story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Julie Lutz
published by Viz; $9.99 US
As set up in the previous volume, the young creators are developing a new project, Perfect Crime Party, in one last attempt to get serialized and build a popular franchise. If they don’t surpass young genius Eiji Nizuma in reader response, this will be their last time in Weekly Shonen Jump.
They’ve just discovered that they may work better if writer Takagi doesn’t bother thumbnailing all the pages. Instead, he gives Mashiro, the artist, a written description. It’s bizarre, as an American comic fan, to see the kids act like they’ve discovered a new mechanism, since what they’re implementing is how most U.S. corporate comics are made. Later in the book, the importance of art as well as writing is emphasized, as the team seeks a more popular style.
It’s also strange to think about how much more visual a Japanese comic writer must be, to break out all the images for the artist. It’s that kind of insight into the manga creative process that keeps me coming back to this competitive soap opera. And they keep it all so visually interesting, with everyone so expressive and involved in turning out comics week after week. (Even when it means working themselves into a state of unsleeping zombie-ness.)
As one of the editors says, “As long as the readers can connect with the main character, you can make a mainstream manga out of practically anything.” If this series was done in English, though, I can see it becoming awfully in-jokey. Maybe those are included here, too, and I just don’t notice them, but my lack of prior knowledge of the details of the manga industry makes this seem fresh and dramatic.
In the interpersonal relationship arena, things remain problematic. Mashiro’s sort-of girlfriend Azuki is up for a major voice role in an anime based on rival Nizuma’s work. Everyone thinks that’s a bad idea because if she gets it, she won’t be able to work on Mashiro’s anime — which, let’s remember, doesn’t exist yet, since the manga is only on chapter two. It’s another example of the girls being accessories for the guys, and a stunning example of the twisted side of the couple’s dream to work together. The decision is meant to be romantic, demonstrating how their future will come together, but it’s also uncomfortably controlling.
The change in scripting approach is not the only American comic tactic seen in this volume — to raise sales, Nizuma and Miss Iwase create a crossover between his two series (one of which is written by Iwase). Iwase’s interactions with her editor are intriguing to watch, since she expects them to bring her ideas and praise her accomplishments. That’s not unusual, but it’s surprising to see her being so blunt about her demands.
She’s just the newest rival in the overall group of young artists, many of whom are inspired by having such strong competitors. To compete with all of them, Takagi and Mashiro come up with a new strategy — a longer story arc, instead of stand-alone chapters. The creation of that story, their last chance to make their dreams come true, extends into volume 12. That book also has more information on how spinoffs work in the Japanese market, with discussions about a drama CD and novel adaptation.
In book 11, Takagi and Mashiro also got some new assistants, who provide some drama in their own right. One is anti-popularity, focused on manga as an art form instead of a commercial product; the other, Shiratori, is struggling with his snooty parents’ dislike of manga. This volume particularly deals in several ways with the difference between manga as art and entertainment, as shown by the assistants’ challenges.
We see a lot more of Shiratori’s family pressures in book 12, as he works on his own manga for the first time. The conflict there becomes how much help he can or should take from his bosses, the more experienced manga creators. Takagi, particularly, is passing on his knowledge to a new generation, even at his young age. Unfortunately, his involvement has the potential to cause the team to grow apart, as a writer can do more work than an artist.
There’s also a major revelation about the team’s plans for their manga to become an anime, one that takes into account the cultural context. To further that plan, Mashiro tries to make his work faster — and some of the times cited will astound American readers used to hearing how comic artists struggle to do a page a day. (The publisher provided review copies.)