Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (2016)

Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (2016) by various creators.

It’s the fourth anniversary of this blog (where does the time go!?) and thus my annual review of the online edition of Weekly Shounen Jump, Japan’s best-selling manga anthology.   The 2016 reaper has been busy here as elsewhere, with several long-running series ending:  Bleach, Nisekoi, Toriko and even the record-setting but mostly unknown outside Japan Kochikame (a gag series about a lazy cop in a quiet neighborhood police station.)  World Trigger and Hunter x Hunter are on indefinite hiatus due to creator health issues.  So let’s take a look at what’s left, starting with the weekly series.

Weekly Shonen Jump (2016)

One Piece: Now the tentpole long-runner of the magazine, the story of the Straw Hat Pirates as they sail around a world of mostly water in search of freedom and the ultimate treasure continues to be awesome, though the cast is perhaps now too large to fully utilize all of them properly.  Currently, the plot is centered around Sanji, the ship’s cook and would-be ladies’ man.  His unpleasant family has caught up with him, and Sanji is being forced into a political marriage with Pudding, the daughter of Big Mom, one of the Four Emperors.  Naturally, the rest of the crew and a few new allies are determined to rescue Sanji…even if he doesn’t want to be.

My Hero Academia:  The kids of Class 1-A have almost all gotten their provisional superhero licenses.  One of the exceptions is the explosive Bakugou, who has almost but not quite figured out the connection between formerly Quirkless classmate Deku and the now powerless All-Might.  Bakugou and Deku are now having a discussion about their relationship, and in the tradition of both superhero comics and shounen manga, they’re having it with their fists.  Still one of the best superhero school comics out there.

The Promised Neverland:  New this year, and the most promising of the newcomers.  Emma and the other children in the orphanage never questioned the rules about not leaving the grounds, or wondered what happened to the kids who were adopted.  Until the day they learned the horrible truth–the children who leave are eaten by demons!  Now Emma and the two smartest boys in the orphanage, Norman and Ray, must figure out a way to escape, even though Mother Isabella and Sister Krone are keeping a sharp eye out for potential trouble.

We’re still in the early stages of the plot, and much remains mysterious–just what is Isabella’s real motive here?  Do the demons control all of Earth, or just the area around the orphanage?  Just where is the orphanage anyway?  With all the plotting and counter-plotting, this is so far a worthy successor to Death Note.

Black Clover:  In the world where everyone has at least some magical ability except Asta (who now has anti-magic), the Black Bulls are the dregs of the Magic Knights of the Clover Kingdom.  But just because they’re a ragtag bunch of misfits doesn’t mean they’re pushovers!  Currently, two groups that are enemies of the Clover Kingdom have teamed up to attack the Witches’ Forest–good thing the Black Bulls just happened to be there to get medical attention for Asta’s arms!

Food Wars!:  Soma’s education at the elite culinary school Totsuki Institute is threatened when an embittered former student, Azami Nakiri, takes over the school and insists that everyone must now cook only the recipes he likes in the way he prescribes.  Soma and his fellow rebels have been whittled away by rigged final exams, but now Azami’s old classmate (and Soma’s father) Joichiro has shown up to propose a team shokugeki (cooking contest) for all the marbles!  Can the Polar Star team win, even with Azami’s genius chef daughter Erina on their side?

RWBY:  Based on the popular webtoon, this manga covers events that happened before the four girls who make up the RWBY team joined together at their school for monster hunting training.  The current plotline involves Blake (the “B”), who is a member of the Faunus, a humanoid species that is discriminated against by the majority humans.  She was once a train robber to help her people, but her partner Adam crossed the line….  I have not been very impressed with this tie-in.

The most recent issues have two “Jump Start” series that have just started in Japan and may be added to the regular rotation.

Demon’s Plan involves two boys who grew up in a slum together, working hard and saving money for a chance to get a wish from an artifact known as “the Demon’s Plan.”  It turns out that artifact was a fake, but in  the process the owner of the real thing shows up and turns them both into “demons” who must now battle other demons and eventually each other.  The one  who’s less enthused about that idea has made it to the big city in search of the cruel creator of demons.  Could be good, not hitting me well just yet.

Ole Golazo is about a lad named Banba who was a tae kwon do champion before being banned from the sport for fighting.  (In fairness, he was provoked beyond endurance, but rules is rules.)  Adrift in high school, he develops a crush on a girl, and tries to join the soccer team she manages.  Banba has amazing kicking skills, but knows nothing of the rules and customs of “the Beautiful Game.”  Can he be trained to work with a team to achieve victory?  Very reminiscent of the early chapters of Slam Dunk and has some likability.

