Reviewby John Jakala, Feb 13th 2003
SHONEN JUMP, the Sears catalog of comics, grows a bit more this issue. We're now up to seven ongoing series, and the page count climbs to 352 pages. Soon this comic will be thicker than the Diamond Previews catalog that many American comic fans use to pre-order their comics. As you can tell, I'm impressed (obsessed?) with the size of this comic. Why? Because SHONEN JUMP is doing what American comic publishers should be doing to increase comic book readership: offering your audience a bunch of cheap, fun, disposable entertainment at a reasonable price point. Ignoring inside covers, I counted only seven ads in SHONEN JUMP #3. Most American comics only contain 22 pages of story, which makes SHONEN JUMP the equivalent of a little over fifteen American comics, for about twice the price. Okay, so we all know that SHONEN JUMP is a great value in terms of page-count, but what about the quality of the stories? Let's examine the individual series in order:
SHAMAN KING: This newest series in the anthology revolves around the story of Oyamada Manta, who becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about the creepy new kid in his class, Asakura Yoh. Manta witnesses Yoh in a cemetery at night, surrounded by ghosts, but none of his friends at school believes him when he tries to tell them this. So Manta follows Yoh in order to expose his secret, but ends up getting entangled in events out of his league.
The first thing that struck me about SHAMAN KING was the unique visual style. The characters are drawn in what I have heard referred to as "graffiti-style" art--I won't try to define it, but it's often associated with hip-hop culture and video games (such as Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox). The characters look very loose and flexible, and much of the clothing is big and baggy. The exception to this is Manta, who is drawn so that he hardly even looks human. He looks more like a doll or an infant, especially with that oddly shaped bulge in his pants that looks suspiciously like a diaper.
I'll be interested to see if SHAMAN KING simply turns into YU-GI-OH with spirits rather than cards. I felt a bit cynical when I saw that the spirits with which Yoh “integrates” are first transformed into a little energy ball. Not only would this make an obvious "powering up" visual for the inevitable anime and video game spin-offs, but it could also lead to several ball-shaped toys.
NARUTO: I felt the second installment of this series was a bit weaker than the introductory chapter last issue. For one thing, the art seemed a little sketchier compared to last issue's line work. The flow of the story also seemed a bit choppy, and I was somewhat confused to find Naruto back in the village without incident since last issue a horde of villagers had assembled to track down and kill him ("Don't make the mistake of thinking of him as one of us. When we find him, he has to die!!") Still, the two chapters presented here were obviously intended as somewhat transitionary as Kishimoto introduces new cast members, such as Sakura and Sasuke, two fellow classmates of Naruto who serve as the other corners for the love triangle Kishimoto sets up.
DRAGON BALL Z: I was won over by the straightforward simplicity of this issue's installments of DBZ. Instead of keeping the readers in the dark about the identity of the mysterious stranger, we (along with Son Goku) learn that Trunks is Vegeta and Bulma's son from the future. Further, we learn the reason for his visit to the past is to warn Goku about a horrible future that awaits humanity, unless Goku and the others can defeat the threat of Dr. Gero's killer androids - a threat that won't actually materialize for three years. Now, if this were a typical American comic (such as X-MEN), this future threat would linger in the background for several years, constantly hanging over our heroes' heads and tormenting their every waking moment. In a brilliant move, DBZ simply skips ahead three years in about three pages. So we get to see the big fight next issue! Incredible!
The only downside to this story is the nagging question: Why not just find Dr. Gero and stop him from building his killer androids in the first place? One of the characters, Bulma, actually raises this very suggestion, but everyone dismisses her plan. On the one hand, the scene essentially works as one big joke: Everyone is so obsessed with fighting that they're actually looking forward to this ultimate battle; they'd rather have the opportunity to test themselves to the fullest than actually save the world. The only problem is, once this rather sensible idea is planted in the reader's mind, it's a bit hard to shake. It also doesn't help that Goku offers the rather weak-sounding consideration that it wouldn't be nice to beat up on someone before he does something bad.
