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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Covers, Color, & "The Dreaded ToC": Shonen Jump's 40-Year History of Celebrating Final Chapters

*Due to this subject being very focused on how manga are shown to readers for their final chapters, I have also produced a video essay version as well as the written version, with the video showcasing many, many more visual examples. You can use this link to go to the video if you prefer, or you can simply continue reading for the written version.*

To fans of manga, a long-running series coming to an end should feel like a major moment of celebration; a way to look back at what it did & how it found an audience. To a manga publisher, however, a long-running series coming to an end is nothing more than a sieve; a restriction on just how much money a property it has the current rights to can earn. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising to see a manga’s final chapter not be given a giant focus in the issue of the magazine it appears in, especially like being on the cover. Take Weekly Shonen Jump, for example. Debuting in 1968, it wouldn’t be until 1981 that a manga’s final chapter would be given any sort of major attention, at least on its own, and over time Jump would slowly move from barely giving hit manga ending more than a glance to making it tradition to at least give them some sort of minor fanfare. With 2021 marking the 40th Anniversary of the first two final chapters of Jump manga to be given notable fanfare, let’s go over the history of covers, colors, & “The Dreaded ToC”.

Before we start, though, let’s go over some phrasing we’ll be seeing used often. First, there’s the “ToC”, which is short for Table of Contents. It’s commonly stated that Shonen Jump’s ToC doubles as the de facto popularity ranking for manga currently running in the magazine. While this is isn’t exactly true, as there have been many long-running & notable series that consistently “ranked” in the bottom half of the ToC, or even almost always appeared dead last, the ToC is a way to see what titles the editorial staff at Jump felt have been worth pushing, based on reader reception. For example, Dragon Ball hadn’t ranked any lower than #5 on the ToC for its last five years, while One Piece’s lowest ToC ranking was at #10 all the way back at Chapter 5 in 1997. In comparison, manga that just don’t make it always find themselves in the back half eventually, before having their final chapters appear at the very end of their respective issues. After that, we have “kantou/lead color”, which simply means that a manga’s chapter is not just starting the issue it appears in, but is also given fully colorized opening pages. Finally, we have “all color”, which simply means that every page of a chapter is colorized to some extent, usually utilizing different tones of red alongside the black & white, and in greyscale reprints you can easily tell if a page was done in color originally, because of the shading; this was a common thing to see in Jump up through the 90s, but has since stopped happening. Obviously, these are done for promotional purposes, as a way to advertise specific manga for that issue. There’s one more phrase we’ll be seeing, but we’ll get to it when it becomes relevant, so let’s get started.

Prior to 1981, there were a handful of final chapters in Jump that did receive the cover, but it was always sharing the spotlight with something else. Koya no Shonen Isamu in 1974 appeared alongside still-running Obora Ichidai, Boku no Doubutsuen Nikki in 1975 & The Gutsy Frog in 1976 were both part of group shot covers, & Toilet Hakase in 1977 had to share its final chapter cover with still-running Asataro-den. Therefore, history was truly made with Issue #16 of 1981, when Hiroshi Motomiya’s Yamazaki Ginjiro made the cover of Jump all by itself for its final chapter. What’s all the more surprising about this is that the manga, which was the sequel to Monthly Jump’s Kouha Ginjiro, wasn’t even a long series, running only 44 chapters. However, Motomiya was kind of the Golden Child for Jump, having been the creator of Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, which is generally considered Jump’s first hit manga, a title so successful that Motomiya actually tried ending it early twice, only for both attempts to fail, first via his editor changing things before publication, while the second try only lasted a year before Motomiya had no choice but to return to it. Still, Yamazaki Ginjiro’s finale, in which the titular lead finally was true to his feelings & kissed the girl he loved, is one of only three times that Jump gave a final chapter the cover all to itself.