And then there’s monthly features as well, so let’s look at those–

Seraph of the End:  On the post-apocalyptic world, our heroes have gone AWOL from the Demon Army (which is humans who use demon weapons that if abused will turn them into demons) and teamed up with the nicest vampire they’ve met so far.  They’re in a tenuous alliance with some vampires that seem to be rebelling against their top-heavy social order, but who are not to be trusted.  In the most recent chapter, annoying vampire Crowley reveals he is far more powerful than he’s been letting on.  But he’s still well below the person the alliance will need to beat for the next step of the plan.

Blue Exorcist:  The focus is off Rin “Son of Satan” Okamura for the moment, as his classmate in exorcism training Ryuji works with unorthodox investigator Lightning to discover what happened to several missing people on the Blue Night.  It seems there’s a secret laboratory located on a different time axis below the cram school.

Boruto:  A sequel to the long-running Naruto series starring the son of Naruto.  His father’s turned into a boring bureaucrat who’s hardly ever home, and Boruto tries to get his attention by winning big in a multi-village tournament/exam.  Except that Boruto is talked into using some devices that are against the rules, and is shamed by his father for it.  Now, Naruto has been captured by new villains, and Boruto must regain his honor by joining the rescue team.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V:  I have actually completely lost track of what the plotline is supposed to be, though it seems that both the multiple personality protagonist and his arch-enemy have traveled back in time from when children’s card games destroyed the Earth.  I’m not even sure a full twenty-four hours have passed since the beginning of the series, and certainly the card game school mentioned early on has gotten zero development since.  This is a hot mess.

One-Punch Man:  Saitama, the superhero who can defeat any opponent with a single punch (and that really sucks for him) is participating in a martial arts tournament in a wig disguise.  Meanwhile, most of the other heroes are dealing with a huge monster infestation.  Slow going, but still very amusing.

Although the loss of several popular series seems to have caused a drop in sales for the print edition, the online version is still excellent value for money and is highly recommended for fans of shounen manga.

Manga Review: Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1

Manga Review: Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1 written by Kazuo Koike, art by Goseki Kojima

Ogami Itto was once a samurai warrior of high rank, the official executioner for the shogunate.  He had a lovely wife and new son; life was good.  But another clan was ambitious, and framed Ogami for treason.  Under sentence of execution and with his wife murdered, Ogami asked his infant son to make a choice between merciful death and life on the run. now Ogami is a ronin, and an assassin for hire.  If you need someone dead, and you can find them, you can hire the Lone Wolf assassin who travels with his cub.

Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1

This classic manga series was popular enough to spawn a series of live-action movies, a television series and several spin-off manga.  It was also influential outside of Japan, notably influencing the art and storytelling style of Frank Miller (who provided the cover for this omnibus edition.)  As such, it was one of the first manga series to be translated for the emerging American market, using the expensive and painstaking “double-flipping” method to make it read left to right.

This volume contains the first three volumes of the Japanese version, and these stories are very episodic, focusing on an difficult assassination, a particular facet of feudal Japanese life, or a philosophical point.  It is not until several stories in that anyone recognizes Ogami for who he is, and even longer before even a partial explanation of his past.

Ogami is a stoic character who works hard not to give away his emotions; his tenderness towards Daigoro is almost entirely seen in his actions, not his face.  This does not prevent him from placing his son in danger if it will help with an assassination plan.  Daigoro himself is one of the most ambiguous characters I’ve ever read.  He seems most of the time to act like the small child he is, but in other instances is far too mature for his age, even allowing for the massive trauma Daigoro has undergone in his short life.  It makes him kind of creepy to be honest.

The art is dynamic and varied, able to handle both exciting battles and calm scenes of nature.  There’s a fair amount of reused faces, which with the episodic stories make the manga feel like a television series with a limited pool of guest star actors.

As expected from a samurai revenge story, there is plenty of violence and death; not all of Ogami’s assassination targets are evil people deserving of death.  In particular in this volume, one target is a Buddhist priest who must die for political reasons–he teaches Ogami how to attain mu (“emptiness”) which allows the assassin to strike without projecting sakki  (“killing intent”).  This becomes an important part of Ogami’s personal sword style going forward.

There is also quite a bit of female nudity, and at least one rape/murder scene.  Ogami himself is decent to the women he meets, but feudal Japanese society is not a good place for them.

Because of its influence on the subgenre of samurai manga, this series is well worth reading and rereading.  Recommended for fans of this sort of thing.

Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014

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.

Shonen Jump 2014

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.

