Monday, February 29, 2016

Ai no Jidai/Indigo Period -Ichigo Ichie-: And You May Ask Yourself, "Well...How Did I Get Here?"

It's the rarest of days that the world sees, February 29, a.k.a. Leap Day. Happening only once every four years, to account for the fact that a year is technically 365.25 days (not an exact estimate, obviously), I wanted to celebrate the day with a review. I did the same thing four years ago in 2012 when I reviewed the OVA series Goddamn, and I wondered what title would fit Leap Day thematically. A rally racing anime fit the vague concept of "time", but for the blog's second Leap Day I decided to use a different take on that concept. For this year, I'll be reviewing a manga that acts as a remembrance of older times.

Autobiographical manga isn't a new genre by any means. The late Shinji Nagashima did it back in the early 60s with Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari/The Harsh Tale of a Manga Artist & Keiji Nakazawa's Ore wa Mita/I Saw It from 1972 was about his actual experience of being in Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb was dropped. More often than not, though, this type of manga is told with some sort of fictionalization. Nakazawa's iconic Barefoot Gen, for example, is based on his life but told via made up characters. Yoshihiro Tatsumi's beloved manga A Drifting Life is "technically" about the life of Hiroshi Katsumi. Kazuhiko Shimamoto's still-running Aoi Honou/Blue Blazes, & by relation his Hoero/Shouting & Moeyo/Burning Pen titles, uses the super-passionate Moyuru Hono in place of Shimamoto himself. This way, the author can still tell his or her story, but without having to (potentially) directly insult or embarrass any actual people; also, the author can embellish to whatever length is deemed appropriate. Acting as the (literal) "Final" part of his 40th Anniversary celebration, Masami Kurumada made his own autobiographical manga with 2015's Ai no Jidai -Ichigo Ichie-/Indigo Period -Once in a Lifetime-; the title was directly inspired by Picasso's Blue Period. The first short series from Kurumada since 1993-1994's Akane-iro no Kaze -Shinsengumi Keppuroku-/Crimson Wind -The Shinsengumi Bloodshed Record-, as in longer than just a couple of chapters, the manga explores why & how Kurumada himself decided to become a manga artist, even if it obviously winds up being a fictional tale overall. Remember, as Kurumada himself warns at the very beginning, "This story is fiction based on fact."

Masami Higashida is a young man growing up in late-60s/early-70s Japan. After being given an issue of Shonen Jump by his sickly friend Junichi Kobayashi, Higashida becomes enthralled by a manga called Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, which is made by Hiroshi Motomiya. Having always thought that only people with special qualifications, like Osamu Tezuka's doctorate, could become mangaka, Higashida is inspired by Motomiya, as well as others like Go Nagai & Mitsuteru Yokoyama, deciding to truly follow his childhood dream of making manga professionally. After failing to enter through Jump, though, Higashida decides to try his luck with Shonen Champion magazine, where he's forced to use the pen name Masami Kurumada. Eventually, Higashida comes up with a boxing story called Ring ni Hoero/Shout in the Ring, but will it be enough to keep his dream of being a mangaka alive?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Silver Age of Jump Part 2: Let's See How Far We've Come

We have finally made it. At the start of January we started this journey through the annals of Weekly Shonen Jump's biggest hits (plus some of its most infamous experiments), and I decided to do all of this for two main reasons. First, the whole "Ages of Jump" concept was really just a greatly expanded version of some panels I had done at Anime Boston, AnimeNEXT, & Otakon in the past where I showcased Jump's history to people by way of their anime OPs, plus some basic info on their relevance. From those panels I had always considered doing one final, massive overview of as many manga as I could come up with, especially those that were notable but did not receive anime adaptations. Second, I simply wanted to see how interconnected Jump's history as a whole was. If you've been reading each part of the Ages of Jump you'll have likely noticed that many notable manga creators throughout Jump's history had originally started as assistants to other people who were working for Jump before them. Whether it was Masami Kurumada working for Ko Inoue, Takehiko Inoue & Haruto Umezawa working for Tsukasa Hojo, Yusuke Murata working for Takeshi Obata (who himself worked for Makoto Niwano), or the infamous "Watsuki-gumi", there has always been a continual passing of the torch from one creator to another by way of assistants, some of which would become big names in their own rights & then teach others, who may become future big names. We've also seen a general "Jump Style" come about, starting from the earliest signs via Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho & Astro Kyudan to the basic blueprint that Ring ni Kakero & Kinnikuman established to the codifying that Fist of the North Star & Dragon Ball did to the refining & continuous homage that series like One Piece & Naruto have done. I'm a sucker for history & seemingly pointless trivia, so any opportunity to combine them together is something I'm always up for, & while I am feeling silly for having to write so much these past two months, I'm glad I finally did it for "all" (i.e. anyone who stumbles across this blog) to read.

