Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

Kouji Kumeta is probably one of the wildest artists working in manga today. He's had a couple of long-running titles, including the oddly named Go!! Southern Ice Hockey Club.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, by Kouji Kumeta, Grade: A.
The story in this title (which translates to "Goodbye, Despair-filled Teacher") is really fairly irrelevant. In a nutshell, Nozomu Itoshiki is a high school teacher who goes into depressions at the drop of a hat and constantly threatens to commit suicide (usually by hanging himself), but he's not actually serious about it. Every one of his students represents some kind of phobia, disorder, or social function (such as the overly cheerful Kafuka Fuura, the tail-pulling Abiru Kobushi, and the hikikomori (reclusive) Kiri Komori. Each chapter starts out with either Nozomu or one of the students trying to do something normal (like going to a festival or sitting in class) and then devolves into a series of off-the-wall puns and gags riffing on everything from video games to political scandals.

Eventually the gags push one of the characters into yelling out that they're in despair over something, followed by a list of obliquely-relevant current events (generally again about political scandals, or TV "talents"). The point of the manga, then, is skewering pop culture and whatever is on TV at the moment. The character designs are minimalistic, with very clean, thin lines and detailed costumes. The background art is very detailed, and each of the characters can easily be identified, even though there are so many of them. Be warned, though, that there's a LOT of "reader service" in each chapter, so this manga is not recommended for children in the (un)civilized western countries.

One of the fun things about the collected volumes is that they include "omake" (extras) pages occasionally, with different papercraft projects. Fun stuff. Recommended.

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