Presumably this is included to make Goku sound somewhat heroic (after all, heroes can't punish people in advance of their evil deeds), but it also draws attention once again to everyone's preoccupation with fighting: Instead of stopping the bad guy by beating him up, why not try some other, non-violent tack, such as alerting the authorities about his nefarious plans? Presumably law enforcement officials could do something (other than beat him up) if they found sufficient evidence that he was a legitimate threat. Or even if no one else will agree to help her, couldn't Bulma ignore Vegeta's threat and attempt to stop Dr. Gero on her own? I don't know, perhaps I'm taking this all too seriously and Goku's comment was itself meant as a bit of humor. Perhaps Toriyama intended to parody superhero comics, or the LAPD, where the strategy generally seems to be "hit first, ask questions later."
SANDLAND: Another quick chapter as our motley crew steals a tank. Not much to mull over in this chapter, although I was amused by the revelation that Thief uses hairspray to achieve that cute little curl atop his head (and that he's vain enough to fix his hair after he changes outfits).
YUYU HAKUSHO: Three more-or-less stand-alone chapters wherein Yusuke helps different people in need. The first story was especially touching: Yusuke helps an overly sensitive boy learn to cope with the illness and eventual death of his dog. Any pet owner who's had to deal with the death of a loved animal will likely be moved by this tale. And there's still a touch of roguish humor as Yusuke dresses up as Lord of the Damned to toughen up the little boy.
The second story involves a little bit of payback as Yusuke scares a thoughtless womanizer on behalf of a wronged woman who now finds herself wandering the earth as an affixed spirit. Nice to see Yusuke use his evil for good. The final story is the oddest of the bunch, as a tanuki ("raccoon dog") and a dying old man help each other work through some unresolved issues. Odd, but also cute and (once again) touching. But mostly odd.
One question: Does anyone know what it signifies when Yusuke is drawn with a cartoonish cat face? It happened a couple times in these stories, and I had no idea what it meant.
YU-GI-OH!: Two more tales of righteous vigilantism. In the first, Yugi exposes a false psychic. In the second, Yugi beats a school bully (whose hairstyle is seemingly inspired by the X-Man Wolverine) in "Griddle Ice Hockey." My patience with the same basic formula repeated over and over again is beginning to wear a bit thin. At this point I'd welcome a nice story where everything goes swimmingly for Yugi and he doesn't have to transform into Dark Yugi to avenge any wrongs. Still, the art is as engaging as ever, and I was happy to see "normal Yugi" voice doubts about the fortune teller. Perhaps kids reading this story will pick up on this little nugget and be encouraged to think critically and independently about supernatural phenomena.
ONE PIECE: In this issue, Monkey D. Luffy and Roronoa Zoro face off against the evil Captain Morgan and his effeminate son, Helmeppo. This issue didn't have quite the manic pace or zany fun that previous chapters did. In fact, these two chapters seemed almost heavy in comparison, as we witnessed Captain "Axe-Hand" Morgan ruthlessly cut down one of his own men (for refusing to kill a little girl) and we learned of Zoro's tear-jerking backstory (in which it is revealed that: breasts not only prevent women from being great golfers, but also interfere with their becoming master swordsmen; and ironically falling down stairs the day after you swear a solemn promise will not only kill you, but it will also inspire your childhood sparring partner to train relentlessly for the rest of his life).
Also: What the hell is up with Captain "Axe-Hand" Morgan's axe hand? How does he ever straighten out his arm with that handle sticking out past his elbow? And why does he have an iron jaw gratuitously welded over his flesh jaw, which is apparently just fine? Is this what's known as "Extreme Body Modification"?
Miscellaneous: All the usual additional features are still interspersed throughout the book. You have your assorted interviews, articles, letters, and reviews. To be honest, I skip over most of these, but other readers may find them more interesting. Oh, and as is prominently advertised on both covers, there's also a free "Exclusive DBZ card inside!"
Overall: I felt this issue of SHONEN JUMP was a bit weaker than the previous two. Part of it may simply be that I'm tiring of the obvious formulas underlying many of the manga. I'm not sure if this should count against the individual series, or the book overall, but it does affect my enjoyment of the anthology, so I'll throw it out there and let others decide if it's important or not. It also might be worth mentioning because (according to information I've seen online) the format for a couple of the series will be changing sometime soon: YU-GI-OH will move into the "Shadow Games" plot that dominates the cartoon (which may not be an improvement), and YUYU HAKUSHO will turn into a supernatural fighting/bounty hunter series. So even if some of the series in SHONEN JUMP are beginning to feel a bit too familiar already, it might be worth sticking around to see what's in store.
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Overall : B