Saturday, September 22, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol. 29

This is the book that sold out so fast. I found a used copy, but just from a surface check, there's no obvious reason for its popularity.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, Vol. 29, by Koji Kumeta, Grade A

Koji is a very good artist, and he's been drawing this manga for years, so he's got it very slick and polished by now. The line work is thin and clean, and the characters are attractive (except for the ones deliberately intended to be unattractive) and many of the panels are jammed with visual gags. As I've mentioned before, Zetsubo is all about political and social parody, with each 14-page chapter using a simple set-up to launch into whatever harrangue he has planned.

The inside front covers had traditionally been a running gag on the phrase "don't open this", with variants including "don't unwrap this".  The back inside cover would be some kind of joke based on one of the school girl's character traits. #29 breaks with this tradition by just having poses of three of the girls in traditional clothes on both covers.

For the most part, the stories follow the standard pattern, twisting things like synesthasia, bilocation and mslocation to skewer celebrities and politicians. The punchlines usually wrap up the chapter with twists, such as "bilocation" being another word for "alibi".

However.  Koji had been dropping hints that the series was going to wrap up eventually, and he lays down some of the groundwork for this in the last 2 chapters.  The most importan part to remember is that Kafuka Fuura, the optimistic and unrestrained main female lead, is named after Franz Kafka, so you can't simply take her statements or actions at face value. She always shows up in opposition to whatever thread is causing the rest of the cast to go into dispair.  In the second to last chapter of this volume, Abiru Kobushi, the student that always wears bandages, is asked what she would see if her unbandaged left eye were uncovered, and the result is that the rest of the classroom looks just like Kafuka.  Abiru runs to see the school doctor, who says that she's fine, but another teacher is standing in the shadows and asks if the girl is starting to catch on.  In the last chapter, a piece of paper is attached to a tree with an "important message" on it.

Summary: Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei is a well-drawn gag series that lampoons modern Japanese and western culture and politics.  There's lots of in-jokes, so it's a great way to learn about pop idols and anyone in the public eye.  Highly recommended. (The gag story at the end of the volume is pretty funny, too, about a maid that goes to work for a household of vampires, and each one of them has their own "vampiric" obsession. I posted it on Nihon-go Hunter.)

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