by Yoshito Usui; adapted by Sheldon Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $7.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Crayon Shinchan is a comedy manga about the adventures of a 5-year-old boy, Shin. Each episode is three pages long. Shin is basically an R-rated Dennis the Menace. He’s willful, crude, and completely uninhibited. He lacks ‘book smarts’ but has the street savvy of professional con artist. Most of the jokes are based on his ability to manipulate the adults into doing what he wants.
I wanted to read this manga because I enjoy the dubbed anime currently showing on Adult Swim. The book is a bit of a disappointment. First, the adults in the manga are much more passive and one-dimensional than in the anime. Only Shin’s parents have any depth and resistance, but even they simply become fodder for the punch line. In the anime, most of the characters are more fully developed, and this allows for great character-based jokes and humor.
Second, the humor in the manga is too broad and general for my taste. What’s surprising is how universal the jokes are in this book. There is a joke about Shin’s parents trying to have sex without getting caught, only to have their plans ruined. A couple episodes revolve around Shin wanting a dog, but not the responsibility that comes with pet ownership. There are jokes about Shin saying or doing inappropriate things in public. Most of the jokes could have taken place in any country without altering the setup or the punch line.
It’s this lack of cultural specificity that makes the jokes fall flat for me. The humor in the anime is centered around American culture. The English version of the anime uses lots of US pop culture references and makes fun of American social conventions. The concrete references give the punch lines a bite missing in the manga.
The artwork was a pleasant surprise. The anime artwork is very crude with unattractive character designs. Usui’s artwork is a polished simplified style that suits the characters and jokes rather well. It’s easy to overlook the amount of detail he puts into each panel. The biggest difference between the anime and the manga is the design of Shin’s mother. In the manga, she is an average-looking Japanese women. In the anime, she has almost a chimpanzee face. I don’t know why she was the most radically redesigned character. After seeing Usui’s original art, I’m disappointed in the anime’s artwork.
Overall, Crayon Shinchan is readable, and will kill a half hour, but that’s about all it will do. I recommend the anime over the manga. Of course, if you’re looking for a good humor manga, then I recommend Azumanga Daioh any day.
Given the highly subjective nature of humor, you can sample the manga at CMX’s website (no longer available), and episodes of the anime can be viewed online at Adult Swim’s website (NFSW). So you can decide for yourself which, if either, tickle your funny bone.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)