It's a rare thing to find a romance anime that appeals to both a male and female audience. It is even rarer to find one that does so without sexualising its characters.
Gekkan Shoujo gives us hope for the stagnant, often juvenile climate of the romance genre. It doesn't rely on obnoxious misunderstandings to keep the two main characters from joining together (although misunderstandings do still exist with a sense of self-aware humour), nor does it need onsen scenes, pantyshots and implied homolust to keep the audience's attention towards its characters. All it's interested in doing is giving the audience a good laugh while nudging a few heartstrings along the way, and it does so with its head held high.
A quick glance at the synopsis would be enough for some to roll their eyes and dismiss the show as 'Yet Another Shoujo Anime'. An innocent girl attempts to confess to the boy she likes in an empty classroom room dyed of scarlet (the setting of seemingly every confession scene in anime), only to find out that he is actually a famous shoujo mangaka. And one of her favourites, no less. Uh-huh. Right.
But Gekkan Shoujo knows better. It is aware of its absurd premise and the clichés inherent to the genre. It embraces them, plays with them with a clever sort of irony, never taking itself too seriously nor forcing its viewers to feel a certain way. At its core it is certainly your typical shoujo anime, but the way it handles itself is quite the opposite.
The story primarily follows the events of Chiyo and the titled Nozaki. Chiyo, perhaps reluctantly, but nonetheless willing to follow the company of the boy she likes, assists Nozaki in his daily tasks as a mangaka, hoping one day he might realise and respond to Chiyo's feelings. Gradually she begins to understand that Nozaki doesn't quite live up to the 'cool, handsome and composed' image she had of him, and that in reality, he is so lacking in common sense that it is a mystery how he was even serialised in the first place.
Nozaki's obliviousness is undoubtedly the show's main source of laughter. In one scene, Nozaki accidentally draws one of his characters above the ground and, having the issue pointed out to him, draws a random box underneath the character, nodding his head and acting like everything is now right with the world. He then starts drawing boxes underneath the character in every scene afterwards, which understandably results in one of Nozaki's friends yelling to him how it makes no sense for the character to be carrying around and standing on random boxes all the time. Nozaki's response? "Right. I have to add an explanation."
The comedy works so well because Nozaki's train of thought always makes, at least in his own little world, a slight fraction of sense. He just has no idea how people actually behave and ends up misinterpreting the actions of others in a completely asinine, facepalm-inducing and yet hilarious manner. That's not to say that each joke is masterful and clever, or even that all of them work (because a few certainly do fall utterly flat), but the simple manzai format works in perfect harmony with the ridiculous premise of the story. It knows how to make fun of itself while still holding onto a semblance of sincerity.
One of the more respectable aspects of Gekkan Shoujo is how it also focuses on its side characters beyond the usual 'idiot friend', 'strict class president' and 'arrogant love rival' archetypes. Hori and Wakamutsu in particular are two characters who would normally be treated as nothing more than background fodder in the average anime for not having a colourful character design or 'wacky' personality. But in Gekkan Shoujo they are given important roles and treated with about as much attention and respect as Nozaki and Chiyo. They even have their own love interests who play relevant roles on their own (as opposed to simply being a plot device, as many often are in anime). There's a surprising amount of complexity to the character dynamic despite the general simplicity of the show's format.
I suppose if there was one thing to criticise about the characterisation, it would be the inconsistency of Mikoshiba. He's handsome, eloquent-- so much so that virtually every girl in the school is head-over-heels for him-- but at the same time he is portrayed as introverted, socially awkward and obsessed with otaku hobbies, to the point where he uses eroge to study real-world interaction. The latter aspect of his personality does not feel convincing in the slightest, so his comedic scenes often fall pretty flat. To feel comedy is to empathise with the characters, and there was little to no empathy between me and Mikoshiba.
Those watching strictly for the romance will likely find themselves disappointed, because, really, aside from a small handful of scenes, maybe three or four, it is virtually non-existent. The most heartwarming thing about the show is not the idea of the two slowly becoming a couple, but that Chiyo still loves Nozaki from the bottom of her heart despite finding out about his glaring flaws. The love here feels genuine, far more so than most 'serious' romance anime where the girl screams at the guy when he stops acting like a prince. Progression itself isn't what makes or breaks the romance in a story.
Gekkan Shoujo is visually pleasant. The characters (particularly the males) are drawn realistically, and while it does still portray them all as idealised and attractive, it never goes overboard by drawing them in lewd or excessively 'moe' scenarios. The sound on the other hand is nothing special aside from the opening track, although, to be fair, it is a pretty great OP. It captures the silly yet relaxed nature of the show exceptionally well, and by the final episodes I found myself thinking it sacrilege to skip it.
Sure, while it may not be doing anything outstanding enough to be remembered decades in the future, Gekkan Shoujo is still an excellent experience for anyone who simply wants to relax and have a few laughs. It doesn't bombard the viewer with melodrama or degrade its characters through fanservice, and what little romance there is is handled with care and sincerity. That it also happens to appeal to so many people at once without leaving anyone uncomfortable is perhaps just a bonus.
Oh, and Chiyo is possibly the cutest thing ever.