Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kochira Kameari, vol. 200 comments

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

Kochira Kameari, vol. 200 (Weekly Shonen Jump, 2015-16), by Osamu Akimoto. Grade: A.

I mentioned way back that the long-running manga, Kochira Kameari, was ending in Sept., with both the last chapter running in Shonen Jump magazine simultaneously with the publication of volume 200. And I'd also said that the book was completely sold out in Kagoshima on the first day. A few weeks later, the bookstores received second-edition printings, and those have stayed on the shelves pretty much since then. #200 is a thick volume, at 400-pages, and a price tag to match (700 yen, plus tax ($7 USD). But, it's a great book to have.

(Fold-out poster)

The cover is silvered, making it bright and shiny and impossible to scan. There's a fold-out poster with some of the main characters on one side, and all 200 covers on the other. There's no real point in summarizing the stories, because each chapter is only 16 pages, and they usually all follow the same pattern. In one, the main character, the geek-boy slacker beat cop Ryotsu, enters a cage match contest for drone operators (he wins using underhanded tactics, but has to donate the prize money to the police department). In another, his friend, rich boy cop Keiichi, has to go to Hokkaido to build recreations of various tourist spots within a week because his parents (who are separated) have 60 minutes to come in, have fun, eat a joint dinner and then leave again, and they each want to do different things while they are there (turns out they did it as a practical joke birthday present for him, but they misremember his name and birth date).

(Example chapter splash page, showing part of Tokyo and the Skytree. Pictured to the left, Ryotsu and Keiichi.)

The artwork is extremely clean, and the backgrounds are often highly detailed. Most of the humor is slapstick, but there's a lot of information and explanation on a very wide variety of topics, from how to make original plastic models to how to do animation, and from how to repair watches to how to make a vacuum-powered building climber. In fact, the main reason for reading Kochira Kameari is to learn about Japanese subculture. If there's something new and faddish, it would appear in this manga within a few weeks. Actually, when I was in the U.S. 10 years ago, I was roasting my own coffee. I also went on occasional business trips to San Jose, CA, where I could buy copies of Weekly Shonen Jump. Two of the stories at the time had Ryotsu opening up his own coffee shop within the police building, and then being banished to pick coffee beans in Jamaica. I particularly loved those two stories, which centered on how to roast and grow coffee.

(Ryotsu gets his retirement certificate - which reads, "Ryotsu you idiot, give me back my money!", and a send-off before the #200 volume celebration can start.)

The main kicker right now, though, is the last chapter in the book. Turns out, to drive sales, Otomo changed the stories between the weekly magazine chapter and the final book. For the most part, the details are the same - Ryotsu sets up a big stage display to introduce the top 10 characters (supposedly from reader-call-in surveys), then skips a bunch of them to get to the next joke. In the magazine and book, they have one police woman, a character that sleeps too much, and a "wild guy" that keeps shooting at everyone, but there are small differences. The main departure is in the magazine, where a "cool" detective is finally brought back to the series to be a recurring character, only to find out the series is ending. Everyone then runs to join in the final "photo pose" in the last 2 pages. In the book, Ryotsu's chief announces that the department is overjoyed at being able to give him his retirement farewell gift. Which is just a ruse to get Ryotsu out of the building so everyone else can eat the prepared banquet uninterrupted. Ryotsu realizes he forgot his cellphone inside, returns to see the food, then spits on everything to make sure no one will eat any of it. The page ends with the rest of the officers looking at the banquet and refusing to touch it.

Summary: Overall, #200 is a fun book, and an easy read. The tie-in to the magazine is clever, and I liked most of the stories. If you're studying Japanese, and/or Japanese subculture, I recommend starting Kochira Kameari at maybe about book 190 and work forward. The series was originally just a "bumbling cop slapstick gag" title, and didn't really start getting into subculture until much later (maybe about book 60 or 70). So, you'll want to sample the books to see what you like and don't like. But the last 50 volumes or so are all good.

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