The Shonen Jump Meat Grinder: Why So Many Manga Die Young


With a bunch of new Shounen Jump titles debuting as of late, I’ve written a new post over at Apartment 507 about the high turnover rate of Jump manga. Check it out!

Shounen Sports and Girl Appeal

I’ve been watching two shounen anime adaptations as of late, Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball. The former runs in Weekly Shounen Champion, the latter in Weekly Shounen Jump. When you look the contents of each series, it’s almost obvious, as if they embody the general direction each magazine has taken, but not in a way which denies either their contemporary nature or their shounen-ness.

In this age where the definition of shounen manga has been in flux, Shounen Champion is the most primary source of classic, old-fashioned shounen manga where a boy does his best to fight and improve. It fits the basic goal of that magazine quite well, which is to be a boys’ magazine for boys, though Yowamushi Pedal isn’t without its modern flairs, including having a more handsome rival for the main character.

Shounen Jump on the other hand is arguably the mainstream boys’ magazine which has embraced its female audience the most, outside of Jump variations which specifically target that audience. Kuroko’s Basketball, like Prince of Tennis before it, is filled with good-looking guys handsomely showing their best. Even if they’re not fujoshi, there’s a clear appeal to girls in it, though overall the series still has in common with Yowamushi Pedal the thrill of sports and competition.

One thing that both series share is the female manager archetype, who more broadly fits into the “knowledgeable supporter” role as well. The idea is that, while they’re not participants in the main activity of each series, they bring an enthusiasm and a set of knowledge that helps the reader understand the sport better while also acting as a cheerleader for the main character and maybe providing a bit of eye candy, though I don’t think either Miki from Yowamushi Pedal or Riko from Kuroko’s Basketball are quite the characters you’d go to for cheesecake. At the same time, I think there’s a certain substantial difference between Miki and Riko, which is that Miki is clearly a love interest for the main character, whereas Riko if she has any romantic involvement at all is with a side character in the series.

I think the fact that Riko is not a love interest, and arguably that Kuroko’s Basketball has no main female love interest for its main character at all (Momo is ostensibly one but her connection to Aomine seems stronger) speaks a lot to the difference in their magazines.  I don’t think this just has to do with Kuroko’s Basketball having a fujoshi fanbase which prefers pairing the guys together, either. If anything, I get an almost shoujo manga-esque impression of Riko’s relationship with Hyuuga and Teppei due to their interactions, not in the sense of hearts and sparkles in the background, but from its use of Riko as a character in her own right.

Like Casting Pearls Before Artificial Intelligence

If you’ll allow me a moment, I am going to rant about them there video games.

I’ve been playing Jump Ultimate Stars recently, trying to finally unlock all the characters and such, and in order to do so you need to collect these gems that appear when you break open containers or you defeat enemies. A simple, if tedious process, gem collection is made five times worse when you find out that your computer opponents collect the gems as well.

Now keep in mind that unlike other items which might cause status effects or buffs/de-buffs, the gems serve no function other than as currency, and so serve no use to the computer opponents who will occasionally go out of their way to collect them. It just slows down the grinding process unnecessarily and can make you want to punch Yugi in the face when he grabs your damn knowledge gem for the umpteenth time. Fortunately with this game you can do exactly that.

If you’ve played Super Smash Bros. Brawl, then you probably know what I’m talking about. In Brawl, you get additional background music by collecting CDs which will randomly pop up in the middle of a fight. Again, if a computer-controlled opponent picks that CD up it means that you’re going to have to wait another day for that disc to reappear.

Why, Nintendo? Why, Ganbarion? Why put this into your games? It just leads to annoyance and frustration, and not the good kind either.

Oh yeah, if you do reply, please don’t turn this into an argument about tripping or whatever.

How to Tell If You’re Tiring of Bleach: BANKAI GYAKUTEN

Now there are a lot of fans of the Shounen Jump manga and anime, Bleach. It’s one of the more popular series in the US, and of course does well in Japan too. However, along the way many fans fall off of Bleach or start to feel as if it’s dragging. Something is missing, something that drew you into the series initially and kept you reading for a long time. I believe there to be a simple indicator of whether or not you feel like either dropping Bleach or putting it on hiatus or whatever.

When a character reveals their Bankai for the first time, are you excited?

If you said, “No,” then it’s possible you need a break.

It’s difficult to tell with whom the “fault” lies. Maybe it’s that you the reader have read so much Bleach that it’s starting to become old hat. Maybe you’ve lost a taste for endless Shounen Fighting. Or maybe the author Kubo is losing his touch, or at the very least losing his touch in your eyes. Whatever the reason may be, you have the option of sitting back, avoiding the comic, and who knows? Maybe you’ll come back to it a month later and appreciate it anew. Or you might just never read it again.

But really, it all comes down to the Bankai. The reason why I use this specifically is that because the Bankai Reveal is always supposed to be a Big Deal in Bleach, and if the Big Deal moments aren’t grabbing you, something is up.

