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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
7th-Sep-2006 01:36 pm
Now with skills!


I very much like the way this page came out. But it's not like you can ever go wrong with white-hot juggling action.

I'm still selling original Narbonic strips for $25 each to raise money for Lea Hernandez, whose house burned down. Email me at narbonic@sbcglobal.net if you want one.

Also, it's time for another installment of Overlooked Manga Festival!

I've now been working at Viz long enough that I can frequently tell where a given manga first appeared by flipping through it. Manga from Shonen Jump are easiest to identify, because SJ keeps the tightest editorial reins of any manga magazine; every series reflects the central themes of "friendship, effort, and victory," although obviously these ideals are expressed a little differently in Naruto and, say, Death Note. There are other elements that mark an SJ manga, like the inclusion of fanservice for the ladies; SJ has a huge female readership, and in a recent survey it was the most popular manga magazine for girls, beating out all the shojo magazines (i.e., the ones actually aimed at female readers). So that's why Naruto and Sasuke accidentally kiss in the first volume of Naruto.

But what really disinguishes an SJ manga is the pace. Shonen Jump manga do not stop for breath or pause for reflection--not for more than a page or two, anyway. The characters explode with energy and keep their eyes on the prize. The story plunges ever onward, pushing you to keep reading, to find out what happens next. SJ is the bestselling manga magazine in Japan, and it stays that way by keeping readers on the edges of their seats. An SJ manga is a sleekly-engineered page-turner.

Today's overlooked manga doesn't run in Shonen Jump. It's a feature in the rival magazine Shonen Sunday. And thank goodness for that.

I can usually recognize a Shonen Sunday manga, too. It's the magazine in which most of Rumiko Takahashi's manga first appeared, and the legacy of Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and Inu-Yasha looms large in SS's offerings. The stories are often fantasy or sci-fi adventure, as in Shonen Jump, but they tend to be...gentler, somehow. There are more episodic adventures in the sitcom mold, rather than massive quest arcs. There's a lot of focus on character development and daily life. There's a lot of comedy (well, sometimes...I'm not calling Project ARMS a laugh riot), and the comedy is less slapsticky, more character-based. The dominant art style is Takahashian: very polished, very clean, very appealing, very easy to adapt into anime.

A lot of these manga suffer in the American market, I think, because the stories tend to be less urgent and addictive. In Japan, they appear first as features in a weekly magazine, so there's time for the readers to get to know and like the characters. Once you're into the story, reading a new installment is like tuning in to a favorite TV show, or visiting old friends.

I did script rewrites on the first few volumes of Kekkaishi, and I got attached to it. Now I pick up each new volume as it comes out. The premise sounds like something that could be developed into a pulse-pounding adventure/horror series, but that's not the way the manga plays out. It's a little quieter, a little quirkier, and, at least to my mind, a lot more interesting.

So. "Kekkaishi" means, basically, "barrier master." Yoshimori, our hero, is a kekkaishi in training: he's learning "barrier magic," which involves creating little cube-shaped forcefields around things. As usual, it's much easier if I just let a penguin explain things for me.

Yoshimori is descended from a long line of kekkaishi who have, for centuries, defended a sacred site that radiates supernatural power. Ghosts, demons, and similar troublemakers are attracted to the site, where they feed off its energies and become immensely powerful. Also, it's now the site of Yoshimori's school. So every night he patrols the school grounds, looking for monsters. Also, he has a demon ghost dog. This all makes perfect sense in manga.

Tokine, the girl next door, is also a kekkaishi. They work together, they're rivals, he has a giant crush on her, she's permanently scarred from an accident he caused when they were third-graders, you know the drill.

What I like about Kekkaishi is that the whole defending-the-sacred-site plot quickly falls out of focus and becomes a backdrop for all kinds of episodic, mostly character-driven adventures: funny stories, creepy stories, tragic stories. The characters have unexpected quirks and undiscovered layers. Take, for example, Yoshimori's overriding dream:

Fortunately, he eventually meets the ghost of a pastissier who sympathizes with his dream of someday making a castle-shaped cake big enough to live in. The pastissier cannot rest in peace because his last word was "cabbage." And so on.

(Incidentally, is it me, or are all manga about baking awesome? Yakitate Japan? Awesome. Antique Bakery? SUPER AWESOME.)