 

Manga Review: Naruto

Manga Review: Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto

After 700 chapters and fifteen years, an animated TV series, multiple short movies and video games and piles of merchandise, the popular manga series Naruto has ended.

Naruto--the Final Chapter

For those who somehow missed the last fifteen years of hype, the premise goes something like this.  Blond, blue-eyed orphan Naruto Uzumaki is hated and feared by the people of his ninja village, Konohagakure.  This is because (unknown to him) he is the living prison of a monster known as the Nine-Tailed Beast.  Naruto has become a prankster and class clown, but in the first chapter learns a bit about his true heritage and shows potential to become a great ninja, perhaps even one of  the village leaders called “Hokage.”

Shortly thereafter, the story introduces Sasuke Uchiha, also an orphan, but who has gone all broody and vengeful about it; and Sakura Haruno, an intelligent if then-shallow girl who Naruto likes, but only fancies bad boy Sasuke.  They become a team under the laid-back instructor Kakashi, and slowly become best friends.  More young ninja are introduced, and eventually an overall plotline begins to develop.

The first part of the manga ends with snake-themed villain Orochimaru sending his minions to kidnap Sasuke.  But when the rest of the ninja rescue him, Sasuke decides to go to Orochimaru voluntarily, as he believes the “dark side” techniques will allow him to both surpass his best friend/arch-rival Naruto and gain vengeance for his murdered clan.

The latter part of the manga picks up a few years later, as Naruto and the other Konohagakure ninja have learned new techniques and ninja powers, and must now use them to deal with the murderous mercenaries known as the Akatsuki.  At much the same time, Sasuke, having learned all he can from Orochimaru, severs his ties with the villain–permanently, he thinks–and sets off on his own revenge trip.

What follows is a series of reveals of “man behind the man” as the real powers behind the misery and hatred of the world are slowly discovered.  At the same time, the true nature of the Tailed Beasts is revealed bit by bit.  This culminates in the Ninja World War, and Naruto and Sasuke must confront their fates, whether that means bringing an end to war, or killing each other to start the next cycle of violence.

Naruto ran in Weekly Shounen Jump in Japan, and shows many of the positives as well as some of the weaknesses of that magazine’s “friendship, struggle, victory” mission statement.  Naruto’s a pretty likable main character who has substantial character development while staying true to his roots.  There are a lot of interesting characters, a bunch of exciting combat scenes, and the ending is actually pretty satisfying.

Sasuke is less loved by many fans because he often takes over the story for weeks at a time, and his Uchiha clan kept becoming more and more central to the plotline.  This took focus away from more interesting/likable characters.

And then there’s Sakura.  It’s not so much that Kishimoto doesn’t have awesome female characters, as that he keeps forgetting to let them actually show off their awesomeness.   Sakura’s role on her initial team was to be the smart one, but she never got involved in fights where book learning was the key to victory.  She was left out of the “rescue Sasuke” arc as a male “smart guy” was the leader of the retrieval team and he didn’t need another brainy person (and he’s kind of sexist.)

After the time skip, Sakura has new medical ninja skills, and gets one good fight before being sidelined while Naruto and Sasuke got repeated power-ups.  When she did appear, her still-lingering affection for Sasuke was a more relevant part of her character arc than her smarts or combat prowess.  (It was hinted she was having important adventures off-panel, but that’s a fan fiction thing.)

There was also more than one instance where Kishimoto introduced a female character who should be awesome given her background, but in her only actual combat gets curbstomped to show off how powerful/skilled a villain is.  (Slightly redeemed by having one female character finally, finally turn out to be just as powerful and important as advertised.)

And as with many other long-runners, the final story arc kind of drags, with it taking nearly two years real time to cover maybe forty-eight hours in-story.  Lots of good bits in there, though, with even characters who’ve been dead for years getting to show up and do something cool.

Still, it’s good of its kind, and future kids should be able to enjoy it as much as many of the current ones did.

 

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)

It’s the first anniversary of my blog!  To celebrate, I thought it would be nice to update the very first review that appeared here.  http://www.skjam.com/2012/12/09/manga-review-shonen-jump-alpha/

Shonen Jump

Shounen Jump is still Japan’s number one best-selling manga anthology title.  Although the primary market is still middle-school through high school boys, people of all ages and body shapes enjoy these tales of friendship, struggle and victory.  Weekly Shonen Jump is the English language edition, which now has many of the series available online the same day they’re legally for sale in Japan.  (Due to a persistent piracy problem, scans of the Japanese version appear online a week early.)

