Manga Review: Shonen Jump Alpha
Let’s start with something hefty, shall we? Shounen Jump is the #1 manga anthology magazine in Japan, selling in the millions of copies. Its emphasis on the themes of “friendship, struggle, victory: have made it a favorite of both its primary demographic of teenage boys (“shounen”) and the general public. The series featured inside often get animated adaptations, which feed back to the popularity of the magazine.
Thus it was that Viz comics, , which imports manga to the North American audience, had a magazine called “Shonen Jump” which brought monthly installments of some of the most popular series to Western readers. But the print magazine market is such that that approach wasn’t working as well as the company would like, so they’ve switched to an online magazine format instead, “Shonen Jump Alpha.”
Alpha comes out weekly at http:shonenjump.viz.com with chapters two weeks later than the Japanese print edition. As of January 21st, they’ll be speeding it up to same-day release. There are at present six weekly features licensed, and several monthly offerings; depending on the scheduling and if one of the regulars is having a skip week, this can make for a thin issue or a very large one.
One Piece: In many ways the flagship title of SJA. A boy named Luffy decides he’s going to become the pirate king. He sets off on his adventure and gains a crew of wacky characters to assist him while fighting evil pirates, monsters, and the corrupt government. Cartoony art, engaging characters and a good variety of emotional tones have made this a standout series. At present, the crew has answered a distress call from the supposedly deserted island of Punk Hazard, site of a chemical weapons disaster some years before. The island is of course not nearly as deserted as it would appear.
Naruto: Orphaned ninja Naruto, despised and mistreated by his fellow villagers, decides that he’s going to become the Hokage, the chief of his village. He is both aided and hampered in this quest by the fact that his body is the prison for the legendary Nine-Tailed Fox, a powerful spirit that attacked the village long ago. The characters are more superhero than ninja per se, but this series can be a lot of fun Presently, it looks like the Great Ninja War is finally winding down, with Naruto and his allies confronting the real (for sure this time!) mastermind behind everything.
Bleach: Ichigo Kurosaki, a boy who sees ghosts, suddenly finds himself thrust into the battles of the Shinigami (“reapers”) whose job is to assist the flow of spirits to the afterlife, and battle spirits that have lost their way and become “Hollows.” As time goes by, more and more factions are introduced, and Ichigo unlocks more and more ultimate potential, in addition to learning things about his rather unusual heritage. Not as good as the above two. The current arc is supposedly the last, with a group called the Vandenreich attempting to destroy the Soul Society (the primary afterlife) altogether. Naturally, it turns out that Ichigo has a surprising connection to them…
Toriko: The adventures of a superhuman gourmand named Toriko on a world where the more dangerous/difficult to get a food ingredient is, the more tasty it is. He partners with an aspiring chef named Komatsu to track down the rarest and most delicious of creatures. This is an audience participation manga, with readers sending in their ideas for cool new foodstuffs. It can be fun, though I am not as affected by the munchies as some other readers by it. Presently, the characters are involved with a cooking tournament, which with any luck will be interrupted by an evil food company invasion.
Nisekoi: “False love” is the name of the game, as Raku and Chitoge, scions of feuding gangster clans, are pressured into pretending to date to calm the squabbles. Only problem is that they can’t stand each other! Meanwhile, Raku made a childhood marriage promise to a girl whose name and face he doesn’t remember. At least three girls turn out to carry keys that could fit his lock (Freudian!) This series is generic romantic comedy done right. Yes, all the elements are out of the standard playbook, but the writer does them so well! Currently, Chitoge has finally realized that she’s beginning to have genuine affection for Raku…but what does that mean for their fake relationship?
Cross Manage: Former soccer star Sakurai is adrift in life after leg injuries sideline him. That is until he meets the ditzy but very earnest Toyoguchi, whose struggling lacrosse team desperately needs a good manager. This is a gender flip of the usual Shounen Jump sports story, in which a boy’s team has a cute female manager. Unfortunately, the story so far has spent less time developing the team’s personalities and play styles than on Sakurai’s deep manpain. This may explain why the series has been struggling in the ratings in the parent magazine, and looks ripe for an early cancellation. Which is a pity, because there’s a lot of potential here. Currently, the team is trying to get up to minimum competency to enter a spring tournament.
Blue Exorcist: Rin Okumura discovers that his father is Satan, making him part demon and a danger to everyone around him. Turns out Rin has inherited his father’s rebellious nature, and chooses to join exorcist school so he can learn to battle against his father’s evil plans and save humanity. But his heritage also makes him a target, so there’s always trouble brewing. Despite the subject matter, this series often comes off as more juvenile than scary. Right now, someone or something is opening multiple Hellgates that can’t be closed by normal exorcists.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan: Rikuo Nura is one-quarter yokai, (Japanese spirit monsters) so can access his superhuman abilities only for a limited amount of time each day. Which is a real problem when he’s the heir to the yokai clan leader.This series was in Shonen Jump until earlier this year, but doing very poorly. Since it was on its final battle arc already, the series was moved to a monthly magazine so the creator could really cut loose and do it up properly without having to worry about the ratings poll.
Rurouni Kenshin -Restoration-: A distillation of the popular series about an assassin turned technical pacifist during the Meiji Restoration period. It’s kind of a tie-in to the recnt live-action adaptation. Think of it like a “Best HIts collection, or an alternate universe retelling. You can tell that Watsuki is having a ball drawing these characters again, but Kaoru comes across as even more useless in this version. Currently they’re building up to a fight with the hypnotic gaze fighter.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: In the far future, Yuma Tsukuno is a huge fan of the Duel Monsters children’s card game…in the abstract, but has no idea how to actually play it. when he gains a not-so-imaginary friend named Astral, Yuma starts improving, and soon finds himself battling evil plots to misuse the cards. Yeah. This latest installment of the Yu-Gi-OH! franchise continues most of the trends that have annoyed non-fans in the past, including substituting expensive overpowered cards for actual skill as the sign of a strong player. (And despite our hero being supposedly a huge fan of the game, not recognizing half the cards or basic strategies he’s up against.) How I miss plotlines that have almost nothing to do with the game. Just at the moment, the good guys are trying to collect all the Numbers cards, a goal shared by the villains but for opposite reasons.
An excellent value for money, provided that you are a big fan of the general shounen manga style of storytelling. There are some lesser parts, but the variety is overall strong. More new series are scheduled to start soon, so keep an eye out if the current titles aren’t enough to excite you.