Complex acquaintances, complex problems.

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: March 14, 2017

As Nagisa’s relationship with her boyfriend hits a sour note she finds a chance to reconnect with an old friend. But first, who is this new character on the cover?

This isn’t the first time that Complex Age has put a brand new character on the cover for the volume they’re introduced in, but let’s get to her later since as usual this manga has multiple balls in the air. The most pressing subplot is Nagisa’s friend and former coworker Hayama who felt driven out of both their workplace and cosplay after coworkers found out about the cosplaying. In Nagisa’s typical brash fashion, she ignores Hayama’s request that she not visit and as soon as Nagisa discovers where Hayama lives she and Kumiko go to meet up with their friend.

It’s a bit of a shock for the two of them to realize that Hayama has put on a lot of weight but in some ways this motivates Nagisa even more to try and bring Hayama back into cosplaying. Not because of her weight, although Nagisa certainly has some blunt things to say about that, but because why Hayama has put on weight. Hayama says that she’s “let herself go” because she discovered that without her work, without her hobby, without having anything to do besides taking care of her parents that she didn’t have anything else going on in her life and simply, turned into a bit of a vegetable. Much like Nagisa’s own mother, it seems like Hayama was forced to look more inward and found that there wasn’t much else going on in her life.

But the reason that Nagisa won’t let Hayama “go” so easily was because she was struck by Hayama’s reason for cosplaying. “I can’t give it up. It’s fun, and I like it,” something which is at the core for every cosplayer. So Nagisa’s first mission is to help show Hayama that cosplaying is fun again at a more fun, not-photoshoot focused event, and a rather sweet moment does help Hayama start to come back out of her shell. The central theme for this entire series has been about these adult characters defining for themselves why they keep cosplaying and Hayama’s take on cosplaying, someone who is clearly talented at all aspects of cosplay but has always kept it up not because she was good but because she liked it, has clearly been shaping Nagisa’s changing approach to the hobby as well.

This changing approach is highlighted by the “new” character we meet in this volume, Riu. Riu has actually popped up once before — she’s the cosplayer that Nagisa viciously tore down in the very first chapter and I do feel as if the character has been retconned a bit to better fit into the story’s current themes. In the first volume Riu is posing rather out of character but she mentions that no, she’s not a devotee of “Magi-Ruru”, she’s there because a friend of hers was also cosplaying from it. But now Riu practically prostrates herself in front of Nagisa saying that no, she wasn’t taking cosplay seriously enough then but she is now, she’s a good cosplayer like Nagisa now! So far Riu is both the cosplayer the most like Nagisa, someone who prizes “perfection” in cosplay to the determent of being a nice person, and also the most manga-like character to date.

So far, all of the characters in Complex Age have felt similar to real life cosplayers with their varying levels of interest, focuses, and reasons to keep cosplaying. There are “cosplay elitists” out there in the real world but they come off as frankly more bitchy and Riu comes off as more of a yandere archetype than anything else even down to the way she’s drawn. The art in this series is more cartoony than realistic but even with that in mind Riu is frequently seen posing and with facial expressions that don’t seem real at all.

This all culminates with Nagisa’s largest amount of character growth so far. Both Hayama and secondary character Siho acknowledge why they cosplay in this volume but Nagisa goes a little farther. For Nagisa, cosplaying is about replicating the character as perfectly as she can and she’ll always hold herself to high standards. But that’s because that’s what Nagisa wants to do, this is what she personally enjoys and, after meeting Riu again, Nagisa indirectly acknowledges that she’s wrong to assume every cosplayer wants to be held to that exact same standard. As Nagisa tells Aya, she wants to help Aya achieve her own “ideal cosplay” and I think that’s a term I’ll be using in my own life, that everyone has their own ideal cosplay. It’s for all of those reasons that Complex Age seems to truly understand cosplayers in a way that media rarely does.