Nagisa is surprised to have her cosplay challenged by a surprisingly intimate source.

9781632362490_manga-complex-age-2-primaryTitle: Complex Age
Genre: Drama
Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Kodansha USA (US)
Artist/Writer: Yui Sakuma
Serialized in: Weekly Morning
Translation: Alethea Nibley & Athena Nibley
Original Release Date: September 20, 2016

NOTE: This review contains spoilers.

The previous volume of Complex Age ended with a rather tense moment: Nagisa ran into one of her coworkers outside of a cosplay event and her coworker recognized her underneath her make-up and wig! Ending the volume there made it seem like the story was about to invoke a cliche of “the curious bystander” making Nagisa’s life quite uncomfortable.

But as readers may have already gathered from the cover of the volume, Hayama is also a cosplayer and is remarkably different from the hardass she appears to be in the office. Hayama is a welcome addition to the cast for many reasons; not only is her interest in cosplaying slightly different from everyone else introduced so far, but at around 30 years of age Hayama is quite a bit older than some of them! While here in the United States it’s more common to see people still cosplaying as they enter their 30s, it is still a bit unusual. Looking at groups for post-college cosplayers, you’re likely to see a number of “I really hurt my health cosplaying; cosplay isn’t more important than my health! posts. These posts aren’t wrong — your health should always be one of if not the most important thing in your life –but those posts play ever-so-slightly into the idea of “You’re going to grow out of this hobby, and you’re going to find other more important things.” But as Hayama herself says, “If it’s that stressful for me, I know I can just stop. But, I can’t give it up. It’s fun. And I like it.”

The real shock of the volume comes farther in, however. Astute readers will note that Nagisa’s parents are never shown in first volume, but they pop up very close to the beginning of this volume. In a surprising turn the gothic lolita one-shot from the first volume wasn’t an alternate idea for Complex Age, but instead was a prequel about Nagisa’s parents! With that Yui Sakuma has twice in one volume avoided a major cliche and instead taken the story down a much deeper route. Nagisa’s father reminisces on their younger days and tries to help Nagisa understand why her mother is so against her cosplaying. Nagisa’s father bitterly wishes he had saved some of her mother’s things, as she became a shell of herself once she abandoned her hobby. It was as if by destroying the part of her that felt “un-adult” she destroyed the thing that gave her the energy to make it through her adult life.

As Nagisa prepares to confront her mother in the third volume it’s clear that there’s a lot weighing on her. Nagisa has already taken a different view towards her hobby than her mother ever did, having bitterly complained that it’s not right that a harmless hobby is something she has to keep a secret. Now, Nagisa has proof that cutting it out won’t make her any happier.  This is a far cry from the often typical “You’ll change as you grow older” mantra; instead, this may become a story of defending what makes you happy even as what feels like the whole world judges you. This series continues to be a wonderfully thoughtful and honest look at cosplaying and while challenging many of the cliches surrounding it. Complex Age tackles a problem that so many nerds of all types face, “But why does society tell me to stop?” and this manga asks “Yeah, why do we?”