It seems like 2020 is the year of new publishers entering the manga and light novel markets. One of the latest to surface is Tentai Books, who have just put their first light novel series into print: There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?. Today I’m here to review the first volume and find out if it’s worth your time.
Our story follows second-year high school student Tomoki Yuuji, who is feared by his fellow students because they think he looks mean and is part of a yakuza group. Tomoki has just one friend, Ike Haruma, whom Tomoki feels is the ‘protagonist’ in any given story. Haruma is good-looking, smart, and a member of the student council. Tomoki is just happy that a guy like Haruma is friends with him at all when everyone else avoids him.
One day Haruma’s little sister Touka confesses to Tomoki out of the blue. However, there is a catch here: Touka isn’t actually in love with Tomoki, she just wants to stop the other male students confessing their love to her all the time. She’s only been attending the school for a couple of days and has already had quite a few boys approach her!
In the end, Tomoki agrees, both as a favour to Haruma as his best friend and because he understands why Touka has chosen him for the job. Touka has no intention of letting her brother know they’re in a fake relationship, so she urges Tomoki to stay quiet about it and put his all into convincing both Haruma and the rest of the school that the two are truly in love.
I’m sure many of you reading this will recognise certain tropes at play here. On the whole, There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right? isn’t all that original an idea. As the story goes on, it becomes even more obvious that the story is riddled with the making of stereotypical relationships.
For example, Tomoki first thinks Touka wants to date him to make her brother jealous, implying she has a crush on him. As the story progresses, we meet Haruma’s childhood friend, Hasaki Kana, whom Tomoki thinks has a crush on Haruma but actually seems to like Tomoki. Then there’s the teacher, Makiri Chiaki, who also seems to be interested in Tomoki.
When looked at together, it feels like author Sekaiichi was trying to fit in all the popular types of love interests into one book. That’s not a huge problem for the light novel, but it certainly doesn’t do it any favours either.
Thankfully, the entertaining dynamic between Tomoki and Touka overcomes the shortcomings otherwise. Together, the two begin to learn things about themselves they never realised and Tomoki, in particular, develops quite a bit throughout the story. While he only has Haruma to talk to at the beginning of the book, by the end, he’s made a few more friends, influenced by Touka hanging around him, and has come to like himself just a little bit.
In personality, Touka is cheerful and easy-going, but she’s also mean-spirited sometimes. Earlier in the book, she doesn’t treat Tomoki particularly well and expects him to be at her beck and call, but thankfully she mellows out later on. Some readers may find her bouncy attitude annoying and I wouldn’t blame them for it.
It’s worth noting that this series was originally a web novel and because of that, the light novel is made up of twenty relatively short chapters. I often felt the breaks between chapters got in the way of telling one continuous story, which is probably why I didn’t get properly invested in the characters until the second half of the book since it started and stopped so often. Again, it’s not a big problem but it may be something that bugs some readers.
I may have cited quite a few downsides to the series, but on the whole, I like the story Sekaiichi is telling here. It’s just a bit rough around the edges but hopefully will smooth out in future volumes. For now, Touka and Tomoki’s personalities and interactions are carrying it.
As previously mentioned, this release comes to the West thanks to Tentai Books and has been translated by Alejandro de Vicente Suárez. The translation reads well and although I did notice one typo, the book is otherwise problem-free. The series is on-going in Japan at 3 volumes and Tentai have Volume 2 scheduled for release in English (and Spanish)
This is the Tentai’s first physical release and it’s a nice book which comes in at a similar size to Yen Press releases, just a little wider. There are colour pages included (illustrated by Tomari) and some bonus short stories and the book comes with a dust jacket, which no other publisher tends to offer unless it’s a hardback release. I wish the margins were a bit bigger on either side of the text, but this is something the company is reportedly looking into changing for future releases anyway.
Overall, There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Could Be Popular, Right? Volume 1 proves an entertaining but flawed read. There are quite a few minor issues with the book, which might be enough to put off some interested readers. However, if you’re a fan of the romantic comedy genre then this is still worth a look.