Kouta Hirano got some exciting news this past week when the staff for the anime adaptation of his current manga, Drifters, was rolled out. Reading about that news reminded me of a list Hirano earned his place on with that series, and about someone else on that list we won’t be hearing as much about from now on.
Typically, even the manga that command the greatest degree of fame and attention take a while to actually get to that point. Takako Shimura spent years writing 18+ manga under multiple pen names before creating the internationally recognized Wandering Son. Shingeki no Kyojin didn’t even make the charts when its first volume came out. Even undisputed king of manga sales One Piece took over a decadein print to surpass Dragon Ball’s 156 million copy total and become #1, and in the last 6 years it’s added about 220 million to that total. A big part of success for most of the authors who have achieved recognition is due to diligence and working a lot over a long period.
Manga that do amass gigantic sales totals from the launch date of their first volume tend to fall into one of three categories. First, there are the licensed spinoffs, adaptations of Sword Art Online and Mahouka and such riding the wave of another author’s popularity, often as part of a larger media blitz. Second, you have the extensions of existing popular manga series that decided to change their titles, your Major 2nds and Baki Gaidens. Lastly, you have the bona-fide originals, series which ride a name and a compelling start to immediate large-scale success.
It’s this third category, the hardest one to break into, that most interests me. In practice, it breaks down into a list of authors with strong pre-established reputations doing other popular series and Jump newcomers, and it’s fun to look at in that “tough achievement to notch” kind of way.
This past week was a pretty unambiguously good one for Square Enix’s publishing division, featuring sales of over 95,000 for previously-unranked Isshukan Friends, a boost for the old volumes of Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun, and the final volume of Cocoa Fujiwara’s Inu x Boku SS topping the list with over 250,000 copies sold. That last part might not even be the most impressive thing Fujiwara did this week, either. While the 250,000 in IxB sales is, in large part, in keeping with previous volumes of the series, Fujiwara also saw her brand new manga, Katsute Mahou Shoujo to Aku wa Tekitai shite Ita, notch first week sales of over 80,000. While not unprecedented by any means, that level of early sales puts her on a pretty exclusive list.
A week ago or so, I finished watching Master Keaton. It’s a 1998 series from smack in the middle of the golden age of late night, airing on Mondays after midnight on Nihon TV. The series is loosely based around a 30-something professional investigating insurance claims, doing historical research, combating terrorists, or occasionally just being in the general vicinity of someone doing something halfway important. And it’s pretty damn near perfect at it – aside from the 2-part finale, each episode basically starts from scratch in a completely different context and builds a story that is, at worst, unique and engaging. That’s a feat which isn’t too difficult to do once, but gets a lot harder when it has to happen 38 times in a row. I just wanted to spend a little more time thinking about it after finishing the whole thing, so I decided to rank the episodes of the show from 38th (still solid) to 1st (glorious):
20th Century Boys, and Naoki Urasawa’s work in general, may borrow from popular culture quite a bit. However, he may be ill-matched by Hirohiko Araki, the author of long-runner Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. If you know of JJBA, you may be aware of the fact that the author regularly copies the poses of fashion models and the everythings of the music industry. He also, midway through the series’ fourth installment, manages to parody the movie Speed. You know, the one where a large number of innocent commuters are stuck on a bus and if the bus goes slower than 50 miles per hour, it blows up? Just replace the bus with a motorcycle and the blowing up with crippling dessication, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how this arc goes.
The difference? Comedy. Unlike Keanu Reeves, Josuke doesn’t have a radio link to his backup. So when he needs a phone, he resorts to sticky-fingers swiping it from a person who happened to need his to close a million-dollar deal:
And it doesn’t even work, so he has to break up a marriage proposal too:
JJBA gets up to plenty of out-and-out ridiculous stuff, but these phone-grab scenes are some of the better examples of it nailing under-the-top comedy with the practiced finesse of an author who’d already been in this business a decade since a decade ago.
When I set out to watch anime from the glorious annals of history, there are three general lines of attack I follow. First, I look for agreed-upon classics, shows everyone agrees are great and influential. Second, I look at catalogs, shows made by directors, writers, or studios that have a bunch of other impressive tics on their resume. Third, I listen to recommendations when people make them. Solty Rei, a 2005 sci-fi show about bounty hunter/parent Roy Revant and his two daughters, found its way to me via the second and third channels. The show ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, an easy marathon that rightfully belongs in the early Gonzo catalog with its host of impressive titles.
I thought it’d be a fun little exercise to try and pull out as many mangaka names as I could without relying on references. This is that list, written on lockdown mode and complete with the reasons why I remember them.
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.
Yoshida Motoi is an irregular manga artist who makes up for his bi-quarterly release pace with the best aesthetic concepts this side of Yusuke Murata and a detail-fixated, thorough art style.* It’s fitting, then, that the manga he’s currently drawing, Natsu no Zenjitsu, deals with art itself.
As the title suggests, this particular chapter focuses on the male lead’s sense of touch, and aims to convey how it factors into both his life and his paintings to the readers. Part of that goal is accomplished in conventional means via the script, but the chapter also provides a clinic of how to incorporate the sense of touch into seemingly flat pages of manga. Nor does it just run an art clinic; these depictions are intimately related to a growing and somewhat contradictory set of emotions in the manga’s male lead.
There are a lot of mecha anime out there, and while I haven’t seen too many of them, I tend to really enjoy the self-aware mecha shows that take unique takes on the implications of the genre; stuff like Dai-Guard, where the focus is a hot-blooded protagonist dealing with various impracticalities of the genre, or Fist Planet, where the mech pilot just clowns around to pass the time in his dull job, or Gad Guard, which is all about the downsides of having a robot minion that does whatever you want.
One day, I had heard a certain 90s mecha by the name of Gasaraki mentioned in this context enough times that I had to give it a look. Suffice to say it’s a lot less in the style of Ishikawa Ken (Getter Robo) and a lot more in the style of Kaiji Kawaguchi (Zipang, A Spirit of the Sun), a gripping political thriller.
There’s a scene in Naoki Urasawa’s Happy! where the main character Umino, who’s gotten herself matched up against a player who should be by all rights an easy win, gets mixed up in a match-fixing gig. Due to her honest nature, she still tries to win the game, but finds herself stymied against an opponent playing much harder than she normally would, at a level that one informed observer remarks she’ll “never reach again” as a result of considerable pressure heaped on her from outside sources.
You know who else is under crushing pressure all the time? Mediocre manga authors.