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December 4, 2007

CR Review: Shonen Jump Vol. 6, Issue #1


Creators: Various
Publishing Information: Viz, magazine, 392 pages, January 2008, $4.99
Ordering Numbers:

Shonen Jump is the only new comics publication that I can buy without driving two hours and fifteen minutes from driveway; you may know it as Viz's newsstand anthology. Its place in comics publishing is fairly certain but rarely examined. It's probably best recognized for its humongous value when compared to American comics, offering up hundreds of pages of comics for less than five dollars in a square-bound transference/approximation of Japanese anthology packaging. That the comics themselves are almost always chapters of long-running serials may be the impression it leaves for those who open it up, or maybe it's the right to left reading experience that is mirrored in stand-alone manga volumes. Both of those elements speak against comics culture conventional wisdom about new readers widely held into this decade. It's not that a younger audience doesn't understand comics; give them something they want and they'll be happy to experience through a barrage of convoluted serials where you have to read it "backwards."

imageThis is an important issue for a couple of reasons: first, it's an anniversary issue, and as the publication begins its sixth year, which would make the title a success story if it went away tomorrow. Second, it's the debut of the older Naruto, meaning the serialization of Masashi Kishimoto's international comics juggernaut has reached a point where the story leaps forward a few years, a more popular run of titles than the chapter previous to which Viz has now better aligned the stand-alone volumes by speeding up their release schedule this Fall. Although this is gross over-simplication, Naruto seems to me to most strongly appeal on three levels: its thematic tidiness in how the characters interrelate and how the different sets of relationships work within the storyline, its exquisite and imaginative displays of action, and the appeal of the Naruto character himself as not just an underdog but specifically as that kid who bites off more than he can chew and then chews it anyway. From a reading of the first few chapters in this new phase, the first element has to re-establish itself but looks like it will have every opportunity to do so, the second element may benefit the most by the characters being older with grander applications of their ninja abilities, and the third element may be subverted a bit by the aging but readers have likely also started to feel added affection for the character simply by experiencing so much of his life story. If anything has an effect on the serial's popularity, it will probably be that combination of old-fashioned cause of exhaustion, the fact that people tend not to sustain enjoyment of something over such a long period, or they've latched onto elements that didn't develop in the way they hoped they would. I guess we'll see.

One element of the size of Shonen Jump that comes into play is that folks may not read every chapter. I'm hopelessly confused by the One Piece serial, although I admire its elasticity in terms of plot progression, Yu-Gi-Oh GX seems like generally weak material to me, and I don't know that I have the energy to start into the very popular Bleach. Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo (above, inset) remains a bit too arch for me to remember it from issue to issue, but it does offer up the visual chaos on the level of a weird television cartoon you stop and watch a quarter hour of at a time just to try and scope out its rhythms. The bedrock of the magazine is in its Hikaru No Go (below) and Yu Yu Hakusho serials. The latter is a straight-forward fight manga with an appealing crudeness to the art (I can't imagine liking it animated) and a way of pacing that emphasizes these minute distinctions in power and approach that I would have loved at age 12. The former is an effective sports manga and probably the only serial here I'd buy on its own merits. Without Naruto's more highly-publicized campaign, Hikaru No Go seems to have stepped past a semi-turgid period involving the training and tests by which its protagonist becomes a professional Go player and I'm guessing will now enter into a number of series-wide payoffs before coming to a close. I imagine that's the most difficult thing about editing a package like this, making sure the serials are at different levels of development so that at least one is hitting or about to hit on all cylinders. So far, it seems to be working. For now, all eyes on Naruto.

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