Oh, and if you tired of the manga before the first Bankai is ever revealed…well I can’t help you there.

“Be a Man!” Otokojuku Live Action Movie Saturday, June 27th

The New York Asian Film Festival is going on right now, and Saturday they’re going to be showing a movie based on the 80s Shounen Jump property Sakigake!! Otokojuku, about a school full of delinquents and the Samurai-esque main character who unites them with his manliness and his wooden sword. Advertised here as “Be a Man! Samurai School,” the movie will be shown at 8pm at the IFC Theater in Manhattan, on 6th Ave and West 3rd. I will be attending, as well as quite a few other anime bloggers in the New York area, such as the Reverse Thieves, Subatomic Brainfreeze, and Anime Almanac. Good times will be had, and a generation of moviegoers (limited to those who are inside the theater) will have a taste of true manliness.

The original Otokojuku opening:

And a choice scene from the anime:

Nowhere to Go But Everywhere: Kinnikuman

I’ve recently been reading the Shounen Jump classic Kinnikuman (literally “Muscleman”) by the creative duo known as Yudetamago. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “transparent.” A transparent work, as I’m using the term, describes something where you, as a reader, are able to see the creative process used in creating the series, and in that sense Kinnikuman is the most transparent manga I have ever seen. Plot points and important climaxes are revealed with little prior warning, and the reader isn’t given much time to parse any logic, which is good because there never is any.

The basic premise of Kinnikuman is that it’s about a bumbling oaf named Kinniku Suguru trying to be a superhero. It starts off as an Ultraman parody, but as the comic progressed the creators got into pro wrestling so, “Hey why not!” they said. “Let’s turn the whole comic into a wild and crazy version of pro wrestling where people wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!”

One of the later villains in the series is named Sneagator. His name is a portmanteau of the words “sneaker” and “alligator,” and that’s exactly what he looks like. But he also reveals that he has the ability to shed his skin and turn into different reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, and according to Sneagator he can turn into the most terrifying reptile of all, a frilled-neck lizard! Except this frilled-neck lizard can SPIN ITS FRILLS LIKE A BUZZSAW.

But that’s not even Sneagator’s true form! In fact, I think I’ll let the images do the talking.

Yes, his true form is THE FOOT OF A TYRANNOSAURUS REX. Now consider that the whole series is like this. You can pretty much tell that every single moment in Kinnikuman had its creation preceded by at least one of its authors saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if _________.” Repeat this for 36 volumes.

You might think I’m complaining about its lack of structure but I’m really doing quite the opposite. This transparency is the charm and primary strength of Kinnikuman. Oda (One Piece) and Toriyama (Dragon Ball) have both been lauded for understanding what boys like and want, and appealing to their senses, but they both have a level of self-control and an idea of what would happen at least as far as the current arc. Series such as Pyuu! to Fuku Jaguar are crazy and frenetic, but you can tell that the jokes are planned out well, that there’s a method to the madness. Kinnikuman has none of that sophistication and doesn’t really need it. On top of that, it’s about as extreme as a series like Violence Hero Riki-Oh but unlike Riki-Oh it’s still definitely meant for children. Kinnikuman is unique among its peers.

Seriously, check it out if you want to see the kind of wonderful Shounen comic that just can’t survive these days.

Reminder that Shounen Jump’s Special Anime Streaming is About to End

I’m here to remind everyone that January 31st, 2009 is the last day you can see the three  exclusive Shounen Jump anime specials airing on their official website.

I already wrote a review for their Dragon Ball special, so check it out.

The One Piece special is an isolated episode, but it’s the fun and wonder you’ve grown to expect out of One Piece. Even if you’ve never actually seen One Piece before it’ll be all right as long as you’re not afraid of spoilers, as the Straw Hat Pirate crew is pretty far along by this point.

This is Letter Bee’s first anime, and it’s really nice to look at. Kind of atypical for a shounen jump series, Letter Bee feels a little more subdued than expected, which I can only call a good thing.

I’d write longer reviews but I realized that by the time I wrote them, it’d be already too late.

So go forth, young anime fan!

Giving Shounen Jump Fans the Bird

Weekly Shounen Jump is celebrating its unbelievable 40th anniversary, and as part of the festivities Shounen Jump has all-new episodes of three of its series. By downloading their own proprietary media player, you can actually watch these episodes subtitled for free until January 2009. One of the titles is One Piece, another is Letter Bee (which I know nothing about). I’ll get to One Piece and Letter Bee’s exclusive episodes another time; this is all about perennial favorite Dragon Ball.