28 weeks later, history would be made once again at Shonen Jump, and while this had nothing to do with the cover, it had everything to do with ToC ranking & color. Prior to this issue, final chapters were just that, and received no real flourishes, though being placed last in the ToC, while happening on occasion, still wasn’t a standard. However, Issue #44 of 1981 marked the final chapter of Masami Kurumada’s Ring ni Kakero, literally one of the most influential action manga in the magazine’s entire history, so much so that Shueisha even named it the “Hot-Blooded Fighting Manga Bible” in 2014, as it effectively wrote the book on how shonen action is handled to this very day. While’s RnK’s ranking in the ToC was rather variable during its run, its sales were anything but (over 13 million books sold), with Kurumada even admitting that he once heard that RnK single-handedly paid for major renovations to Shueisha’s headquarters, with employees nicknaming it the “RinKake Building” & “Kurumada Building”. Therefore, it just wouldn’t feel right to give RnK the same bland treatment for its final chapter that everything else had gotten up until then.

So, for the first time ever, an issue of Shonen Jump started things off with a manga’s final chapter; in comparison, Yamazaki Ginjiro was #5 in its final issue. However, RnK’s final chapter wasn’t just given “lead color” but also “all color”, so while the opening few pages were fully colorized, the remaining pages were all in that red-toned format. For the first time ever, Jump had what could be called a “full color final chapter”, at least in terms of the entirety of the chapter being done in color, to some extent. It was truly a fitting way to say farewell to what’s generally considered Jump’s first mega hit, and to this day the only way to read RnK’s final chapter in its original colored form is by getting a copy of that very issue. Following this are two manga that one can categorize as “honorable mentions”, as while they didn’t get quite the same treatment as RnK, they were still given special treatment. Issue #17 of 1982 saw the final chapter of Motoei Shinzawa’s San-nen Kimengumi, while Issue #39 of 1984 saw the final chapter of Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump, and while neither lead their respective issues (they were #2 & #3, respectively), they both still received “all color” treatment for their finales. Interestingly enough, though, Shinzawa’s immediate sequel, the more well-known High School! Kimengumi, didn’t receive any color for its final chapter, and was placed as the penultimate manga in its last issue.

After those three notables, Shonen Jump started enforcing the tradition that final chapters of manga, no matter how successful they were, almost always appeared at the tail end of their final issues, if not appearing dead last, & saw no color at all. What’s all the more surprising about this is that it happened during the “Golden Age of Jump”, when the magazine was at its most successful & popular, simultaneously running some of its most iconic manga of all time, yet most of them didn’t receive special treatment for their finales. Kinnikuman? Fourth-to-last. City Hunter & Yu Yu Hakusho? Both third-to-last. Ninku? Penultimate. Space Adventure Cobra, Saint Seiya, Magical Taruruuto-kun, & Sakigake!! Otokojuku? All dead last. Now, to be fair, there were still exceptions, like Captain Tsubasa at #7 (though the World Youth sequel in the 90s would be dead last), Tsuide ni Tonchinkan at #9, Fuma no Kojiro at #8, Stop!! Hibari-kun! at #5, or Fist of the North Star at #11, but they all still were without color pages. It would literally take 11 years after Dr. Slump, & nearly 14 years after Ring ni Kakero, for another manga’s final chapter to be given truly special treatment… And it’s the one I’m sure most of you are thinking of.

Twelve issues after Dr. Slump’s “all color” finale, Akira Toriyama would return with his next manga, Dragon Ball. The series would go on to become one of the biggest hits in Jump’s entire history, and one of the best-selling manga of all time. After a near-11 year run, Dragon Ball’s 519th & final chapter would appear in Issue #25 of 1995, and it was decided that it was time finally give Ring ni Kakero a new manga to stand tall with. For the second time ever, Jump saw a “full color final chapter” lead an issue, with Dragon Ball’s finale receiving both “lead color” & “all color” status, just like RnK did nearly 14 years prior. However, whereas RnK’s finale did little to affect Jump’s rise in popularity during the early 80s, Dragon Ball coming to an end did result in a net loss of readership, roughly 500,000. However, this wouldn’t be the hardest blow Jump would receive, as just barely over a year later, Issue #27 of 1996 saw the final chapter of Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, another smash hit unlike many others. The manga generally considered to have singlehandedly help make basketball more popular with the Japanese populace, Slam Dunk is such a beloved classic that a reprint of the series, featuring new covers drawn by Inoue, was enough to make it not just the fourth best-selling manga series of 2018 in Japan, but also helped make it the ninth best-selling media franchise, in general!

