In case it hasn’t become painfully obvious, my writing time is currently dependent on how busy work is. For the foreseeable future I’ll have to write these as a bi-weekly or tri-weekly column. It all depends on how things go at work during the week.
One Piece Ch. 712-714
Oh Sanji. Sanji, Sanji, Sanji. You used to be so cool? What happened man? Now you’re just the butt of jokes; sure I laugh at those jokes every time, and maybe a little part of me thinks it’s karma for your womanizing ways, but even I wish for a return to the Mr Prince times. Still, you manage to shine a little bit, but only after Violet looks into your mind and is horrified by what she sees. And considering she can read minds I imagine she’s seen some pretty perverted stuff. And somehow your sincerity brings her over to your side. I’m not sure if you’re really smooth or you just got lucky for once in your life.
What’s been great about One Piece these past few weeks is how much ground has been covered in the story. Splitting focus between multiple story lines is not an easy task, and most manga authors avoid it as much as possible. And yet, somehow Oda manages to do it not just chapter by chapter, but page by page in each individual chapter. He even manages to bring back old characters like Noland. And astute readers, such as the gentlemen at the One Piece Podcast, will notice that the seeds for the current arc were planted even so far back as the Skypiea arc. And there’s really nothing quite like one chapter ending with possibly one of the funniest faces in One Piece, and another ending with one of the many “most epic One Piece moments.” Luffy punches out a giant, what more do you want from your manga? (Please leave all answers to that question in the comments section.)
Naruto Ch. 636-638
I’ve found that a lot of my time commenting on Naruto is spent referencing all the terrible stuff that has happened before the chapters in question. And in a way that is supremely unfair. After all, I dislike being judged for the deeds of my ancestors, so who am I to hold what came before against the most recent chapters?
Is what I’d love to say, but let’s be honest here. Once burned twice shy, and this manga has burned me multiple times. So already it’s impossible for me to really get invested in anything that happens in this series, because I know full well how bad things can get in this series. And even if I am able, with the most supreme of efforts, to forget everything I’ve disliked about this series in the past, I still find the recent chapters dull and uninspired. I could talk about specifics, but why bother? Everything is summed up in the most recent chapter; a chapter so rote and by the numbers that I’m amazed it was penned by the author of one of the most popular manga in the world. So the big event this most recent chapter was based on? The villain gets stronger. Shock and awe! I’ve never seen this exact scenario played out even as far back as say…JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (and even before that). “But wait,” you might say, you hypothetical reader, “It’s not about the events, it’s about how they are portrayed. After all, originality died a long time ago. To really be great one must do what’s done before but do it better, or in a slightly different way.” Unfortunately neither of those happen. The reveal that Obito is now more powerful is as generic as it can get. I honestly think this series should have ended a long time ago, it’s just being stretched for time because someone in Shonen Jump is afraid of what will happen if Naruto ends at the same time Bleach is wrapping up. Well, I can tell you something that’s worse than this hypothetical eventuality, what we’re getting right now. There is nothing worse than a creatively bankrupt piece of art. Of course it’s impossible to separate manga from their commercial nature, but there is room to allow for decisions motivated by artistic integrity rather than a business committee. Ultimately consumers will react to great art, it’s just unfortunate that turning out a bunch of garbage and some good stuff is more economically sound.
One-Punch Man Ch. 021-023
Thanks goodness for series where sometimes the artist just decides, “Forget actually having a story, I’m going to spend an entire chapter drawing each and every exact motion my characters are making.” Sure it may not make for the longest read, and sure it may mean we get less story than in a chapter of Bleach, but the last thing I feel like doing is criticising the one shonen/seinen manga that is trying something different. Are some of these chapters a pain to read on a phone? Most definitely, but when I get around to reading them on my computer there is nothing better than how meticulously Murata captures motion in his art.
Toriko Ch. 239-241
There’s a stark difference when we move from Toriko and Starjun’s fight to the events in the coliseum. I may love Toriko, but he is not necessarily as interesting as pretty much every other character in this series. It’s when we focus on the next big reveal that this series really shows its strength. And of course, after a brutal two chapters, where the lines of reality and fantasy are blurred (though I could have sworn they were blurred long ago, Toriko is confusing when it comes to what is a physical manifestation and what is a metaphysical representation of a concept), we get a reveal that Shimabukuro knows how to draw women. After years of nothing but butch men and mostly butch women I’m amazed to see that Shimabukuro has finally gone outside his comfort zone and drawn a conventionally attractive woman. Though this latest reveal, that Froese was a woman, has shown a possible trend. I’ve been noticing that a lot of the cooks paired with gourmet hunters tend to be women, once again casting doubt as to what Komatsu’s gender was originally meant to be, or if perhaps there’s some gender role commentary going on here.
Cross Manage Ch. 039-041
Cross Manage has managed a three week streak (not counting the weeks before of course) of absolute excellence. And now, with the end of the big game upon us, I find myself still wondering whether this series will be ending soon or not. Had they won I would have considered that the final nail in the coffin. After all, who ends a sports manga with the heroes losing to their big rivals? Possibly a genius, because the fact that they lost the game doesn’t mean that there will ever be a rematch. Whatever comes next, even if this series meets an early end, it has been handled so well that I’m certain whatever comes next, and however this series ends, it will be perfectly satisfying. I’ll still be enraged that the youth of Japan are incapable of recognizing true quality, but I’ll try my hardest to convince myself that this series has done everything it set out to do.
