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.

Sayonara, Zetszubou-sensei, Vol. 12

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

Once again, I don’t really have much to talk about with this excellent volume of Zetsubou-sensei except a string of random observations. Which seems somewhat fitting, given this series.

As I’ve noted before, Zetsubou-sensei has acquired a reputation of burning out translators, with each one before Joshua Weeks lasting 4 volumes. I’ve no idea if this is Joshua’s final volume as well, but it wouldn’t surprise me: this one was an absolute nightmare to adapt, I imagine. The first chapter is an entire chapter based on “explain the Japanese pun”, the final ‘extra’ makes no sense unless you read the weekly Magazines, and another chapter is based around Rakugo. Certainly this is why, after doing notes for Vol. 10, *I* gave up. Still, an admirable job, even if I once again feel there’s too few endnotes. But that’s just me.

Most of the cast of high schoolers tend to have lousy lives in general, but at least can sometimes have a default of ‘happy’ most of the time, even if it’s a psychotic sort of happiness. Manami, though, who graces the back cover with her debt book… wow, her life is simply brutal. Married at the age of 16 to a philandering husband who appears to use her as a name to saddle all his debt on to, she’s also hideously unlucky and tends to get herself into more debt through sheer gullibility. In Volume 11, after hearing some of her complaints, her teacher decides to simply ignore them to save his sanity. Really, we should do the same here. Her face in Chapter 119 as she talks about realizing her husband is the one for her speaks of horrible illicit affairs gone wrong. Luckily, this is a gag manga, so we’ll never have to worry about it.

I also noticed a couple of chapters showing Maria at the receiving end of some of the unfortunate gags, which surprised me. Generally the cast divides into “people bad things happen to” (Manami being an excellent example), and “people who blithely walk through the chaos” (Kafuka is a prime example here). Usually Maria is one of the latter, so seeing her two falls here is rather unusual. Still, no one in the end is safe from a gag as long as it’s funny. Well, except for the aforementioned Kafuka. I think even if a meteor destroyed the Earth, she’d be blithely smiling in her space bunker somewhere else…

The ‘hot or not’ chapter really worked much better in the anime. Probably due to the chilling chirpiness of Chiri’s ‘ari ari ari ari!’ in the original Japanese. Speaking of Chiri, she seems now to be committing murders on an almost daily basis, judging by her having to hide from police disguised as tree bark. And yet she still has a rival: Mayo’s face as she demonstrates the blowtorch is absolutely beautiful. (It was an inspiration for her appearance in the ending to the 3rd season.) And I love Kiri and Matoi sniping at each other as usual.

Then there’s Kiyohiko’s Night. Oi. The folks who watch the anime have an advantage over others, as they’ve actually seen the sequence in question, but here goes: Weekly Shonen Magazine has a special issues with one-shots and short special versions of regular comics that comes out on holidays. For one of these, Kumeta released a 4-page comic that involved a pun on the Japanese version of ‘Silent Night’ and a bizarre man named Kiyohiko. As viewers of the anime can tell you, it was not particularly funny. What’s more, the magazine it appeared in had to be pulled due to a controversy surrounding another artist’s work so very few people got to read it anyway. It was presumably supposed to be in this volume, but Kumeta, realizing it wasn’t that funny, pulled it and instead drew 4 pages of the cast complaining. So now you know! (You can see Kiyohiko on the swing by Maria at the back of the book, if you’re curious.)

Also, Kiri is changing into her sweats for her “don’t open it”, and you can see her semi-naked. I therefore conclude the missing Kiri from Vol. 10 was indeed the usual poor quality control rather than any censorious reasons. (Quality control seems better here.) Lastly, we have some of the Japanese fanart. One piece of which made me absolutely boggle. It involves Kafuka ogling her teacher’s ass. You really should see it for yourself.

And now I’m caught up! Roll on Vol. 13!

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.