Ozanari-kun is a story in the style of traditional gag manga about the titular character's adventures working in the sales promotion department of Murakami Co.
A different take on the classic office atmosphere, his boss, section chief Yabusaka has to endure Ozanari's physical and verbal abuse every day. Within his lonely heart, complicated feelings start to bloom.
Art is something to live for. In the world of Inio Asano, life is never-ending suffering, and the things we pursue are what make it worth living. This comes through during the concerts in Ozanari-kun, where music fans from all generations scream "I'm so happy to be alive!"
The characters in this story constantly face miseries, and yet it's their work that makes other people face their miseries. As small a thing as one's favorite band getting back together can justify an entire troubled existence.
Ozanari-kun is a rare manga that utilizes color. Not full color drawings, but tints akin to playing Pokemon Red on a Game
Boy Color. This mixing of color and media in general (photographic backgrounds are used sometimes) makes the reader aware of the bigger world outside of the page, while giving the reader the impression that this is a manga. It's not coloring the objects in the story - it's coloring the way we receive them. Green does not mean that a thing is green - just that we see green. I don't mean that I see deeper meanings in the color choices of the story, just that they merely exist for our amusement and not as a descriptor of the world of the story.
Because Ozanari-kun is not a story with its own world to be explored and understood. Music, white-collar work, suicide, these things exist in real people's worlds and lives. It voices the real in the form of the mocked. It shows you the fake world of gag manga while constantly reminding you of the real one.
What I get out of this is a sharp depiction of the fleeting nature of our various emotions. The joy of music. The sadness of having your gift rejected. The fact you don't need to be happy to move on. With its sharp dialogue and remarkable aesthetic, the way Ozanari-kun communicates these ideas is truly iconic.
What will stay with me in this series is the characters. Not that Yabusaka or Ozanari are truly vivid people who will stick with me as inspirations throughout my life. Rather, what they represent, they do excellently. The burdens that the chief carries through his life are communicated with great gravity and respect. Ozanari's wackiness is a great asset, but so is his presence as the perpetually bitter kid who everyone inexplicably likes. The characters hold the dialogue, and are thus the gateway to this story's themes. As such, they're totally excellent.
My main criticisms would be the pacing and presentation. Chapters have no regular length, and priorities can vary. This is not a simple elegant sequence of events, but rather a fusion of gag manga and dramatic priorities. While the aesthetic is remarkable, this is by no means a dense work. In the beginning, that this manga exists at all is the main thing it has going for it - truly unique, but repetitive. But the final act Ozanari Extreme does elevate it.
If you like the works of Inio Asano, Ozanari-kun is a must-read. If you like experimental work, this may be the most experimental thing he has done. If you don't like FLCL, you probably won't like Ozanari-kun.
At the moment, only 307 people on MAL have read Ozanari-kun and 58 are reading it right now.
And that's a shame, because Ozanari-kun is a hidden gem.
What's most jarring, at first glance, is the art style.
The deranged Osomatsu-kun-esque character designs, which Asano Inio uses for joke characters in some of his other manga, are used here for every single character, and coupled with the often surreal backgrounds, they don't exactly make this manga accessible to people who aren't used to this sort of thing.
I, personally, love it, though. The same story could've been told with "normal" art, but that would just lessen the impact
Because of that, these characters might seem simplistic, but after reading a bit more, you'll find that they have as much depth as any others from Asano Inio's manga.
And, while the plot description on MAL is accurate, Ozanari-kun is much more than a gag manga or a gag manga parody. It does start off as a traditional, and particularly nonsensical, gag manga, but, gradually, the tone changes and the plot picks up, until it turns into a completely different story.
The two main characters, who start off one-dimensional, also begin to show their complexities, as they deepen to the point of the reader being able to care about them, despite their simple looks and blank expressions.
I won't spoil the plot, but it deals with some themes typical for Asano's manga, like searching for meaning in one's life and the cluelessness of youth.
And, if what I've already written wasn't enough for you to check Ozanari-kun out, each "chapter", except the final four, is only two pages long, so there's really no excuse not to spend an hour or so on reading this.