The Current State of Weekly Magazine and Jump

Every once in a while, I take a look at the various shonen magazines out there and see what is already licensed, likely to be licensed, and highly unlikely to be licensed. The shonen market can be vicious, and now that Kodansha is mostly back to normal over here, and Viz is where it’s always been, I want to take a look at their two magazines and see where we are today, and where we could be in the future.

(Look, I apologize to Shonen Sunday fans, but… no. It’s a mug’s game. Viz will probably license Silver Spoon when it get enough volumes. That’s all I got. I wish it sold better.)

I’ll start with Magazine, which has a slightly broader variety of content, though it also panders more towards the older teen/younger man who likes breasts and panties more than Jump does. (Arguably Jump panders more to the yaoi fangirl lately as well, but that’s a highly controversial topic, and it’s easy to see their core titles as still all being for young teen boys.)

Magazine’s final issue of 2011 (pictured above) has 24 stories in it. Five of those are licensed in some way or another: Air Gear, Negima, Fairy Tail, Bloody Monday (the current series is the ‘Final (3rd) Season’, Kodansha has licensed the first so far), and Cage of Eden. Another series which is on break this issue is also licensed: Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. And a 7th series was licensed by Del Rey but is currently in that limbo state of “It’s not cancelled, we’re just never releasing any more of it”: Code:Breaker. Lastly, Vertical has licensed the recently finished Onizuka manga, GTO: Shonan 14 Days.

That leaves a lot of stuff in the current magazine that’s never hit North American shores. (And yes, there are other options as well: popular series now finished but still unlicensed, like Yankee-kun to Megane-chan, and other ‘licensed by Del Rey but probably cancelled’ old series such as Suzuka and School Rumble. But I’m looking at the current magazine.)

First, there are the brand new, just started series that are too new to get a handle on. These include Star Children, which debuts in this issue, and seems to be about an astronaut school. Tanteiken Sherdock is about the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes as a cute small dog, and is from the author of cult favorite Psychometrer Eiji. Lastly, there’s Dragon Collection: Ryuu o Suberumono, which is apparently based on a video game, and honestly might have the best chance to get picked up of this whole lot, especially if Deltora Quest does well.

Then there are the gag manga, most of which never get licensed over here as the humor frequently never translates well, is very ‘Osaka-style’, and has art styles that are best described as stylized (i.e., they are unpretty). Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is an exception to this, but then it also has more pages and more of a plot than most gag manga. (Well, pseudo-plot.) Zeus no Tane, Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san, and Mou, Shimasen Kara have very little chance of making it to these shores. There’s also Seitokai Yakuindomo, which has an anime to its name. However, it has another major killer: it’s an entire manga about sex jokes. If you like seeing young high school girls make jokes about their hymens and the male lead’s penis every single page, then it’s perfect for you. Otherwise, I’m fairly sure Kodansha is happy to leave it as a Japanese phenomenon.

There are also a large number of sports manga, many of which have multiple volumes, and almost all of which are unlikely to appear here. Daiya no A (baseball), Ahiru no Sora (basketball), Area no Kishi (soccer), and Baby Steps (tennis). I’ll also throw Gamaran in here, which is in the Edo period, but still is unlikely to be licensed as it’s a martial arts manga with fighting on almost every page. Lastly, we have Hajime no Ippo, which deserves special mention as it’s not only a boxing manga but also has so many volumes that Dallas Middaugh would have a heart attack just trying to schedule it.

Now we have the rest of the magazine. A-Bout is a delinquents series, and I’ve discussed the popularity of these in Japan as opposed to America before. Kimi to Iru Machi is a romantic comedy from the author of Suzuka. If Suzuka didn’t sell here (and they tried – it had fancy oversize volumes and everything) why try something by the same artist? AKB49 – Renai Kinshi Jourei is the sort of thing that might get licensed if it were shoujo (it’s about celebrity singers, it features a guy cross-dressing as a girl, etc.) – but it’s not shoujo. It’s also a tie-in to real life idol singers, and thus might be too ‘Japan-specific’. There is GE – Good Ending, another romantic comedy/drama. Shonen romantic comedies don’t sell anymore, as their fans tend to read them online and them complain about each chapter being the ‘last one they’ll ever read’ a lot. This one also apparently has one of those casts that makes you want to kill everyone in it with fire. Lastly, we have Tobaku Haouden Rei: Gyankihen. First off, gambling is a uniquely popular Japanese shonen genre that really hasn’t taken off here. Second, it has Pointy Chin Syndrome, and its faces are simply too ‘interesting’ to be licensed. Third, it’s a sequel.