To no surprise, Jump decided that Slam Dunk was worthy of becoming the third “full color final chapter”, but the magazine didn’t just stop there. Along with getting “lead color” & “all color” status, Slam Dunk’s finale was also given the cover of its issue, marking the first time in just over 15 years that such a feat happened. However, this kind of ultimate show of respect from Jump did come with a price, as Slam Dunk alone was what kept a large portion of Jump’s readership intact. With Inoue’s manga now gone, Jump would go on to lose roughly 2,000,000 readers within the next year, four times the amount Dragon Ball did. Issue #27 of 1996 would mark the end of the “Golden Age of Jump”, one which saw the magazine hitting at its apex of 6.5 million readers, and by the end of the decade Jump would be down to around 3 million, roughly the amount it had around Ring ni Kakero’s finale. Today, Jump has a readership of ~1.5 million, i.e. what it had in the early 70s, but digital is a major factor in that. At the same time, though, Slam Dunk’s finale would also mark the end of Jump’s stinginess when it came to celebrating the end of long-running manga, and here is where the last phrase I mentioned at the start comes into play: “Center Color”.

In short, “center color” is exactly like “lead color” in that a featured manga’s chapter for that issue is given full colorized opening pages, or at least a full color opening page, with the only difference being that said chapter appears in the middle third of the magazine, rather than at the start. This usually ranges between #7 & #13 in the ToC, depending on the total number of manga featured at the moment. I bring this up mainly because only 25 issues following Slam Dunk’s finale, in Issue #52 of 1996 (which coincidentally also housed the 1,000th chapter of Kochikame), Riku Sanjo & Koji Inada’s Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai came to an end, and while it placed #11 in the ToC for that issue, the final chapter was given “center color”, making it the first Jump manga to end with that status. In comparison, Kokichi Naniwa's Osama wa Roba also ended that same issue, but appeared dead last & had no color. This would then be followed up only three issues later with Yoshihiro Togashi’s Level E, which ended in Combined Issue #3+4 of 1997 with “center color”, and then yet another five issues later, in Issue #10, Masanori Morita’s Rokudenashi Blues also ended with “center color”. If I have to make a guess, I’d say that Jump’s staff realized that with the “Golden Age” obviously now behind them, they could no longer just treat notable manga series ending with little to no fanfare. They knew that the few remaining “Golden Age” hits still running were only going to be coming to their respective ends, so it was time to finally treat them with the respect that they deserved. “Center color” was the perfect way to do so without having to remove the importance that Yamazaki Ginjiro, Ring ni Kakero, Dragon Ball, & Slam Dunk, or even San-nen Kimengumi & Dr. Slump, had with the way their ends were treated. “Center color” finales would never receive the cover, & by their very nature would never lead the issue they appeared in; in fact, most of them would be an upgrade over their usual low ranking in the ToC just prior to their ends.

Two years after Rokudenashi Blues’ “center color” finale, Hareluya II BØY, Hell Teacher Nube, & Rurouni Kenshin would all receive the “center color” treatment for their final chapters throughout 1999, with Kenshin’s final issue, #43 of 1999, also marking the debut of a new series called Naruto, which would mark both the end of a short lived Age of re-establishment for Jump (whether it’s a “Dark Age” or a “Heroic Age” is up to you) as well as the beginning of a new Age of success for the magazine; the “Silver” to the “Gold” that came before, if you will. “Center color” finales would still be rather uncommon for some time, with 2000 being home for I”s & Hoshin Engi’s “center color” ends, as well as giving the treatment for Bastard!!, a series that debuted in 1988 during the “Golden Age” but would largely be serialized in Jump’s Seasonal Specials from 1990 to 1997, where it then returned to the main magazine irregularly.  Combined Issue #36+37 of 2000 wasn’t actually the finale for Bastard!!, but rather was just the last time the manga would ever appear in Shonen Jump, before moving over to seinen magazine Ultra Jump, yet was still given the “center color” treatment for its final appearance, becoming literally the last manga from Jump’s most iconic era to be given some sort of special treatment; ironic, considering that it wasn’t all that successful in its original year with the magazine.

