Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, Vol. 13

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

It was recently announced that Zetsubou will be ending in Weekly Shonen Magazine in about two months, making it a total of 28-29 volumes long. As a result, this volume manages to not even be halfway through the series, something that I’m sure worries Kodansha Comics here in North America more than it does the average reader. Still, let us read on to see what we can glean from this volume.

Indeed, the last short gag comic in this volume talks about the fact that, after the anime has aired, the cast has lost all motivation to continue to excel. Lots of cute little gags here – we see Kiri and Matoi in regular school uniform, and Nozomu in a T-shirt, as they just can’t be bothered to care. Naturally, this is a reflection of Kumeta-san’s own misgivings. He had been tortured back when Katteni Kaizo was running with the promise of an anime… which never materialized (at least not then.) Now that Zetsubou has gotten an anime series, he’s at a loss for what to wish for now. As the manga demonstrates, a live-action series would probably simply be ridiculous – for one thing, the violence would have to be toned way down.

Speaking of violence, for a while it seemed as if Chiri was slacking a bit in her role as Zetsubou’s favorite psycho. Luckily, she’s back on top form here, as she kills the cast and buries them under the floor in one chapter (then returns home to parents it’s hinted she’s also killed…) and in another chapter simply incites the rest of the girls to slaughter a number of prison guards in order to rescue their teacher. Kafuka has lost a bit of focus as the series has gone on, with Chiri’s stronger, more insane personality becoming more popular. But as ever, Kafuka shows who’s really in control of events here – I’m positive that’s her dressed as the girl giving Nozomu a love letter.

Another consequence of the series getting an anime is that it led to the manga getting new readers that would likely not have picked it up before – the otaku fan. Indeed, going to pixiv, a Japanese art site, shows a truly staggering number of questionable art of Kiri Komori, who was quickly singled out as the most ‘moe’ of the cast. Kumeta attacks these types of fans with even more vitriol than usual, especially in the chapter devoted to ‘honey traps’. Whether it be the average watcher of Haruhi and Lucky Star, or the man who buys character sheets and body pillows, no one is spared. Of course, as Kafuka cynically undercuts, they’re perfectly happy to have fans buying Zetsubou-sensei merchandise.

Chapter 129 has one of the stranger endings of the entire series, and even though Joshua Weeks (congratulations on lasting more than four volumes, Josh!) does endnote it, it’s worth looking at. Kumeta got his start at Shogakukan’s Shonen Sunday, and worked there for years. His most popular series there was Katteni Kaizo, which ran from 1998 – 2004… the period right before Zetsubou-sensei. Indeed, it was an argument with Shogakukan about the series (and the anime that never seemed to happen) that led to him leaving for Kodansha. (His assistant, Kenjiro Hata, elected to stay at Shogakukan, and was given his own series, Hayate the Combat Butler. Needless to say, ‘friendly rivalry’ doesn’t begin to describe things…)

Katteni Kaizo is a high-school gag manga about a boy who is convinced that he is a cyborg, his friend Umi who knocked him onto his head as a child, and their many,m many insane friends. When Kumeta deliberately cut it short, he decided to end it by showing Kaizo and Umi waking up in a mental hospital, where they had been imagining the entire series. Now “cured”, they go out into Tokyo to start life anew. The fan reaction was basically “…”, as you might imagine. One of the minor characters, Yoko, had, towards the end of the series, sealed herself in a wall by accident (something that is quite typical of this character). Whether Kumeta did this deliberately in order to write this precise chapter of Zetsubou-sensei 7 years later is unknown (I tend to doubt it), but it ends up looking quite clever.

I’m not sure what the future of Zetsubou-sensei is in North America. Vol. 14 is scheduled for April, but after that Kodansha’s schedule (up through November on Amazon) does not show it. You might argue “but it’s a New York Times bestseller!”, but aside from the fact that the NYT list frequently bears no resemblance to reality, the question is whether Zetsubou’s sales are worth the stress of having to translate this monster. More jokes than ever before in this volume are simply “this is funny if you’re Japanese, trust us” jokes, and the minimal endnotes only help a little. On the other hand, it could simply be that the series is taking a short break, possibly for the translator to recover his frazzled mind, and will continue down the road. Obviously I’m hoping for the latter. In any case, this is another solid volume of the series.

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