After the Jump: 2017, Bonus Issue 05/01

Hey, it’s been a while! In case you didn’t know, I used to write a series of Weekly Shonen Jump issue reviews over on Animation Revelation called After the Jump. I’ve wanted to resume my Shonen Jump reviews for some time, and now is as good as time as any to pick it back up. I admit SuperEyepatchWolf’s recent and disappointingly misinformed video about the State of Shonen Jump is partially responsible for inciting my desire to write more complete and comprehensive analysis of Jump’s series and promote the official English release of Weekly Shonen Jump. For anyone who is not already subscribed, I cannot stress that it’s an amazing deal. For only $26 a year, a paltry $2 a month, you receive a year’s worth of over a dozen series. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, and it’s available in most English-speaking countries. So why SuperEyepatchWolf made a video using MangaStream scans instead of material readily available through official sources, talking about the recent Jump Starts as someone who has only read scanlations, frustrates and saddens me as I expected better of a Youtuber so articulate and passionate about Shonen Jump.

But I’m not here to dwell on that video, I’m here to write about Shonen Jump. It’s been a long time since I last did one of these, over a year in fact, so I hope I’m not rusty! In this week’s issue, Uruka learns memorizing vocab is tough, Robato learns how to hit from the rough, and Senku worries that to stop Tsukasa his guns won’t be enough. All this and more, After the Jump!

After the Jump: WSJ Bonus Issue 05/01/17

05:01- Bonus Issue

We Never Learn questions 7 & 8: “Therefore, a Genius Enjoys X” & “Who Does a Genius Wrestle with X For?”

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We Never Learn succeeds depending on how much you can empathize and relate with it’s protagonists’ struggles and aspirations. My problem with Uruka is that unlike Rizu and Fumino she’s not motivated by bettering herself but by getting closer to Yuiga. She’s exclusively interested with hooking up with Yuiga, and is subject to a variety of fanservice and cheesecake shots. That she’s a dumb jock and a fanservice character isn’t what I find so unappealing about her, it’s that that’s all she seems to be. She feels like a character that was created by editorial request. It’s like the mangaka was uncomfortable using Rizu and Fumino for fanservice scenes, so he created another character who could be subject to them. Because Uruka’s in the swimming club and is already wearing a tight wet swimsuit and skimpy clothing, he doesn’t need to go out of the way to force the other girls into implausible scenarios to show some T&A, like the shower scene from the end of the first chapter. I fell in love with Rizu and Fumino as characters because their motivations and emotions felt real, and like Tsutsui genuinely cares about writing a story about them succeeding in their studies and achieving their dreams. I don’t get that feeling from Uruka, because unlike Rizu and Fumino, she just doesn’t care, I don’t feel like Tsutsui really cares, and consequently I don’t care. She feels like a cynical add-on to the cast whose narrative feels out of place and at odds with the goals of the series.

I think it’s noteworthy that both Rizu and Fumino are considered equal in their status as the heroines of this manga, with both of them showing up on the latest Jump cover, where Uruka is treated as a third wheel in every chapter she’s in. I know the third girl is a thing in harem manga, sure, but I feel like Uruka was introduced too early. Nisekoi didn’t introduce Tsugumi until the second volume, after a status quo had been in place for at least a dozen chapters. She shook up the character dynamics and added new obstacles to the romantic tension between Raku and Chitoge through her conflicting relationships with both of them. She was another member of the harem, but her introduction felt like it moved the story forward, developed the characters, and expanded the potential character dynamics and comedic pairings the series could play with. Uruka doesn’t have the same level of chemistry. She was introduced much too early, only in the fourth chapter, for her to have any effect on the plot. She doesn’t have any chemistry with the other characters, and her connection with Yuiga is pretty flimsy even for the childhood friend trope. Tsugumi was introduced with a character arc about accepting her gender identity and a bushido relationship with her mistress that conflicted with her own romantic interest in Raku. Uruka was introduced with a shot of her swimsuit riding up her ass while she was swimming and a chapter full of T&A shots and shenanigans. Her purpose in the narrative is as shallow as her personality and motivations.

All that being said, chapter 7 has made her characterization more palatable. Her carefree laziness is aggravating when contrasted with Rizu and Fumino’s desperation, but her need for studying to be fun for her to learn is something I think a lot of people who weren’t studiously inclined can relate to. She genuinely wants to know how to enjoy learning, but she just doesn’t enjoy it as much as swimming. Solving the problem by combining her interests with studying techniques was a clever and ingenious strategy to help her learn, and sounds like an appealing method that could be fun to try in real life. Moreover, the chapter shows that Uruka has enough self-awareness to know her weaknesses in studying, and can put in the time and effort it takes to learn something if it’s done in a fun way. This plays into the chapter’s thesis that something you’re not good at isn’t going to be fun at first, but can become so if you apply yourself and get better at it. It’s a valuable lesson that I think a lot of people could take to heart instead of giving up on something because it’s too difficult, and Uruka was a fitting character to explore the idea with. So while there’s still plenty of frustrating elements of Uruka’s character, there’s potential for her further development that I can appreciate and remain hopeful about.