So, really, I think we’re good with Magazine titles for the moment. Kodansha and Vertical might agree with me, seeing as their new licenses came from the Magazine spinoffs instead.

Jump this week has twenty-one series in it, eight of which have been licensed: One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Bakuman, Toriko, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Reborn!, and Hunter x Hunter. There’s also Gintama, which is still running in Japan but has been cancelled here. (Of note: Bleach has been incredibly unpopular in Japan recently. After the end of the ‘Aizen’ arc, it plummeted to the bottom of Jump’s TOC (which is partly based on a reader poll), and with one or two exceptions has remained there since. I doubt it will be cancelled anytime soon, however.)

Again, let’s start by removing the gag manga. This includes Genson! Kodai Seibutsushi Pakki, which involves dinosaurs, and is fairly new; and Inamaru Dashi, which is about kindergartners and I imagine loaded with hard-to-translate jokes.

We can also remove the very recent series, which we don’t know enough about to see how they’ll do. Nise Koi, a romantic comedy about two high school kids who are from rival yakuza families and forced to date. Kagami no Kuni no Harisugawa is a rather strange title about a magic mirror, but is essentially another romantic comedy. And Kurogane is a kendo manga, which is one strike against it, and is also named Kurogane. Do we really need another manga called Kurogane on these shores?

In its own separate level of licensing hell is Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo, aka Kochikame. It’s 176 volumes, and is a comedy about a doofus cop and his wacky misadventures. I’ve talked about it before. Maybe – MAYBE – If Shueisha forces Viz to release some sort of best-of, a la Oishinbo. Otherwise forget it.

What’s left? More series I’ve discussed before, and also talked about how they aren’t very licensable before. Sket Dance, about a group of high school kids who form a club devoted to odd jobs, is too similar to the recently cancelled Gintama. (The two series even crossed over recently in Japan, with Gin noting the similarities.) Beelzebub is highly promising, with lots of fights, several supernatural demons, and the son of Satan. Sadly, the son of Satan is a naked infant, and we see his naked infant penis a lot. A whole lot. If it was licensed, it would be Dr. Slump times twelve, and fans would have a complete freakout. Kuroku no Basket is a basketball manga, and while interesting, wouldn’t be licensed till Viz finishes Slam Dunk anyway. And Medaka Box I’ve given its own page in the past, and despite now having an upcoming anime produced by Gainax, I still think it has the same issues with being licensed. It’s now the most promising of that category, though.

The other promising unlicensed title here is Magico, a fantasy about a girl with sealed memories who has the potential for world-destroying dark magic, and the sorcerer who protects her from the entire world trying to kill her. It’s fairly new, and has sunk to the bottom of the magazine, but if it survives it seems very promising. And last in the magazine is ST&RS, another manga about an astronaut academy (which predates the one in Magazine), which is very likely to be cancelled soon. If you want an astronaut manga, either read Twin Spica or read Uchu Kyodai from Kodansha’s Weekly Morning.

So what have we learned here? That I would not want to be the sort of person who makes licensing decisions, as I tend to be very cynical. Also, there’s a lot of interesting unlicensed stuff out there regardless. Don’t take my talking about these series being hopeless cases for licenses meaning I think they’re bad. Some are excellent, some are guilty pleasures, and some are just fun. Which of them would you license if you suddenly had a publishing company, permission from Japan and a huge amount of money? (I’m sure that day will come soon for all of us…)

Monthly Comic Alive

I’ve spent the past few days down with a nasty cold, one of the worst I’ve had in years. Nausea, coughing, slight fever, weakness, the works. As a result, reviews have been thin on the ground. So I figured that, since I’m *already* ill, what better time to take a look at the August issue of Monthly Comic Alive, from the folks at Media Factory?