So, to finish up, let's see what came about in the latter half of the Silver Age of Jump & find out just how far we've come.

Kenta Shinohara started his adult life as a salaryman, but found the life to not be for him. He worked an office job for two years while planning his move to the job he really wanted to do, which was to make manga. When he started upon his new life he worked as an assistant for Hideaki Sorachi during Gintama's earlier years, learning a lot during his short time there. After some one-shots in 2006, Shinohara made his serialized debut with mid-2007's Sket Dance, which followed the three-person high school club known as the Sket Dan, with "SKET" standing for "Support, Kindness, Encouragement, and Troubleshoot". True to that name, the trio of (supposed) leader Yusuke "Bossun" Fujisaki, former female delinquent Hime "Himeko" Onizuka, & quiet tech whiz Kazuyoshi "Switch" Usui dedicated themselves to improving the overall quality of campus life, though since the school wasn't all that bad off in general, the club was generally looked at as nothing more than useless handymen. Considering where Shinohara came from, it's no surprise that Sket Dance was very similar to Gintama is a few ways, especially in the basic concept of both series starring trios (with two guys & one woman who could kick both of their asses, naturally) who help the people around them at all times; it could be argued that both were similar to Hareluya II BØY, if you want to be technical, too. In fact, the similarities actually resulted in crossovers between the two series, both via manga & anime, with both trios poking fun at said similarities. Beyond that, though, Sket Dance was still an overall different type of series than Gintama, with Shinohara relying less on madcap references & toilet humor than his teacher, though there was still a mix between silly comedies & character-focused, dramatic, & serious stories. In the end, Sket Dance wound up having a very healthy life, ending in mid-2013 after 289 chapters (including the original one-shot) across 32 volumes, with the final chapter receiving "center color" status, & receiving a TV anime adaptation by Tatsunoko from 2011-2012 that lasted 77 episodes, plus a single OVA in 2013. Following the end of his debut series, Kenta Shinohara is taking a break from manga, most recently doing the original character designs 2014 anime Battle Spirits: Burning Soul.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Silver Age of Jump Part 1: Weekly Shonen Jump - The Next Generation

Commonly snuggling in between the almighty "Gold" & the tertiary "Bronze", the term "Silver" is traditionally associated with being second. In American comics, the Silver Age was what came after the Golden Age that started everything, being named as such not because of it being of lesser worth than what came before, though I guess the Comics Code-enforced silliness of the age may make some people think that, but rather it was simply the next concept of value following gold. While everyone obviously dreams of being on top, only one can truly be just that. There's nothing wrong with being second in anything, to be honest. To utilize the ideology of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure character Hol Horse, being #2 means that you're still worthy of respect (or fear), yet you don't have the target on you at all times like #1 does. Even people who win a silver medal understand that, though they didn't reach the top of the mountain, they know what they have to surpass in order to do so. It encourages competition, and that's great to see. Anyway, onto the last of the Ages of Jump... The Silver Age of Jump.

After establishing everything in the Bronze Age, seeing astronomical success in the Golden Age, & slow recovery (or at least stabilization) in the Dark Age, Weekly Shonen Jump was ready for a new age to appear. When the year 1999 came in there were only four Golden Age manga still running in the magazine, but within the first half alone Hareluya II BØY & Hell Teacher Nube were gone. Hell, even JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, which for the past 12 years had been a stalwart title for Jump (alongside Kochikame, which itself just hit 23 years old), was technically put to an "end" in between its Golden Age compatriots. By issue #43, Rurouni Kenshin, the manga that had to carry the weight of keeping the magazine as popular as possible following the end of Dragon Ball & Slam Dunk, was at its own end; it was the final survivor of the Golden Age. Luckily, the Dark Age gave Nobuhiro Watsuki's series some great back-up via titles like Yu-Gi-Oh! & Hunter×Hunter, while One Piece & Seikimatsu Leader-den Takeshi! were setting themselves up as the next tent poles of the magazine, though the latter would later get screwed by its own creator's perverted tendencies. Eiichiro Oda & Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro were good friends, however, so what they needed was someone who could challenge them to be better; they needed a rival. Luckily, Jump experienced a one-of-a-kind moment in that fateful issue #43. Never before & not yet since did a single issue of Shonen Jump feature the finale of one iconic series & the debut of what would become another iconic series. Rurouni Kenshin had the opportunity to metaphorically pass the torch, and it had to be okay with leaving a legacy with a thematic rival, because a samurai was now shaking hands with a ninja.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Dark/Heroic Age of Jump: Like a Phoenix Rising From the Ashes

Calling something the "Dark Age" tends to bring about a negative connotation. For example, historians used to refer to the Middle Ages as the "Dark Ages", but as more research & findings have come through modern historians prefer to not use the term, because it really wasn't as "dark" & without importance as it once was considered. On the side of American comics, the Dark Age is sometimes referred to what is presently called the Modern Age, mainly because of the rise of darker-themed & grim storytelling. Others would call it the Dark Age because of things that are now looked at with disdain, like the Speculator Boom or Rob Liefeld. Anyway, why exactly do I consider a short span of three years, 1996-1999, to be the "Dark Age of Jump"? Well, consider what had just happened to the magazine...

