There is a common problem with character-driven stories that is often overlooked. They're supposed to engage the characters in various trials and tribulations, and by way of these occurrences, shape them into stronger individuals. It sounds simple, yet so many works fail to create memorable characters, instead relying on banal and insipid cliches to make the work seem more than it is.
Chikan Otoko is the antithesis to this trend.
It relies on the most frivolous acts and interactions between characters to naturally explicate the beauties of everyday life and characters. Moreover, Chikan Otoko never tries to be more than it is; and through its sincerity, it is laudable. Laudable for its shameless use of memes and potty humor. Laudable for it weaving together a narrative that is so ludicrous in concept. And laudable for its ability to blend heavier elements like loneliness and depression together with comedy and mundane follies, yet in a manner so lighthearted as if to remind us to laugh at our own miseries.
Be honest. Be yourself. A hackneyed phrase it may be, but simply put, you won't be able to get through life by being anyone else. This is a creed that our protagonist, Molester Man, follows closely. He's never been a hot-shot with girls. Since elementary school, he's engrossed himself in what one would consider typical "otaku" activities. However, his life takes a one-eighty when, during his college years, he coincidentally bumps into a beautiful female of the human species and, well, ends up trying to protect her, thinking that there's a stalker chasing them.
And so originates the name: Molester Man is, in reality, mistaken by Miss Understanding (the beautiful female of the human species) to be a stalker, and there was no one following them to begin with. Long story short, he gets accused of sexual harassment. Sounds ludicrous? Sounds insipid? Good, that's just what they want you to think.
The beginning chapters are arguably the weakest part of the entire story. Molester Man looks as if he's another two-dimensional geek who spends too much time browsing 2chan. Miss Understanding is yet another immaculate angel who has transcended the holy earth to become a cutesy reincarnation of Venus. Although initially unimpressive, these personalities and tropes quickly become entertaining quirks that will grow on the reader. Once the pacing picks up, the story also builds upon these quirks, making them a cherished and integral part of the manga.
A virgin he is, but an absentminded and oblivious individual he is not. Unlike innumerable other got-it-from-the-recycling-bin harem leads, Molester Man bares honesty. He is perceptive of his actions and, as such, reflects upon their consequences; he has the upbringing of a chivalrous man gone insane. At first, Molester Man feels apathetic towards (3-D) women, but by the end, he understands the importance of human relationships. He slowly reaches the epiphany, begins to feel original, vivid emotions, and most importantly, accepts his own flaws to reach a new perception of his world. His development feels so tangible that it's almost as if the author intended to involve the reader directly. It is not a call to action, but more so an emphasis on Molester Man's inner thoughts and emotions through the entire process. He grows, he trips, he falls over, and we experience this vicariously as we see him stand up. That's life.
Accompanying Molester Man's main development are numerous side characters that contribute to the story. Eventually, as Molester Man attempts to clear his allegation of being a stalker, he reconciles his relationship with Miss Understanding, becomes friends with her, and is introduced to her circle of friends. Contrary to the depictions of trite and (literally) flat characters, these newly introduced female leads all carry realistic personalities, more so than your generic blow-up dolls. And more than being believable, they are invaluable to Molester Man's development. Although not completely free of cliches and conventional tropes, most side characters are given a substantial role within the story that literally churn the gears of the plot. They influence Molester Man to feel feel-good feelings and become a feeler of all feelings that can be felt. Molester Man truly begins to taste the feeling and feel for the sentimentalities of manhood as he cops a feel from other characters. He feels more than just feelings; he is the feeling.
The simple-looking artwork, familiar setting, and its basic paneling are all largely why Chikan Otoko's comedy works so well within the context of its mundanity: unobtrusive speech bubbles, average-looking phone texts, and standard 2chan messages; plain, white backgrounds and plain, modest looking human figures. The art does not aim to impress, but rather, aims to complement the down-to-earth tone of its character interactions and conversations. It not only enhances the naturalism of the manga, but also enriches the dynamic and cleverness of the dialogue. The comedic antics are all so diverse and unpredictable that the reader will never know what bizarre nonsensicality is coming next.
And the comedy is just that: simple, direct, and clever on the one hand; at times shrewd, dark, ironic, and immature; or in many cases, it's just downright base and coarse internet humor. These may sound inappropriate in text, but Chikan Otoko manages to make it work. Some of the most memorable scenes from the manga stem from its brilliant humor, which range from exaggerated expressions to allusions made to Kuso Miso Technique. One might laugh so hard that they would actually spit orange juice through their nostrils while reading it. Not that I'm suggesting that I did such a thing... But in any case. Bravo, bravo.
Between its zany humor and breathtaking drama, Chikan Otoko is a manga that aspires to be something simple and ultimately shines in its simplicity. It's hilarious, silly, random, and presents to us a mundane story with phenomenal characters. Chikan Otoko is more than an example of a character-driven story done correctly, it is a story that will make one feel. Feel the feels. Live the feels. And become the feels. Feels the become.