Another thing that’s been brought up a lot is Uruka’s potential bi-sexuality. The specific interest she has in how beautiful the other girls look, and especially her long observations about how beautiful Fumino is and how she’s her “idea of a perfect girl” has heavy subtextual implications. It would be refreshing for a harem series to include a bi-sexual character among it’s ranks since bi-sexuals are rarely represented in manga rom-coms, and certainly unheard of in shonen series. It’d be especially fun if it led to an ending with her getting together with either Rizu or Fumino while the other gets with Yuiga. But There’s many angles outside of Uruka being interested in women to interpret. For example, if Fumino is what Uruka thinks the ideal girl should be, does that mean she doesn’t see herself as that ideal? Uruka could have body image issues and is unconfident in herself as a woman, which could explain why she’s so obsessed with finding something she has over the other girls physically like her boob size and why feels insecure whenever Rizu or Fumino spends time with Yuiga without her. Under this interpretation, her outwardly sexual behavior and grabby nature with the other girls could be explained by her overcompensating for her inferiority complex. Like I said, this chapter provides a lot more interesting aspects of Uruka’s character to potentially dig deeper into in the future, which is partly why I’m warming up to her presence in the cast and potential dramatic story arcs involving her.

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But there’s another chapter to talk about, and it’s not about Uruka. Chapter 8 digs deeper into Rizu’s abandonment issues, featuring her stressing out about whether the school will replace Yuiga as her tutor if she doesn’t do well on her English test. Rizu gives off an air of emotional detachment, but consider that she was the one who didn’t trust and snapped at Yuiga in the first chapter, claiming that he would give up on them like all the others, while Fumino was calmer and more optimistic about their status. That Yuiga is the first tutor who genuinely empathizes and supports her dream without trying to make her give up, dedicated to her happiness and success no matter how difficult she is to teach, is really important and meaningful to her in particular. Her home life seems fine, but it’s clear Rizu placed a lot of trust in her teachers and tutors, and until now they’ve let her down. She’d fit right in as a GTO or AssClass character.

This chapter puts to rest her lingering insecurities that Yuiga will give up on her if she fails, and by putting his strategies into practice and a bit of dumb luck, she’s finally able to score a passing score on her English test. As someone who feared failure and being given up on as a kid, Rizu’s character arc deeply resonates with me. To name one example, when I was a kid I took skiing lessons every winter, and for the longest time I never got better and was always behind the other kids, so my instructors would keep passing me on to other groups instead of trying to help me. It took a long time until I finally found an instructor who took the extra time to really help me learn to ski, giving me valuable one-on-one time that I needed and not giving up even though it took me a long time to learn. So even though the outcome of Rizu’s test is very comedic, there’s a sincere emotional truth to it I find really relatable and cathartic. Rizu is my favorite character in the series so far because her character arc is so deeply tied into my real-life fears and experiences when I was a student, and I’m not afraid of owning how much of myself I’m projecting onto the series. But even beyond that, this was just satisfying character development that creates a connection between Rizu and Yuiga that goes beyond simple romantic comedy relationship and transcends into something more personal, both emotionally and psychologically.

Another interesting aspect of chapter 8 worth mentioning is the introduction of Rizu and Fumino’s former tutor, Kirisu. Presented as a cold objectivist, it’s clear from Rizu’s flashback that she not only didn’t believe in the girls, she openly mocked their dreams and told them to give up. She clearly had a profound and damaging effect on Rizu’s psyche in particular, explaining her trepidations and distrust of Yuiga in the first chapter, as well as her fears and trust issues resurfacing in this chapter. Any tutor who would so coldly tell their student flat out to their face to give up, and berate them for even trying, is despicable and shouldn’t be a public educator. Teacher and tutors are supposed to nurture and give students every chance to learn. Kirisu seems like the type whose focused on results over her students’ happiness, making her the perfect foil and contrast to Yuiga, whose committed to the opposite. As with any harem series one can’t help but believe that any new female character will join the gaggle of girls romantically interested in Yuiga, but for now Kirisu’s an interesting antagonistic presence. Her interactions with Yuiga are no doubt going to propel the series’ first real dramatic arc or long-term subplot, and I can already imagine how cathartic it will be when Rizu and Fumino dispel her presumptions about them by succeeding in their fields of interest and becoming closer to achieving their dreams. It’s easy to dismiss We Never Learn as just another rom-com based on its surface elements, but the text of the series itself is rich with great themes and character writing. Like Rizu and Fumino in their studies, I think it’ll continually improve on both its strengths and weaknesses alike.