However, things would start to change with “center color” finales, namely in that Jump would become much more willing to dole them out & turn them into a standard procedure for successful series. Starting with Issue #39 of 2003, which housed the final chapter for Masanori Morita’s Rookies, it was now tradition that (most) long-running manga would be given “center color” status for their respective final chapters, which now meant that a year could average anywhere from 0 to 5 (partially) colorized finales. 2004 saw Yu-Gi-Oh!, Black Cat, & Shaman King all end with color opening pages in the middle of their respective issues, for example, while 2005 through 2008 all just had one “center color” finale each, & 2009 had two. In fact, it started becoming so standardized that it was more notable when a major series DIDN’T get color for its finale. An interesting outlier would come in Issue #38 of 2010, though, which saw the final chapter of Kyosuke Usuta’s Pyu to Fuku! Jaguar, after a 10 year run. Jaguar differed from most Jump manga in that it debuted at the very bottom of the ToC, and outside of eight chapters (out of a total 435) was the end of every single issue of Jump during its run; Chapter 15 was the only time Jaguar ever lead an issue. Also, it originally was almost always serialized in the old “all color” style, though it would eventually only be given that treatment on special occasions, like anniversaries. Therefore, it only made sense that Jaguar’s final chapter in 2010 would not only end its issue, but would be serialized in “all color”, making it the first time in 14 years that a final chapter received “all color”, & the first time in 26 years that a final chapter was done in this format alone. Also, because of “center color” usurping it, this may be the last time “all color” will ever be seen for a final chapter, at least the way we know it, but we’ll get to why shortly.

After a gap in 2011, 2012 saw “center color” finales for Bakuman. & Reborn!, while 2013 saw the same for Medaka Box (in true NisiOisin fashion, though, the color came at the end of the chapter) & Sket Dance, but in 2014 we finally saw a true successor to the treatment only Ring ni Kakero, Dragon Ball, & Slam Dunk received. Issue #50 of 2014 saw the end of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, the manga that debuted in the same issue that Rurouni Kenshin ended. Naruto wound up becoming an icon for the era it ran in, outliving most other Jump manga with a final count of 700 chapters across 72 volumes, outdone only by a small handful of other series since. Therefore, Jump decided to have Naruto join that small triumvirate of “full color final chapters”, but with 18 years having gone by since Slam Dunk’s final chapter, things had changed. “All color” was all but gone, and it was really more a relic of a pre-digital era than anything, so what Jump did instead was most interesting. First, Naruto’s final issue would serialize two chapters instead of one, with Chapter 699 being given the traditional “lead color” treatment, i.e. color opening pages that start the issue, but black-&-white for the rest. Chapter 700, though, became the first time in Jump history that an entire chapter was given true “full color” treatment, i.e. every page was given full colorization, and not just the old red-toned “all color” treatment. Jump categorized this as “C all color”, which I would guess mean “center all color”, since it wasn’t the lead, but instead was housed between the #9 & #10 spots in the ToC; the chapter itself was not ranked. Sure, this means that Naruto didn't get quite the same exact treatment as what came before, but it makes up for that with how it did things in a truly unique fashion, and may have set a new standard for the future.

This was possible mainly because of the assistance of Artra Entertainment, which at the time was in the middle of producing a colorized reprint for all of Naruto, so it just made sense to have that company assist in colorizing the final chapter; without Artra, who knows what Jump would have done. It not only gave Naruto something more than what came before, but also felt like a true evolution of this "Holy Grail" of final chapter treatment. The old days of “lead color + all color” were now gone, and in its place was something that could only be dreamed of back then, due to digital coloring technology. Another thing to note is that by this time, Shonen Jump started using the upper-right corner of each cover to advertise a single manga, such as if a major series was ending, and in this specific case Naruto was featured in that corner; I wouldn’t count this as Naruto getting the cover, though, since it wasn’t the actual focus.