There's a larger plot arc, but it develops pretty slowly. Eventually, you learn more about the kekkaishi and the "shadow organization" running them, as well as important overlooked details like the Yoshimori's absent big brother. The manga builds a whole universe around itself, but it takes its time.

There's an inventiveness to Kekkaishi that I really like. Creator Yellow Tanabe keeps coming up with ingenious new uses for the kekkai powers, not to mention simple, strong designs for demons and ghosts. This possessed teacher is nicely creepy:

And seriously, how can you not love this guy?

So I'm enjoying Kekkaishi. In an easygoing, laid-back kind of way. Which, frankly, I need sometimes.

7th-Sep-2006 10:20 pm (UTC)
Wow, that looks really cool. I always wondered why Shonen Sunday titles weren't as popular as Shonen Jump's in America. They're both really solid, and seem to have (only slightly less than) equal standing in Japan. Maybe I'll pick up a copy of that one.
7th-Sep-2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah! Go Chuck!
I love Gemma's face. Hehe.
8th-Sep-2006 01:55 am (UTC)
I, too, am amused by Chuck -- part and parcel of my ongoing perverse fascination with secretly-highly-competent geekboys. Also I notice we do not see him in profile this week. ;>

And, on a not-particularly-related note, I sat down and read the first part of Li'l Mell last night, and it was exactly what I needed before packing the girl off for her first day of preschool.
8th-Sep-2006 04:53 am (UTC)
"Carême threw down the gauntlet when he declared architecture the most noble of the arts and pastry the highest form of architecture"

basil jelly

16th-Jul-2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
I made a castle cake for my daughter's princess party seven years ago. Didn't have Ho-Hos on hand so I used small cans of V-8 juice.
8th-Sep-2006 03:33 pm (UTC)
That is a cool monster, probably because the hair makes him look like a giant Iggy Pop (in the CRUNCH panel, just imagine he's holding a microphone and crooning, "I am the passenger ...")

I'm glad we've finally set the stage in Smithson for the main plot, a no-holds-barred juggling drama. Wait until you see the members of 23 Skidoo, all lined up in formation and juggling puppies and chainsaws ...
13th-Sep-2006 05:16 pm (UTC) - Smithson commentary
I could not find a contact on the webpage, so I figured I'd post my comments here. I'm enjoying the comic, a melding of superhero life and reality. You keep me wanting just a bit more as we learn more about the various characters and the secrets they hide. I'm not thrilled about the Flash presentation, which means more clicking and mouse-moving to read than most comics, but I can deal. I'm definitely looking forward to more.
30th-Jan-2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
30th-Jan-2008 12:37 pm (UTC) - ;
21st-Feb-2008 03:23 pm (UTC) - Re: ;
アメリカには”fair use”という概念が広く認められており、その場合は著作権法違反にはなりません。このblogのエントリーも漫画作品の紹介・分析のために絵を載せていますので”fair use”にあたると判断されるのだろうと思います。
28th-Mar-2008 10:17 pm (UTC) - Now I'm curious:
You've defined very well the differences among Shonen Sunday and Shonen Jump. How would you define Shonen Magazine series in comparision?
28th-Mar-2008 10:43 pm (UTC) - Re: Now I'm curious:

I'm not as familiar with the Shonen Magazine lineup. Jason Thompson's description in </i>Manga: The Complete Guide</i> is that it's "aimed at slightly older readers than its competition and generally features cool, down-to-earth stories about high school guys (with only the occasional fantasy such as Rave Master and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle)," which seems about right. It's kind of laid-back and mature compared to Sunday and Jump, and the artwork tends toward the coolly decorative, as opposed to the energetic cartooniness of Jump (although actually Jump has some really eclectic art styles) or the cute, clean look of Sunday. At least, that's my surface impression.

Jason's favorite shonen magazine, incidentally, is Shonen Champion, because it's the one that's the most insanely over-the-top and outrageous. There are days I'm inclined to agree with him.
31st-Mar-2008 02:10 am (UTC) - Re: Now I'm curious:
Definitively now I want to get a look on Shonen Champion mix to confirm it. :)
23rd-Apr-2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Well.... I'm not read themanga but I watch Kekkaishi anime


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22nd-Mar-2011 06:16 am (UTC)
Lol. I really love this manga. It particularly amuses me how Yoshimori interprets some of the thing Tokine says (like that last picture you have shows).
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