Robot x Laserbeam round 6: “Conclusion”

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I’ve noticed some people have expressed concern that Robato is too overpowered because his drives already hit really far. I haven’t been concerned about that, for reasons that this chapter actually brings up and illustrates quite well. While Robato’s drives are indeed powerful and they get a lot of distance, a golf swing is not about power. A common misconception, possibly because people equate golf swings with baseball swings, but the intent and technique behind both those types of swings are completely different. A baseball batter aims to hit a ball as hard and as far as possible so his opponents on the other team can’t catch it and tag him out as he’s running bases. A baseball swing is a one and done action; a batter isn’t going to have to touch the ball again after he hits it once. Golf doesn’t work the same way. You’re going to need to play the same ball consecutively in the entire game. Your goal as a golfer is to get your ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible; the winner of the game is the person who scores the lowest strokes. So a golf swing isn’t always about getting the most distance. It’s about positioning your ball in such a way that you can make it to the green quickly. Precise strokes are more important than those that get the most distance, because what good is it if your ball flies further when it lands in the rough, the bunker, a lake, or even in the woods?

Robato fundamentally doesn’t understand these rules. Remember, he’s only ever practiced golf at driving ranges and by hitting balls into baskets. He’s never played a real game, on a real course, following the rules of the game. That’s what this chapter is about. As Yozan states, Robato has a nice swing, but practice does not translate to experience. There are no consequences to hitting a ball over and over again until you hit it just right during practice. In an actual game, you need to hit the ball precisely and perfectly every time. Robato has no technique, no control, and no experience. He’s never had to hit in the rough before, so he has no idea that hitting from the rough requires different technique than hitting from the green.  It takes him a dozen times to get it right, and while that’s a testament to his persistence and intuition, he lost that round the minute he hit his second shot from the rough.

A common misconception of golf by non-golfers is that it’s an easy-going sport. After all, old folks can play it, it can’t be that hard right? But as someone who has spent over a dozen summers hitting balls in the driving range and playing dozens if not a hundred plus times on courses of all kinds, I can tell you you’re severely underestimating the amount of practice, self-control, strategy, and technique it takes to play a good game. No matter what haters might think, golf is a sport requiring its athletes to dedicate their lives learning its craft. It’s a lifelong journey of learning and getting better, and while it might be outwardly boring to watch on tv, when you’re there on the court you’re feeling the pressure all other athlete’s feel, and indulge the high of satisfaction when you play a good game.

Which is why Yozan is so disappointed in Robato. He understands the joy there is in golf, where Robato has a normie’s perception of it, wasting his great talent for a game he could excel in. His relationship with Robato is reminiscent of that between Akira and Hikaru in Hikaru no Go. Akira a prodigy who dedicated his life to a game that Hikaru only thought of as a boring board game only old people played before meeting Sai, and yet he lost to him. He couldn’t accept that he could lose to someone who has barely played and uninterested in the game, and knowing that there was such a natural talent out there made Hikaru a bar he felt he needed to surpass to validate and honor his love for the game. Yozan’s rivalry with Robato is so similar it’s almost unbelievable that I haven’t seen the comparisons been made yet. In the same way Hikaru became motivated by seeing how passionate Akira was about Go, Robato’s opened his eyes to golf being fun after seeing how much it means to Yozan. Not just that, but like how Hikaru felt a sense of satisfaction after playing a good game all on his own without Sai’s help for the first time, Robato is becoming more self-aware of the satisfaction he feels when he hits the ball well, and that this game might be something he’s interested.  Just the fact he asks Tomoya what the golf club is like already shows that he’s developed an interest in the game itself, a huge leap forward from someone who couldn’t have cared less about it in the first chapter.

My Hikaru no Go comparisons aren’t meant to criticize derivative elements of RxL, but to highlight an example of a similar series that featured a game no one supposedly cared about that became widely popular and is still regarded as one of Shonen Jump’s finest series. A strong core rivalry like that between Robato and Yozan and a character arc of personal self-discovery and becoming passionate about something, contrasting the career paths of the two rivals until they both catch up to each other in their own ways and have an intense, emotionally satisfying rematch when they’re both at their best. So I believe the promise made between Robato and Yozan through this chapter, and Robato’s growing self-awareness that there is something that he genuinely enjoys and wants to be good at provide a really strong foundation, if not a novel one, for a compelling sports manga. My appreciation for the sport of golf aside, I have been sold by the premise of the manga as of this chapter and the potential of the characters and central rivalry to become a very compelling narrative going forward. Where Robato’s newfound interest in the sport will lead him next remains to be seen, but like him, my curiosity has been peaked.

