Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, Vol. 11

By Koji Kumeta. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

So, now that I spent several months researching all the niggly bits of Vol. 10 (something I will never do again), I’m a couple of volumes behind. Not only that, but Zetsubou-sensei, much as I love it, doesn’t exactly allow me to talk about developing plot and characterizations. It’s a gag manga. What’s a reviewer to do?

Well, there are a few things I can talk about. For one, just because I’m not doing long lists of references doesn’t mean I can never mention them again. I noted in my review of Vol. 10 that ‘pregnant heroines’ were mentioned as one of the manga that Kumeta had on his list of things to do – in fact, he’d done every one of them except that. No, we shouldn’t expect Zetsubou-sensei to end this way. But it gets brought up again in Chapter 101, where it’s noted as one of the ‘three taboo’s o shonen manga’. (The other, tone on male nipples, is casually broken by Kumeta here for a gag.

The real gag is that, at the time that this chapter was running, another author in Shonen Magazine was breaking the first, far more major taboo. Sei Kouji was wrapping up his series Suzuka, a harem manga about two high school track-and-field stars and their tsundere love. As Joshua Weeks noted in the endnotes (talking about it for a different gag), it was quite ecchi. It also ended with Suzuka pregnant, and giving up her star carer to have the child. This was quite controversial at the time, both for the actual suggestion of teenage sex (though if sex is going to happen, it’ll be in Magazine, rather than Jump and Sunday), and because many felt this was an ‘unhappy ending’, with the couple giving up their dreams in order to raise the child.

(Suzuka ended here in North America 3 volumes away from the end, so I apologize if I spoiled you. I can’t see Kodansha finishing it up if they haven’t already.)

Then we have the chapters featuring Nozomu’s body double. While mostly amusing for the fact that none of the cast seem to be able to tell him from the real thing, including Matoi, it does lend itself to another long-term character change for the sake of better gags. In general, the cast of Zetsubou, in regards to being “in love” with him, falls into two types: a) Kiri, Matoi and Chiri, and b) all the rest. (Kafuka, as ever, is outside the box entirely.) When he needs a chaotic ending, he’ll go with the whole cast, but in general, you tend to think that, of the major cast members (sorry, Mayo), those are the three with actual feelings. Now we have Abiru added to that lineup here, and though it’ll be hit and miss for a while, she does continue to show major affection for him in future volumes. Given that the series is not about to have him hook up with any of his students, this is entirely done for fun, but it’s still worth noting.

This volume also has one of my favorite chapters in the series, which talks about “off-air battles”. It’s something that makes sense in both Japanese and English, so works well here. It gives Matoi a larger role (she’s finally becoming an actual productive cast member, as opposed to a simple visual gag) and highlights her jealous feud with Kiri. It shows off Nozomu’s stunning hypocrisy in regards to his “suicide attempts” (and yes, by the way, Chiri used the English phrase “techno-maestros” in Japanese as well). And it has a great metatextual end gag, offsetting Chiri’s increasingly bloody violence (witness her horrifying butchering of a corpse with a blunt knife a few chapters earlier) with the need to remind oneself that this is a comic for young boys. (Well, no it isn’t, but let Shonen Magazine have its delusions. Jump they aren’t.)

Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is a series that benefits from multiple re-readings, and so I higly recommend that you go out and buy it. Also, for Kodansha-haters, they kept in Kiri’s “Don’t open it!” this time around, possibly as she’s simply zipping up the back of her dress.

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