Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014
It’s the second anniversary of this blog, so it’s time for the annual look at the online edition of Shounen Jump Weekly, the best-selling manga anthology in Japan.
The big news this year was the end of the long-running and popular Naruto series (see my previous post on the topic.) But there was also a switch in the way new series are added to the online edition. Previously, new weekly series were added on the week they replaced an ending series in Japan, unless it was felt for whatever reason they would be unsuitable for Western audiences. Series that didn’t happen to hit the right dates would be skipped.
This resulted in the online edition posting series that didn’t do well, while the ones that got skipped went on to great success. Not a particularly useful marketing strategy. So now they have “Jump Start”, a program in which the first three chapters of all new series are published in the online edition, so that if any of them do well, they can be promoted to full-time status.
Let’s start with a quick rundown of the current Jump Start contenders:
Takujo no Ageha: Ageha’s Table Tennis by Itsuki Furuya: A ping-pong based story. Ageha is a table tennis champion who has returned from Germany for advanced training from one of Japan’s former world champions. Ririka is the beautiful but spoiled granddaughter of that champion. Grandpa wants to ensure that his ping-pong center will continue in the family, so wants them to get married. But first, Ageha must battle twelve other Golden Successors to become the table tennis champion. Some exciting ping-pong action, plus generous fanservice. A running gag is that Ageha is trying really hard to be totally devoted to table tennis and training for same, but just below the surface is desperate to get laid.
E-Robot by Ryohei Yamamoto: Yuuki is a typical high-schooler who wants to date Hikari, the school idol. His shyness has prevented him from even talking to her directly. Meanwhile, Yuuki’s father wants to create world piece through the use of erotic robots. No, seriously, this is his plan. In aid of this, he sends an e-robot named Ai to help his son out through the power of sensuality. Have I mentioned that this is a young adult magazine? The conflict comes in when it turns out Hikari is repulsed by the least hint of perversion or sexuality, so Ai’s efforts to help Yuuki get with her are not terribly helpful. The fanservice is just slathered on here, and the female lead is literally a collection of body parts used as tools to please men. Very skippable.
Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgement by Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata: In the near future, a collapse in discipline has changed the way grade schools handle rules violations. Now there’s a court system in place, with prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. Our protagonist is Abaku Inugami, a renegade defense attorney, who along with prosecutor Pine Hanzuki transfers into a class where a crime has taken place so that the case can be tried. Abaku is rude and enjoys verbally tearing down other people’s reasoning, but is smart and observant. In a nice touch, the first chapter ends with an Ellery Queen-style “you have enough facts to solve the mystery, can you figure it out before next week’s chapter?” moment. The Obata (Death Note, Bakuman) art should help this one be popular.
In addition, each issue now has a “Jump Back” feature, which shows the earliest chapters of a previous hit manga. Right now, they’re running the first bits of Naruto, which means that even though that series is now over, they can still draw in the orange-wearing ninja fanbase.
And now, a look at the regular features, starting with the weeklies:
Food Wars! (Shokugeki no Souma in Japan): A young fellow named Souma has been an assistant cook in his father’s restaurant since childhood. He has higher ambitions, and applies to a prestigious school of higher cuisine. Despite his lower-class upbringing, he’s able to barely pass the entrance examination. Now, he must compete in a series of cooking duels to prove his true worth. This is new to the online edition this year; it was originally not carried due to heavy fanservice (women seemingly orgasming from delicious food) in the early chapters. It’s dialed back the fanservice, concentrating on the food porn. The most annoying thing about this series is that Souma is depicted as the underdog every. single. time. despite winning every. single. time. You’d think people would catch on.
Bleach: Ichigo can see ghosts, which is mostly an irritation to him until the day he meets a Soul Reaper and becomes involved in the afterlife’s violent politics. This one is still on its final plot arc as the hidden Quincy army invades the Soul Society, apparently so their leader can take control of or destroy the entire afterlife. Most of the last year has been minor characters facing off against lesser members of the invaders and showing off their weird powers.
One Piece: Monkey D. Luffy, who lives on a world that’s 90% ocean, decides he wants to be the Pirate King and gain the One Piece treasure. To this end, he assembles a wacky crew, and sails around the globe, finding adventure and fighting evil pirates. The crew is still in and around Dressrosa, where many of the dark secrets have been revealed, and the entire city has been turned into a combat zone. Luffy and his temporary ally Trafalgar Law have engaged main villain Doflamingo, which is causing massive flashbacks. This continues to be one of the magazine’s top series.
Toriko: Toriko is a Gourmet Hunter, who searches for new food sources on the former Earth. He and his companions are currently attempting to revive the human world by reconstructing a menu that revives those who are exposed to it. Team chef Komatsu is in critical condition, and the heroes must battle a King Monkey who throws around mountains as skipping stones.
Hi-Fi Cluster: In near-future Japan, “Ability Labels” allow anyone to gain skills instantly, and society has re-formed itself around this technology. Young Peta is unable to use these labels, and feels disaffected. But one day he discovers that he is able to use a super-powered Hi-Fi label and joins a special law enforcement unit that handles label abuse. Someone claiming to be the labels’ inventor, Landscape Mole, has appeared, and declares that society hasn’t changed enough–so he’s going to smash it himself. This was the winner of the previous Jump Start vote…it hasn’t been doing too well in the rankings.
World Trigger: Earth is being invaded by the Neighbors, illegal aliens from a parallel dimension. Fortunately, we are protected by the agents of BORDER. Our main protagonists are Osamu, an underpowered but compassionate strategist, Yuma, an undocumented immigrant with many secrets, and Chika, a tiny girl with huge amounts of the series’ gimmick, Trion power. After staving off a raid from one sect of the Neighbors, the team is trying to get good enough to be promoted to field agents. Also, the series now has an anime adaptation that has been poorly received.
Nisekoi: Raku and Chitoge are the scions of rival criminal syndicates. They meet and almost immediately take a strong dislike to each other. But for peace treaty reasons, they must pretend to be dating. Over the course of the series, Raku attracts several other attractive young women, many of whom are actually his childhood friends and thus possibly the girl he made a marriage proposal to years ago. The most recent development is the appearance of substitute teacher Yui, who Raku thinks of as an older sister–but she may think more warmly of him than he’s comfortable with.
And then there’s the monthly installments:
Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: In the children’s card game obsessed culture of Heartland City, Yuma is a great enthusiast of Duel Monsters–theoretically, since he is really bad at it. Then he gains a mysterious spirit partner named Astral. Things have escalated from there, and now he and his friends/rivals must battle a goddess of despair for the fate of two worlds.
Seraph of the End: A mysterious disease has wiped out ninety percent of the world population, and most of the remainder are held as food reserves by vampires. Only the Demon Army stands against them, but are they really any more healthy for humanity? Yuichiro hopes they are, as he’s finally bonded with his unit, and their friendship helps him control his cursed weapon. A search and destroy mission has gone slightly awry as several of the troopers have been taken hostage.
Blue Exorcist: Rin Okamura discovers that he is the son of Satan, and decides to fight against his father’s works by becoming an exorcist. Rin and his allies have finally rescued Izumo at the cost of Shima’s betrayal (what is he up to, anyway?) Now Izumo must learn what remains of her family heritage.