Dr. Stone z=8: “Raise the Smoke Signal”

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There’s no reason to prolong the love confession between Taiju and Yuzuhira outside of drawing out the romantic tension. I appreciate that Taiju doesn’t want to confess to Yuzuhira to make her feel like she has no other choice but to reciprocate his feelings, since she’s the only woman and he’s one of only three men still alive in this world. That said, the two practically already behave like they’re romantically involved, and they mutually love each other. Yuzuhira might be ditzy, but she’s not an idiot. She’s the one who brought it up again, and just from the look of forlorn melancholy on her face, you can tell that she knows what Taiju was going to say to her. While not unusual for shonen manga, there’s a virile sentiment here that while isn’t sexist, is still a little frustrating. If Yuzuhira loves Taiju herself, there’s no reason for her not to confess to him and take the initiative to start the relationship.

I know the idea of Taiju confessing to his girl after going through this great struggle is meant as a romantic notion that I’m sure is an appealing sentiment for many. It’s very similar to Mashiro promising Azuki he would marry her after he created a successful manga and she voiced the heroine in it’s anime adaptation. Neither are harmful sentiments, but this type of chivalrous machismo feels dated. My biggest concern for this scene is that it’ll set a precedent for a male character to deprive Yuzuhira of her own agency. Like, if she decides to do something, but Taiju holds her back telling her she doesn’t need to put herself in danger and he’ll protect and that jazz. Yuzuhira is the only female protagonist in the manga so far and she isn’t a bad character, but as of yet she hasn’t really done anything on her own or displayed a skill set beyond curiosity and empathy. Not to say those aren’t useful skills, and she could help in the restoration of human society and culture using those assets. What I don’t want is for Yuzuhira to remain merely a tag-along and a victim of the token romantic love interest effect in shonen battle manga.

The most interesting theme explored in the chapter is the dichotomy between safety and risk in advancing culture. Senku is reinventing guns and bombs as a means of exerting his power over the more physically strong Tsukasa to stop his plans. You can make the connection between that and someone suppressing a person’s political position with violence. In this case, we’re supposed to be on Senku’s side because this is a necessary evil. Tsukasa is a murderer, and there’s no reasoning without having a weapon to hold him back from retaliation. But that’s exactly the dangerous mindset that perpetuated the arms race during the Cold War as well as conflicts between opposing political and military powers throughout history. Senku might stop Tsukasa, but at what cost? How many more like Tsukasa might be out there that might accidentally revive in the future, and how many more guns and bombs will they need to make? What happens if Tsukasa learns how to make gunpowder for himself? Humanity could very well be revived just to risk of exterminating themselves through infighting once again.

Senku’s reintroduced a great evil into the world, and has set a dangerous precedent for how to handle arbitration between opposing factions in the future. His only option is Tsukasa doesn’t back down is to kill him. He’d have to become a murderer himself, and even if it’s for the greater good of humanity, blood will be on his hands. I don’t know where Dr. Stone is going with this particular plot point. The creation of gunpowder and plan to suppress Tsukasa is presented as a goofy, innocent thing, but the act has massive ramifications that I don’t think the characters have really considered, nor the writer himself for that matter. How Dr. Stone approaches the question of violence as a necessary evil and the need for violent ramifications to enforce law and order in a community will be a curious thing to see explored, if the series does at all.

Going back to the basic idea of safety versus risk, it’s clear that the series embraces risk-taking as the means to push humanity forward in it’s cultural evolution. Despite the danger of alluring Tsukasa, Senku decides that uniting with more humans is worth risking their lives. This fits in well to the adventurous spirit of the manga and the potential benefits and ramifications of this decision can only benefit the story. From a meta-narrative perspective, Dr. Stone is breaking from the safety of it’s established main trio to go out of it’s way to potentially introduce new characters, changing the status quo and dynamics between the cast. Keep in mind, there’s the possibility of this simply being a clever ploy by Tsukasa to trick Senku into revealing his location, and that’d still be a great way to heighten the dramatic tension of their confrontation. Either way, with this chapter Dr. Stone is a series about risk-taking and embracing danger for the benefit of personal growth, not willing to stay comfortable in the same status-quo for too long. Even though I find its machismo strangely archaic in contrast to it’s central thematic ideologies, that’s a minor criticism for what is still a consistently gripping adventure.