Similar to how the 90s couldn’t stop at just one final chapter reaching that "Holy Grail", though, we aren’t done with the 2010s just yet. Following “center color” finales for Kuroko’s Basketball in 2014 & Assassination Classroom, Nisekoi, & Bleach in 2016, we hit Issue #42 of 2016, which marked the 40th Anniversary of Osamu Akimoto’s Kochikame. Debuting on the same exact issue number in 1976, Kochikame saw the rise of Jump to its greatest height, its subsequent sharp decline, & its rise back up to where it is today, and has also appeared in every single issue that featured a “full color final chapter”. In fact, it’s the very reason why San-nen Kimengumi’s “all color” final chapter in 1982 was ranked #2 in the ToC, & it was what had to follow up Slam Dunk’s final chapter in 1996. But after 40 years, over 1,950 chapters, & 200 volumes (making it the longest manga of all time, though Golgo 13 is on track to surpass it), Akimoto decided that it was finally time to end the episodic tales of Tokyo beat cop Kankichi Ryotsu, a.k.a “Ryo-san”. To honor it, Jump gave it the same treatment as Naruto, but slightly different. While two chapters were indeed serialized, only the first one was actually brand new. The final chapter of Kochikame would receive the “lead color” treatment, but nothing more, while the second chapter serialized, appearing immediately after the finale, was a reprint of the very first chapter from 1976, though under a new chapter title, only now it was fully colorized; however, Jump only categorized it as “all color”, likely to stay accurate to the era it first appeared. However, while Kochikame didn’t quite get the “full color final chapter” treatment, it did become only the third manga to ever be the cover of Shonen Jump for its final chapter, joining Yamazaki Ginjiro & Slam Dunk. Also, every other manga serialized at the time included a “Ryo-san” visual somewhere in the chapters featured in that issue.

Following that, we’ve seen another 11 manga be given the “center color” final chapter treatment, most recent being Taishi Tsutui’s We Never Learn in Combined Issue #3+4 of 2021. At this point, only two manga currently being serialized in Shonen Jump are older than 10 years: Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece & Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter (by technicality). I can guarantee that we will see another final chapter be given that Holy Grail treatment, and there’s no doubt that One Piece is a shoe-in for it, though whether it will be given the Naruto treatment or the Kochikame treatment is up for debate. As for Jump’s usage of color & covers for manga, the magazine now gives every single new manga that debuts the cover & “lead color” for Chapter 1 (which didn’t become fully standardized until around mid-1976, though there were still exceptions as late as 1988), followed by Chapter 2 placing in the first third of the issue with color opening pages, regardless of what its future winds up being (which didn’t become standardized until around mid-2008). As for finales, titles that are deemed to be flops almost always see their respective final chapters bottom out their issues, while those that achieve some manner of success do tend to receive “center color” for their ends. There are some notable exceptions, however, like Hikaru no Go or Death Note not receiving any color for their respective final chapters (despite charting at #4 & #5 in their issue’s ToCs), or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure never ending any of its “Parts” with color pages, even after “center color” had become established. Not even Steel Ball Run’s final chapter in Shonen Jump, before moving to Ultra Jump, received color, despite Bastard!! being given that very treatment four years prior; the same lack of color would apply to D.Gray-man & World Trigger when they both left Shonen Jump later on.

Still, the idea of a Jump manga’s final chapter either getting the cover for its issue or leading its issue with color pages all the way through remains a true “Holy Grail”, with only three achieving the former, & four achieving the latter (five if you count Kochikame’s full-color first chapter reprint). Forty years later, it’s great that notable manga (for the most part) receiving special treatment for their final chapters has become standardized, and the path to get there has been an interesting one, to say the least.


Special thanks goes to Jump Covers on Twitter for the cover scans & Jajanken: Weekly Shonen Jump Lab, a site currently in Beta that went live in 2020 & catalogs literally every single issue of Jump from its first issue in 1968 to today by way of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs "Media Arts Database (Beta Version)", whether it’s which manga ran in each issue, what the title for each & every chapter is (older manga in Japanese only, but newer manga have English-translated titles!), if they received color pages or not, & what each chapter’s placement in the ToC was in every single issue. Without Jajanken, this entire history would have been impossible to compile, and the fact that it offers an English equivalent makes it a prime location for this information.

So the timing of this article (& video) is to go with Yamazaki Ginjiro's final chapter, as Issue #16 of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1981 is listed as having come out on March 30, though manga magazines tend to date their issues later than they actually are; still, a date's a date. So what about that OTHER notable final chapter that's celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2021? We'll come back to that this October.

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