As the story begins to wind down, Nagisa finds reasons to brood and hope.

Complex Age Volume Five Title: 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: June 13, 2017

This is Complex Age’s strongest volume by far. The other volumes weren’t weak, but as Yui Sakuma begins to pull all of the threads together to their conclusion some of the previously laid details truly begin to shine.

As usual it is a busy and full volume of Complex Age, and the biggest conflict in this volume revolves around the bombshell that Nagisa’s best friend Kimiko dropped at the end of the last volume: she is going to stop cosplaying. Nagisa is reeling from this revelation; after having seen Hayama be driven out of cosplay so recently Nagisa is clearly worried about losing another friend from her hobby — her best and oldest friend, too. So many different reasons crowd Nagisa’s mind, and even after Nagisa has a talk with Kimiko about her decision, there’s an underlying feeling of responsibility clouding her thoughts.

Kimiko explains that she’s not giving up going to events or giving up the hobby completely, she’s just going to stay on the other side of the camera. Cosplay introduced Kimiko to the world of photography and she both loves it and doesn’t want to do it “halfway.” “Why do we always insist on doing things the hard way?” she and Nagisa muse, as Kimiko reminisces on the hardships they go through for cosplay and how, for her, it still feels like it’s not enough. “If it’s only about fun, then it starts to feel like something is missing somehow…. It’s a hobby so it should be enough to just have fun.” This dovetails well with Nagisa’s own internal struggles about what she wants cosplay to be about for her and with the conflict between Riu and Aya in the last volume. One major aspect of cosplay is having fun; but “fun” is different for different people and when someone stops having fun with a hobby, well, it’s no wonder they give it up.

There’s an aspect to Kimiko’s removal of herself from the cosplay scene that goes unsaid between her and Nagisa but that Nagisa is keen enough to pick up on anyway: their appearances. It’s a shame that cosplay, and modern beauty culture as well, prizes the appearance of the very young above all else. After all, Hayama was “old” for still cosplaying around thirty and Nagisa and Kimiko are only in their mid-twenties. I can’t even begin to tell how many of my friends I knew in college who, while they looked fine, afterwards truly blossomed into assurance about their appearance in their mid-twenties! It seems like the subject of appearance has been nagging at Kimiko from the very beginning however, from the very first time she and Nagisa cosplayed together and a compliment was casually played to Nagisa’s looks but not to hers. Cosplay is a hobby about being seen and while no comment at all is certainly better than a negative comment, no comment is far worse than receiving a compliment. I’ve seen some of my own friends start to pull out of cosplay, some using the very same reasons as Kimiko, and I wonder how many of them have thought “I loved the hobby as much as Nagisa ever did… but little by little the gap just kept getting wider”. Who just didn’t want to have to see that gap anymore?

Regardless of Kimiko’s reasons it is a sad moment. Living out of the way with her fiancee as her only friend, it seems like Kimiko will be a bit more lonely this way, and in a situation much like Nagisa’s own mother a couple of decades earlier. There is some hope in this volume: We see that Hayama is working hard at her new job organizing cosplay events but that she’s happy with the work she has; and Nagisa mentions that maybe Aya and Shiho will handle this better than she and Kimiko ever did, since those two girls are managing to enjoy cosplay without torturing themselves for it.

As the volume heads towards its bittersweet ending, Nagisa’s mother gives her a surprising suggestion. Nagisa has finally has a glimpse at a path she never thought she was allowed to walk and I’m excited to see where it will lead in Complex Age’s final volume.