by Koji Kumeta; adapted by David Ury
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.99 US
I’ve come to think of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei as something like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, especially when I read a whole volume or watch a week’s worth at once: I may not get all the references to other bits of pop culture (especially now that SZS has cut back on the translation notes), and some of the jokes may not hit my particular funny bone, but taken as a whole, it’s enjoyable satire in continuing format, and I’m awfully glad they keep getting out there and swinging at the targets of modern life. They’re both better if you pace yourself in enjoying them, too.
Out of the varied subjects in this volume, this list are those that particularly worked for me. I understood the problems and could relate them to happenings in my own life, making these chapters even funnier to me:
- Techno-stress, being inconvenienced by a machine that doens’t work the way you expect, or changing your behavior because of it, like trying to find better cell phone reception by moving around, or having to borrow a computer to make an online appointment to get your computer fixed
- Having the wrong priorities, especially when that gets in the way of getting work done when you’ve got too much to do, even when you’re the manga artist of this actual story (in some amusing self-referentiality)
- The danger of inheritance, taking houses or positions just because your parents had them
- The humanities athletic festival, with demented competitions such as the email chain message relay, which leads into classifying everything into one of three categories: scientific, artsy, or athletic
- The way entertainment wanders away from its original form, in a short little Halloween story
The art in the opening chapter, featuring kimono’ed characters at a nighttime festival involving floating lanterns, is particularly striking in the highly graphic, flat black-and-white, high-contrast approach Koji Kumeta uses. Between the patterned robes and the strange icons (representing the “unconnected dead”, those who missed out on their desires) lying in the grass in the dark, it was very atmospheric. In his typical contrary nature, Sensei manages to release the icons’ spirits not by giving them what they wanted but by convincing them they were better off not wanting what they desired at all. It’s very Buddhist, showing what might result from being free of attachment.
I’m also finding that I need my magnifying glass to pick up all the detail in certain panels, especially the ones with lists of examples and cute little labeled drawings. I recommend good lighting to read this series. That way, you’ll also be able to better appreciate the subtly colored covers. (The publisher provided a review copy.)