In the 27th issue of Shonen Jump's 1996 run, Takehiko Inoue put an end to his debut solo work, Slam Dunk, becoming the third manga in Jump history to be given a full-color final chapter. While it didn't happen over the course of a single week, the magazine lost two million readers from the end of that manga alone, and combined with Dragon Ball's end (the second full-color finale) the previous year that resulted in a 2.5 million loss. At that point it put the magazine's readership at around 4 million, a number Jump had not been at since 1984 (or just shortly after starting the Golden Age). At the end of 1996 came the end of Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken, & 1997 saw the finales to Rokudenashi Blues, Captain Tsubasa: World Youth Chapter, & Sexy Commando Gaiden, as well. By the time the new millennium came, Jump's readership reduced even more, averaging out to between 3-3.5 million, i.e. the number that Ring ni Kakero helped bring Jump back to by 1981. Therefore, compared to the massive Goliath that it was just prior, these next few years definitely felt like a much "darker", unsure time compared to the "golden" days just a couple of years ago. Luckily, the Dark Age of Jump, though insanely short, was filled with numerous debuts that would go on to become icons in their own right, some of which are still important to this very day; in that sense, one could keep with the references to Hesiod. In fact, the issue of Jump that came right after Slam Dunk's end, #28, got this age of transition started very impressively.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Golden Age of Jump Part 2: The 2,500,000 Reader Pyramid

When most manga fans were to think of manga that came from Shonen Jump's "Golden Age", the general response would more than likely be filled with titles of the 80s, i.e. the stuff I covered in Part 1. Quite frankly, that's a completely reasonable response, too, because a fair percentage of manga that debuted from 1983-1990 still see new products to this very day. Saint Seiya has a sequel manga, various spin-off manga, nigh-yearly anime productions, & video games. Dragon Ball, after a bit of a drought, has a brand new midquel anime series airing on Japanese TV. City Hunter has a parallel universe sequel manga still running that had its own anime series. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a big deal for TV anime right now. Also, Sakigake!! Otokojuku, Fist of the North Star, & Hana no Keiji live on to this day, either via recent video games or spin-off manga & anime. In comparison, the manga that debuted during the second half of the Golden Age, 1990-1996, aren't quite as inundated with recent ("within the past five years or so") productions, though there are some notable exceptions. Still, it's not like Jump suffered by any means during this second half, and three series that debuted at the tail end of 1990 made sure that the new decade (or at least it's first half) wasn't going to feel less important in comparison to what came before.

A former assistant to Tsukasa Hojo during City Hunter's run, Takehiko Inoue made his professional debut as the artist of the short-lived 1989 manga Chamelon Jail (written by Kazuhiko Watanabe) under his real name, Takehiko Nariai. Taking a year to prepare for a solo debut, Inoue looked back at his old high school days, when he was part of the basketball team. Inspired by his fond memories, he debuted Slam Dunk, which told the journey of Hanamichi Sakuragi, a red-haired delinquent who only joined the basketball team to impress a girl he has a crush on, as he went from talentless punk to a potential high school b-ball great. Mixing together Inoue's excellent drawing style with excellent comedy, fun characters, & lots of visual flair for the sport itself, though it took itself very realistically, Slam Dunk not only became a true-blue mega hit for Jump, but it also suddenly made basketball way more popular than it ever was; before Inoue started his manga, the sport was more or less ignored in Japan. In a Jump environment that was dominated by Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk was probably the first real series to not just challenge it for the overall throne (by that I mean not just being the most popular series but also be a massive seller), but arguably dethrone it at a regular pace. In fact, as of today, Inoue's first solo manga is still one of the best-selling manga of all time, selling over 120 million copies in Japan alone! In 2010, Inoue was even given a special commendation from the Japan Basketball Association for helping popularize the sport in Japan. Toei also got involved, giving the manga a TV anime adaptation from 1993-1996 that ran for 101 episodes (plus four movies). Finally, on the manga side, when the series came to an end in mid-1996, after 276 chapters across 31 volumes, not only did Slam Dunk become the third Jump series to be given the full-color final chapter treatment (the last for close to 20 years), & even get the cover for its final chapter (only the second series in Jump history to ever do so, after Hiroshi Motomiya's Yamazaki Ginjiro in 1981, though that didn't feature any color pages), its very end resulted in a readership loss of roughly two million, a.k.a. four times the amount that Dragon Ball's finale did to Jump's readership! Indeed, Slam Dunk's finale marked the very end of the Golden Age of Jump... Luckily, we still have the entire second half to still get through, so let's continue.