by Koji Kumeta; adapted by David Ury
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.99 US
The first chapter in this volume reminded me why I enjoy this series — it takes a simple metaphor, makes it something I can relate to, and drops some goofy examples to point out the silliness of human behavior.
In this case, the professor starts by explaining a tidal bore, when a river temporarily flows backwards, and links it to the way people experience culture in the “wrong” direction. For instance, someone who starts reading manga because they enjoy a licensed product based on it. Where he sees this as disturbing, I’m more with the student who asks, “Isn’t that a good thing?” (His answer: “Well, I guess it is if you’re the manga artist who created the characters,” which is true enough.) It’s a look at fandom from a different perspective, and it made me start thinking about all the different ways readers could come to manga. Later, they discuss those who learn about sports after playing video games based on them. Whatever spurs increased knowledge, I’m a fan of.
Which is why it’s a shame that they’ve stopped explaining all the various bulleted lists that are included in each chapter, providing more examples of the topic. The endnotes are, in content, shorter than they used to be, including no longer explaining the chapter titles. I guess all these elaborations are unnecessary to the point, but it does make me feel a little left out, as some cultural elements I expected to see noted weren’t. This change happened in the previous volume, but I didn’t mind it so much there. I don’t know why I feel differently about it now. Unless maybe it was seeing things explained, like Shonen Sunday or yakitori, that I thought any reader of this series would already know. Although I should also say that I appreciated including a picture of the referenced panel in the endnotes, since with few page numbers, that helped me match up the comments.
I also kind of miss the teacher’s suicidal tendencies. He seems to have settled down into just generally hating the world, making him merely grumpy (and a lot more like someone you might meet on the internet). Some of his touchpoints, what set him off and spawn a chapter, don’t work as well for me as others; the story about being annoyed at people making assumptions felt weak, because it lumped too much unrelated material in, but the next chapter, about blaming others for failure because you say you just followed directions or the source material (in the case of film adaptations) got back to being clever again. Other favorites in this book were the sections on obvious, overused jokes (because so many of them translated so well); those who are too self-effacing in taking the blame (a problem in Japanese culture overall); the idea of boring activities causing time to slow down; and a retreat that allows you to avoid anything you want.
I guess my reaction to the series is uneven. But for every story that doesn’t work for me, there’s one or more that entertain me, so overall, it’s still an enjoyable read, even if I do agree with Sean Gaffney’s complaints in many cases (although with less vehemence — and he praises the book as well, with great, in-depth knowledge of the series). And I do like the look of this manga, with its flat black areas and unique design sense. A nice combination, of simple, well-structured art and increasingly ridiculous humor.