I’m a tremendous fan of battle series that play with creative power systems. So I was ecstatic when, some 5 years ago now, a new fantasy adventure manga about a couple who needed to hold hands constantly or perish called Double Arts arrived on the scene. I was equally devastated when, half a year later, Weekly Shonen Jump’s ruthless management killed the series dead immediately after some of the best introductory chapters of manga I’d ever read. I was younger then and didn’t realize that there were thousands of amazing manga I’d never even be able to read in my lifetime, so I was all kinds of devastated.
This whole affair was my introduction to one Komi Naoshi, a multiclass genius of a manga author who handily survived Double Arts’ cancellation and is currently set to break the anime barrier with an adaptation of two-years-young Weekly Shonen Jump (hereafter WSJ) manga Nisekoi. He’s also one of the few personalities in manga or anime who gets exponentially cooler the more I read about him. If you don’t currently have the afternoon’s worth of time to check out his entire mangaography (something I wholly endorse), then you might as well read this column.
Komi Naoshi’s amusing career arc begins with his being born on March 28, 1986. The Kochi Prefecture native grew up as a middle child in a family of six (parents, a sister and 3 brothers), and was a very talented artist from a very early age. His parents weren’t particularly aware of his talent, but his siblings constantly encouraged him, and he’s constantly expressed how greatful he is to them. And not just in interviews. When Naoshi won the 12th Promising New Manga Artist Award for his debut work, somber sci-fi oneshot Island, he gave the entire 600,000 yen in prize money to his parents. Guy’s a class act.
After graduating from an Art School in Kobe, Naoshi quickly got picked up by Shueisha and churned out another pair of solid oneshots, Koi no Kamisama and Williams. Amusingly, both feature characters trying to live out some type of fiction. Williams is a fun whimsy tale of an adventure novel fanboy who meets the author of his favorite story, with interesting results. Koi no Kamisama is the story of a guy who loves love stories and fails at romance in real life, at least until his hilariously pure-hearted persistence finally pays off when he defies a very petty god to get close to the one he loves. While short, both are really well-built pieces manga that reflect an effective high energy style; this was a departure from Naoshi’s debut work and would come to characterize most of his work after 2007.
Naoshi cranked out another oneshot, Personant, in 2008 (shortly before Double Arts began serialization). This time the order of the day was a futuristic sci-fi world where everyone wears full-body suits to avoid discrimination based on appearance, with the focus on a reporter and a no-mask dissident she’s interviewing. As one would expect from such a premise, there’s lots of talking about the merits of fitting into society versus individual freedom. But Naoshi’d made some progress since Island, so the tone was a little less sullen, with some witty jokes about what qualifies as exhibitionism in such a world. It’s a decent read, at any rate.
Naoshi’s talent was undeniable, and full serialization was only a matter of time. He finally made his break into the elite club of weekly serial manga authors in 2008, bringing the world of Double Arts to life. World-building exposition in manga is a tricky thing, as it’s not a good idea to pack paragraphs of text into a fundamentally visual medium. Even more so for a world like the one of DA, where a mysterious disease that causes people to vanish is combated by resistant-but-not-immune women (“sisters”) who absorb the disease into themselves, inevitably dying in their early twenties. The plot follows one specific sister, Elle, who is saved from vanishing when she meets Kiri, a man who is a) immune to the disease and b) can increase the physical capabilities of anyone he’s holding hands with at the moment (a power called “flare”). Since Elle is infected with this disease and will die without the flare boosting, she and Kiri must hold hands at all times. So they do, fending off assassins and figuring out how to use the shower as the situation dictates.
That’s a setting with some wicked potential, but complicated enough to take some real explanation. But Naoshi takes an alternate route. He elaborates on the setting by focusing on the lives of particular characters within the world; townspeople, a nunnery of sisters, and the like. One particular scene introduces specific attributes of the flare power while using it to help prepare a float for a village festival. This allows the exposition to advance while not sacrificing the visual and motion aspect of manga that makes it unique from novels in the same genre. And that calls for some fairly epic high fives.
The other notable Double Arts factoid is that it was cancelled after 23 chapters, having barely enough time to build up the characters developing the titular fighting style. On the forums I hung out in at the time, the ending was met with a resounding “Wait, what?”. Looking back on it now, though, the cancellation did make economic sense. Double Arts’ third volume only sold roughly 38,000 copies in its first week, below the typical total for Kochi Kame and well below some of the series (like Kuroko’s Basketball) that came after it. From a purely economic perspective, it makes sense to cancel mid-major ~40k sales series when you can use their slot to develop a real ~200k contender. This policy hasn’t changed much over the years. Koisome Momiji, a 2012 WSJ series that posted near-identical sales numbers for its third volume, didn’t even manage to crack the 40-chapter mark.
After Double Arts was cancelled, Naoshi dropped the pace, doing one more oneshot, Apple, in 2009, and nothing in 2010. The man hadn’t given up, though, because in the Winter 2011 issue of Jump Next, he rolled out a new oneshot by the name of Nisekoi. This oneshot was essentially a romantic comedy base coating a rather outrageous bluff plot; the son and daughter of a family of yakuza and gangsters, respectively, must pretend to be in love to stave off all-out war between the clans. Which is a difficulty because they’ve hated each other for a while. This leads to a barrage of hilarious high energy scenes, and a lot of snappy banter, throughout the 52-page oneshot.
Suffice to say it was popular, enough so to land Naoshi the chance at a new serialization. The long-form Nisekoi manga began serialization near the end of 2011, and runs currently in Weekly Shonen Jump. Nisekoi is a solidly successful manga, regularly selling 100,000 volumes on release weeks. To boot, an anime in the pipeline for Fall 2013. I think it’s safe to say he’s bounced back from the 2008 cancellation of Double Arts and learned how to make manga that combine quality with mass appeal.
It’s downright exciting to think about his future, knowing he’s at the level he’s at and is still well under the age of 30. Interesting tidbit: the career arc his most closely traces at the moment is one Naoki Urasawa, Japanese living national treasure.* Young stars like Naoshi are one of the reasons the future of manga will always shine bright.**
*After churning out a number of oneshots from age 21 to 26, Urasawa hit it big with Yawara, a romantic comedy that ran for a good seven years. 1 year after Yawara finished, Urasawa began work on Monster. This is going to be the least scientific thing I say in an already very unscientific article, but I feel the same love of their job as mangaka in the career arcs and early works of both.
**Weekly Shonen Jump getting its hands on most of them is the reason why Shueisha is the Goliath of the manga industry.
Double Arts v3 Sales: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2008-12-12/japanese-comic-ranking-december-3-9
Koisome Momiji v3 Sales: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2013-01-09/japanese-comic-ranking-december-31-january-6