Monday, May 10, 2004


For a while, I'd been thinking of posting a story-by-story description of one of the manga "phonebook" anthologies I own, but never got around to it. But a few days ago Shane Bailey posted such a description, and in the comments I more or less said I'd do one too. So, here is Weekly Shounen Jump, the most popular such anthology: issue No. 40 of 2003, dated Sept. 15. This is going to be a quick and dirty job (well, not that quick, actually): I haven't read any of these stories.

First, an overall view. The magazine has 456 pages, and the cover price is 220 yen, which at the current exchange rate is about $2.20, I believe. The covers are in full color, as are fifteen of the interior pages (eleven of these are ads). The remaining pages are printed in black-and-white. They aren't actually white, though: the paper is tinted. There's a block of light green pages, then a block of pink, then another block of green, then a block of off-white, and finally another block of pink. The paper used for the "black and white" pages is low quality, but not as bad as you might imagine from the price. It's better than the paper in newspapers, for instance, and thicker than that in genuine phone books.

There are a lot of house ads, which I won't describe individually. They're either for other publications by the publisher, Shueisha, or for merchandise based on characters in the magazine (videos, games, CDs, etc.) But one ad of particular importance displays a set of prizes which are distributed by lottery (I'm guessing) to readers who send in a postcard (bound in the magazine) listing their three favorite series from this issue. From what I gather (see Frederik L. Schodt's book Dreamland Japan) the publisher takes this feedback very seriously, and stories which don't do well in this poll are soon ended.

The cover depicts the head of the main character of "Prince of Tennis," one of the popular series. Around the edges are small pictures of the main characters from three other series. The inside front cover has an ad for a line of vans from Toyota. Not toy vans, but real vans, costing over $10,000. Since the magazine is intended for children ("shounen" means "boy"), this is odd; presumably these ads are aimed at men who read it as a child, and continue to read it out of nostalgia, otaku-ness, or whatever.

Next comes a full-color story page, for a series called "Aishiirudo 21" ("Eyeshield 21"). Following this is a two-page color spread showing the main characters from the series, along with what are presumably the results of a poll on who are the favorite characters. Next comes another color story page, then three color ads: one for a Dell computer costing approximately $2500, one for a line of athletic equipment, and one for a computer game. Next is a full-color page with the house ad displaying prizes I referred to above. Then we get seventeen black-and-white pages completing this week's installment of "Aishiirudo 21." This is a series about a team of Japanese boys playing football, or "amefuto" as it's called here. It appears to mix serious and comedic elements; it's not too clear to me what's going on, but at one point the players, on the football field, have a bazooka fired at them (by their trainer?). The art is in a "cartoony realism" mode.

Next comes five black-and-white pages of house ads. (From now on, pages will be black-and-white unless I specifically say they're full color.) After this comes twenty-one pages of "One Piece." This is episode number 289, which, if the length of this episode is any indication, puts the total length of the series so far in the range of "Cerebus." (In comparison, "Aishiirudo 21" was at episode 54.) The art in this installment is a good deal more detailed than in the installments which have appeared in the U.S. so far.

Following "One Piece" comes another house ad, then twenty pages of "Naruto." This is up to episode 183, but the art style here doesn't seem to have changed much. Next follow fifteen pages of house ads, and one more page with an ad for an electric razor. Then comes the full-color title page for "Tenisu no Oojisama" ("Prince of Tennis"), followed by three full-color pages of ads for various types of "Prince of Tennis" merchandise, and nineteen pages of "Prince of Tennis" itself. This is another sports series, but this one seems to be deadly serious, with art that's uncluttered but more realistic than "Eyeshield 21." "Prince of Tennis" has been going on for a long time too: this is episode 191.

Next we have three pages of ads for "Prince of Tennis" stuff, a page of what seems to be tips on the "Yu-Gi-Oh" card game, and three pages of ads for the computer game based upon the next story (or upon which the next story is based). This story is "Boboboubo Boubobo," and it's the damnedest thing I've ever seen. (Remember that "ou" in transcribed Japanese stands for a long "oh" sound.) The main character, who presumably is Boboboubo Boubobo, is a musclebound guy with a huge afro. According to descriptions I've read of the anime (yes, there's an anime), he and his companions fight a group of villains who want to make everyone bald, though you can't tell it from this installment of the manga. One of his companions looks like one of those suns you see in old maps, with a face and symmetrical points, with stick arms and legs attached. Another looks like Gumby (the rubber one, not the Monty Python one); later there's a panel showing a picture of what seems to be the Last Supper, but with all the figures Gumby-shaped. Then there's a normal girl, whose main role seems to be to look on in horror at the bizarre things that happen. There's a lot of strange action in this installment, but I have no idea how one thing relates to the next. Amazingly, this series has gotten up to episode 123.

Next comes a house ad, followed by twenty-one pages of the 149th episode of "Black Cat" (the title is in English). The main character, who presumably is the "black cat," is a gunman, who in this episode fights a mystical swordsman, and seemingly wins. This appears to be a straightforward combat series, except that the main character wears a collar around his neck with a little bell attached to it, like a cat.

Next is another house ad, followed by twenty-three pages of "Chou-benri mashiin Spin-chan" ("Super-handy machine Spin-chan"). This is a comedy about a robot that looks like a young girl, whose inventor, an elderly male scientist, rents her out to raise money to build a sex robot: not quite the sort of thing you'd expect, given the contents of the magazine up to now. (No episode number that I could see.) Next come five house ads, followed by four full-color foldout pages of ads for computer games. These are followed by forty-nine pages of "Ekizochika" ("Exotica," I would assume), a straightforward racing manga with cartoony art. (Again, no episode number.)