Because of the change to same-day release, the name of the ezine was changed from Shonen Jump Alpha to Weekly Shonen Jump.  Those of you who live outside the U.S.A. will be happy to hear that  Viz (the publishers) have arranged for it to be legally available in most English-speaking countries, and they’re working on the rest of the world.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s currently running.

Weekly

One Piece:  Still Shonen Jump’s flagship title.  Young Luffy D. Monkey lives on a world that’s mostly water.  He decides he’s going to be the Pirate King, and sets out on a voyage to find the mysterious One Piece treasure.  Along the way he gathers a wacky crew and battles evil pirates and the dictatorial World Government.    Having captured the main baddie on Punk Hazard, the Straw Hat Pirates sail to Dressrosa (which looks like a cross between Spain and Toyland) to negotiate with his boss.  Unfortunately, Dressrosa turns out to be a lot more sinister than it looks, and while Luffy is distracted by a gladiatorial contest, the rest of the crew learns dark secrets.

Naruto:   Young Naruto Uzumaki, an outcast in his hidden ninja village, decides that he will one day become the Hokage, leader of the village.  A year later, and we are still on the final battle of the Ninja World War–I don’t think even a full day has gone by yet.  It does look like the fight may be winding down within the next year, as all the major players are in one place.

Bleach:  Ichigo Kurosaki, a young man who can see ghosts, finds himself embroiled in the affairs of the otherworldly Soul Reapers who help dead people reach the afterlife.  This one is officially on its final plot arc, with the creator having taken a hiatus to plot out the intricacies of the Vandenreich’s attempt to destroy the Soul Society.  Perhaps by this time next year a full day will have passed.

Toriko:  Toriko is a Food Hunter in a world where the more dangerous it is to acquire the food substance, the more delicious it is.  The attack by the evil food organization, along with the emergence of a new even more evil organization, has resulted in a disruption of the ecosystem, leading to mass starvation.  The other heroes have a plan to restore the world that used to be known as Earth, but  they’ll need Toriko to help, and he’s kind of out of it.

Nisekoi:  False love is the name of the game, as Raku and Chitoge have to pretend to be dating to end a feud between their respective clans.  Meanwhile, Raku made a childhood promise to a girl whose name and face he cannot remember, and there are several girls it could be, including Chitoge.  This very formula romantic comedy continues to play the variations on its central theme.  The main plot development has been the introduction of one character’s little sister, who thinks Raku is an enemy of all women, especially her older sister, and doesn’t realize Raku’s also the mysterious protector she has a crush on.

World Trigger:  Earth is being invaded by creatures called Neighbors from an adjacent dimension.  The secretive agency Border has been formed to fight them.  Osamu Mikumo, a wimpy but goodhearted Border trainee, finds out that new classmate Kuga Yuuma is himself a Neighbor who is on Earth illegally to fulfill the wishes of his late father.  It turns out the Neighbor world political situation is far more complicated than most Earthlings knew.  Currently, our two young men and Chika, a girl whose brother went missing in the Neighbor world, are trying to become full-fledged Border agents.  This series started off very weak, but has greatly improved as it found a direction.

Dragonball Z:  Yes, the one about the mighty Son Goku finding out he’s actually an alien and having to battle against increasingly strong threats to humanity.  This is a rerun, but has been colorized and spiffed up a bit for new readers.  I actually preferred the first half of the Dragonball series, but for those who grew up on Z, this is a nostalgia blast.

Monthly

Seraph of the End:   A mysterious “virus” kills 90% of the adults on Earth.   Many of the children are abducted underground by vampires to protect/feed on them.  On the surface, the remaining humans are hunted by monsters, and the Demon Army has to use dangerous possessed weapons to battle them.   Our protagonist was a bitter orphan even before the series began, only bonding with the rest of the orphanage kids moments before the caretakers died of disease, and then the rest of the orphans were murdered in an attempt to escape the vampires.  So he’s understandably skeptical of the need for friendship to become a functional member of the Demon Army.  He’s kind of a prick, honestly.

Blue Exorcist:  Young delinquent Rin Okumura discovers that he is in fact the son of Satan and thus half-demon.   Rebellious by nature, he refuses to join his father’s forces and instead enrolls in a school for exorcists to battle the forces of evil.   Currently, one of the exorcism students has been kidnapped with the assistance of another student who it appears was a spy for the Illuminati all along.  Time for a rescue mission!

Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal:  Yuma Tsukumo is, in theory, a huge fan of the card game Duel Monsters, despite not knowing anything about the rules or customs of it.  He acquires a not-so-imaginary friend nicknamed Astral who has lost its memories but helps Yuma win duels.  Right now in the manga, it turns out that destroying the Astral World will destroy the human world as well, turning the villains into omnicidal maniacs.  Worse, Astral’s original purpose in coming to Earth was to destroy the human world to protect the Astral one….