Usually whenever I go into NYC I try to get a different manga magazine to try out. Lately I’ve been limited as they’ve stopped carrying some of the really obscure ones, and the choices seem to be limited to the old classics – all the big 3 shonen, Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Big Comic/Original/Superior/Spirits, and Young ______. The remainder, down on the bottom shelf of Kinokuniya’s seinen section, tend to be what I call ‘media tie-in boobie magazines’, where the manga caters to people who like franchises and fanservice. Here you’ll find Kadokawa’s Shonen and Young Ace, for example, or Shonen Gahosha’s Young King Ours. And Champion Red goes here, despite its lack of tie-ins, by its sheer skeeziness.

Media Factory is in general known as an anime company first and foremost. In 1999 they started to put out a manga magazine Comic Flapper, which is still running, and was the home of Dark Horse’s incomplete series Translucent. In 2006 they noted the growing otaku market and started Comic Alive, which oozes otaku from its every pore. I picked up the August issue with trepidation. I mean, look at this cover.

So, knowing I was in for a rough ride, I started to glance through the contents. Let’s see…

It needs to be said, if you want to know what the current otaku kinks are, Comic Alive is a great place to go. Catgirls are in here, of course. As are maids. A lot of maids. Panties, of course. Gotta have lots of underwear. And of course lots of nudity as well. There’s also witches, mainly as half the magazine seems to be fantasy of some sort. Fans of current anime series will find a lot of this familiar, as many of these are current animes, past animes, or future animes. Sacred Blacksmith. Zero no Tsukaima. Sasameki Koto. Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. MM! Maria Holic. Stein’s Gate. In addition, a good number of those I just mentioned are based off of light novels or games, making it even more franchise bait. And a few of them have ‘side stories’ running in other magazines from other companies.

As I wrote short notes about each chapter I read, one thing kept coming up over and over. ‘Ecchi fantasy’. Not porn, of course, as that would require anyone actually getting lucky, which isn’t going to happen here. But… well, I could probably write a synopsis that would fit 75% of Comic Alive’s stories.

“Kenji, a nondescript ordinary guy, is going to school at Elite Academy, where he finds he is one of only 10 boys in a school almost entirely populated by girls. One day, he discovers that he is the bearer of an awesome power (magic/swordsmanship/being really nice, delete where appropriate), but one that can only be used if he gains power by earning the love and/or affection (really, rubbing against him will do) of at least five different 13-16 year old girls of varying personalities and body types, as long as you have one girl who’s flat-chested and angry and one who is buxom and seductive. Of course, Kenji is a nice guy, so these girls have nothing to fear. As the series goes on, he will come up against bigger villains and more girls, all of whom fall for him and most of whom he meets when he walks in on them changing, or in the shower, or hell, when they wake up naked in his bed. What’s Kenji going to do? How can he possibly decide which girl is his true love and which he just needs to use their affection to power himself up? Especially as he represents so many readers, none of whom will agree. (He’ll probably end up with the angry girl, but let’s hedge our bets and do a side-story in Shonen Ace where he doesn’t.) Soon to be a new anime in the Fall of 2012!”

There are a few bright spots. Sasameki Koto may be a bit more serious than it once was, but its relatively realistic look at a budding yuri couple is a breath of fresh air amidst all the panty shots elsewhere in the magazine. Likewise Himawari-san, another low-key series with a dash of yuri. I was also quite pleased with Suugaku Girl, which is apparently in its third incarnation, and is designed to teach difficult math concepts through the power of moe cat-eared girls. It has some service, but not a lot, and seems to be pretty dedicated to teaching its math (at least from the one chapter I read).

But really, the thing that struck me most about Comic Alive, a magazine devoted to being the go-to point for otaku who like to read more of the same, it’s that there were 4 different series that had 4-koma comedy spinoffs later in the magazine. Zero no Tsukaima, Mayo Chiki, Infinite Stratos, an Aria the Scarlet Ammo *all* have cutesy superdeformed 4-koma series to keep milking the same thing. Presumably as if they had to rely on series that weren’t part of a light novel/manga/anime/game franchise, it would be a very short magazine indeed.