World Trigger Ch. 020-022
So we finally learn something about Yuma. Finally we get to see his back story. Keep in mind that for twenty chapters he’s more or less been the focus and we know nothing about him or his goals. And here we are twenty chapters in and we don’t exactly have a goal, but the author has admitted that he needs a goal. Too bad that goal he finally decides on is awful. And not just awful, awfully derivative. I won’t say that someone dipped into someone else’s creative well, but I have to say, this whole concept of a three man team competing against other three man teams to rise in the ranks of their organization sounds awfully familiar. I know I may be coming across as being impossible to please, but when we go from having absolutely not direction to having terrible direction then I have to put my foot down. This idea of a tournament, which is already a terrible idea no matter who writes it (minor exceptions apply), but for a series so early on to suddenly jump into a tournament is absolute lunacy. And if nothing else this series feels like its wasting the golden chance it’s been given. Shonen Jump is not an easy magazine to get into or stay inside. You’d think that anyone who finally manages to work their foot into the door would realize how lucky they are and not waste their time throwing the laziest tropes in the game at us.
What makes it worse is that there is some legitimately entertaining character work in chapter twenty two. There’s definite skill going into this manga, that skill just isn’t being applied where it should be. And even though I enjoyed the latter half of chapter twenty two, it doesn’t undo the rage I felt reading the first couple pages.
Nisekoi Ch. 080-082
Nisekoi continues to be funny, though the addition of fanservice in two of the three chapters these last three weeks makes this a bit of an uncomfortable set of chapters to read for older fans. Of course, they’re not real characters blah, blah, but yegads it feels so weird reading a series where one is reminded that the target audience is considerably younger. Not like that’s ever stopped me from enjoying a comic or cartoon before, but one does not like to be reminded of one’s age. Good thing the fanservice is not the only reason for these chapters. They also happen to be just as funny as any of the chapters preceding them. And in some cases they are even funnier.
Bleach Ch. 543-545
Sometimes I feel like a failure of a reviewer when I read Bleach and, when I try to actually review it, I can’t remember what happened. Well, after I blame the manga for that and not myself, I strain and I strain and I manage to remember a little bit of what happened these last three weeks. Mostly questions. Questions that I can’t help but ask. Such as, “If this woman brutally murders hot guys instead of having sex with them, why hasn’t anyone realized that maybe her room is the last place any horny guy should be going?” Is nobody in this army asking what’s happened to Private Hans? Isn’t there a commanding officer of some kind that might wonder what happened? No role call? Anything? Not even rumors about the crazy woman calling men to her room and then they never appear? Seems like the kind of gossip the new recruits would need to hear about. Just because WE didn’t know about her habits, doesn’t mean the entirety of the Bleach universe does not know. Things can exist before we see them. Some might even say that in order to write a good story one MUST do this.
It just goes to show, how little Kubo cares about his human characters, when it took me a couple seconds to realize the strange guy asking about Ichigo was Keigo. Maybe a smaller cast for your next project, Kubo-sensei? Something a little more manageable perhaps? Or you could do as Toriyama did and do professional character design for a while.
Dragon Ball Z Ch. 022-024
Good old Dragon Ball Z. Sometimes all it takes is some mindless action to cool down after a long day of raging and commenting on other manga. Just this once, I think I won’t bother commenting on these chapters, and instead just let the good old action tropes of the past soothe my soul.
Blue Exorcist Ch. 047
But not for too long. We’ve got one of our monthlies to talk about. Of which I will say this, it’s amazing how enjoyable a series can become when one abandons the discipline of shipping. In the past perhaps I would have raged about the lack of any satisfying romantic development. But instead I will just enjoy the cute moment between friends and siblings, and the fact that this chapter reminds me of how importance friendship is. Sure romance is good and all, but not at the cost of other relationships. Love triangles may be fun and all (for some, I hate them myself), but sometimes it’s better to just focus on what really matters.
Jaco The Galactic Patrolman Ch. 001
It’s amazing how an old veteran can come on to the scene and show all the rookies how a first chapter should be written. Our characters have been introduced, and we’ve gotten two sources of conflict and plot. One of our main characters has a goal, and the other has been exposed to the variables he needs to determine his own goal. Will he work to save the world, or let Jaco destroy it? Considering that the character in question is a grumpy old man, I can’t say which way he’ll decide. Sure the humor may fall flat at some points, but Toriyama himself says some people are either too young or too not-Japanese to get it. And I’m perfectly happy with that, all I need is a first chapter that actually does what a first chapter should do. Take notes, World Trigger.
If you want to hear more, check out the Manga^3 Podcast Archives. Or go directly to the last few episodes, Episode 054 – July 1, 2013 – The Portrayal of Overweight People in Manga | Fairy Tail Vol. 9 and Episode 055 – July 8, 2013 – The Top Five Old People in Manga | Fairy Tail Vol. 10.