Final Thoughts:

The underlying theme of this issue is effort begets success, and success begets fun. Both Uruka and Robato didn’t care about studying and golfing respectively, but learned to become invested in them by finding a way to make it fun for them. For Uruka, that meant combining her love of swimming with the act of learning, and for Robato, it meant figuring out how to hit a shot well after much trial and error and realizing the satisfaction in a ball well hit. Where these characters reflect this message in ways personal to its characters, Dr. Stone explores it more generally. It took a lot of effort for them to make gunpowder, but they managed it, and making it ended up being fun, explosions and all. It’s a simple thematic through-line that was easy to make between these three series this week, but nonetheless was a coincidental element of all three worth musing about.

Normally I pick my top four series for “Best Manga of the Week” like one would for the official Shonen Jump survey. However, since there were only three series this week, I felt only the need to choose one.…

Best Manga of the Week:

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We Never Learn

While all three series were good this week, WNL’s chapters were the ones I found myself the most satisfied reading. Rizu’s chapter alone cemented it as my favorite of the week. As I’ve explained, her abandonment issues struck a chord with me, and her success in applying Yuiga’s study methods was like a cathartic affirmation that you can succeed if you believe in yourself (and have some luck on your side). Additionally, the development of Uruka in chapter 7 was very welcome and opened up many interesting avenues to explore her character in the future, and Kirisu’s introduction as a psychologically threatening and eminently despicable antagonist opens up whole new dramatic possibilities for future storylines. I’m looking forward to Fumino’s focus next week and hopefully getting to explore her insecurities a little better like we have Rizu.

Character(s) of the Week:

05:01 Bonus Issue

Rizu Ogata (We Never Learn)

Again, for all the reasons I’ve described, I really connect with Rizu’s character arc, motivation, and fears. She’s my MVP of this series, so I’d expect any time she gets a chapter of focus she’ll be a contender for my favorite character of that week.

Line(s) of the Week:

“Which do I choose?…Safety? Or the Future?”
– Senku (Dr. Stone)

In the past I’ve often chosen silly or goofy lines that made me laugh for Line of the Week, but from now on I’ll probably choose lines that I find striking for what they say about the series or character. In this chase, Senku’s quandary here reflects the thematic attitude of the series, pitting self-preservation against cultural betterment. Senku has been presented as the scientific, logical sort, but here he has to weigh two options that both have consequences if he’s wrong, and has to rely on his gut instinct instead of reason to decide what the right thing to do is. It’s a great moment, and a profound message.

Panel(s) of the Week:

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Normally I try to find panels that are inventive as sequential art, but I just found this one from Dr. Stone a delightful stand-alone. The fear on Tsukasa’s face with his hands up in surrender is hilarious, as is the whole scenario of Senku and Taiju pinning him against the wall like police officers apprehending their target. What really got me, though, is Yuzuhira standing there on the sidelines with a megaphone yelling like a protester “say no to smashing stones!” Just a great comedic panel that makes me laugh for a variety of reasons.

Page(s) of the Week:

05:01 Bonus Issue

There were a lot of great pages in Dr. Stone this week, particularly the page where the flint ignited in a big explosion, but this page from Robot x Laserbeam really struck me. I love the composition of the panels and how Fujimaki guides you through the action of Robato hitting the ball. What I especially love is how the ball’s arc of trajectory leaves off from the bottom left panel and continues through the top of the upper left of the leftmost panel on the following page. It’s a great way to illustrate the swing and path of the ball and it flies upwards, guiding your eyes from the bottom of a page all the way to the top of another one like you’re looking from down to up, as you would if you were observing the flight path of the ball on an actual course. Touches like these are what give me confidence that Fujimaki has the skills to illustrate a golf game through exciting and inventive paneling.

And that’s the issue review! Judging by the fact I’ve written 5000 words on just three series, I’ll need to retool how in-depth I go into each chapter when I’m tackling a regular issue of 8+ chapters. I prefer going as in-depth as possible, but the need to balance what I spend my time doing and getting these out earlier in the week requires me to become a faster and more efficient writer by necessity. This has been a major reason why After the Jump keeps going on hiatus in the past, and I really want to make this a regular series again. So this was a good way to get back into the swing of things, and I enjoyed writing about Jump again. All-Comic will be the new home for this review series, but I do have interest in converting these into Youtube videos. I’ll start working on that as soon as I can figure out how to best edit a manga analysis video efficiently. But until next time, remember to promote the official release, challenge anime youtubers to do the same, and try your best to forget what happened on the last Samurai Jack, and I’ll see you again After the Jump!

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