Note: You can read our review of the first volume here.
Thankfully, there isn’t a strict need that stories stick to specific genre subgenres. This can also result in some genre mashups that manage to succeed in more than one way, in addition to generating fascinating new combinations in literature. Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer! genuinely aspires to be that, as is clear from the second book onward and throughout its five-volume run. The second volume widens the ensemble by giving a backstory for Yuuki’s younger sister Mina, whereas the previous book mostly maintained the spotlight squarely on the “seatmate killer” Yui. We essentially knew that she had a thing for not wearing pants in the house in volume one. We learn more about her character in the second book and discover that she is essentially a shut-in who experiences loneliness and isolation during the school day.
This is a great development because there was a genuine possibility that she may simply transform into yet another needy little sister character. Yuuki is equally as obviously concerned about her problems, and there is a significant attempt to make it clear that she still has unresolved trauma from elementary school and that she is aware that she needs to work on it. The tale only manages to adopt that more somber tone for approximately two chapters before veering back into hilarious territory, which brings us to the series’ main flaw: its unwillingness to fully commit to either of its two primary genres. Is it only an absurd rom-com? Not exactly. So is it about the problems rising up beneath the ridiculous rom-com exterior? It’s also not quite that. Although it admirably incorporates aspects of both, it ultimately comes off as wildly uneven and occasionally annoying, which doesn’t do either endeavor any favors.
The issue might solely be with how the source material was originally converted as this is an adaptation of the same-named light novel series. That feeling of a real possibility is created with just the right amount of the serious content, which truly comes through in volume five. In that last book, Sayo, the younger sister of Yuuki’s girlfriend-hungry friend, discusses how she contributed to Yui’s reputation as a “seatmate killer,” and once again, this delves into some fairly realistic territory: Sayo is convinced that Yui’s rejection of her brother was the sole cause of his sudden shift into horniness. Later in the novel, it is revealed that what truly occurred was that he just entered adolescence, but to a perplexed and distraught young child, Yui’s guilt made a lot more sense than the “sudden influx of hormones.” Similar to Mina, the tale has some genuine meat to it, but it doesn’t really mesh well with the rest of the plot.
The series’ joke humor segments are substantially more reliable. As the volumes go, metafictional humor abound, including several allusions to the artist simply applying copy-paste to the pages and references to how Mina and Yuuki’s T-shirts spell out what’s happening (“start call,” “end call,” “5-year-old,” etc.). In addition, there are numerous allusions to well-known manga series, primarily Kaiji and Doraemon, practically all of which are footnoted to let readers at least know what is being alluded to. Repeated words and phrases are a little more grating; if I had to read “test prépa” one more time, I might have yelled. While some of the humor, such as the T-shirt gag and Mina’s attempts to use videogames as an excuse to avoid studying, do adhere to the “repetition is funny” premise, others, like the repetitive usage of random French or Mina’s lack of pants, do not stand up over time.
There is a sincere attempt to make the series’ own inconsistency one of the humor’s pillars. Characters shift at random, the manzai jokes from the first volume disappear, and pretty much the only thing that holds true throughout is how purposefully ridiculous everything is. Though it might be argued that the entire tale begins with Yui feeling like she doesn’t belong in her class and following some dubious advise from her elder sister, themes of feeling out of place in a relationship actually root the story more than you might anticipate. Everything starts with awkwardness, whether it results in careless behavior or a sense of exclusion, and this idea seems to hold true for a surprising amount of human connection.
Reversing the Seatmate Killer’s Advantage! isn’t the funniest romantic comedy with a gag, but it truly tries. There are numerous components that work effectively in these four volumes, which actually improve upon volume 1. This is enjoyable, but ultimately the sort of trash that makes you forget what you’ve read an hour after reading it because they just don’t come together as effectively as they should.