A short manga rant — Friday Funnies

my bookcases are a tad overstuffed

So that’s a portion of the bookcases in my living room, floor to ceiling Billies, slightly overstuffed, which go all the way from the entrance to the kitchen past three walls right up to the windows overlooking the garden, leaving just enough space for my computer desk. There isn’t much room anymore for new bookcases, nor all that much more room in the existing ones for new books. So why isn’t more manga available in ebook form? Why can’t I buy Akira as an ebook?

Friday Funnies: Kanojo wa Rokurokubi

Kanojo wa Rokurokubi

Mixing fantastic elements into a standard slice of life/romance/comedy manga is nothing new: what sets Kanojo wa Rokurokubi apart is how low key it’s done. For all practical purposes Kanoi Natsuki is a normal high school girl even if she’s a rokurokubi, a traditional Japanese monster with a hugely elongated and stretchable neck (which can be very handy if you want to cool your head in the fridge without leaving your room). She has two friends she hangs out with, one of which is another traditional Japanese monster (youkai) type, the other of which always wears a mask covering her face, as well as a childhood friend she still hasn’t quite admitted to herself she’s in love with. The stories are typical slice of life stuff as she struggles to define her relationship with that childhood friend and whether or not she wants to do anything with him

Kanojo wa Rokurokubi

I like Nieki Zui’s artstyle, who draws much more realistic figures and faces than you’d normally see in this type of manga, with the characters emotions similarly cool and understated. It gives the series a bit of weight, a feel that these are real people rather than a collection of tropes. The humour is again cool rather than exaggerated, which works well with the overall style of the series. What I also like is that the existence of these youkai is treated in the story as no big deal. People are aware that they exist, it’s no secret nor a huge stigma and basically nobody cares that Kanoi can stretch her neck really really long. Unless they’re hit in the back because she sleep stretches in class that is.

Friday Funnies: One-Punch Man

someone who is a hero for fun

Saitama was an ordinary, unemployed man until one day he decided that if he couldn’t find a proper job, why not become a superhero for fun. So began an intensive training routine of ” 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and 10 km of running every day”. Three years later he’s the strongest superhero in the world, somebody who can defeat any enemy no matter how strong with one punch: One-Punch Man. Which really puts a crimp on his plans: it’s no fun to be a hero if you can never have a proper fight. Though Saitama gets increasingly powerful heroes and villains to deal with, the end result remains the same. Nor does being the strongest hero bring Saitama fame or glory. At first his efforts go unrecognised, his victories attributed to those heroes who happen to be in the neighbourhood when he does his thing. Later on, when he gets registrered as a proper hero, he’s immediately suspected of cheating somehow. Because there’s no way a low class hero like him is actually capable of doing what does, is there. He just doesn’t look like a hero so he doesn’t get treated like one. It’s an old Marvel Comics trick: give the hero problems he can’t solve with his fists.

One punched again

Those are basically the two jokes that drive One-Punch man: he can neither get a good fight nor the respect he deserves. It’s a simple concept executed brilliantly, which is why it could make the jump from a self published web comic with ONE’s not very good artwork to a proper manga series, art now courtesy of Yusuke Murata. Saitama himself basically kept his look from the web comic, but the rest of the cast got a realism upgrade, though many of them are still grotesques, just with added shading and defined muscles. Murata is a great artist for a series that lives on its fight scenes, while ONE has a knack for telling absurd stories absolutely straight, taking the lunacy of your average superhero or shounen battle manga up to eleven without feeling the need to point out how absurd it all is. One-Punch Man works because it keeps that essential beat of a shounen manga, of introducing bigger and bigger menaces with each new storyline and it keeps things exciting by focusing as much on all those other heroes who can’t end their fights with just one punch.

Mumen Rider

Heroes like Mumen Rider, a hero whose power is that he rides a bicycle and wears biking gear. He first popped up getting the credit for one of Saitama’s actions in an early story, before he got his chance to shine taking on a villain that had already beaten the crap out of a dozen or so overpowered heroes. What looked like a joke character turned out to be a genuine hero, putting his life on the line against somebody he had no hope of defeating, just to try and protect the innocent, no matter how futile. It’s absurd to think that a suburban dad getting way too much into biking would make a superhero, but the character and the story both play it straight and in the end, for all the silliness, Mumen Rider is a hero.

the absurdity of Saitama

That I think is the core of One-Punch Man‘s appeal, having completely stupid, completely serious characters wander around a ridiculous world populated by idiots but never, ever coming out and admitting it, leaving them their dignity rather than depantsing them. You can read it as a straightforward superhero story and enjoy the fights even as you get amused at the names and powers thrown around. Saitama himself never notices the absurdity of his life; it helps that he’s an idiot. One-Punch Man therefore is one of the best superhero comics I’ve read in years, because it embraces the essential stupidity of superheroes.