New York Comic-Con 2012
Shonen Jump Alpha Panel

by David Cabrera,

Any panel with “Shonen Jump” in its title is going to be packed full, but when the presenters asked the room if they know what Shonen Jump Alpha was, the audience's near-complete silence told the story. The digital spinoff required some explanation.

As you may know, it's a subscription service ($26 a year, another fact that struck the crowd silent) that serves Jump manga online. The team got right to the new manga they would be running Takamagahara (tough guys getting punched in the face) and Cross Manage (hijinks with a girls' lacrosse team and their male coach). The team knew how to sell Cross Manage to the Jump crowd: they told them it had boob-grabbing.

The Jump team also described in depth the SJA “yearbook” being given out at the Viz booth: among other material, it contains a one-shot collaboration between Masakazu Katsura and Akira Toriyama called “Good!! Sachie-san”. The premise is a girl in a space karate tournament... of course.

The big news of the panel was, of course, the already-known announcement that Jump Alpha would soon be running day-and-date with Japanese releases. This drew huge cheers from the crowd, and I heard a guy mutter “That's a start...”

The surprise guest wasn't really a surprise, as Masakazu Katsura had been at the Tiger and Bunny panel immediately prior, and his name was even in the description! But Katsura the self-described “graduate from Jump” came out and was again inundated with questions.

The staffers went through their favorite Katsura series, like Video Girl Ai (for the tears), I's (for the butts), and of course Shadow Lady for the makeup-induced superpowers.

Katsura's “origin story” in manga is this: he wanted a stereo and his parents wouldn't buy it, so he applied for the Tezuka Prize in manga so he could pay for it.

His romantic comedy style, he stressed, does not come from personal experience. Rather, he tries to imagine what the girl would think and take it from there. He goes back and forth between romantic comedies and superheroes simply because he gets tired of working on one thing for too long at a time.

Katsura has worked on both shonen and seinen material, so he compared the two demographics. A shonen series is very tied to current popularity rankings and mass appeal from child to adult, but a seinen title is a little less dependent on that and the author has a bit more creative freedom.

Katsura described his seinen style Zetman as being “for your brain and your heart.” This is a story of transforming heroes, but it's also about a human drama between the two protagonists.

The author also cleared up a few popular legends about himself: first, that in conversation with Toriyama he invented Dragon Ball's famous fusion technique. He credits this to the old live-action adaptation of Takao Saito's Barom-1, which he mentioned on the phone with Toriyama one day. Toriyama, in Katsura's words, doesn't really listen to anybody... but when the fusion dance appeared in Dragon Ball, it sure reminded him of the Barom Cross technique.

Toriyama and Katsura regularly have phone conversations, but not about manga: more ordinary topics-- and dirty jokes-- are how they prefer to relax.

Also, he had to downplay his widely reported love for American superheroes. It's not that he doesn't like Batman, but he's the kind of fan who-- gasp-- has only seen the movies! (His favorite is Tim Burton's '89 Batman movie.) Katsura's tried to read American comics, but ironically he has to deal with the same language barrier as many readers of Japanese manga.

As advice to aspiring artists, Katsura noted that it isn't enough to just love a particular manga and try and emulate the work, because a work like that can never surpass the author's idol. Indeed, it might be good to branch out and even read manga that one doesn't like in search of inspiration.

The final question was simple: what was the best thing for Katsura that's come out of his working in manga? This was easy: the success of his work meant more and more readers, and eventually anime and so on. Having a successful manga is very satisfying in itself, after all.

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