Next are three more pages of house ads, then nineteen pages of "Busou Renkin," which as far as I can figure out means something like "armed alchemy." This is about a boy and a girl, apparently in present-day Japan, with the power of "busou renkin," which enables them to conjure up weapons out of thin air: a useful power, since they apparently keep getting attacked by weird machines. This is only the tenth episode, so it's a new series. After three more pages of house ads, we get nineteen pages of the hundredth episode of "Bleach," which has just begun to run in the American Shonen Jump, then five more pages of house ads.

Next is thirteen pages of episode 193 of "Hunter X Hunter." It's not clear to me from this installment what the series as a whole is about, but this installment features two boys battling two human/insectoids. (I can't tell whether they're actually human-insect hybrids or robots.) One looks like a busty, tiny-waisted woman with insectile limbs, who shoots stingers from her mouth and crotch. The art is distinctive, though I don't much care for it: it's much sketchier than the art of the other series.

After another house ad comes nineteen pages of episode 106 of "Mr. Fullswing." This is a baseball manga, which seems to be a mixture of comedy and serious sports manga. The comedy looks rather strange; one of the characters is a man wearing a women's apron and nothing else. But the baseball itself seems to be played straight, even though the batter, who is evidently the enemy, is for some reason wearing combat fatigues with an ammo belt. The pitches with which he is struck out are portrayed using the standard baseball-manga convention of flattening the ball to indicate speed.

Next comes another house ad, then nineteen pages of episode nine of "Kanagawa Isonan Fuutengumi," which seems to mean something like "Kanagawa Isonan wind and sky group." As far as I can tell from the art, this is a straightforward comedy set in a junior high or high school, with no special gimmick. After another house ad comes nineteen pages of "Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koenmae Hashutsujo" ("This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward"). There's no episode number given, but if there were it would be over a thousand. There are well over a hundred collected volumes of the series, more than for any other manga, each with approximately 180 pages or more of story. If they really are all done by the same artist credited with all the books (and his assistants, presumably) -- as they very well may be, since the series only began in 1976 (keep in mind that Shounen Jump is a weekly, so four new episodes appear each month) -- then this may be the largest body of work by a single creator on a single comic series anywhere. The Anime Encyclopedia describes the anime based on the manga as "the gently humorous antics of a group of police officers responsible for a sleepy area near a large park," and presumably this would also apply to the manga. The protagonist of the manga is notable for his short stature and thick, semi-circular eyebrows, but in this episode, he takes a secondary role. The episode is devoted to the misadventures of another man going camping with his family.

Following another house ad are nineteen pages of episode eleven of "Gotchan desu!!" ("It's Gotchan") a comedy manga about a diminuitive sumo wrestler whose face bears a marked resemblance to that of a pig, done in a very cartoony style. After yet another house ad, we get twenty-one pages of episode seventy-five of "Ichigo 100%" ("Strawberry 100%"), which seems to be a romantic comedy set in (junior) high school; again, not the kind of thing I'd have expected to see, given the rest of the magazine's contents. After another house ads we have nineteen pages of the twelfth episode of "Kikkusu Megamikkusu" ("Kicks Megamix"), a straightforward taekwondo manga. This episode is basically a match between two fighters, with lots of blurred outlines to indicate rapid movement.

Next comes a page announcing what seems to be a contest, with the prizes being chances to be an "assistant" to one of the magazine's artists. Presumably they're not really offering positions as full-time assistants, but what actually is on offer I don't know. After this comes seven pages of fan art. Oddly, it's all for a baseball manga called "Animaruzu" ("Animals") which doesn't appear in this issue. Whether it's a manga that's finished, or is on hiatus, or whether there is no actual manga, I don't know. Next is a page listing the winners of the prizes offered in an earlier issue.

After this comes the final story, "Pyuu-to fuku! Jagaa." (I'm unable to translate this. I suspect "pyuu-to fuku" is an idiom of some sort; literally it would seem to mean something like "it blows with a whizzing sound." "Jagaa" is probably a proper name.) This is a comedy series about ... well, I can't really tell. One of the main characters is a fat guy wearing glasses who looks to be in his twenties, who actually looks a lot like a stereotype of an American comics "fanboy." In this episode, he and the other main character, a normal boy, are waiting in line for a lottery to get a chance to meet "Jack" and "Norris," whoever they are. This is only nine pages long, but it's the 126th episode. Next come four pages previewing the next issue of Shounen Jump, and finally, as the last page of the magazine, the table of contents for this issue.

The inside back cover is an advertisement offering an assortment of goods by phone or email order, similar to the mail-order ads that used to appear in American comics. But the goods here are substantially more expensive than were the goods in those ads. The cheapest is a gold-plated sculpture of a turd, which sells for 2,250 yen; the most expensive is a jacket at 16,800 yen. Also offered are a watch, an inflatable sofa-bed, and sets of Dragonball Z and One Piece merchandise. The back cover is an ad for a computer game.

Compared to the other anthologies I own, this one is exceptional in a couple of respects. For one thing, none of the others I own have ads for cars and computers, though Morning, which James Moar describes here, does have such ads. For another, none of the others I own which give the episode numbers has as many series that have been running as long as does Shounen Jump. Because I've bought most of my anthologies on sale, though, I suspect that most of them are second-tier titles, which may make Shounen Jump seem more distinctive than it is.

The stories in Shounen Jump aren't my cup of tea. I don't read the American version, and I don't have the urge to read any of the stories here. But I can see why it's the leading manga anthology. I can't judge the stories, but much of the art has a freshness and dynamism which is lacking in most of the anthologies I own (but keep in mind the disclaimer at the end of the preceding paragraph).

There's a bit more information about Shounen Jump in Frederik L. Schodt's book Dreamland Japan, pp. 87-91 (Schodt gives the title in translation, as Boys' Jump). Shounen Jump's web page is here.

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