Reviewby John Jakala, Feb 2nd 2003
The already impressively-large SHONEN JUMP grows even bigger with its second issue, adding another forty pages of material, and a new serial to the lineup. But before the reader can get to the new feature, Viz starts off with a couple "behind-the-scenes" articles. First up is an interview with Kazuki Takahashi, creator of YU-GI-OH. Next is a supposed "Self-Help" piece titled "The Practical Ninja" that offers a humorous look at how the ancient art of ninjutsu can help you in your everyday life. Although I'm assuming this was aimed at a younger audience, I actually found some of the gags amusing (example: when directing the young ninja on how to pick up a plastic baby when his hands are full, the piece admonishes, "You could set down the groceries, but that would be an admission of defeat.") Finally, we arrive at the debut of the new manga...
NARUTO: This series depicts the (mis)adventures of Uzumaki Naruto, a young ninja in training. Better at getting into trouble than mastering his ninja studies, Naruto is in danger of failing his finals and not graduating. However, over noodles with his instructor, Master Iruka, Naruto reveals his desire to "surpass everyone who came before me." At this point, I was annoyed with Naruto. I have little patience for people who think they can achieve success without having to work for it, as though they're entitled to fame and fortune. Sure enough, Naruto fails his dopplegangers final, but Mizuki (another instructor) wants to pass Naruto anyway. Thankfully, Iruka demands that Naruto be held accountable to the same standard that all the other students were required to meet, so Naruto fails. And it's from this point that the adventure really begins, as Naruto steals an ancient scroll, teacher(s) and student fight, and we learn that everyone is not quite what they first seem...
I really enjoyed NARUTO, which showed once again that the series in SHONEN JUMP aren't always what they initially appear to be. At first I thought that Naruto was going to be the story of a rebellious troublemaker with no respect for authority, but, as it turns out, Naruto has quite a few noble characteristics buried beneath his tough exterior. The artwork also makes NARUTO a pleasure to read, with the various visual gags (such as the "Ninja Centerfold" trick) and the dynamic energy contained in Masashi Kishimoto's kinetic lines. I look forward to spending more time with Naruto and his cast, especially now that Naruto's secret has been revealed. Ironically, just when Naruto is beginning to feel accepted for the first time, he may now find himself shunned more than ever before.
ONE PIECE: Monkey D. Luffy is all grown up now and off in search of his very own pirate crew. Luffy first runs into a gang of pirates led by the nasty Iron Mace Alvida and has to fight his way free from them. In the process, he inspires spineless cabin boy Koby to stand up to his cruel oppressors. Moved by Luffy's indomitable spirit, Koby joins Luffy in his quest. Luffy and Koby's first stop together? The Navy Base, where they plan on recruiting Roronoa Zoro, who just happens to be imprisoned there. Luffy and Koby learn the truth behind Zoro's imprisonment and determine to free him so they can ask him to join their pirate crew.
Another fun chapter of ONE PIECE. I'm quickly becoming a big fan of Eiichiro's exaggerated cartooning. His fluid style certainly fits on a strip where the main character is able to stretch like rubber.
YUYU HAKUSHO: In this chapter, Yusuke visits the underworld and learns about the test that could return him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, back on the mortal coil Keiko and Yusuke's mom discover that Yusuke's heart is still beating within his body. In order to communicate with Keiko one last time before the test commences, Yusuke is forced to possess the body of his nemesis, Kuwabara.
This was an amusing chapter, with plenty of fresh takes on the "ghost returning to communicate with the living" plot to make it enjoyable. The basic storyline is further helped along by charming artwork, goofy sight gags, and surprisingly touching moments. The tough-yet-tender Yusuke could quickly become a favorite character of mine.
SANDLAND: A short chapter this month (only thirteen pages of story) finds our crew beset by a gang of thieves. Sheriff Rao also begins to reconsider his belief that demons are the cause of all of humanity's woes. Not much to talk about in this chapter: The characters and artwork are still as engaging as in last issue, but the chapter ends almost as soon as it has begun. Ah, well - there's always next issue to look forward to for more SANDLAND goodness.
DRAGON BALL Z: I'm still feeling self-conscious about my inability to grasp all the characters' relationships to each other. Thankfully, this issue doesn't require much in the way of understanding allegiances, other than: This is the good guy; those are the bad guys; watch the good guy beat up on the bad guys. Oh, there's also the mystery of just who the good guy is: He's obviously a Super Saiyan based on his abilities, but this fact causes consternation among the rest of the cast, since there are only supposed to be three Saiyans, and those are apparently all accounted for. To be honest, this series still isn't doing much for me, but I'm still willing to give it time to grow on me.
YU-GI-OH!: Three more chapters involving dark justice meted out by Yugi's dark alter ego. The first chapter involves a television producer whose thirst for ratings causes him to treat the subjects of his segments as nothing more than playthings to be manipulated for his audience. This story was by far the strongest of the three, due both to its message about the media and to the (surprisingly) disturbing punishment visited upon the villain. The second tale has a charming enough conclusion involving a character who bullies others by making them listen to his singing. (I could certainly sympathize with Yugi in this chapter, since I hate it when others subject me to their karaoke singing.) The third chapter was the weakest of the bunch. Whereas in each other chapter the villain of the piece suffered some ironic punishment relating to some trait of his, the villain in this piece is brought down by a generic trap that could have applied to anyone. There was nothing specific about this punishment that made it particularly fitting for this character. Further, the challenge Yugi tricked the bad guy with didn't seem all that tricky. I won't spoil the story details here, but it seemed as though there was an easy way out for the villain in this scenario.
Miscellaneous: Once again, SHONEN JUMP is packed with additional features between the manga. In addition to the features mentioned ahead of NARUTO, there are also: A quick overview on several romance manga; a short article on White Day, Valentine's Day's counterpart holiday in Japan; an interview with the voice director on the YUYU HAKUSHO anime series; a "Manga Explorer" article discussing "Rurouni Kenshin"; letters and fan art; and of course, several anime, toy, video game, and card game summaries.
Overall: SHONEN JUMP continues to put American comics to shame. Where else can you get so much great comic storytelling (6 series clocking in at over 300 pages) for such a great price (5 bucks)? Marvel Comics recently announced that they're going to be launching their 'Tsunami' line to try to capture some of the manga audience that Viz and Tokyopop have had such great success with. Marvel's 'manga-esque' comics, however, are still tied to decades-old continuity and cost between $2.25 and $3 for 22 pages of story. When readers can enjoy such thick, affordable books as SHONEN JUMP, though, I'm not sure why manga fans would look to American publishers for additional sequential art entertainment. Why not just pick up another manga collection that's probably (1) thicker, (2) cheaper, (3) and easier to jump into?
Anyway, end of rant. The bottom line is that SHONEN JUMP remains a great read and a great bargain. I highly recommend it for all readers. And everyone should be advised that next month's issue will not only introduce the series SHAMAN KING by Hiroyuki Takei, it will also come with a free ultra-rare exclusive collectible card for the DBZ CCG. Reserve your copy now!
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Overall : A-
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