three years later, and our manga-sized Adrian Monk has become an intensely closed-off sixth grader, covering himself with face masks and rubber gloves, walking around in progressively more outlandish protective gear. He’s comfortable with his outsider status until a cute classmate, Anna Aiuchi, starts to pay attention to him, leading to a series of small steps forward and panicky retreats on our hero’s part. When Aiuchi temporarily leaves to go overseas, Sata once more tries to revert to his solitary stance, but the damage has been done. Other students — the self-consciously immature Yui Anzai, for instance — begin making overtures toward friendship, and Sata finds that he ultimately can’t rebuff them..
As a comedy, Clean-Freak frequently oversteps the lines of plausibility (that our hero, for instance, is even allowed to carry bottles of spray disinfectant through the school strikes this reader as a stretch), though its basic theme — that social involvement can whittle away at dysfunctional self-absorption — remains a valid one. If the humor doesn’t always pay off as strongly as it could, that might just be this western reader’s response to the art. Tobina’s figures at times are less substantial than necessary, particularly during the series’ many slapstick moments.
Still, there are plenty of droll bits. In one of the first volume’s funnier sequences, our hero reluctantly becomes involved in the care of a hyperactive pregnant rabbit. A panel featuring a stylized image of the bun bounding around proves agreeably goofy, as are several shots where the freak-out bare-handed Sata tries to hold onto the pregnant creature as Yui gives him off-base advice. (“Don’t! Her babies are gonna fall out if you hold her like that!”) Life is messy, and in that mess lies comedy. If Clean-Freak was willing to be a trace less neat, though, I suspect its comedy quotient would increase substantially.