Akira Toriyama’s most famous work is by far the most popular Shounen Jump properties of all time, its worldwide success is rivaled by few other. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that there hasn’t been any new Dragon Ball anime for a long, long time. Even in America the final episodes of GT aired years ago. But some would argue that at some point the Dragon Ball series took a bit of a detour and lost some of its original spirit. Among these critics might be Toriyama himself as this new Dragon Ball anime special feels very much like a return to form, and it’s written by Toriyama too. “Yo! The Return of Son-Goku and Friends!!!” is like a combination of everything that made Dragon Ball popular throughout its incarnations rolled into one.

The story is about Mr. Satan opening up a new hotel to celebrate his victory over Majin Boo and inviting Goku and Friends over for a sumptuous banquet. Some new characters show up, stuff blows up and things get eaten. Really, the story is just a flimsy excuse to get everyone together and for chaos to happen, and it’s the type of chaos which combines the fighting of Z with the humor of the original. Kamesennin is back to wearing his old turtle shell and making lewd comments towards Chi-chi, Goku powers up to Super Saiyan just because, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance but not really. It’s just a single-episode adventure dedicated to the fans and it really shows.

The most notable addition is the introduction of Vegeta’s little brother, Tarble. I’ll let the pun sink in for a second before I move on.

Man, Toriyama.

Tarble would be a spoiler except he’s right there on the front page and in the character descriptions, so he’s fair game. Tarble was sent away long ago by King Vegeta because Tarble lacked any sort of fighting prowess. Having avoided much of the events of Dragon Ball, Tarble even still has his tail. With the existence of Tarble now revealed, it just makes me think that every time Vegeta said something like “WE ARE THE LAST SAIYANS IN THE UNIVERSE KAKARROT!” he was murmuring under his breath, “exceptforthatotheronehrmrmrmr.”  Well Dragon Ball was never super big on maintaining canon anyway so it’s no big deal. It’s just another way of humanizing Vegeta just a little because you’d have expected him to fly over to Tarble at some point and punch him in the face for being so weak. Then again, Vegeta might respect the fact that Tarble tries to fight even when he sucks at it. I’m thinking too much about this, but how could I not when I now know that Vegeta is also Reinhard Von Lohengramm?

If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, I really don’t have to tell you to go watch this, but go watch this. If you’re not a fan of Dragon Ball, or you’re the kind who complains about powering up taking too long, keep in mind that this is just one 20-something minute episode and there’s no time to waste on powering up excessively and standing around. There isn’t even an deserted area in the middle of nowhere to fight and blow things up in! There’s only Mr. Satan’s hotel.

Poor, poor Mr. Satan.

The Idiotic Protagonist

I’ve been taught that the most dramatic stories come from having protagonists who have to do what comes most difficult to them with a fervent desire to accomplish their goals, and lacking intelligence is one way to stack the deck against the main character. You want your hero to struggle, to earn his progress. Protagonists in manga, particularly shounen manga, are often designed to not be the sharpest tool around. Be it Naruto, Goku, or any number of heroes who act before they think (or omit the second part of that combo altogether), the reason why they’re made to be dumb is to make them more of an everyman, to tell its readers, “Hey, this could be you.” However, with some readers an opposite effect occurs, and you’ll often see people gravitate to the supporting characters on account of the heroes being, at least in their eyes, bland or possessing little merit as characters.

In trying to make the hero an everyman, authors run the potential risk of making their hero a no-man, someone to whom the reader simply cannot relate, but I don’t think that’s the problem at hand. I have this feeling that some readers do not wish to see certain negative traits in a story’s most important characters. Sometimes it’s because they’re passive, other times because they’re idiots, and other times because they are totally moe.

There’s a division of sorts when it comes to making this kind of shounen-esque protagonist. Should you have a protagonist that acts as a stand-in for the reader, to allow the reader to be immersed in the world, to feel as if he or she is the one saving the day? Or is it more important that the hero be someone who is already skilled, someone the reader can look up to? Both are paths for readers to live out their fantasies through protagonists, both are forms of wish-fulfillment, but each is different in the types of interaction required by the reader, and people may prioritize one over the other.

I have to wonder if age of the reader factors into this division of stand-in protagonist vs larger-than-life protagonist. The stand-in protagonist is something that I think appeals more to that crowd of boys 12 and under who run around in the school playground pretending they can fire lasers. Meanwhile, the larger-than-life protagonist seems to appeal more to the rebellious teenage crowd. A magazine like Shounen Jump has readers well beyond its originally intended audience of young boys, and disagreements as to what makes a good main character in a shounen series may simply be a result of different groups reading the same story.

The History of Fujoshi at Otaku Champloo

Khursten of Otaku Champloo has recently begun posting articles on the history of fujoshi and their relationship with Shounen Jump.  It’s a fascinating read, and as someone who has no interest in yaoi beyond academic and historical purposes (as well as certain characters within anime and manga who happen to be into it) I feel a little more enlightened.


Captain Tsubasa

Remember that Ogiue is very much a Shounen Jump fujoshi with her preference for titles such as Saint Seiya and Scram Dunk.