Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei 3

November 3, 2012

Koji Kumeta – Del Rey – 2009 – 30 volumes

Yeah, I definitely get a Sgt. Frog vibe from this series. I’m currently really digging it, and it’s just so indescribably eccentric that I really do enjoy each volume… but I know the novelty will wear off, just like it did with Sgt. Frog. I suppose I could just stop reading when that happens… but that’s just not my way. The one series I swore off forever I recently picked up the next several volumes of.

But! For the time being, this is still very funny stuff.

Again, there are several short, gag-oriented chapters. A gross-out competition. A chapter introducing the classroom’s genius storyteller. A story with bad puns that discusses culture and the expression thereof. A school trip preview trip, where you aren’t allowed to study things closely lest you exhaust the location for the actual trip. A story about a middle-aged man being placed in Zetsubou’s class by a cushy appointment. A weird fall festival chapter. A chapter discussing mistakes, and how and where to find them. One about Zetsubou’s nephew, sort of. One about hibernation. One about “yaminabe of the heart.” And then about 20 pages of end notes to explain all the jokes.

As much as the humor is based on pop culture and Japanese culture, it works because all the stories are just so weird. And short, so it doesn’t linger over-long on any of the (admittedly limited) ideas, and it’s a lot funnier that way. I also like the art, which is very pattern-oriented. I love that every chapter opens with a full body shot of Zetsubou in a different, sometimes beautiful, sometimes strange, kimono design, usually while he’s saying something outrageous.

And… I don’t really have a whole lot more to offer. It’s funny, and really weird, and all the jokes are based off of the idea in the chapter and the various one-dimensional personalities of Zetsubou and his students. It is what it is, and it works quite well. You probably don’t want to read the volumes in big chunks, however.

Koji Kumeta – Del Rey – 2009 – 24+ volumes

As much as I’ve liked the two volumes of this series that I’ve read, it’s got one important factor working against it: it’s mostly a social satire of Japan, and I’m missing almost 80% of the jokes it’s making because I don’t know enough about Japanese pop culture. And this is coming from someone that knows an awful lot about Japanese pop culture. Granted, it’s got pages and pages of translation notes in the back, and I love that about it. It would fail without them, honestly. But if I have to look up an explanation for every joke it makes, is it really still funny?

It kinda is, actually, and the fact I still like it despite this is pretty amazing. But it can get a little tedious to read when most of the jokes are falling flat in every chapter… not because they’re bad jokes, but just because I don’t know enough about them. Jokes about the bizarre characters and the surreal things they do are okay by me, though.

I was disappointed that we only saw about 2-3 new students this volume. The fujoshi student and a nearly invisible boy that is going prematurely bald (mysteriously, the only male in the class aside from Itoshiki-sensei). There’s also an almost-plot in the middle of the book, consisting of several chapters, where we meet members of Itoshiki-sensei’s large family. They all also have pun names (like Itoshiki’s name can be spelled to mean despair), and are varying degrees of crazy, as you can imagine from his family. There’s a fun tournament, too, where you have to marry anyone you make eye contact with, which is a roundabout way of explaining why Itoshiki-sensei never makes eye contact.

Topics tackled in these short chapters include a look at being overshadowed, “non-reporting” versus knowing the meaning of the universe, some discussion of doujinshi, and a bizarre chapter where a strange man pretends to be Commodore Perry, the man who opened up Japan to outside trade in 1854. Modern Perry runs around opening anything he can get his hands on. This goes just about every place you think it does.

I like the very design-centric way that Kumeta illustrates, with lots of patterns and shapes blocked out and simplified, and lots of heavy black and white. It works well for this style of gag manga. I also adore the technique he uses where he’ll show a full-body illustration of Itoshiki-sensei, then zoom in on his face for no reason. This happens at least once a chapter.

I… don’t think I’ll be buying more volumes anytime soon, because I have a feeling that this will wear on me even faster than Sgt. Frog did. But I do like it, and I’ll probably pick up the next couple volumes at some point.

Koji Kumeta – Del Rey – 2009 – 24+ volumes

Hey! Why didn’t someone tell me that this was by the same person who wrote Katte ni Kaizou? I’ve been wanting to read that series for years. I picked this up during a Del Rey sale at Right Stuf, for lack of any other Del Rey books to read. I’m glad I did. This is truly bizarre.

It’s a gag manga about a teacher who is pessimistic and constantly contemplating suicide. While that doesn’t sound funny, and is in poor taste, the gag about him mock-hanging himself and choosing locations to die does get very, very funny by the end of the volume. The short chapters focus on individual students in his class. Each one is… quirky in the same way as Itoshiki-sensei. One girl is a crazy stalker when she falls in love with a boy. Another girl is mistakenly thought to be a victim of domestic violence, but really just likes chasing large animals in order to grab their tails, often getting pummeled in the process. Another very shy, quiet girl trash talks everyone via text on her cellphone. All the chapters are short and gag-heavy, introducing a student and slowly unveiling what makes them unique. Or, in one case, not unique at all. Normally, this is with a framing device about how the student is a “trouble” student at the school, and the chapter ends with Zetsubou getting praised for “solving” whatever problem the student had… when usually he just accidentally drew out their bad side, probably by trying to commit suicide.

It’s hard to fault a series that opens with a first page that features a girl praising the beauty of cherry blossoms, then shows a man hanging himself from the same trees on the next page. Also, I really love the 20s look that Zetsubou-Sensei has going on.

It’s hard to explain the style of humor without reading it for yourself. There are usually a number of gags per page, and many of them are pretty funny. Many are in poor taste, too. And some just meet expectations in entertaining ways. After suggesting one of the students isn’t good for anything but panty flashes, several chapters end with a final panel, unrelated to the story, where the wind blows up that student’s skirt. For no good reason.

It’s funny. I love it, even after one volume, and it makes me want to read Katte ni Kaizou even more. I’m curious as to what will happen after all the students are introduced, though.