One Punch Man:  Saitama, an unemployed salaryman, was bored with his life, and decided to become a superhero.  After training so fanatically that his hair fell out, Saitama became a powerful superhero who can defeat any enemy with one punch.   Which again leaves him feeling kind of empty, since there’s no challenge in that.   Now he searches for meaning in his life, while monsters and villains need punching.  This superhero parody is surprisingly deep for its simple premise, and has had some of the best action scenes in manga.  Currently, Saitama’s best buddy, cyborg Genos, is invited to a meeting of the top heroes and Saitama tags along.

If you like shounen action manga, Shonen Jump Weekly is good value for money.

 

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

It has been about a century since Japan was invaded by giant mushi (“insect” or “bug”, it’s a loose category) that rampage about, eating people and destroying buildings.  In Edo, the capital, the shogunate government has established the office of the Mushibugyo (“Insect Magistrate”) to protect the city and its people.  A new member has been requested for the field team, a fearsome samurai swordsman, Tsukishima.   But he’s unable to travel at the moment, having lost a leg.  So the team gets his son Jinbei Tsukishima instead.  Can the young and rash samurai help the Mushibugyo office prevail against ever more deadly bugs?

Mushibugyo

Mushibugyo is a 26 episode anime series, based on a shounen manga by Hiroshi Fukuda.  I watched it on the Crundhyroll website, where it is still available as of this writing.

The good:  This is a series that has lots of giant insects for our brave (mostly) heroes to fight in over the top battles.  The characters are mostly enjoyable, and the power of friendship and never giving up wins the day.

Not as good:  This series is very shounen.  The hero’s a bit of an idiot, most of the other characters are kind of cliche as well, and there is seldom any real feeling of danger in the battles.  Sure, lots of unnamed extras die horribly, but no one we actually care about.  As well, the fanservice gets kind of obnoxious–do we really need to see/hear about the tsundere kunoichi’s  (mood-swinging female ninja) loincloth quite so often?  The clip show episode features all the female characters at the public bath, plus an extra one-shot character for more fanservice.

There’s also several characters who are prominent in the opening titles but get only cameos in the show itself; presumably they got more development in the manga.  Likewise, some of the backstory for some characters (the Insect Hunters, most notably) seems to have been cut for time.

Still, if this is the sort of thing you like, you should like it very much.  If you want a grittier look at humanity fighting giant monters, with a lot more plausible character fatalities, see Attack on Titan instead.

Manga Review: Ninja Papa

Manga Review: Ninja Papa by Yasuhito Yamamoto.

papa

Nobuo Matsuri is a typical Japanese salaryman (office worker.)  At thirty-two, he’s got a low-paying dead-end job at a second-rate food company, an incompetent boss who treats him like dirt, a heavily-mortgaged home and a nagging mother-in-law who never hesitates to point out all the many ways in which he’s a disappointment.  But he also has a lovely wife, two adorable children, and happiness.

Also, Nobuo Matsuri has a dark secret.  Up until age 21, he was a top assassin for the Nakuru ninja clan.  When he fell in love with Aya, he left the clan, violating their rule forbidding meaningful contact with outsiders (and experiencing actual love.)  As a result, Nakuru Clan ninja often attack Nobuo, and he must kill them to survive.  More troublingly for this man of peace and reason, he often runs across people who cannot be reasoned or negotiated with and who threaten those he cares for with mortal danger.  Then he must reluctantly use his ninja skills to kill those people.

This manga is very much a wish-fulfillment fantasy for salarymen.  A ordinary working schlub who is meek, mild and bumbling at the office, but has great sex at home and kicks the ass of those who thoroughly deserve it.  As such, it goes over the top sometimes.  Nobuo’s manager is incompetent and cartoonishly sexist in a way that would get him fired at any real company, even in Japan.  And it never occurs to the Nakuru clan assassins to just look Nobuo up in the phonebook–he hasn’t even changed his name!

But as an office worker, I can well identify with many of the situations Nobuo finds himself in.

This is an 18+ manga for bloody violence and sex scenes. It is not currently in print in the U.S.

Overall, a fun book, but not very deep, and has elements that may not appeal to many readers.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Shonen Jump Alpha

Manga Review: Shonen Jump Alpha

Shonen

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.

Weekly Features

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.

 

Monthlies

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.

 

Overall:

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.

 

SKJAM!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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